Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Catch-All Group of Indus Signs

Detail from seal C-16 with inscription: POTTED ONE / 3 QUOTES / BI-FORK TOPPED HAIR PICK.

I begin this post with the last of the Indus signs that are drawn with 13 strokes: BI-FORK TOPPED HAIR PICK (XIII 25).  In the literature it is enumerated KP306, W541 (as a variant), and Fs G-20.  Fairservis sees it as depicting a stockade, with the associated meaning “boundary; stockade.”  It is relatively rare, occurring 12 times, 7 of these from Mohenjo daro, 2 from Lothal, and 1 apiece from Harappa, Kalibangan, and Chanhujo daro.
Proto-cuneiform sign UBI~c, "a marine and fluvial fish."

This peculiar symbol vaguely resembles the proto-cuneiform sign UBI~c, which came to mean “a marine and fluvial fish.”  Neither the Indus sign nor the proto-cuneiform one resembles a depiction of a fish, though.
Egyptian hieroglyphs M8, "lotus pool" (above) and M20, "marsh" (below).

Perhaps a better comparison is to Egyptian, where the hieroglyphs M8 and M20 depict plant life.  The former represents a pool with lotus flowers growing out of it, which serves as an ideograph in š3, “lotus pool, meadow,” and as a phonetic biliteral š3 in “appoint, command” (Gardiner 1976: 480).  The second glyph, M20, depicts reeds growing side by side, the ideograph or determinative in sxt, “marshland, country” (1976: 481; the “x” replacing the “h” with a scoop underneath).
Swastika design on seal Mr-14 from Mehrgarh.

At this point, before beginning the discussion of 14-stroke signs, I will return to simpler figures, briefly.  I previously skipped two symbols that are commonly left out of lists.  They should be mentioned, though, as their status as signs is possible, though far from assured.  The first of these is the fylfot or SWASTIKA (VI 82).  It does not appear in the lists presented by Wells, Fairservis, or Koskenniemi and Parpola.  However, Mahadevan does apparently include it (M148).  Usually the swastika appears on Indus seals that contain no inscription (as does a cross or “X”) with or without additional decorative elements. 
Swastika design on stamp seal from Altyn Depe, identical to many from Indus Valley (Masson 1981: Pl. XXII, no. 1b). 

Such is the case on most of the following: M332-348 (17 seals with no inscription), M419F (on one end of a cylinder seal), M435 (seal with no inscription), M443A (bas-relief tablet with “endless knot” on side B), M-482 (bas-relief tablet after inscription and plant), M-488A (bas-relief tablet among icons), M-1225B (seal with inscription and icon on side A), M-1238-1251 (14 seals with no inscription), M-1389A (round tablet with no inscription); H-104-118 (15 seals with no inscription), H-182B (bas-relief tablet, repeated five times following inscription that also appears on side A with iconic animal), H-242 (bas-relief circular tablet, in center, circled by inscription), H616-629 (14 seals with no inscription); Rhd-150 (pot shard); Mr-14 (seal with no inscription from Early Harappan Period VII); L-69-73 (5 seals with no inscription), possibly L-258 (pot shard); and on two seals of uncertain provenance (Q-1 and Q-2, with no inscription). 
A triskele or 3-armed swastika of Celtic design (Leeds 2002: Pl. III. no. 5, Greenwich, Kent).

This yields a total of 79 occurrences, of which only 3 might possibly indicate its use as a sign in an inscription.  In the case of the majority, 76 instances occur alone on a seal with no inscription, on one side of a seal or tablet where it is separated from any inscription, or among iconic rather than sign-like elements.  The remaining three occurrences are all rather dubious as signs.  On M-482, the inscription is separated from the swastika by a plant which is considerably more elaborate than the GRAIN EAR sign (and thus is likely to be an iconic element).  On H-182, the short inscription occurs on both A and B sides, with iconic or pictorial elements alongside, thus suggesting that the swastika on side B is one of the latter.  And on H-242, the circular tablet, the placement of the swastika in the center, rather than among the signs along the perimeter, again suggests that the swastika is a different type of element, i.e., an icon.  Other circular tablets generally have nothing in the center encircled by the inscription.  Thus, I would agree with Wells, Fairservis, and Koskenniemi and Parpola that the swastika is not a sign.  It is still a significant symbol, however.
Hohokam rock panel including a triskele (Noble 1991: 62).

