Monday, August 29, 2011

Indus Signs of 15 Strokes from Bearer to Dotted House

Impression on pot M-1372 with inscription (right to left): WINGED MAN BETWEEN CEES / POT HATTED BEARER (his "shoulder yoke" is clearly bent in the original photograph, though I have poorly reproduced it here). 

As I discuss the signs that remain in my list, I will only refer in passing to variations on signs previously covered.  Thus, while the first fifteen-stroke symbol is POT-HATTED BEARER (XV 1), I have little to say about it.  I note only that the variant with fifteen strokes either has a single horizontal line forming both “arms,” or else is armless and has a bent “shoulder yoke.”  The first appears once at Mohenjo daro and once at Chanhujo daro, while the second occurs twice at Harappa and once at Mohenjo daro.  These two types are included in the sign enumerated KP4 and Fs A-8, which Fairservis defines as “Great/High Guardian.”  Wells separates them into W5b and W8. 
Seal M-328 with inscription: MAN HOLDING POST / POT-HATTED BEARER.

The following sign is included on the basis of Wells’ list, where it is enumerated W55.  I term it POT-HATTED BEARER WITH SINGLE JUG (XV 2).  However, this sign actually is an instance of the previous one, with straight “arms.”  One “jug” is very thin, but it still was carved with two lines.  Note that one or another "bearer" appears alongside another anthropomorphic sign periodically.  In these cases, the artisan who made the seals did not depict the anthropomorph in quite the same way both times!  It is possible that this indicates a significance for the "bearer" that does not involve humans.  Note also that Korink finds all of the "bearers" (regardless of their form and regardless of their "hats") to be terminal elements (2007: 28-31).  They may occur after certain other terminals -- including COMB, SPEAR, POT, and MAN, and before COMB.
Pot shard L-221 with inscription: POT HATTED BEARER / MAN ON DOUBLE CARTWHEELS (it is quite possible that the sequence should be reversed, i.e., that the inscription "reads" from right to left, with the "bearer" at the end).

Today’s third sign is MAN ON DOUBLE CARTWHEELS (XV 3).  It appears in the literature as KP21 and W63.  Wells notes it to be a singleton from Lothal (L-221) where it shows up on a pot shard.  The closest parallel is in Egyptian, where glyph A39 depicts a man standing on the backs of two long-necked animals.  This symbol is an ideograph in Qis or Qsy, the name of the town of Cusae, with the panther-headed animals the emblem of that place (Gardiner 1976: 446).
Detail from seal M-10 with inscription: SPACESHIP / BIRD BETWEEN PARENTHESES / BI-QUOTES //
CHEVRON / LAMBDA / QUAD-FORK (note the two-pronged "tail" of the "bird").

There follows another BIRD BETWEEN PARENTHESES (XV 4), also known as KP67, and W96 plus W97.  This “bird” has a “tail” of two prongs, differentiating it from previous versions.  But whether this is significant cannot be determined at this point.  Combining the two symbols as depicted in Wells’ list, there are still only 13 occurrences, mostly from Mohenjo daro, but one apiece from Harappa, Lothal, and Kalibangan as well.
Tablet H-951A & B with inscriptions (right to left): MALLET / STRIPED FAT LEG LAMBDA / MAN HOLDING DOUBLE SHISH KEBABS / BUGS ON STRIPED LEAF (A side); FOUR POSTS / CUP (B side).  Note the "shish
kebabs" have three rather than four strokes.

The next symbol is MAN HOLDING DOUBLE SHISH KEBABS (XV 5).  To include 15 strokes, each “kebab” should have four crossing strokes, although I only count three myself.  It is shown in other lists as KP29, W60, and Fs A-25.  Since I discussed the 13-stroke version earlier, I will add nothing further here.
Bar seal M-366 with inscription: POTTED 3 / MAN BY CHEVRON / BIRD WITH UPRIGHT TAIL / 3 QUOTES / BI-FORK TOPPED HAIR PICK (note that this "bird" is standing on its "tail," perhaps to take up less room?). 

Another bird follows: STANDING BIRD WITH UPRIGHT TAIL (XV 6), this time with both the body and the tail striped.  It may be the same as KP71, and is certainly W99 and W100.  It seems to me that the bird either stands on its feet or on its tail depending on how much room the artisan allowed it.  It should accordingly be grouped with others of its kind, regardless of the stroke number.
Detail from seal M-91 with inscription: BI-RAKE / PRAWN / VEE IN DIAMOND /

Another STRIPED PRAWN comes afterward (XV 7).  As KP73, it has 12 strokes; as Fs C-1 it has 15 and is included here for that reason.  It also appears as W148, in four variants. 

