Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rare Indus Signs Plus a Man Holding Two Sticks

Detail from seal M-181 with inscription: BISECTED STRIPED TRIANGLE (VEE STRIPES?) /
PANTS / BI-QUOTES // HUNCHBACK / SPEAR (since I have smoothed and colored the image,
it is possible that I removed some marks -- but I don't anything else in the photo in the Corpus).

Of the signs I discuss in this post, the first poses the greatest problem.  It is basically a triangle with horizontal stripes which is also bisected by a single vertical.  That is, Koskenniemi and Parpola show such a triangle with three horizontals (see VII), as does Fairservis.  But Wells adds a variation on this, a triangle bisected by a vertical stroke, crossed by a single horizontal, and with two “V” shapes inside.  This variant, Wells’ “b” version, is the symbol at hand.  I term it BISECTED TRIANGLE WITH VEE STRIPES (IX 22).  Wells notes a single occurrence at Mohenjo daro (M-181).  I have included this symbol in my list with an enumeration showing the number of strokes in Wells’ version.  But that is not quite what I see on the seal in question.  In any case, Fairservis states that the STRIPED BISECTED TRIANGLE (my VII 16) pairs with the QUINT-FORK on a regular basis.  He suggests the meaning of this pair as “ninth month.”  I have to say that I have not noted that pairing being particularly common.  Besides that, the STACKED NINE would seem to be a more clear cut way of indicating “nine” or “ninth,” and the CEE (or BACK CEE) a better “moon” or “month.”
Proto-cuneiform parallels to sign IX 22:
|NI~b x 4(N47)| and |NI~a x 1(N57)| "butter" (top row);
SU~b, "skin, hide" and ZATU 732 (middle row); and
ZATU 639 (bottom row).

There are triangular symbols in proto-cuneiform as well, in any case, some with both vertical and horizontal markings inside.  A triangle with a rounded base and a single horizontal and vertical each is |NI~a x 1(N57)|.  It is a ligature of two elements, NI “butter” and the numeral “one.”  A triangle with a flat base, a bisecting vertical stroke, and three short diagonals is SU~b, “skin, hide.”  There are further possible analogs with unclear meanings, including ZATU 639 and ZATU 732.
Seal M-304 with inscription: MAN / FOOTED STOOL / FAT STOOL / POTTED TWO / FISH / POT
(over the famous "Proto-Shiva" and various animals -- but there is also another MAN just over the tiger,
which may or may not be part of the inscription).

The next sign is less troublesome: FAT STOOL (IX 23).  It occurs in others’ lists as KP220, W466, and Fs Q-14.  Fairservis sees it as a ligature, combining his I-11 (the basic STOOL, which he considers tongs) and K-1 (FAT CHEVRON, which he calls a carpenter’s square).  He proposes the meaning : ”united clans; great buffalo” for IX 23.
Luwian glyph 294 THRONUS, "throne."

Although rotated 90 degrees, this symbol resembles the Luwian THRONUS, “throne.”  When I discussed the STOOL, made of an “X” with a vertical stroke closing one end, I noted the similarity in the symbol and a depiction of a stool in Egyptian art.  On cylinder seals from ancient Iraq also, deities sometimes sit on stools of such a shape.  However, it is unlikely that this is what the Indus sign depicts since it is always on what would its side.
In this depiction of the goddess Ishtar (right) and a king (left),
the latter sits on a stool resembling sign IX 23.

Koskenniemi and Parpola include a sign in their list that is basically a “T” with two additional elements.  These additions take the form of the burdens apparently carried by the various BEARER signs.  These elements are also similar to the “spoon” in the CUPPED SPOON sign.  For want of a better descriptor, I thus call the sign SPOONS ON TEE WITH SLASH.  That last part, “with slash,” is based on Wells’ depiction, though the other lists do not show it.  Wells finds the sign to be a singleton occurring only at Harappa (H-455).
Detail of seal H-455 with inscription: TWO POSTS / SPOONS ON TEE WITH SLASH /

There is a roughly similar sign in proto-cuneiform, designated ZATU 730.  This has a thick central post with horizontal and vertical marks within.  Also, the “spoons” are rather different, ending in diamond shapes rather than ovals or circles.  The meaning is unknown.
Proto-cuneiform ZATU 730, a distant analog to sign IX 24.

Next, there is another GRID, this one with three squares across the top and four down (IX 25).  Elsewhere, it appears as KP268(a), W501, and Fs G-16.  Fairservis sees it as an enclosure divided into compartments, meaning “collect, store, storehouse or work area.”  He also observes that it is usually doubled.  Wells, for his part, enumerates such doubled signs independently, considering them to be distinct elements.
Copper tablet M-517 A and B sides, with inscription (from right to left, A side):
STRIPED TRIANGLE (5 stripes) / GRID (3 X 4) / POT // (B side) QUADRUPED.

I have discussed parallel signs in other scripts previously (see remarks on VII 7, for example).  This time, I note various artistic depictions from ancient cultures.  A cylinder seal from Iraq depicts a boat on which there is a grid that may be either the cargo or a cabin.  When deities on such seals are not sitting on stools, they often sit on grids.  And there are gameboards with similar patterns of squares, including the Egyptian Senet and the Sumerian Twenty Squares games.  Grids appear almost universally (though I have not found an example from Australia) and are included in the list of entoptic forms seen by a shaman in trance. 
In this image based on a cylinder seal, the Sumerian god Enki (Akkadian Ea) sits on a grid-like seat.

