Saturday, July 23, 2011

Squares and Diamonds in the Indus Script

Seal K-1 with inscription: TWO POSTS / BLANKET WITH 6 TICKS / STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER TABLE /
SINGLE POST (note the appearance of apparent "numerals" both preceding and following another sign).

There are a number of Indus signs that are basically squares or rectangles with a few additional marks inside them.  One of these is what I term BLANKET WITH SIX TICKS, enumerated X 2 as the second of the ten-stroke symbols.  In the literature it appears with these designations: KP270(a), W538, and Fs G-12 (perhaps also Mahadevan's sign M245).  Fairservis considers it to represent an enclosure with six diacritical marks added.  His definition is non-architectural, though: "Note terms for superintendance; a prestigious title in Harappan?"  He also suggests that the basic square/rectangle indicates a weight, with the number of marks inside representing the measure.  Wells notes a total of 20 occurrences of this sign, 10 from Mohenjo daro, 5 from Harappa, 2 from Kalibangan, and 1 apiece from Chanhujo daro, Nindowari damb, and Kot diji.

Indus BLANKET analogs: proto-cuneiform SIG2~d4, "hide, fur" (top left) and
ZATU 759 (center top); Egyptian S32, "piece of cloth" (lower left) and O11, "palace" (far right).

In proto-cuneiform, in contrast, a square or rectangle filled with little marks -- not restricted to the tops and bottoms -- is SIG2~d4, which came to mean "hair; wool; fur, hide."  There is another squarish symbol with marks attached to the top and bottom only, ZATU 759.  However, in this case, the added marks are on the outside, while they are invariably on the inside in the Indus BLANKET.

Egyptian hieroglyphs include another rectangle, usually wide than it is tall, with a few strokes attached to one side.  This glyph, S32, depicts a piece of fringed cloth, as found acting as an ideograph or determinative in si3t, "piece of cloth."  The same glyph also functions as a phonetic element, a triliteral (symbol for a series of three consonants), si3.  This is not too different from a symbol found in Linear B (Mycenaean Greek), another rectangle with a "fringe."  It too represents a piece of cloth.

Tablet H-206A with inscription in bas-relief (right to left): TRIPLE BRICK / CUPPED POST /
FIGURE EIGHT WITH TRIPLED LASHES / WHISKERED FISH / BLANKET WITH FOUR
TICKS & TWO HYPHENS / POT (note that one "hyphen" is horizontal, the other diagonal).

A variation on this theme among Indus signs is X3, BLANKET WITH FOUR TICKS AND TWO HYPHENS, also known as KP270(e), W530 and 535, but not shown in Fairservis' list.  Wells distinguishes two versions, the first having two "slashes" and only the second showing the two "hyphens."  He sees five of the slanting variety, all from Harappa, and only one of the straight variety, this from Mohenjo daro.  In the photographs, the distinction is not entirely clear, however, since the "blanket" (or rectangle) does not have neat 90 degree angles in many of the Harappan instances, making it difficult to judge whether the additional marks were intended to be parallel to the top and bottom.  Accordingly, I have included both variants as a single sign in my own list.

Tablet H321, sides A & B, with inscriptions (left to right):
WHISKERED FISH / BLANKET WITH FOUR TICKS & TWO HYPHENS /
CROSSROADS EX / POT (A); TWO POSTS / CUP (B).

As parallels, I note the same symbols as mentioned previously.  In proto-cuneiform, the second example, ZATU 759, comes in a second version, this one with multiple diagonal stripes.  In Egyptian, another glyph matches the fringed cloth, but is set upright, with the "fringe" on top.  This symbol, O11, represents a palace with battlements, an ideograph in the word 'h or ih, "palace."  It contains internal marks as well, both horizontal and diagonal.

Seal M-267 with inscription: EX UNDER TABLE / BI-QUOTES // POT-HATTED BEARER //
BLANKET WITH 4 TICKS & 2 HYPHENS / POT (note how the "hyphens" virtually fill the center
of the "blanket" sign, making it difficult to assign them a specific sign number, X3 or X4).