The HEADLESS FLYING BIRD (XV 8) also makes a second appearance.  With just 13 strokes, it is KP65, while Fairservis gives it 17 as C-4.  Wells notes three variants of his W150.  There are four occurrences, all told, but just one has 15 strokes (M-1188).  Fairservis suggests that it depicts a bee rather an a bird, with the meaning “honey.”  He also considers it a depiction of a flying fish meaning “beauty, dance.”  While it might be either one, it seems hardly credible that it is both.
Seal C-29 with inscription: 2 POSTS / BLANKET (6? TICKS) / OVERLAPPING CIRCLES / PANTS / SINGLE QUOTE // 2 POSTS / STRIPED LEAF / POT // BACKSLASH AND 2 POSTS (or is the last sign really two?).

We find another STRIPED LEAF here (XV 9), as it occurs on a seal from Chanhujo daro (C-29).  the number of strokes in the many variations of this symbol varies from perhaps as few as seven to as many as 15.  But all should probably be grouped together.  Elsewhere it is identified as KP112, W254, and Fs E-6.
Seal B-12 with inscription: GRAIN EAR // STACKED SEVEN (a most unusual form of both signs).

A second GRAIN EAR follows (XV 10), elsewhere listed as KP100, W270, and Fs E-1.  It occurs rarely, just three times according to Wells, but the number of prongs differs each time.  Fairservis considers it a tree with the rather improbable meaning “cow.”
Egyptian unguent vase from King Tut's tomb: ears of grain appear above the depiction of the
lion attacking the bull and in front of the bull's leg (from a postcard).

Assuming it is actually a plant, I find multiple parallels.  Egyptian glyph M34 is almost identical, signifying emmer wheat.  Proto-cuneiform SZE is horizontally extended but otherwise the same, with the meaning “barley.”  Old Chinese feng1, “boughs; abundance” is similar but shows fewer prongs.  This is also the case with the Cretan hieroglyph O25 which probably represents the syllable te.  In Luwian, the simpler GRAIN EAR with only three prongs on each side is covered by a “table” to represent the syllable . 
Punchmarked coin motif 100, considered a tree (Gupta 1960: Pl. II, no. 100).

In later India, similar forms appear on punchmarked coins.  The symbol is termed a “tree” at times, when it occurs in motifs 73, 87, and 100 (Gupta 1960: Pl. II).  A variation on this theme even appears on the Phaistos Disk, though with small loops instead of prongs.  The simple type with prongs is among the motifs found in Old Europe as well (OE 14).
Motifs from the rock art of Texas, with "grain ear" near center (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 100, no. 2, fig. 33).

Almost the same motif is found in North American rock art.  It is sometimes interpreted as a feather in Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 21, Pl. 5 and 6).  In Nevada it appears 50 times, where it is identified as the joint pine Ephedra (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: 79).  Perhaps the simplest version appears frequently in art of the Northwest Columbia Plateau (Keyser 1992 59, f. 33).  Here, such motifs are thought to represent fir boughs used in ritual bathing.
African adinkra symbol nyame nti, "by God's grace."

A similar symbol appears in Africa.  Featuring among the adinkra symbols, it often has a curving “stem” as nyame nti (Willis 1998: 160).  This name means “by God’s grace,” as these leaves on a stalk stand for faith and trust in God.  Another motif more often has the straight stem found in the Indus sign: aya, “fern” (1998: 82).  It symbolizes endurance, independence, and perseverance in the face of difficulty.

Virtually the same symbol also appears in Australia, though often more elaborate in form.  It appears twice in the same panel, painted once in white and once in yellow at Bimba 2 Shelter, Olary region (Flood 1997: 202).  This is part of the Painted Panaramitee Tradition, found widely across the central region of the continent.  Layton also notes the motif among linear forms associates with ceremonial material (2009: 157).  Thus, this is most likely a universal motif, in one variation or another, but the meaning varies from one place to another.
Seal K-15 with inscription: VEST / FISH / BUD TOPPED DUBYA / DOUBLY CAGED DEE-SLASH / CORN HOLDER / BOWTIE / POT / COMB // CIRCLE WITH DOUBLE EARS AND FAT EX (?) BETWEEN ESSES / PRONG ON VEE & TRI-FORK IN DIAMOND (the status of the last-named symbol is uncertain -- is it 4 signs?).

The following sign may or may not be a variation of a previous sign, as well: BUD TOPPED DUBYA (XV 11).  Koskenniemi and Parpola note only a “dubya” with tops in the form of loops (KP117a) as does Fairservis (J-3).  Presumably they considered the type with doubled or tripled loops to be a variant.  Wells, however, lists this one independently (W321).  This particular variation occurs ony at Kalibangan (K-15).
Proto-cuneiform sign |(GI + GI) X GISZ @ t|, combining "reed" (x 2) and "tree."