The twenty-sixth of the nine-stroke signs is BLANKET WITH 5 DIAGONAL TICKS (thus, IX 26), also known as W539 and Fs G-11.  The five-“tick” version that Fairservis shows has vertical marks, not diagonal ones.  He thinks that the square or rectangle represents one of the square weights found in archaeological contexts in the Indus Valley (1992: 101).  The varying numbers of “ticks,” he suggests, refer to specific weight measures.  If this is correct, there are no records of anything that weighed one measure or two measures.  And nothing weighs more than ten measures.  It’s an interesting idea but I find it hard to see what led to it.
Detail of sign IX 26 as it appears on bangle M-1635.

Wells notes this sign to be a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1635).  If it is just a variant of a BLANKET with five vertical “ticks,” then there a couple of additional occurrences (M-1169 and M-1636).  The occurrences M-1635 and M-1636 are incised on bangles and appear to be essentially the same inscription.  None of the strokes in the BLANKET seems to be perfectly straight, with top and bottom slanting one way, the “ticks” slanting the other, and the sides inwardly curved.  In contrast, on the seal M-1169, all of the lines are straight, either horizontal or vertical.  Since carving a seal appears to have been a more careful and (quasi-)artistic endeavor, it seems reasonable to assume that these are indeed the same sign.
Detail of seal H-517 with inscription: MAN HOLDING DOUBLE POSTS / RECTANGLE.

The last sign for this discussion is MAN HOLDING DOUBLE POSTS (IX 27).  In the literature it is designated KP33, W41, and Fs A-14.  Fairservis identifies it as a man with two staffs.  He proposes the meaning “an honorific quality” pronounced ira (presumably in Proto-Dravidian), and used as the proper name Iradaņdiyan.  Wells finds the sign to be a singleton from Harappa (H-517).
In this depiction of an Egyptian deity from the Book of the Dead, the "man" holds
the w3s scepter in one hand, the ankh ("life" glyph) in the other rather than two staffs.

Three versions of man holding a single staff from Egyptian hieratic writing.
The first and last are glyph A19, ideograph or determinative for "old."  The
middle one appears akin to the clearer depiction of one holding scepter and
ankh above (or perhaps a variant of A22, determinative in "statue").

In the scripts and art of other places, there are limited parallels.  The Egyptians often depicted people (and human-like deities) holding a single staff, but rarely show a person or deity holding two.  When there are two objects held, they normally differ.  For example, a god may hold the distinctive w3s scepter in one hand, while clasping the ankh sign (meaning “life”) in the other.
Detail from African rock shelter pictographs showing man
with inverted "L" shaped staff (a grid is to his left).

Petroglyphs of sub-Saharan African include several of a man holding one staff or two objects that differ.  In the rock art of Old Europe, too, men are sometimes depicted with two objects, but these are asymmetrical.  Even in North America, it is typically two different objects that appear on either side of an anthropomorphic figure, whether in Texas or further west. 
Incised Hohokam petroglyphs showing man with two asymmetrical objects
(note also the oval grid to the left and quadrupeds beneath him).

But now and again, one finds a symmetrical arrangement.  There is the famous “snake goddess” from Crete, a Minoan artifact that has been much disputed.  And on Elamite pottery of ancient Iran, sometimes human-like figures seem to hold two of the same peculiar object, one in each hand.
Replica of the famous "snake goddess" of Crete -- she holds symmetrical snakes.

Man with asymmetrical sticks (bow and arrow?) from rock art of Valcamonica, Italy.

Two examples of Elamite pot designs showing humans holding symmetrical objects.


Aruz, Joan, ed. with Ronald Wallenfels. 2003. Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press. (CYLINDER SEALS)

Cambel, Halet. 1999. Corpus of Hieroglyphic Inscriptions. Volume II: Karatepe-Aslantas. New York: Walter de Gruyter.  (LUWIAN)

Collon, Dominique. 1987, 2005. First Impressions: Cylinder Seals in the Ancient Near East. London: The British Museum Press.  (CYLINDER SEALS)

Damerow, Peter and Robert Englund. 1989. The Proto-Elamite Texts from Tepe Yahya. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University.  (PROTO-ELAMITE)

Fairservis, Walter A. 1992. The Harappan Civilization and its Writing: A Model for the Decipherment of the Indus Script. Leiden: E.J. Brill.  (INDUS SCRIPT)

Gardiner, Sir Alan. 1976 (originally 1927). Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs. Oxford: Griffith Institute and Ashmolean Museum.   (EGYPTIAN)

Gimbutas, Marija. 1991. The Civilization of the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper.  (OLD EUROPE)

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

Joshi, Jagat Pati and Asko Parpola. 1987. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 1. Collections in India. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Koskenniemi, Kimmo and Asko Parpola. 1982. A Concordance to the Texts in the Indus Script. Department of Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki.  (INDUS SCRIPT)

Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. 1986. Excavations at Tepe Yahya, Iran 1967-1975. The Early Periods. Thomas Wight Beale, et al. American School of Prehistoric Research Bulletin 38. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University. (PROTO-ELAMITE)

Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. 1986. Excavations at Tepe Yahya, Iran 1967-1975. The Third Millennium. D.T. Potts et al. American School of Prehistoric Research Bulletin 45. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University. (PROTO-ELAMITE)

LeQuellec, Jean-Loic. 2004. Rock Art in Africa: Mythology and Legend. Transl. Paul Bahn. Paris: Flammarion.  (SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA)

Shah, Sayid Ghulam Mustafa and Asko Parpola. 1991. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 2. Collections in Pakistan. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Von Dassow, Eva, ed. 1994. The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day. Raymond Faulkner, transl. with additional translations and commentary by Ogden Goelet, Jr. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Wells, Bryan. 1998. An Introduction to Indus Writing: A Thesis. The University of Calgary.

(see also: Wells, Bryan K. 2011. Epigraphic Approaches to Indus Writing. Oxford: Oxbow Books.)



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