Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Few Bugs and Birds in the Indus Script

Detail from the broken and abraded seal M-39 with partial inscription: QUADRUPED (?) / EYES WITH 8 LASHES / STACKED 3 / FISH UNDER CHEVRON / WHISKERED FISH / CUPPED POST (?) / (?).

The first Indus sign in today’s post is one I call EYES WITH EIGHT LASHES (XII 20), published elsewhere as KP83, W87b and Fs C-2.  Although the symbol resembles Li’l Orphan Annie’s eyes, with four eyelashes at the outer point of each eye, Fairservis considers it a depiction of an insect.  This may well be correct, although I have doubts about his definition, “this, that” (a demonstrative).  As Wells notes, there are only five occurrences, three from Mohenjo daro and two from Harappa. 
Two variants of proto-cuneiform KUSZU2, an aquatic animal, probably a crab (top left and right)
and the undefined ZATU 699, variants "a" (left) and "b" (right), perhaps insects.

In proto-cuneiform, the sign KUSZU2~c bears some resemblance to half the Indus symbol.  That is, KUSZU2, which later refers to an aquatic animal, has the form of an oval with prongs attached.  The Indus sign, of course, contains two ovals, one over the other, with prongs attached to both.
Bar seal H-151 with inscription: PINCERED CRAB / PINCH / STACKED 7 / QUINT-FORK.

The second Indus sign is PINCERED CRAB (XII 21), also enumerated KP75 and W88.  Like the simpler CRAB, the symbol includes an oval with two bent lines on one side.  In addition, though, it has three prongs on top and three below, presumably the “legs” of the “crab.”  Wells notes three occurrences, all from Harappa.  In one, there are actually four “legs” on either side.  All in all, the symbol closely resembles the FEATHERED BIRD HEAD, though the “beak” would be bent in this case.
Proto-cuneiform sign NE, "this/that one," variants "a" (above) and "b" (below). 
Another variant, "e," contains no mark inside the circular portion.

In proto-cuneiform, NE~e is similar, though the “beak” of this “bird head” is not bent (or the “pincers” of the “crab” are defective).  This symbol came to mean “this/that one.”  Thus, it would support Fairservis’ definition of the previous Indus sign rather than this one.  But there is another proto-cuneiform parallel, ZATU699 (variants “a” and “b”).  Although the significance of this sign is unknown, both variants include a circle with prongs.
Detail from seal M-82 with inscription: TRI-FORK / FOOTED STOOL / ANT / BI-QUOTES //

The third Indus sign noted here may be a variation on the first: ANT (XII 22).  It is enumerated in other lists as KP82 (with stripes), W91 and W95, and Fs C-3.  I follow Fairservis’ identification of it as an insect, perhaps an ant, although my term is only for convenience.  The sign is quite rare, appearing in one variation just once at Mohenjo daro (M-82), and twice in a second variation.  One of the latter occurrences is from Mohenjo daro as well (M-143).  The other is on a seal in the Schoyen Collection, enumerated MS5062.
Seal M-274 with inscription: TWO POSTS / AITCH / POTTED TWO / DOT IN FISH /

The fourth Indus sign is STRIPED BIRD WITH POINTED TAIL (XII 23), also known as KP66 (with a double-pronged tail), W107, and perhaps to be identified with Fs B-2.  The symbol with a single short stroke for the tail appears just once at Mohenjo daro (M-274).  To my eyes, it is as likely to be an insect (a bee?) as a bird.
Detail from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, showing a few birds (highlighted in blue) in hieratic script.  The one with the double prongs on the head is the owl (G17), that with the long neck an ibis (G26), and the others are the quail chick (G43).
The latter is the most like Indus sign XII 23, though the glyph lacks stripes.

It is paralleled by proto-cuneiform bird signs, including NAM, “sparrow or swallow.”  One variant of this sign has a tail comprised of two strokes.  Birds appear elsewhere as well, but generally show more detail.  In Egyptian, for example, there are over 50 different glyphs in the form of birds, with enough detail in their hieroglyphic form to determine species in most cases.  In the more cursive hieratic, these distinctions often become blurred, though.
Seal M-631 with inscription: BIRD WITH ONE WING / STRIPED FAT LEG LAMBDA / TWO POSTS / FISH / WHISKERED FISH / CUPPED SPOON / THREE POSTS / SPEAR (the BIRD is partially restored here).

Fifth in this list is BIRD WITH ONE WING (XII 24), found elsewhere as KP71, W106, and Fs B-1.  Fairservis thinks this represents a chicken, more specifically a hen.  I think it is impossible to tell, given its sole appearance at Mohenjo daro (M-631).
A bird as it appears in rock art of Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 185, Pl. 134, no. 17F).