In proto-cuneiform there is partly analogous ligature, |(GI + GI) X GISZ @ t|.  The GI element, which is repeated twice (rather than three times as in the Indus sign), came to mean “reed.”  The rectangular base, GISZ, could mean “tree, wood.”  The first element is sometimes repeated three times, |GI + GI + GI|, but not with the base.
Two Egyptian glyphs showing growing plants, M8, a lotus pool, and M20, reedy "marshland."

Egyptian also includes a tripled reed on a base, this time a simple horizontal line (M20).  It represents reeds growing, serving as an ideograph or determinative in sxt, “marshland.” 
Old Chinese wing1, "star," an analog that is not a plant (Wieger 1965: 205).

Old Chinese includes the character xing1, which also has three identical elements joined by a “dubya” form.  Rather than elaborated loops at the top, though, there are simple circles in this case.  In addition, the central vertical extends below the “dubya” and is crossed by two horizontal lines.  The character is not a plant now, but means “star.”  Interestingly, Luwian uses almost the same symbol (minus the two horizontal strokes at the bottom) for the syllable nu.
Broken seal K-53 with single-sign inscription: STRIPED LEAF OVER TRIPLE TRIANGLES.

The twelfth sign in this group is a ligature: STRIPED LEAF OVER TRIPLE TRIANGLES (XV 12), elsewhere found as KP113 and W430.  It occurs once, at Kalibangan (K-53), where it forms the whole inscription.  Fairservis might see this as a combination of his E-6 “head, high” and G-21 “dairy.”  Would that make XV 12 a “high dairy”?
Enigmatic sign on the end of Sb-2E, perhaps including TRIPLE TRIANGLES at the top (or is this an insect?).

This unusual sign bears some resemblance to another peculiar element found just once, at Sibri-damb (Sb2E).  This last sign is partly missing due to abrasion.  It might be reconstructed as containing the TRIPLE TRIANGLES, at the top this time.  On the other hand, the top could also be construed as similar to the top portion of the CARPET RAKE.
Proto-cuneiform sign LAM~b @ s, a distant parallel to Indus XV 12: "abundance."

There is a very distance resemblance to proto-cuneiform LAM~b @ s, which came to mean “abundance; to grow luxuriantly,” as well as “netherworld.”  Here, though, it is more the idea that is similar than the actual form.  The original top might represent plant life of some type, while the bottom has an overall triangular shape.  However, variants of this sign only maintain the stacked wedges, forming a triangle of sorts, while eliminating the “grain ears.”
Tablet H-216 with inscriptions: STRIPED FAT CHEVRON / STRIPED VEST / POT (A side); 3 POSTS / CUP (B side).

There follows a STRIPED VEST (XV 13), also known as KP309 (with 9 strokes), Fs L-1 (with 12 strokes), and W498.  Wells finds 17 occurrences, in three versions, only one of which has 15 strokes (his “c”).  This variant occurs at Harappa (H-216) and Mohenjo daro (M-372 and M-755).
Proto-Elamite signs resembling the Indus VEST: M206 (above) and M288 (below), the
latter a grain measure;M288 is identical to later Luwian tu4 (though rotated 90 degrees).

There is some resemblance between Indus sign XV 13 and the proto-cuneiform UD5 or ESZGAR.  The latter are highly stylized heads of goats, especially the female of the species.  As such, they typically has a rounded portion rather than the square base of the Indus sign.  Proto-Elamite also includes two “vest”-like signs (M206~g and M288).  The latter is a container for grain, with the designation GUR borrowed from proto-cuneiform (Damerow and Englund 1989: 43-46).  It probably functions as a measure.  For some reason, it also looks very much like the Luwian hieroglyphf or the syllable tu4.
Plaque from Tepe Yahya, Iran, depicting two buildings, one resembling the Indus "vest" (Potts 2001: 223, fig. 9.10).

Fairservis considers the Indus sign to represent cloth, but the symbol is rather like one of the buildings depicted on a plaque from Tepe Yahya in Iran (Potts 2001: 223, fig. 9.10).  The roof is curved, in this case, unlike the triangular indentation of the Indus sign.  But the overall resemblance remains.
Three depictions of butterflies, from Teotihuacan, Mexico (Van Dinter 2006: 187).

There is even a slight resemblance to butterflies, as depicted at Teotihuacan, in Central America (Van Dinter 2006: 187).  It does not seem likely that butterflies would be as schematically depicted as Indus sign XV 13 suggests, however.

The following sign is another “fat lambda” type, striped in this case (XV 14).  I gave it another term, STRIPED DOOR AND KNOB because it stands upright rather than leaning.  But this is also true of some instances of LAMBDA.  In any case, it appears elsewhere as KP200 (with 13 strokes), Fs G-22 (with 14 strokes), and W519.  Wells notes two occurrences from Mohenjo daro.

