Saturday, July 16, 2011

Potted Spoons and Ornamented Circles in the Indus Script

Broken seal M-1281 with partial inscription:

Continuing the discussion of Indus signs containing nine strokes, I introduce a sign I call SPOON IN BI-FORK TOPPED POT (IX 45).  It appears only in Wells’ list where it is enumerated W325 and noted to be a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1281).  It bears a passing resemblance to an Egyptian hieroglyph, Gardiner’s F15.  The glyph represents the horns of an ox (glyph F13 alone) with the circle of the sun (glyph N5) between them.  In addition, a symbol rather like an inverted “J” stands atop the sun (glyph M4).  The latter glyph appears in the word rnp, “be young.”  Combined with the horns-cum-sun, the symbol becomes wpt-rnpt, “New Year’s day.”  Despite the similarity in shape, I doubt very much that the Indus sign represents an animal’s horns, though.

Figurine of Egyptian goddess Isis wearing the ox horns plus sun symbol (glyph F13 plus N5).

Old Chinese provides a second distant parallel with yue1, “to speak, to tell” (Wieger 1967: 184).  This “U” shaped character depicts a mouth either exhaling a breath or speaking a word.  It has now become a square with a horizontal crossing stroke, as the 73rd radical.
Modern Chinese radicals, arranged by stroke number; the 73rd is yue1,
derived from an old "U" shape containing a coil, "to speak, to tell."

There is a second nine-stroke Indus sign in my list that is much like IX 45.  This is SPOON IN FLANGE TOPPED POT (IX 46), a sign that appears only in the list prepared by Koskenniemi and Parpola, as KP316(b).  So far as I can tell, this is actually the same symbol that Wells perceived a bit differently, as it occurs in my database for the same inscription: M-1281.  Thus, my IX 45 and IX 46 ought to be collapsed into a single entry.  But for now, since the forms shown in the lists differ, I include both.
Broken seal M-1333 with partial inscription: STRIPED FAT CEE / POTTED TRIPLE SLASHES CROSSING / CRAB / ?
(note that the "slashes" actually slant the opposite way, here, so it should be variant "b").

The next sign is more clearly distinct: POTTED TRIPLE SLASHES CROSSING, shown elsewhere as W298 (my IX 47).  Wells finds two occurrences, both from Mohenjo daro.  In one case the strokes crossing the “pot” are angled like slashes; but in the other they are angled the other way, like backslashes.  Thus, I need to add letters to indicate the two variants, “A” and “B.”
Luwian CAELUM, "sky," a "U" shaped
symbol containing additional strokes.

Proto-cuneiform includes a few curves with strokes between them.  The sign DU6 is a half-circle with either six short backslashes inside (variant “a”) or four horizontal strokes and one vertical (variant “b”).  These came to mean “mound, heap; ruins.”  An apparent homophone is something like the Indus “pot” but more rounded and with just a single prong on each side: DU8~c@g.  Inside, there are four horizontal strokes, creating a symbol that came to mean “to crack, loosen, open, untie.” 
Detail from seal M-9 with inscription: POTTED THREE / GRID WITH ATTACHED LOOPS / SINGLE POST.

Sign IX 47 may be an unusual variant of the next Indus sign, POTTED THREE (IX 48), also known as KP327(a), W292, and Fs Q-18.  This symbol takes the usual “pot” form and inserts three short vertical strokes in a row, which is the more common method of adding strokes to a “pot.”  Fairservis sees this as a combination of his J-5 (the “pot,” defined as an honorific ending) and his O-3 (“three quotes,” defined as the numeral three and as “foremost”).  Together, he suggests, these elements mean “high, foremost (a superlative).”  Wells observes 15 occurrences, 12 from Mohenjo daro and three from Harappa.  I see eight from the latter city and possibly one from Lothal as well.  Still, there are not many.

There may well be yet another variant of the last sign, namely, POTTED TRIPLE SLASHES (IX 49).  This variation occurs in the literature as KP327(b) and W296.  Since Koskenniemi and Parpola give it the same identifying number as the previous sign, they apparently see it as a variant.  But Wells enumerates the forms differently, probably because he finds insufficient reason to lump them together.  He notes four occurrences, three from Mohenjo daro and one from Lothal.  This symbol differs from my IX 47 (W298) in that the slashes in the “pot” are very short and do not touch the sides.
Seal Krs-1 with inscription: CUPPED SPOON / QUADRUPED / SHISH KEBAB / PINCH //
QUOTE // STACKED TRIPLE CIRCLES (possibly including three units of information).

Having completed the “U” shapes of nine strokes, I move now to round symbols.  The first of these is CIRCLED GRID (2 X 3), which is the fiftieth of the nine-stroke signs (IX 50).  It occurs in Wells’ list as W366 but nowhere else.  Wells finds two instances, one from Mohenjo daro and one from Khirsara.  I may be wrong (my eyes being weak and the photos unclear) but the Khirsara example does not seem to contain the “grid.”  Instead, I think it is an element I call the TRIPLE BRICK.