The swastika is also very widespread.  At Altyn Depe, two seals of “proto-Indian type” were found in Excavation 7, the tomb of the “priest” in room 7 (Masson 1981: Pl. XXII).  One bears an inscription of two recognizable Indus signs: TRI-FORK / RAKE (5 “tines”) (Pl. XXII, no. 1a).  The other not only bears the swastika, but adds the additional stroke between the arms also seen on multiple Indus examples (Pl. XXII, no. 1b).  Among many examples of seals adorned with crosses and “X” shapes, there is also a compartmented seal in the form of a triskele or three-armed swastika (Pl. XXXVII, no. 4).  While the stamp seals might be considered imports from the Indus Valley, this compartmented seal is of a type characteristic of Central Asia itself.
Two Moche pots with geometric designs, the one on the right
bearing a motif related to the swastika (Donnan and McClelland 1999: 27).

The swastika occurs on pottery and figurines of Old Europe (symbol 136) as well.  The related triskele is often seen in art of Scotland and Ireland (Megaw 2005: 13, 20, 34, etc.).  The swastika appears in China in addition, where it is said to be the character fang1, “square, regular, correct, a rule,” now the 70th radical (Wieger 1965: 271).  This author provides a colorful description: “The ancient forms represent the four regions of the space with two dimensions, the earthly surface” (loc. cit.).  However, the more recent dictionary notes the swastika to be a variation of the numerical character wan4, “ten thousand” (Fenn and Tseng 1940: 593).
Modern Celtic triskele, a necklace from Scotland.

The triskele and swastika appear frequently in the Americas.  The Hopi ascribe the meaning “earth” to the latter (1963: 114).  The former is an element in rock art of the Hohokam (Noble 1991: 62).  Another southwestern people, the Navaho, arrange elements in some sand paintings to form a swastika, as well as others in the form of a cross or asterisk (Newcomb and Reichard 1975: 42).  One particular element representing the Striped Mountain (home of Arrowsnake and Rainbow People) resembles the circled cross at first glance.  On closer inspection, it is seen to be a swastika-like form in which the arms are curved (1975: 72).
Indus seal M-1389 with swastika.

The swastika is found equally in South America, where an elaborated version is one decorative motif among many on an Incan garment (Appleton 1971: Pl. 69).  On pottery of the Moche, also of Peru, it is also apparently a decorative motif (Donnan and McClelland 1999: 27 and 58).  It appears in both rectilinear and curvilinear forms, with some elaboration.
Swastika designs on a Ghanaian goldweight dating to 15th or 16th century (Phillips 2010: 29, Pl. 27).

Africa is no stranger to the swastika either.  It appears on a number of goldweights from Ghana, all of which pre-date the Nazi region which gave the symbol such a bad name (Phillips 2010: 29, Pl. 27 and p. 51, Pl. 61).  This would seem to leave Australia as the only continent unfamiliar to the motif and it may be that I have simply missed it there.
A rectilinear ENDLESS KNOT from pot shard Rhd-157.

Another interesting Indus symbol is the ENDLESS KNOT, which should be added to the list of signs in the same tentative manner.  The simplest version contains a minimum of eight strokes, yielding a square or diamond shape with triangles attached at each corner (XIII 65).  This variation on the theme appears only on pot shards (Rhd-156-7 and Rhd-230). 
Seal M-1356 with "inscription": SWASTIKA / ENDLESS KNOT.

