Tuesday, July 26, 2011


We have seen various “bowtie” forms in the Indus script, made of two triangles with apex toward each other (or an “hourglass” form turned on its side).  Today’s post begins with consideration of a new type, STRIPED BOWTIE WITH EXTRA RIBBON (X 17), seen elsewhere as KP226, W451, and Fs M-4.  Fairservis sees this as a depiction of a drum with three parts, defining it as “all, whole.”  Wells finds five instances, all but one from Mohenjo daro.  I see as many as 10 altogether, though still all are from Mohenjo daro but one (H-473).
Proto-cuneiform sign KAD4~a, "to tie, bind together," an analog to Indus X 17.

Bowtie or hourglass shapes are common as decorative motifs outside the Indus Valley.  But as a sign, an elaborated "bowtie" occurs less often.  Proto-cuneiform does provide a distant parallel with KAD4~a, a “bowtie” with three stripes in each triangle and three horizontal strokes to the left.  It came to mean “to tie, bind together.”
Broken and abraded seal H-474 with partial inscription: CEE (?) / STRIPED FAT CHEVRON / FAT CHEVRON / ?
(note the presence of two types of "chevron" in this inscription, an indication that these are independent signs).

There have also been a couple of chevron-like shapes in previous posts.  The second sign discussed today is STRIPED FAT CHEVRON (X 18).  It appears in the literature as KP195 and Fs K-2, as well as two separate enumerations in Wells’ list: W260 and W421.  Fairservis sees the sign as a representing a measure, or something akin to a modern ruler or yardstick.  He suggests it was used to indicate measures of cloth.  Wells shows a ten-stroke version with rounded ends which is a singleton from Mohenjo daro.  He also includes a version with squared off ends, this one drawn with twelve strokes.  The latter occurs four times, twice each at Mohenjo daro and Harappa.
Two proto-cuneiform parallels to Indus X 18: ERIN, "cedar tree/wood" (above) and LA~e, "abundance" (below).

Proto-cuneiform provides a number of similar signs, including ERIN, “cedar tree or wood,” LA~e, “abundance; wealth; bliss, happiness,” and TUN3~b, “pocket, pouch, bag; wrap; leek; stomach; lip; rim.”  These symbols vary in the number and placement of the internal stripes, as well as the orientation of the overall shape.  However, none of them stand with a peak upward like a chevron, as the Indus sign does.
Seal M-241 with inscription: FOOTED EX / EXIT / POTTED ONE / OVERLAPPING CIRCLES /
TWO POSTS / POT / MAN (the last sign is either incomplete in the original or half abraded).

The following sign is a singleton I term FOOTED EX (X 19), also known as KP254 and W554.  The end of each arm of a simple “X” shape sports a very thin oval in this rare symbol from Mohenjo daro (M-241). 
A type of "footed" cross among proto-cuneiform signs, KIB, "an object that could be made of gold."

Such a symbol occurs rarely anywhere in this precise form, but variations on an “X” are extremely common.  Proto-cuneiform includes three cross shaped signs: the curved SZENNUR~b represents a highly schematic “plumtree”; the striped KESZ2 is a “knot” or “tether”; and only two “feet” appear on KIB, “an object that could be made of gold.”
Two elaborated crosses among the stamp seals of Altyn Depe (Masson 1988: Pl. XVI, nos. 2 and 6).

Adinkra "footed ex" design from West Africa (Visona et al 2001: 120).
Elaborated crosses and exes often appear on stamp seals from the Central Asian site of Altyn Depe, as well as on pottery.  The same may be said of pottery from New Mexico, made by Native Americans.  The West African Adinkra symbols include a cross-hatched “X” with rounded “feet.”  And the cross and “X” also appear in various elaborated forms in Nubian art, in what is now Sudan.
Modern pots with painted elaborations of "X" shapes from New Mexico (photo by author).

Nubian ceramic window grille in the form of an elaborated "X" from
the Church of the Granite Columns at Old Dongola (Welsby 2002: 222, fig. 89).

But X 19 in the Indus script is closest to an Old Chinese “footed ex” that represents the 10th heavenly stem, guei3 (Keightley 1978: 219).  This symbol is part of a date commonly found on "oracle bones" in ancient China, dating to the Shang period.  In later China, the 10 heavenly stems combine with the 12 earthly branches to form dates, as well as the 12 animals that are better known in the West.
Two variants of the Old Chinese "footed ex," guei3, 10th heavenly stem (Keightley 1978: 219).
Chinese oracle bone inscription, with guei3 at the top of the first and second columns
(from the right), giving the date of the crack-making / divining (Keightley 1978: 43).

