Saturday, July 2, 2011

More Indus Singleton Signs and Problematic Symbols

Indus sign IX 16 (top) and closest analog,
proto-cuneiform MUNSZUB, "hair, pelt."

Sign IX 16 in my list derives from KP390 and W396, but it does not appear in my database of inscriptions.  I call it VEE AND TRI-FORK IN DIAMOND, a descriptive phrase.  It is a diamond with the usual “V” shape attached to the top, inside.  But there is also an inverted “dubya” or the top of a trident, attached to the base of the “V.”  Wells observes two, both from Harappa (or, relying on his later book, Epigraphic Approaches to Indus Writing, it occurs five times).  All of the occurrences are on tablets, many of which I cannot discern as they do not photograph well.

This sign contains the same basic elements seen in the previous symbol, VEE IN DIAMOND WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK (IX 15).  But the “trident” portion appears on the outer surface of the diamond in IX 15, while it is inside the diamond and attached to the “V” in IX 16.  Should these two be considered variants of a single sign?  Since neither occurs even a dozen times, we cannot use statistics to answer the answer.  The two do not seem to occur together, but this might be nothing more than coincidence given their sparsity in the record.

Indus sign IX 17 (top) and its closest analog,
proto-cuneiform MUNSZUB, "hair, pelt."

The next sign is just as troubling, HAMMER IN DIAMOND (IX 17), also known as KP363 and W405.  Wells gives it as a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-120), but I do not see it.  According to my reading, M-120 has this inscription: STRIPED QUADRUPED / OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / POTTED ONE / EF-TOPPED EXIT / WINGED MAN / POT.  There seems to be nothing there that could be confused with a diamond containing anything at all.

Detail from seal M-101 with inscription: CIRCLED VEE / BI-QUOTES //

The third sign provides better opportunities for analysis: STRIPED TRIANGLE (6 STRIPES), which I enumerate IX 18.  It appears in the literature as KP210(a) but with only three stripes, as W412 in four variants, and as Fs K-6a.  Fairservis sees it as a heap or pile of grain with the meaning “fullness, abundance.”  This is interesting since he thinks the striped triangle beneath the “table” represents a conical weight, suspended from a balance.  There are several sizes of conical objects made of clay in the archeological record, so it is reasonable to suggest a triangular sign is a depiction of one of these.  But it also seems a bit inconsistent to make the same symbol this conical object and a heap of something else.

Proto-cuneiform striped triangle NI~a, "oil, cream, butter" (on left).

However that may be, Wells notes 48 occurrences of striped triangles, 26 from Mohenjo daro, 16 from Harappa, three from Lothal, one from Kalibangan, and two from Allahdino.  As noted, there are four variants, with “A” containing three stripes and six strokes, “B” with four stripes and seven strokes, and both “C” and “D” sporting five stripes and nine strokes.  The last two are differentiated by the shape of the triangle: “C” is side and “D” tall and thin.

Detail from block of Luwian text -- note striped triangle in top register near left side,
URBS, "city," as well as three examples of doubled striped triangles, REGIO, "country." 

Such a symbol occurs in Luwian.  A glyph shown as a triangle with either horizontal or diagonal stripes represents URBS, “city.”  Interestingly, two of these side by side become another ideograph, REGIO, “country.”  Proto-cuneiform also presents parallels with IR~a and IR~d.  The first is triangular but has a rounded end, while the second variant has a flat base.  The first also has diagonal stripes while the second has vertical stripes.  This ideograph came to mean “odor, perfume.”  A similar symbol, again either with a rounded base or a flat one, but this time containing just a single stripe, is NI, “oil, cream, butter.”  There is a ligature of the first version of NI with the numeral “four” as well: |NI~b x 4(N57)|.  Here, the numeral takes the form of horizontal stripes inside the basic sign.  If the stripes in the Indus sign represent numerals in a parallel fashion, then the STRIPED TRIANGLE is actually several different signs (my total is 70). 

There are Indus triangles with two, three, four, five, six, and perhaps even seven internal stripes, as I count them:
  • Triangle with 2 stripes:   1 occurrence (M-1307)
  • Triangle with 3 stripes:   9 occurrences (?) (M-29, M-269, M-362, M-453?, M-523, , M-961, M-1363?; K-63; Ns-9?)
  • Triangle with 4 stripes: 42 occurrences (M-30, M-245?, M-374, M-551 through M-565?, M-678, M-809, M-861?, M-937, M-1353, M-1503 through M-1513?; H-139, H-157, H-187, H-641, H-666, H-707 through 710)
  • Triangle with 5 stripes: 6 occurrences ( M-174?, M-246?, M-408, M-516, M-517, M-1318)
  • Triangle with 6 stripes: 10 occurrences (H-13; L-22; M-14, M-101, M-374, M-859, M-1095, M-1271; Ad-4?, Ad-8?)
  • Triangle with 7 stripes: 2 occurrences (H-599; M-58, possibly M-551??)
Inscription from M-391: FIVE-TOED FOOT / STACKED STOOLS WITH MID QUOTE / VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES // CIRCLED E TRI-FORK / BACKSLASH IN FISH / THREE QUOTES / CIRCLE BETWEEN CEES / POT // COMB BELTED ASTERISK / SLASHES IN OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / QUAD-FORK (at 12 signs, one of the longer Indus inscriptions -- but compare to the length of the Luwian block above).

