|Seal M-153 with inscription: DUCK HEAD / MAN HOLDING COMB / BIRD BETWEEN PARENTHESES.|
Continuing with my enumeration of the Indus signs, I term the eleventh among those drawn with eleven strokes MAN HOLDING COMB (XI 11). The object in the “man’s” hand could just as easily be called a “rake,” as there is a line from the end of the “arm” to the “comb.” This attaching stroke is diagonal as it is in most other cases (e.g., MAN HOLDING CUP; MAN HOLDING FOOT, etc.). In the case of each of these other symbols, this connection is not part of the object, as demonstrated by the existence of the independent signs CUP, FOOT, and so on, without an attached stroke. Thus, I assume the object held in XI 11 is the COMB – which lacks such a connecting stroke -- rather than the RAKE, which requires a “handle.”
|Bangle M-1639 with inscription: BOAT / MAN HOLDING 4 QUOTES (?) / STRIPED BISECTED TOP.|
In any case, this symbol appears in other lists as KP26, W15, and Fs A-22. Fairservis also sees this as a depiction of a man with a comb, defining it as “scribe” for reasons having to do with near homophones in Dravidian (“comb” being cippu, somehow associated with Kannada kiri “to shave,” which sounds like kiru “to scratch, mark, write,” hence the connection to a writer or scribe) (1992: 35). Wells gives the total occurrences of this sign as seven, all but one from Mohenjo daro. One instance listed in Wells’ catalog is probably an error: the sign on the seal from Lothal is MAN HOLDING QUOTE, with an unattached BI-QUOTES on the other side of the “head” of the anthropomorph (L-12). A second instance may also be erroneous, though I am less certain of it. Occurring on a bangle, it is marred by a crack passing through it (M-1639). In this case, I see four short strokes above the connecting stroke that rises from the arm, but no horizontal line beneath the four “quotes.” Thus, I take it to be an instance of MAN HOLDING FOUR QUOTES.
|Detail of inscription from broken seal L-12: FIVE POSTS / MAN HOLDING QUOTE / |
BI-QUOTES // CORN HOLDER (WITH ATTACHED LOOP?) / CRAB.
Wells subdivides this sign into three variants based on the number of “teeth” in the “comb.” His “a” has five “teeth,” the central one appearing to be an extension of the connecting stroke; his “b” has four “teeth”; and his “c” has only three. The connection between the “comb” element and the arm is not diagonal but vertical in the case of “c,” for which reason I took this to be an anthropomorph with the RAKE. But Wells may be correct in grouping all of these together. (Fairservis appears to view Wells’ “c” as “a man holding a stalk of wheat,” in my terms holding a TRI-FORK (A-26; 1992: 35).
|Rock art motif of a man with rayed arc overhead from British Columbia (Keyser 1992: 51, fig. 24a).|
The closest parallel to this Indus sign that I have observed comes from the rock art of North America. Stick figure humans are common in many places, as is an element much like the Indus COMB (though termed a “rake” in the literature). However, these two elements seldom join in a way that would appear to show the anthropomorph holding the “comb.” In the Columbia Plateau region (the area of Washington, Idaho and British Columbia around the Columbia and Snake Rivers), there is a common motif combining an anthropomorph with a “rayed arc” (Keyser 1992: 61-62, figs. 35 and 36). In most cases, the arc is either attached to the figure’s head or is just above it. But occasionally, the arms of the anthropomorph bend at the elbow and the arc nearly descends to the ends of these arms, as if the human were holding it (e.g., fig. 35b).
|Rock art depiction of a supernatural being with comb-like hands in the Long Narrows style (Keyser 1992: 89, fig. 61c).|
Depictions of supernatural beings are frequently found in the Long Narrows style of the Lower Columbia region. A few of these show a comb-like element at the end of each arm (e.g., 1992: 88-89, figs. 60d and 61c). In these cases, the “comb” most likely represents a hand. In both the examples cited, each comb/hand has exactly five teeth/fingers. This suggests one possible interpretation of the Indus signs of RAKE and COMB. The former may depict a highly schematic arm, while the latter could represent just a hand. These seem rather unlikely explanations, however, since both Indus signs frequently have fewer than five prongs (specifically, three or four) and occasionally more (six or seven). Still, such inaccurate renderings of hands or feet, with the wrong number of digits, do occur in less stylized traditions. Human footprints in Mixtec manuscripts sometimes have such inaccuracies (e.g., Smith 1973: 225, fig. 13a which includes a series of footprints showing three, four, and five toes).