The following Indus sign is probably another variant of X 3, and I have given it the same name (but a separate enumeration, X 4).  It appears in other lists as KP270(d), W532, and W533.  Again Wells distinguishes a version with straight horizontal marks and another with diagonal marks.  Together, they occur only five times.  The difference between these variants and those of the previous sign is hardly noticeable -- the added "hyphens" (or "slashes") touch the side of the enclosing rectangle in X 3, but touch no side in X4.  I find it impossible to distinguish the two sets, though, because in too many instances the added marks entirely fill the space inside the rectangle.  Are they intended to be free of the sides, then?  Or are they intended to touch one side?  If intended to touch, which side?

Seal M-975 with inscription: CAGED TETRAPOD / POTTED ONE / PANTS / OCTUPLE DOTTED EX.

Following these "blankets" in my list is a very different symbol, OCTUPLE DOTTED EX (X 5).  In form it is an "X" shape, with two small marks between every two arms.  It is designated KP242 and W559 in the literature, a sign that Wells notes occurs just once.  I find a second instance from the same location, Mohenjo daro (M-975 and M-1342).

Proto-cuneiform signs with four "compartments": U8, "mother ewe" (upper left); |(U8 x TAR)~b|, perhaps a sheared ewe (upper right); DARA4~a2, "blood; red" (lower left); and KID~e, "reed mat" (lower right) (definitions are those for the
later cuneiform descendants of these signs and may not be entirely correct for the earlier forms).

In proto-cuneiform there are signs that include an "X" or cross, with additional marks.  But in every case, there is also an enclosing shape, either circular or rectangular.  A circled cross with small marks in the division is U8, "mother ewe."  Almost identical is |(U8 x TAR)~b|, which combines the symbol for "to cut" with that of the sheep.  Here the arms of the cross protrude beyond the enclosing circle.  Finally, there is the rectangular DARA4~a2, "blood; red."
Seal L-39 with inscription: DOTTED WINDOW / VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES //
AITCH / SPEAR (seal is cracked and heavily scratched, especially in lower right).

Another square or rectangular symbol in the Indus script is DOTTED WINDOW (X 6), found in the literature as KP380, W506, and Fs G-18a.  Fairservis suggests that this, too, is an enclosure, one with four equal compartments.  He defines it as a plural form of "storeroom," in other words "many storerooms."  If that were true, one would probably conclude that there were not many storerooms in the inscriptions, since it occurs only six times, according to Wells (3 from Mohenjo daro, 2 from Harappa, 1 from Lothal).

Compartmented stamp seal from Altyn Depe, with either cross or "X" shape,
as well as two "dots" between every two arms (Masson 1981: Pl. XVII, no. 6).

Proto-cuneiform also includes signs in which a rectangular element is subdivided into four equal parts.  One of these is a wide but short rectangle enclosing a cross: KID~e, representing a reed mat.  Another is a tall and thin rectangle enclosing an "X": DARA4~a3, a variation on one cited earlier meaning "blood; red."  At Altyn Depe, in Turkmenistan, a great many variations on both the cross and the "X" appear -- on pottery, as stamp seals, and as decoration on a variety of other artifacts.  In addition to the seal illustrated here, there is another round one with "X" or cross and a single dot between every two arms (Masson 1981: Pl. XXXVII, no. 2).

Seal M-255 with inscription: BELTED FISH / DOTTED EX IN DIAMOND / POT.

If the last Indus sign were tipped, to stand on one corner, it might become the next symbol, DOTTED EX IN DIAMOND (X7).  This appears in the literature as KP381, W398, and Fs G-18b.  Fairservis, in fact, considers it a variant of the previous sign.  Wells enumerates it separately, though, indicating that he disagrees.  He notes two occurrences, both from Mohenjo daro (M-109 and M-255).

Diamond shapes among the proto-cuneiform signs: UH, "vermin" (upper left), |HI x SZE3 @ t|, "to mix" plus "portion" (upper right), HI @ g~a, "to mix" (lower left), and |HI x 1(N58)|, "to mix" plus numeral "one."

Once again, proto-cuneiform provides a rather distant analogy, with the sign UH, "louse, flea; vermin."  This is also a diamond shape, but divided in half by a horizontal line (no vertical), with the addition of four short diagonals crossing this line.  Other diamond shapes occur in this proto-writing system as variations on HI, "to mix."  This can include a horizontal line or a vertical line inside, but not both.  There may be several strokes added to the interior, but these are either a series of parallels, or the addition of a second sign inside (as in |HI x SZE3 @ t|).