Another BI-FORK TOPPED HAIR PICK is next (XV 15).  It stands in the list at this point due to Wells’ variant “e.”  It seems to me that he has not shown it quite the way it appears in the photograph, however (L-90).
Seal M-112 with inscription: FOOTED ASTERISK / EXIT / POTTED ONE / LEAF /

The sixteenth symbol is FOOTED ASTERISK (XV 16), shown only in Wells’ list (W555).  It occurs once at Mohenjo daro (M-112).  Apparently, Koskenniemi and Parpola group it with the FOOTED EX.

Another FOOTED STOOL WITH HAIRY LEGS AND ATTACHED TRI-FORK appears here (XV 17).  It does not contain 15 strokes in all of the published lists.  The precise stroke count depends on just how it is drawn.  I do not think it necessary to say more, since I discussed it previously.

There is then another singleton: FAT EX WITH ATTACHED TRI-FORK (XV 18), also known as KP258 and W550.  It is another motif from Mohenjo daro.
Broken seal H-572 with partial inscription: CAGED TRI-FORK AND VEE IN DIAMOND / FISH UNDER CHEVRON.

The following sign is troublesome: CAGED TRI-FORK AND DOUBLE VEES IN DIAMOND (XV 19).  It appears here on the basis of KP391.  Wells notes the similar ligature of a diamond containing the usual single “V” with three prongs attached below (W397).  This combination is caged as well.  He notes that this occurs twice a Harappa (H-96 and H-572).  In the second case, one of the prongs attached to the base of the internal “V” extends all the way to the edge of the enclosing diamond.  Perhaps this is the origin of KP391.  If not, I do not find the symbol in the Corpus.

There is some resemblance to Luwian ku, a diamond with “V” shaped elements at the right and left sides, as well as two vertical strokes down the center.  Except for the presence of marks inside a diamond, there seems to be little to commend this parallel.
Detail from copper ingot (?) K-122A with inscription: CIRCLED VEE / VEE & STACKED 9 (?) IN RECTANGLE / (?)
(note that I see zigzagging lines rather than a stacked numeral, but this could be interpreted more than one way).

The last of the 15-stroke signs is VEE AN STACKED NINE IN RECTANGLE (XV 20).  It appears only in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP396).  But it may occur in the Corpus, though just once on a copper object from Kalibangan (K-122A).  My own perception is three zigzag lines along with the “V,” not the discontinuous marks of a “stacked nine.”
Egyptian goddess Nephthys on a pectoral from King Tut's tomb; she wears the glyphs for her name on her head,
with the basket nb on top, "lady," over a rectangle enclosing a "V" shape, hwt, "palace," a small loaf inside
for t (based on a postcard).

Rectangles enclosing additional marks occur widely.  In Egyptian hieroglyphs, the long rectangular pool sometimes includes zigzag lines to represent water (cf. N37 and N38).  The “V” shape appears in a very different glyph, namely O6, the ideograph in hwt “castle, mansion, temple.”  This glyph is part of the name of the goddess Nephthys.  Other square or rectangular glyphs include O11, “palace”; O36, “wall”; Q3 “stool of reed matting” (only enclosing marks in some variations); T38, a butcher’s block appearing in “under”; and W12, the Old Kingdom version of the ring stand for jars.
Luwian glyph DOMUS, "house," an angular element enlosing additional
marks; does this suggest Indus XV 20 is a house?

Proto-cuneiform also includes more than one rectangle.  With many dots inside, it is SIG2~d4, “hair; wool; fur.”  With parallel lines at top and bottom, resembling fringe, it is MES, “young man; prince; son; hackberry tree.”  Luwian hieroglyphs also include rectangles.  One with two semi-circles on either side is DOMUS, “house.”  With a single circle in the center, its significance remains unknown (sign 255).  With two horizontal strokes crossing the center, it is PORTA, “door.”
Rock art motifs from Texas, including two retangles with details (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: Pl. 40).

Decorated rectangles are part of the repertoire in American rock art, as shown by the paired symbols resembling fringed rugs (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 42, Pl. 10, no. 1).  They also occur in Africa, including depictions of ritually significant bags on the great overhang of Sango at Sanga in Mali (Le Quellec 2004: 60-61, fig. 6).  In Zambia, a rectangle with enclosures sometimes also has an “L” shaped extension on one side (2004: 68, fig. 16).  This symbol represents a supernatural being called a ginyu, with the “L” shaped element its arm.  Such a meaning could not be guessed at by a naive observer, it is worth noting.  Only a member of the culture that produced such a symbol would know this.  Such may be the case with many Indus symbols as well.

Depiction of a ginya from the overhang at Sanga, Mali, a supernatural being (Le Quellec 2004: 60, fig. 6).


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Shah, S.G.M. and A. Parpola. 1991. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 2. Collections in Pakistan. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

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Willis, W.B. 1998. The Adinkra Dictionary: A Visual Primer on the Language of Adinkra. Washington DC: The Pyramid Complex.

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