|Broken seal Pbm-1 with partial inscription: TWO POSTS (?) / POTTED ONE / RAKE / FISH / BI-RAKE / FISH (??).|
The second Indus sign discussed in this post is BI-RAKE (XI 12), a symbol also enumerated KP95, W266, and Fs Q-12. In appearance, it resembles the basic RAKE, but there are two rows of “tines,” one row placed over the other. The central “handle” connects both these rows and descends beneath them. Obviously, if this is related to the basic RAKE, it is hardly likely to represent an arm, since two hands do not appear on a single arm.
|Cylinder seal from Susa, Iran with partially legible inscription including BI-RAKE / BIG SHOULDERED MAN / STACKED 12 (?) / DOUBLED BELTED DOUBLE AITCH / (perhaps a FISH also; over repeated bovines at the bottom).|
Fairservis considers this symbol to be essentially the same as the basic RAKE, doubled stylistically, and takes it to be a proper name. But in at least one inscription, both the basic RAKE and the "doubled" BI-RAKE both appear, a fact which suggests they are independent symbols (see Pbm-1). Wells, avoiding definitions, finds 15 occurrences, with 10 of them from Mohenjo daro (though I find 13), three from Harappa (I see 7), one from Lothal (I see 2), and one from Pabumath. A BI-RAKE also appears in the Harappan-style inscription on a seal from Susa, Iran (Collon 2005: 143, fig. 608). Wells and I also differ in the number of variants of this symbol. He sees two, with the only difference being the number of “tines” on the uppermost “rake”: his “a” has five, while his “b” has four. I would add a “c” with eight (M-741) and “d” with only three (H-701). There might even be an “e” since the example from Susa seems to have six.
|Proto-cuneiform sign NUN~a, "prince," which also occurs doubled and stacked, becoming NIR~a, also "prince."|
In proto-cuneiform, there is a sign that is more like the Indus SHISH KEBAB, with the designation NUN~a. This symbol also occurs doubled, then being transcribed NIR~a. Both signs came to mean “prince.” If this principle of doubling without a change in meaning applies to Indus signs (and there is no way of knowing whether it does), then Fairservis may be correct in seeing the BI-RAKE as nothing more than a fancier version of the RAKE. I am hesitant to accept this, however, since a clearer example of a doubled RAKE is RAKE OVER RAKE (a 12-stroke sign to be discussed later).
|Bar seal M-1271 with inscription: LOOP ARMED MAN HOLDING SLASH / CEE BOAT / |
STRIPED FAT CHEVRON / STRIPED VEST / STRIPED TRIANGLE / SPACESHIP UNDER TABLE / COMB.
The following sign is SPACESHIP UNDER TABLE (XI 13), also known as KP222, W422, and perhaps to be viewed as Fs N-1, “mountains” under I-19, “sky; superior.” However Fairservis saw it, there are three instances, as Wells notes, all from Mohenjo daro.
|Proto-cuneiform |SILA3~a x KUR~a|, a combination of "market" and "(foreign) land."|
The three stacked wedges denoting “mountain, (foreign) land” in proto-cuneiform are cited by Fairservis in his definition of the SPACESHIP element. Thus, the proto-cuneiform |SILA3~a x KUR~a| may be considered more or less analogous to SPACESHIP UNDER TABLE. Instead of a “table,” the proto-cuneiform includes a “greater than” shape with a wedge at the bend. This portion came to mean “market, square.” This makes one wonder whether the combination represented a foreign market.
|Detail from seal M-896 with inscription: STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER DOUBLE TABLES / |
SINGLE QUOTE // TWO POSTS / MAN HOLDING POST / BEARER.
Our next sign is STRIPED TRIANGLE UNDER DOUBLE TABLES (XI 14). It appears in the literature as KP213 (with 12 strokes) and W429 (also 12 strokes). The actual sign is a bit difficult to make out in the photograph in the Corpus, but I think it may have only 11 strokes. In any case, it is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-896). It is also the only instance with a TABLE over another TABLE (over a third element).
|Proto-cuneiform sign |SILA3~c x ZATU 687|, a combination of "market" and an unknown sign.|
If the SILA3 cited under the previous sign may be taken as equivalent to the Indus TABLE, then there is an analogous sign in proto-cuneiform. It includes a triangular element with a rounded base, rotated 90 degrees, beside the “greater than” element. This combination is transcribed |SILA3~c x ZATU 687|. Similar rounded triangles represent oil or a dairy product such as butter. But this one, with both a vertical stripe and a horizontal stripe inside, may be distinct.
|Seal M-1169 with inscription: TWO POSTS / BLANKET WITH 7 TICKS / BIRD BETWEEN PARENTHESES / BI-QUOTES // SKEWERED CHEVRON / FISH // (2nd row) TWO POSTS / FISH / CUPPED POST / THREE POSTS / SPEAR.|
The fifth Indus sign is BLANKET WITH SEVEN TICKS (XI 15). Only Wells notes this as an independent sign (W538), another singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-1169). Fairservis considers all the BLANKET variations to represent enclosures, suggesting further that the varying marks inside indicate varying weights (1992: 100). In his discussion of these variations, he shows BLANKETS with four, six, and eight “ticks” first, but also includes one with asymmetrically arranged seven (four at the top, three at the bottom, the same arrangement of strokes as in most occurrences of STACKED SEVEN).