Seal L-48 with inscription: TRI-FORK (to left of  goat's horns) / POTTED ONE / BI-QUOTES (?) /
CAGED FISH // ASTERISK / VEE IN DIAMOND WITH FOUR PRONGS.

I discussed another diamond-shaped sign previously, namely VEE IN DIAMOND.  We now come to its relative, VEE IN DIAMOND WITH FOUR PRONGS (X 8), also known as KP389 and W404.  It is a singleton from Lothal (L-48).  It bears a passing resemblance to proto-cuneiform MUNSZUB~b, "hair, pelt; horns," a diamond containing many "V" shapes (rotated 90 degrees) and just two attached "posts."  In a sense, it is also analogous to BARA2~b, a rectangle with prongs attached on three sides, which came to mean a great series of things: "throne, dais; king, ruler; chapel, shrine; sackcloth, penitential robe; chamber, dwelling."

Proto-cuneiform BARA2~b, "throne; king, etc." (above)
and MUNSZUB~b, "hair; horns" (below), analogs to X8.

We can compare X8 to other Indus signs, too.  An inscription from Kalibangan contains VEE IN DIAMOND WITH THREE SHISH KEBABS (K-22).  A second example of this variation occurs at Mohenjo daro (M-151).  A fuller discussion will appear in this blog at a later time.  There is also a sign found at Mohenjo daro that has three attached prongs, only one stroke less than X8 (M-1152).  That is, I count three, but the photo is indistinct.

Seal K-15 with inscription: VEST / FISH / BUD TOPPED DUBYA / DOUBLY CAGED BACK DEE-SLASH / CORN HOLDER / SINGLE STRIPED BOWTIE / POT / COMB // CIRCLE WITH TWO EARS AND CIRCLE UPON CIRCLE BETWEEN ESSES / TRI-FORK ON VEE IN DIAMOND (note that there may be a single prong attached to the last, too).

The ninth sign of those drawn with ten strokes is TRI-FORK ON VEE IN DIAMOND (X 9).  Fairservis does not mention it, but it is also designated KP390(a), (b), and (c), as well as W396, 399, 410, and 411.  The variants differ in their treatment of the "trident" and its attachment.If the small variations among them truly distinguish independent signs, then each is a singleton.  If all are variants of a single sign, as I have grouped them, then there are four occurrences, two from Mohenjo daro, one from Kalibangan, and one from Harappa (Wells includes an additional instance from Harappa, but it is an eleven-stroke sign, to be discussed in a later post).  Although diamond shapes appear as symbols in many areas, and these are often adorned with one or more internal motifs, I find none analogous to this Indus sign.

Tablet H360B with inscription (probably to be read right to left): RAKE /
STRIPED BATTERY / TWO POSTS / CIRCLED FAT EX.

The final sign for this post is STRIPED BATTERY (X 10), also known as KP290, W477, and Fs G-2.  Fairservis thinks it represents a building, perhaps a house.  Wells notes three occurrences, but I find X 10 to be a singleton (H-360).  The other instances that Wells cites have an attached LOOP.  As signs of fourteen strokes, they will be discussed at a later time.

Three variants of proto-cuneiform URUDU, "copper"; a similar sign
with just two horizontal stripes inside is DUB, "(clay) tablet."

As with the simple BATTERY, X 10 is paralleled by various signs in proto-cuneiform.  These include URUDU @ g~c, "copper," DUB~d, "(clay) tablet," and an undefined symbol, ZATU 737.  A very similar shape appears occasionally in the rock art of the American Southwest (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 188, Pl. 138, no. 17-A).  In this area, it generally appears along with other motifs that bear a similarity to those of the pueblo cultures further west.

Three variants of proto-cuneiform sign ZATU 737.
REFERENCES:

Masson, V.M. 1981. Altyn-Depe.  Transl. Henry N. Michael. Philadelphia: The University Museum of Univ. of Pennsylvania.

Newcomb, W.W., Jr. and Forrest Kirkland. 1996. The Rock Art of Texas Indians. Austin: University of Texas.

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