Another ENDLESS KNOT is more elaborate, involving a diamond inside a square, with round elements at the corners and additional circles between the corners (XX 2).  It appears just once on a tablet, next to a simple swastika (M-1356).  An even more elaborate variation occurs on duplicate tablets at one end (M-478-480).  Either the same or a similar element occurs once more, broken (M-443B).  Like the swastika, the ENDLESS KNOT seems to function as an iconic device, being typically separated from signs.
Interlaced KNOT or STAR from two seals, C-49B and C-50B.

These generally angular forms might be distantly related to a very curvilinear element found on two seals from Chanhujo-daro (C-49B and C-50B).  These use multiple parallel strokes to form an interlaced, five-“pointed” star.

Oddly enough, the closest parallels to these widely varying Indus symbols occur in Africa.  Among the Adinkra symbols of West Africa, there are two four-“pointed” stars that recall the Indus VIII 65 and XX 2.  One is an “endless knot” form named mpatapo, “knot of peace.”  It symbolizes reconciliation as a knot or bond formed after a dispute (Willis 1998: 134-5).  The second is an interlaced, curvilinear “X” shape termed kramo bone amma yeanhu kramo pa, which means “the bad Muslim makes it difficult for a good one to be recognized” (1998: 120).  It serves as a warning against deception and hypocrisy.
ENDLESS KNOT (B side) identical in form to a Zambian symbol. 

One more curvilinear “endless knot” appears both on a few Indus tablets and as a sand-drawing in Africa.  In the Indus valley, it occurs three times at Mohenjo daro (M-507, M-508, M-1457B).  It is also depicted in Zambia, where it has the name liswa lyavandzili, “nest of the ndzili birds” (LeQuellec 2004: 90).  Not far from this region, in Angola, there are rock engravings that include the curvilinear, interlaced “star” of four “points” (2004: 88-90).  It is called mukánda, “the circumcision enclosure,” sometimes painted on the walls of buildings, sometimes drawn in sand as part of male-only assemblies.  The author notes that the Lunda people consider the symbols engraved in stone to be the work of divine beings, but also make the same marks in the form of tattoos.
Seal C-23 with inscription: BUGS ON STRIPED LEAF / 3 QUOTES (?) / CIRCLED BISECTED RECTANGLE / MAN HOLDING DEE-SLASH / CORN HOLDER (?) // SHIELD / PANTS (?) // MAN HOLDING DOUBLE DEE-SLASHES / CIRCLED VEE (many of the symbols in this inscription have unusual forms or else are rare, independent forms).

The last of the “forgotten” Indus signs is SHIELD, which must appear in two places for the two variants.  The simpler form contains four strokes, thus receiving the enumeration IV 47 in my list.  It occurs once among the signs of an inscription on a seal from Chanhujo daro (C-23).  Its name derives from its slight resemblance to the Mycenaean figure-eight shield.
Tablet M-592, sides A & B: on B, the SHIELD (X 53) stands alone. 

A variation with roughly triangular internal features appears on a single tablet from Mohenjo daro (M-592B).  Due to the additional strokes needed to draw the internal additions, this one is enumerated X 53.
Broken sealing HMs 260 from Mycenaean Greece depicting warriors
with figure eight shields (Younger 1988: 127, fig. 95 detail).

As a distant parallel, I note the Mycenaean shields borne by warriors on a sealstone designated HMs 260 (KSPI R60) (Younger 1988: 127, fig. 95).  It is possible, of course, that the people of the Indus Valley actually had such shields.  But there is no evidence of anything like this found in excavations.
Detail from seal K-22 with inscription: 6 POSTS (?) / BEARER WITH ELBOWS / VEE IN DIAMOND WITH ATTACHED TRIPLE SHISH KEBABS (the 6 "posts" may be intended as 3 POSTS + 3 POSTS).

