Saturday, July 9, 2011

An Indus Bug and a Few Fish of Nine Strokes

Seal M-782 with inscription: TRIPLE BRICK / POT (POTTED ONE?) / SINGLE QUOTE //
CAGED TETRAPOD (B) / POT (note the "tetrapod" is a reversed "C" shape).

Among the Indus signs that occur rarely and are difficult to make out, there is one I term CAGED TETRAPOD (IX 39).  Fairservis does not note its presence.  A single version appears in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP171).  Wells not only notes it (W584), he also lists separately a mirror image version (W580).  There are only four occurrences of these enigmatic symbols, as well as a variation with six “legs” instead of four (CAGED HEXAPOD, my XI 38, to be discussed later).  They occur at Mohenjo daro mostly, but once at Harappa as well.  I would guess that the central curve with its prongs represents a bug, perhaps a caterpillar.  But I could easily be wrong.
Luwian variants of syllabic wa/i, "a" (above) having a central vertical,
"b" (not shown) lacking any central element, and "c" (bottom) with four
to six dots (the four-dot version resembles the elements of Indus IX 39 rearranged).

In Luwian there is a syllabic symbol for wa or wi that arranges much the same elements in a different way.  A “C” shape on the right is matched by a reversed version on the left, in this glyph.  There are then two short strokes attached to the inside of each curve.  In one variant there are also four short vertical strokes resembling the Indus STACKED FOUR (or, in another variant, STACKED SIX).  Thus, the “caging” elements are optional in Luwian and when they occur, they are between the curves rather than outside them.  In the Indus symbol, the “caging” dots always appear outside the other element.

Analogs to the Indus TETRAPOD in proto-cuneiform: ZATU 855 (upper left),
and three variants of KUSZU, "crab or possibly turtle or shark."

In proto-cuneiform, one of the enigmatic ZATU series is made of a single curve (or “C”) with three attached strokes (ZATU 855).  In addition, there is a sign representing some sort of aquatic creature, though just what is unclear given the wide variation in the sign’s form (KUSZU~a, ~d, and ~e).  By the time of early cuneiform when the signs had developed into a true writing system, the sign meant “an aquatic animal, most likely crab, with turtle and shark as possibilities” (Halloran 2006: 154).

Detail of broken seal M-25 with inscription: MALLET / CUPPED POST / STRIPED LOOP UNDER CHEVRON / DOUBLE GRIDS (2 X 7) (note that the chevron rests directly on the loop in this version, not always so configured).

Returning to the Indus symbols, the fortieth of the nine-stroke signs (IX 40) is STRIPED LOOP UNDER CHEVRON, also known as KP48, W121b, W128, and W136.  Wells thus divides these very similar signs into three distinct ones.  The first has a space between the chevron shape at the top and the loop beneath it, while in the third the chevron rests directly on the top of the loop.  The second one varies the shape of the chevron in Wells’ eyes.  The striping inside the loop also differs among these variations.  Combining them, there may be as many as nine in all, all but one from Mohenjo daro.

Catfish as depicted in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 86, 87; not a natural grouping).
The closest analog is proto-cuneiform ZATU 784, which resembles a fish with fins only at the back, and which is striped.  However, this symbol has nothing comparable to the Indus chevron either above or touching the fish/loop.


In a previous post I mentioned the WHISKERED FISH, a common Indus sign (VI 69).  The forty-first sign in my list is much the same, but it has five rather than the usual two “whiskers.”  Thus, I term it FISH WITH QUINTUPLE WHISKERS, also known as W134.  Koskenniemi and Parpola include a variation with four “whiskers” in their list (KP62).  But they do not add one with five.  There is a single occurrence of the four-whiskered “fish” at Mohenjo daro (M-1284) and a single instance of the five-whiskered variety at Chanhujo daro (C-21).  These might depict catfish, which actually have whiskers.

Tablet H-794A and B with inscriptions (right to left): FISH UNDER CHEVRON /

Although fish-like symbols appear in the art and/or scripts of many cultures, not many sport “whiskers.”  In proto-cuneiform, for example, there is an ichthyomorph with an inverted triangle at the top (and the sign is rotated 90 degrees, as usual).  This is |(SUKUD + SUKUD)~c|, which developed the meaning “height.”  Another similar sign resembling a fish seems to have an open mouth, as well as internal stripes: SUMASZ, which came to mean “a common marine fish.”  There are also rare depictions of whiskered catfish in the rock art of Texas.

Seal M-227 with inscription: CAGED BELTED FISH.

In a similar fashion, we previously examined the Indus DOT IN FISH (V 63).  This sign also appears in a ligature created by surrounding it with the four dots that Wells calls “caging.”  Using his terminology, I designate the sign CAGED DOT IN FISH (IX 42).  It is mentioned in the literature as KP57 and W122, a sign with only seven instances from three cities: Mohenjo daro, Harappa, and Chanhujo daro.

Tablet H-888, sides A and B, with inscription(s?):

There is also a CAGED BELTED FISH (IX 43a), also known as KP59 and W124.  It too is rare, appearing only five times in three cities: Mohenjo daro, Lothal, and Kalibangan.  An apparent variation on this is a CAGED BACKSLASH IN FISH (IX 43b) which appears three times at Harappa. 

Egyptian carving depicting men fishing -- note two whiskered catfish.

There is nothing akin to caging in proto-cuneiform, though the local “fish” symbol does occur inside another sign in |MAH~a x KU6~a|.  This version of the “fish” appears to be belted.  The apparent container, MAH, came to mean “large quantity.”  If the two meanings are to be added together, the combination could mean “large quantity of fish.”

Detail from broken seal C-13 with inscription: POT TOPPED WITH BI-FORK AND LOOP

That concludes the fish-like signs comprised of nine strokes.  The next symbol contains a loop resembling the “fish,” though.  POT TOPPED WITH BI-FORK AND LOOP WITH EF PRONGED TAIL.  This singleton is listed only in Wells (W327).  It appears at Chanhujo daro (C-13).
Proto-cuneiform MAGUR (two variants) depicting a boat.
An ancient Iraq cylinder seal impression showing a reed boat with upraised prow and stern;
compare the sign MAGUR, which mimics the curve, though it is simplified further.

There are no precise parallels, so far as I can see.  The basic curve of the “pot” element is faintly reminiscent of representations of boats in proto-cuneiform, such as MAGUR, variants “a” and “b.”  This sign seems to have taken on the specific meaning, “large cargo boat” in later times.  The “a” version shows the ends of the upraised prow and stern as trident-like.  In the “b” version, these raised parts end in inverted triangles.  In neither case is there a difference between the prow post and the stern post, though.  In addition, both variants contain an element that appears to represent the cargo.  It is a dotted circle in “a” and a semi-circle crossed by stripes in “b.”  The boat is interesting in itself, but I do not really think the Indus sign represents a vessel, whether a boat or a container.

Detail from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, showing two boats, versions of the sacred bark; in some
variants of this boat (which is also a hieroglyph), prow and stern differ in shape.

Depiction of a sailboat or ship from a Cretan seal.


Evans, Arthur J. 1909. Scripta Minoa. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (Cretan seal)
Faulkner, Raymond. 1994. The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. (depiction of Egyptian sacred bark above based on Pl. 34)

Halloran, John Alan. 2006. Sumerian Lexicon: A Dictionary Guide to the Ancient Sumerian Language. Los Angeles: Logogram Publishing.

Newby, P.H. (year?) The Egypt Story: Its Art, Its Monuments, Its People, Its History. New York: Abbeville Press.  (picture of fishers above based on photo p. 76)

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