In any case, proto-cuneiform provides parallel examples of circular signs containing grid-like elements.  A circle with a “V” shape attached to one side is DU8 and this may contain a rounded “window” in |DU8~c x UDU~a|.  The first sign came to mean “to release, untie,” while the internal element represents “sheep.”  There is also an unadorned circle with grid-like markings inside: SIG2~a1, which came to mean “hair, fur, wool, hide.”
Seal C-30 with inscription: STACKED FIVE / LOOP ARMED MAN HOLDING SLASH / CARTWHEEL BETWEEN DOUBLE POSTS (or should the last sign be divided into three: TWO POSTS / CARTWHEEL / TWO POSTS?).

A second circular element among the Indus signs is CARTWHEEL BETWEEN DOUBLE POSTS (IX 51), found elsewhere as W389.  Apparently other researchers separate this into three symbols: TWO POSTS / CARTWHEEL / TWO POSTS, but I have followed Wells’ list here.  He notes two occurrences, one from Mohenjo daro and one from Chanhujo daro.  I think he is mistaken about the first (M-190), since that inscription has OVERLAPPING CIRCLES between the two pairs of double “posts.”  But there is indeed a second occurrence besides that at Chanhujo daro, namely H-598e from Harappa.

In proto-cuneiform, the circle containing a cross (or with the arms of the cross protruding outside the circle) stands for a sheep.  It may appear between two bent strokes which represent another sign, NINDA2, a “bushel measuring vessel.”  Together, the meaning is obscure to me, since one hardly ever measures sheep in bushels (transliterated |NINDA2 x ((UDU~a x TAR)~a)|).  Later on, each of these symbols takes on a variety of meanings, though, so the combination probably has nothing to do with either bushels or livestock.
Broken seal M-1105 showing RAINY CARTWHEEL below zebu's dewlap.

There is a nine-stroke RAINY CARTHWEEL also (IX 52).  It has several variations, only one of which contains this many strokes (Wells’ “a” variant).  I include it in my list at this point on the basis of Wells’ depiction (W569), but I do not actually see this form in the Corpus.  In any case, though Wells finds just four, I see seven, all occurring in Mohenjo daro and Harappa.  The sign also appear in the literature as KP339(b).
Detail from broken seal M-1101 with inscription: RAKE OVER RAKE / GRID (3 X 4) /

In proto-cuneiform, there is a diamond-shaped symbol containing nested “V” shapes.  It also has two prongs attached on one side, which reminds me of the Indus IX 52.  The proto-cuneiform sign is MUNSZUB~b, eventually defined as “hair; hairy skin; pelt, hide; horns; barber.”
Seal M-252 with inscription: DOT IN FISH / BELTED FISH / CAGED CIRCLED TRI-FORK.

Another Indus circle appears in CAGED CIRCLED TRI-FORK (IX 53), also known as W358.  Here, the very common sign of a trident inside a circle is further modified by the addition of four short strokes (the “cage”).  Wells notes four occurrences from Mohenjo daro and Harappa.

Another rare Indus sign is ARROW SKEWERING STRIPED CIRCLE (IX 54), listed elsewhere as KP47 and W244.  Wells notes four occurrences in this case also, all from Mohenjo daro.  I think there may be one from Harappa in addition (H-92).  Proto-cuneiform provides a near analog in SZIR~b, a pointed oval skewered by a horizontal “post.”  This “b” version adds both horizontal and diagonal stripes to the oval.  But it does not have the chevron shape at one end of the post, seen in the Indus sign.

Next, two round shapes are stacked in FIGURE EIGHT WITH ATTACHED LADDER (IX 55), also described as KP77 and W360.  Wells finds three, all from Harappa.  In some cases, I think the “ladder” is only two parallel strokes (lacking “rungs,” in other words).  A similar sign from Mohenjo daro has just a single added stroke (FIGURE EIGHT WITH BACKSLASH).  I see no parallels for this symbol.
Seal C-29 with inscription: TWO POSTS / BLANKET / OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / PANTS //

The final Indus symbol considered here is STRIPED LEAF (IX 56), also known as KP112 (with 11 strokes), W254 (one of four variants), and Fs E-6 (with 10 strokes).  Fairservis states that the symbol depicts a pipal leaf, a reasonable explanation.  However one enumerates the sign, it comes in many variations, in which the main difference is the number of stripes.  Fairservis defines this sign as “head or high superior as in Chief or God (not royal).”  I imagine that he derived this meaning from the various depiction on seals of an anthropomorphic figure wearing horns and apparently a plant of some sort on his/her head.
Note the horns and plant on the head of tiger-lady (?) on far left
in this unusual seal (inscription seems to be in front of "her": THREE QUOTES / (over) QUAD-FORK).

However that may be, other cultures commonly depict vegetation also.  Egyptian hieroglyphs include a lotus flower (M9) and an herb with three leaves (M2), for example.  Proto-cuneiform contains GI4 “reed,” GIBIL (perhaps wheat), GISZIMMAR “date palm,” and NAGA “saltwort” among others.  None of these resembles the Indus STRIPED LEAF.  The Old Chinese characters for “tree” and “grass” also appear quite different and will not be shown here.

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