Previously, I mentioned a “footed stool” element among Indus signs with “feet” to the right, as well as a reversed version with “feet” on the left.  We now consider the combination of these two, with the “feet” facing one another.  I call this ligature OPPOSED DOUBLE FOOTED STOOLS (X 20).  The individual elements appear in the Koskenniemi and Parpola list as KP230 and KP234, but not as a ligature.  Faiservis does not include the combination either.  Wells often enumerates doubled symbols independently and does so here: W452.  He finds five instances of the ligature, with three coming from Mohenjo daro, and one apiece from Lothal and Kot diji.  I see an additional occurrence from each of these locations, raising the total to eight.
Inscription on a bangle from Kot diji (Kd-8), reading from right: BLANKET WITH SIX TICKS /

In proto-Elamite there is a similar sign, with two “stools” placed together in such a fashion (M318).  In this area, however, the “stools” lack “feet.”
Detail from seal M-43 with inscription: HAIRY DIAMOND LOLLIPOP /

The next Indus sign is a small diamond set atop a short “post,” with five prongs rising from the top: HAIRY DIAMOND LOLLIPOP (X 21), also known as W249.  In the Koskenniemi and Parpola list, this element appears as a pronged oval on a post (KP360).  But I see a diamond shape in the two instances that Wells lists (M-43 and M-1002).  The length of the prongs differs in these two examples, but Wells gives no indication of variants.
Two proto-cuneiform parallels to the Indus X 21: MASZ2 @ g " extispicy" (above) and SZUM, "saw, knife" (below).

Proto-cuneiform includes two rhomboid (or diamond-shaped) “lollies,” BU~b with two prongs on top, and MASZ2 @ g with six or seven off to one side.  The latter also has a cross-piece on the “stem.”  The former came to mean “to tear, cut off,” while the latter became, “extispicy (divination from entrails), omen; sacrificial animal.”  There is also a “lolly” with a round end, sporting three prongs: SZUM, “saw, knife, sickle with serrated edge.”  In each case, I would have thought the symbol depicted some type of plant, but none of these definitions supports such an interpretation.  This is one lesson that potential decipherers of Indus signs should take to heart.
Tablet H-959A and B with inscriptions: DIAMOND HEADED (?) HAIRY HUNCHBACK / POT / COMB (A side);
CUP / THREE POSTS (B side) (note that the "hunchback" is essentially the same as the "oval-headed" version).

The last Indus sign for today’s post is also a variation on a theme seen previously, DIAMOND HEADED HAIRY HUNCHBACK (X 22).  Fairservis notes only an “oval-headed” variation (E-5 + P-4), seeing it as a ligature of two or three simpler signs.  Combining the “bud” with the chevron, defined as “head,” and adding four strokes as a pluralizer, he derives the meaning, “cotton.”  Koskenniemi and Parpola also include only an “oval-headed” version (KP194).  Wells enumerates this angular variation separately (W82), although it is a singleton (H-959).  My own inclination is to consider this a slightly more angular variant of the eight-stroke, “oval-headed” sign.  It appears on a tablet rather than a seal, which often means slight variation in sign shape.
Proto-cuneiform DA~c, "arm; side," a very distant parallel to Indus X 22 with its prongs.

The closest analog I find among the proto-cuneiform signs is DA~c, a schematic representation of an arm, with prongs for fingers and thumb.  It came to mean “arm” (not surprisingly), but also “side; nearness.”  Despite the angular, diamond-shaped “head,” it still resembles depictions of the flute-playing deity of the American Southwest with feathers, Kokopelli (to give him his Hopi name).  This figure appears in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada, in rock art and elsewhere.  He also shows up in Navaho sand paintings, in a more elaborated form.

Hohokam version of the flute-playing god known as Kokopelli to the Hopi (Noble 1991: 52, from a ceramic bowl).


Keightley, David N. 1978. Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China. Berkeley: University of California.

Masson, V.M. 1988. Altyn-Depe. Transl. Henry N. Michael. Philadelphia: University Museum of University of Pennsylvania.

Noble, David G. 1991. The Hohokam: Ancient People of the Desert. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research.

Visona, Monica B, Robin Poynor, Herbert M. Cole, and Michael D. Harris. 2001. A History of Art in Africa. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall and Harry N. Abrams.

Welsby, Derek A. 2002. The Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia: Pagans, Christians and Muslims along the Middle Nile. London: The British Museum.

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