In any case, a depiction of a bird with a single raised wing (or both wings, seen from the side so that the second one is not visible) also appears in the rock art of Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 185, Pl. 134, no. 17F).  This Texan bird has a long tail, unlike the Indus sign.
Seal M-1169 with inscription: TWO POSTS (?) / BLANKET / STANDING BIRD BETWEEN PARENTHESES / BI-QUOTES // SKEWERED CHEVRON / FISH // (2nd row) TWO POSTS / FISH / CUPPED POST / THREE POSTS / SPEAR (note the appearance of the last three signs here and on the previous seal, possibly the same information).

Another avian sign is STANDING BIRD BETWEEN PARENTHESES (XII 25).  It may be the symbol enumerated KP67 and is certainly W108.  Wells cites a single appearance at Mohenjo daro (M-1169).  This depiction is vaguely reminiscent of the Egyptian vulture (G14).  It is unusual for birds in the Indus script because it appears to be standing on its feet rather than being inserted sideways.

The next symbol may be a crustacean: PRAWN WITH EF PRONGED TAIL (XII 26).  The particular variation on the “prawn” noted here appears only in Wells’ list (W151), where its occurrence are two.  But in later posts, I will point out other variations that contain more strokes.

Proto-cuneiform includes a possible crustacean, perhaps a lobster, as ZATU 702.  A very different “prawn” occurs among the symbols found on Indian punchmarked coins (Gupta 1960: Pl. I, symbol no. 15).  It resembles an oval given Mickey Mouse ears, and crossed by two horizontal lines.  Such an element occurs alongside other elements, never as a symbol in its own right.
Seal M-314 with inscription: CARTWHEEL / BI-QUOTES // FISH UNDER CHEVRON / WHISKERED FISH / FISH / SPEAR // (2nd row) DOUBLY CAGED AY / CUPPED SPOON / TRI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT // (3rd row) THREE POSTS / CIRCLED TRI-FORK / PANTS / MAN HOLDING DEE-SLASH / TRI-FORK / CIRCLED VEE / MOUSE (my rendering is imperfect, making the THREE POSTS less clear, but the MOUSE is unclear in the original).

We next come to another animal, one with an ear, which I call MOUSE (XII 27).  It may not be the same eared animal in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP43), which in turn may not be the same as Fs B-7.  It is seen from the side, has four simple lines for legs, and has a relatively long tail in addition to the ear.  But it is impossible to identify the species.  Fairservis suggests a dog or jackal.
Obscure proto-cuneiform sign ZATU 703, some type of quadruped.

The undefined proto-cuneiform sign ZATU 703 is somewhat similar and also unidentifiable.  This animal has the same basic lines for legs, a shorter stroke for a tail, and no ears.  It could as easily be a dog as a sheep or calf.  This same ambiguity also occurs quite often in the depiction (or at least the interpretation) of quadrupeds in the rock art of North America.
Seal H-90 with inscription: TABLE / EYED FEATHERED DUCK HEAD / COW LEG / STRIPED FAT LEG LAMBDA / CARPET RAKE (note how similar the DUCK HEAD is here to the PINCERED CRAB above).

Only part of an animal comes next in my list: COW LEG (XII 28).  There have been other signs with this designation and I am at a loss to describe all the differences in words.  It would probably be simpler to combine them under a single enumeration and distinguish them by the addition of letters.  Two occurrences contain twelve strokes, as Wells shows (W157 and W158).  Different variations appear in other lists as KP45 and Fs D-4.  As noted previously, an animal’s leg is a symbol in Egyptian, proto-cuneiform, and Luwian hieroglyphs.
Seal H-447 with inscription: COW LEG BETWEEN PARENTHESES (a single sign inscription).

There is a simpler version of the previous sign included in COW LEG BETWEEN SLASHES (XII 29), also known as KP46 and W156.  This grouping appears just once at Harappa, another of the many singletons.
Bar seal M-1313 with inscription: CAGED SKEWERED DONUT & DOTTED CIRCLE (a single sign inscription).

And our final sign today is CAGED SKEWERED DONUT AND DOTTED CIRCLE (XII 30).  Here, there seem to be two signs between the “caging” dots rather than one.  But because both elements are bracketed by the four dots termed caging, the whole group is analyzed as a single sign.  This “sign” – if that is what it is – is yet another singleton from Mohenjo daro.  But we will eventually note more occasions where two signs are caged together in this fashion.  However it should be analyzed, it is an unusual type of symbol in comparison to other scripts and symbol systems.  There are analogs for each element -- for dots, for skewered circles, for dotted circles -- but I find no parallel for this group of elements.

(Since I cite only references that I commonly use, please refer to previous posts for full references.)

1 comment:

  1. m1169. I like the identifiction of 'standing' bird.

    Great orthographic analyses. Best wishes. I invite attention to the update (with reference to Mundarashtra) in http://bharatkalyan97.blogspot.com/2011/08/indus-economics-language-and-script.html

    Best wishes.