Leaving aside such difficult decisions of how to group – or separate – striped triangles, we come to COMB BELTED ASTERISK (IX 19).  It occurs elsewhere as KP249 and W435.  In form, it is an “X” with two verticals or posts crossing it – the “asterisk” portion.  In addition, there is a “comb” lying horizontally across the middle, with the “tines” pointing downward.  This ligature – if that is what it is – occurs just once, at Mohenjo daro (M-391).  I see nothing comparable in the scripts of other cultures.

Tablet H-952, sides A and B (reading right to left):
FOUR POSTS / CUP (B side).

Then there is another peculiar sign, FOOTED STOOL WITH HAIRY LEGS (IX 20), also known as KP237 and W455.  Wells notes two occurrences, both at Mohenjo daro.  I see a third at that city, with another at Harappa.  It is interesting to note that the “feet” are on the left in the examples from Mohenjo daro, but they are on the right in the example from Harappa. 

Wells often distinguishes two signs when they mirror each other in this way.  But he does not do so here.  Perhaps that is because the Harappan occurrence appears on a tablet, while the Mohenjo daro examples are on seals.  We expect reversal of sign order between these two types of object, since the seals were used for stamping while the tablets were “read” as is.  It would make sense for the symbols themselves to reverse as well.  But sometimes this does not happen (e.g., the HAIRY HUNCHBACK appears on multiple tablets with the “head” to the right as on H-934, as well as with the “head” on the left as on H-933).  This kind of failure to reverse signs also occurs on cylinder seals from the Near East, though (Collon REF).  It is possible that the appearance of both types on seals is a “scribal error” so to speak.  But it is hard to see why the same error should occur on tablets too.  Still, it does seem to happen that way.  Note that the otherwise identical inscriptions on tablets H-945B and H-946B read from right to left CUP / FOUR POSTS and FOUR POSTS / CUP, respectively.

Seal M-1134 with inscription: CARTWHEEL / STRIPED MALLET / CIRCLED GRID / FOOTED STOOL WITH MID EARS (note that without a prefix constant or a terminal, this inscription might be read in the opposite direction).

Then we have FOOTED STOOL WITH MID EARS (IX 21 A), also seen enumerated as KP232 and W459.  Here, the “feet” of the “stool” are on the right (although, since M-628 is a seal, both Wells and the Koskenniemi and Parpola team reverse the sign in their lists).  But another instance has the “feet” on the other side (M-1134).  Wells enumerates this version independently, as W468.  I think there may be two more examples of the first “variant” (M-715, partially abraded, and M-1186, partly missing on the top edge).
Inscription from bar seal M-1262: DOUBLE EF TOPPED EXITS / FOOTED STOOL WITH MID OVAL /

I see that the large iconic animal on the seals varies, the head of the unicorn on M-628 placed on the left of the seal, the head of the rhino on M-1134 placed on the right side.  This suggests the possibility that the position of the animal’s head indicates the beginning of the inscription.  It is a handy hypothesis as long as we restrict our view to occurrences of this sign, IX21.  But it collapses when we widen our view.  For example, the unicorn on C-17 is unusually positioned with its head to the right.  But the left-most sign is HORNED MAN (or WINGED MAN), followed by POT on the right (and MAN down beneath the unicorn’s head in place of the usual cult stand).  Since POT is a terminal sign (as is MAN), we would not want to read it before HORNED/WINGED MAN.

Detail from seal M-17 with inscription: FOOTED STOOL WITH MID EARS (or oval?) /

Finally, I mention FOOTED STOOL WITH MID OVAL, which I think is probably a variant of the previous sign, thus enumerated IX 21B (or VII 64, since it actually has just seven strokes).  It appears only as W460 elsewhere, where it is listed as a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1065).  Oddly enough, the “stool” on M-1065 is caged and thus an 11-stroke sign, which Wells apparently did not notice.  The sign occurs alone on a broken piece, but three of the four caging marks are clearly visible and there are traces of the fourth.  This sign actually does occur, though (M-1262).  I think M-17 is more likely my variant “A” rather than an example of “B.”  And there may be one more occurrence in an impression that is very hard to make out (L-141).  At any rate, I see eight examples, counting the problematic caged M-1065.

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