There are certainly many square or rectangular symbols outside the Indus Valley. But while it is easy enough to find grids, or internal stripes, or even quadrilaterals enclosing a cross or “X,” I have seen none with “ticks” elsewhere. This symbol may be a unique type, found only in the Indus script. It may be of interest to note, in addition, that while grids or checkerboards are among the entoptic shapes seen by those in altered states of consciousness such as trance, an element such as the BLANKET is not.
|Broken seal M-637 with (partial?) inscription: BLANKET WITH 4 TICKS, 3 HYPHENS / POT.|
The next sign may be a variant of the last: BLANKET WITH FOUR TICKS, THREE HYPHENS (XI 16). Once again, only Wells enumerates this separately (W534), finding it to be yet another singleton from Mohenjo daro. Fairservis does note its existence in his full discussion of the BLANKETS. It could be that the internal marks represent numerals, as Fairservis suggests. But if that were the case, one would expect instances with “one,” “two,” and “three” internal strokes. As it is, “four” is the lowest apparent numeral and “ten” the highest. In addition, some BLANKETS also include elements that differ from the usual “quote.”
|Detail from seal H-598A with inscription: DUCK HEAD IN LEAF TOPPED POT / PRAWN / |
ZEE / BI-QUOTES // WHISKERED FISH / BLANKET WITH 4 TICKS, 2 HYPHENS, & CEE / POT.
There is one more similar sign: BLANKET WITH FOUR TICKS, TWO HYPHENS, AND CEE (XI 17). It appears in other lists as KP270(c), W536 and 537, and Fs G-15. Despite his suggestion that the internal marks are numerical, Fairservis defines this symbol as representing a proper name. Wells, for his part, gives two versions: W536 containing the 4 “ticks,” a backward “C” shape, and 2 “hyphens” of the name, while W537 contains the same “ticks” and “cee” but then two “quotes.” Since both are singletons from Harappa, I have combined them (somewhat arbitrarily) as two variants of a single sign.
|Detail from seal C-8 with inscription: STRIPED BATTERY WITH ATTACHED LOOP / POTTED ONE / BELTED FISH / CIRCLED TRI-FORK / POT (note that the small LOOP is not an independent sign, but part of a ligature here).|
After these BLANKETS, I include an eleven-stroke STRIPED BATTERY (XI 18). It appears only in Wells’ list as an independent form (W477”c”). Both Fairservis and the team of Koskenniemi and Parpola recognize a striped version of the BATTERY, but in both cases the stripes are mostly vertical (KP290, Fs G-2, my X 10). The version with eleven strokes has only horizontal stripes. As such, it seems to occur twice, once at Mohenjo daro and once at Chanhujo daro. However, the photographs clearly show that in both of these, there is a loop attached to the BATTERY which Wells failed to include.
|Three variants of proto-cuneiform URUDU, "copper," analogous to the Indus (STRIPED) BATTERY.|
Proto-cuneiform provides good analogies to the STRIPED BATTERY portion – though without any attachment. The sign URUDU includes a variant with some vertical and horizontal stripes (variant “d”) and one with diagonal stripes (variant “c”). These came to mean “copper.”
|Seal L-86 with inscription: GRID (2 X 4) WITH ATTACHED POST / BACKSLASHES IN OVERLAPPING |
CIRCLES / TRI-FORK (note the rough appearance of the signs, with the GRID leaning to one side).
Another sort of attachment appears in the following Indus sign: GRID WITH ATTACHED POST (XI 19), also known as KP269 and W505. It is interesting to note that the sign presents a very neat appearance in both of these published lists, with perfectly vertical sides. On the actual seal from Lothal, the GRID element has a definite tilt to one side, though. It should actually be placed among the signs with ten strokes (the GRID including 2 x 4 internal squares), but I include it here due to its appearance in the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola (including 3 x 4 internal squares). Grids are common around the world, perhaps due to their inclusion among the entoptic shapes, but with such an attachment this sign becomes unique.
Today’s final sign is COMB BELTED ASTERISK (XI 20), appearing elsewhere as KP249 and W435. It is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-391), combining the “X” with doubled “quotes” in the upper and lower parts (the ASTERISK of eight strokes), with a “comb” across the middle that includes four “teeth.” As with some of the other ligatures discussed in this post, the individual elements have analogs in many other scripts and art traditions, but I have seen no such combination elsewhere.