Finally, we may begin the discussion of signs containing fourteen strokes with a variation on the BEARER (XIV 1).  This one has arms that are bent at the elbow, a feature not included in the lists of Fairservis (but cf. A-7) or Koskenniemi and Parpola (but cf. 1).  Wells enumerates this version W4 in four variants (f, l, n, and p).  Three of these have a dot for a head in addition to the elbows (“f” does not).  One has triangular elements rather than two ovals (“n”, which I do not see).  Wells finds 35 occurrences of all 16 variations of the BEARER, with 21 from Mohenjo daro, 6 from Harappa, 3 from Kalibangan, 2 from Chanhujo daro, and 1 each from Lothal, Dholavira, and Allahdino.  Those considered here include variant “f” (3 from Mohenjo daro, 2 from Kalibangan), “l” (1 from Mohenjo daro and 1 from Dholavira), and “p” (1 from Harappa).

In previous discussions of the BEARER (with or without arms), I noted that Fairservis defines the sign as “watchman.”  Parpola states that this sign “without a doubt represents ‘a man carrying pots by means of a shoulder yoke’” (2009: 109), thus terming it the “yoke carrier.”  He also notes cultic connections for such a “bearer” in later India:

The Āśvalāyana-Grihyasūtra (1, 12, 1-3) also contains a rare reference to the non-Vedic caitya cult well known from Buddhist and Jaina texts: if the caitya shrine (often a sacred tree with or without a railing or some more elaborate building) happens to be far off, one may send one’s sacrificial offering (bali) in the baskets of a shoulder yoke by a middleman (2009: 109-110).

He also connects the Tamil word kavati “carrying yoke” to the name of a subcaste, the Kuravar, whose duties include carrying offerings to the god Murukan on such a yoke (2009: 110).  Thus, he suggests that the Indus sign represents a worshipper or priest bearing such religious offerings.  It is from Mahadevan that I derive the term for the sign, BEARER ( ).  He defines the sign as “officer” (perhaps better expressed in American English as “official”), noting later Indian references to senior functionaries of the king as “yoke bearers.” 
Egyptian glyph depicting a balance or scales, which Kinnier Wilson sees in the Indus BEARER (Gardiner 1976: 521).

Interestingly enough, not everyone sees this as an anthropomorphic sign, however.  One interpretation makes this a representation of “a pair of scales with the central stand, arms and two pans clearly visible” (Kinnier Wilson 1974: 10).  The definition derived from this becomes “to weight.”  In fact, this author considers a number of signs to be variants of this one, including MAN, MAN BY CHEVRON, CHEVRON-HATTED BEARER, and even FISH UNDER CHEVRON.  For this reason, I include the Egyptian hieroglyph U38 for comparison.  It certainly depicts a balance or scales, functioning as an ideograph or determinative in the word mx3t, “balance.”
Detail from seal L-16 with inscription: FOUR QUOTES / POT-HATTED BEARER (ARMLESS).

As a follow-up, I note POT-HATTED BEARER (ARMLESS) (XIV 2), in which the strokes forming the sides of the POT element are independent of those forming the “legs,” unlike previous variants.  This is enumerated KP4, W8, and Fs A-8 elsewhere.  Wells notes 19 occurrences of the armless variety, including 10 from Harappa, 7 from Mohenjo daro, and 2 from Lothal).  Fairservis makes this “Great Guardian” while Mahadevan sees it as an officer or functionary with priestly duties, citing Sanskrit satavahana.  Kinnier Wilson would only agree that the sign combines BEARER and POT, but suggests it has the same meaning as POT alone, in his view a word divider (1974: 15).
Seal M-813 with inscription: VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES // MALLET /

There is also a CHEVRON-HATTED BEARER (VEE/CHEVRON ARMS) (XIV 3), also known as KP3, W27, and Fs A-9.  Wells observes 3 occurrences, all from Mohenjo daro.  Fairservis sees this as an honorific title related to the guardian role of the other types of “bearer,” but specifically related to administration.  Mahadevan, though, sees the sign as a ligature of the BEARER and SPEAR, assigning it the meaning of “officer with military duties.”  And Kinnier Wilson, off in left field, views it as a variation on the theme of the balance, meaning “to weigh.”


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1 comment:

  1. An Indus sign list, have fun with it: