Monday, August 15, 2011

Plants, Animals, and People among the Indus Signs

Seal M-234 with inscription: CEE / SINGLE QUOTE // FISH UNDER CHEVRON / FISH / SPEAR //
CAGED OVERLAPPING CIRCLES (a rare instance of three possible units of information).

Before I describe the more pictographic symbols in the Indus script, I note the FAT EX (XII 11).  This is rather simple, as signs go, closely resembling the outline of the letter “X.”  It appears in published sign lists as KP256, W543, and Fs F-8.  Fairservis sees it as a depiction of a star, which indicates a lineage.  If this interpretation should prove correct, it would seriously undermine the hypotheses of Asko Parpola, who sees the FISH as conveying the meaning of “star.”  Fortunately for Parpola, Fairservis provides little evidence for his view.  Wells notes 36 occurrences, 17 from Mohenjo daro and the same number from Harappa, as well as one each from Lothal and Banawali. 

Egyptian hieroglyphs Z10 (left), found in "break" and "divide,"
and Z11 (right), symbolizing "who is in."

This sign has many parallels around the world.  Such a symbol appears among the hieroglyphs of Egypt’s Old Kingdom (Z10), where it depicts two sticks crossed.  The glyph appears as a determinative in words meaning “to break” and “to divide.”
Proto-cuneiform KESZ2 (left), "knot, tether" and SZENNUR~b (right) "plum tree."

A similar sign, an outlined cross, appears in proto-cuneiform as KIB, perhaps representing “gold.”  Another cross is made up of slightly curved strokes, as SZENNUR~b, “plum tree.”  Still another thick cross, this one striped, represents KESZ2, “knot, tether.”  Proto-Elamite also contains both a cross (M006) and an “X” (M-006~b).  These are written with just two strokes apiece, rather than the outlined or “fat” form of Indus sign XII 11.
Adinkra symbol termed nsaa, suggesting the proverb "he who does not know the real design
will turn to an imitation," a symbol of excellence and authenticity.

Luwian contains a glyph with the form of an outlined cross, one which represents the syllable lu.  It is interesting to note that an identical glyph in Egyptian is not a variant of the previously mentioned Z10.  The joined planks of Z11, the “fat cross,” occur as a possible ideograph in the expression imy “who is in.”  In addition, this glyph appears as a phonetic element, the triliteral imi.
Adrinkra symbol called aban, "great fortress," symbol of power and strength.

In sub-Saharan Africa, a thick “X” shape occurs among the Adinkra symbols in two forms.  With short diagonal strokes added to the ends of the arms, it is aban, “great fortress,” symbolizing strength and the seat of power (Willis 1998: 60).  Given a slightly stepped shape and an internal cross, it is nsaa, recalling the proverb that “he who does not know the real design (or nsaa) will turn to an imitation.”  Both saying and symbol represent excellence and authenticity (1998: 150).
An inscription from a Chinese oracle bone, one which includes the character wu3, "five" (resembling Roman numeral ten), above a "D" shape (together indicating the fifth month), and the cross, character shi2, "ten" above a second character, together forming jia-chen (the name of the day on which the oracular crack-making was done) (Keightley 1985: 115).

The early Chinese writing of oracle bones also contains both “X” and cross, both of simple lines.  These are numerals, the X representing wu3, “five,” and the cross standing for shi2, “ten.”  As distinct characters, both commonly appear in the same text (Keightley 1985).  A thick cross has still a different meaning, appearing in the same script as ya3, a character found in certain names.  It now means “second, inferior.”
Variants of the Aztec symbol for movement, which resembles the Indus FAT EX (Van Dinter 2006: 214).

In the Americas, a variation on the “fat ex” represents movement among the Aztecs (Van Dinter 2006: 214).  The Navaho people of the American Southwest also use an elaboration of the “fat ex” as a decorative motif in woven rugs, termed the Teec Nos Pos design (Lamb 1992: 24-25).  The name means “cottonwoods in a circle,” referring to a particular location.
The highly elaborated "fat ex" as the Teec Nos Pos blanket, a Navaho product
(Lamb 1992: 25).  Note the many repetitions of a simpler "fat ex" in the border.

In contrast, the second Indus sign for this post may be unique: SHISH KEBAB TOPPED DUBYA (XII 12).  Elsewhere it is listed as KP117(b) and W311.  Wells notes only three occurrences, all from Mohenjo daro.  Each of these is a bit different from the others.  In the twelve-stroke variation, each upright of the DUBYA is crossed by three “kebabs” (M-172).  This is also the case with a second variation, but this one requires 15 strokes to draw, because the crossing elements are often angled (M-414).  In the third variation, all the crossing marks are horizontal, but each upright bears four (M-758).  These minor differences may or may not be significant.  If not, we may wish to include a fourth variation, a SHISH KEBAB TOPPED CUP (M-599 and M-601 through M-604).  This symbol has only two uprights instead of three.
Seal M-172 with inscription: DIAMOND / SHISH KEBAB TOPPED DUBYA /

The closest analogy in proto-cuneiform is not a particularly good match.  In ALAN~e, “image, statue,” there are four “uprights” (rotated 90 degrees) rather than three.  In addition, instead of crossing “kebabs” on these stroke, there are three “V” shapes.
Proto-cuneiform ALAN~e, "image, statue," not a close analog of Indus XII 12.

In Old Chinese, there is an angular “dubya” that stands on a base, namely the character yu3, “to have.”  In some cases, the uprights are each topped by a single horizontal.  The simpler variant makes an appearance as a component of the African Adinkra symbol hwehwemudua, “examine it.”  This is said to represent a measuring rod, symbolizing excellence.
Adinkra symbol hwehwemudua, "examine it," which contains an angular "dubya" element.

Still more distant in its resemblance is a stylized tree among the symbols found on punchmarked coins of later India (Gupta 1960: Pl. II, symbol 100).  Here, each of the seven “branches” ends in a round dot rather than being crossed by a line.

Bar seal M-1341 with inscription: BLANKET WITH 6 TICKS /

The third Indus sign described herein is QUADRUPED WITH R FACE AND E TAIL (XII 13).  This zoomorphic sign appears only in Wells’ list (W183), where it is identified as occuring just twice.  Both occurrences are from Mohenjo daro, but in two variations.  In one case, the “R” shape of what I take to be the head faces toward the “tail” with its three prongs.  In the other case, there is an additional “ear” on the other side of the “head” and the body is striped.
In this proto-cuneiform inscription on an administrative tablet from Jemdet Nasr,
the sign EN, "lord," appears in the bottom row, on the far right (hand copy based
on Aruz 2003: 41, Pl. 11).

This could be an abstract symbol that does not depict an animal at all, given its schematic appearance.  On this line, compare the pronged and striped element that appears in proto-cuneiform as EN~a.  It came to mean “lord; priest or priestess; diviner.”

Broken seal M-704 with inscription: QUOTE UNDER MAN HOLDING COMB / COMB.

The following Indus sign is clearly anthropomorphic: QUOTE UNDER MAN HOLDING COMB (XII 14).  It has been published previously as KP27 and W47.  It appears just once in the Corpus, as Wells notes, being found only at Mohenjo daro (M-704).
Detail from a Hawaiian petroglyph, showing multiple anthropomorphs, some of which have an
element between the legs (Kaeppler 2008: 157, fig. 132, color added for emphasis). 

The appearance of a small mark beneath an anthropomorph is quite rare, but it does occur sometimes in petroglyphs in Hawaii (Kaeppler 2008: 157).  Here, it may represent male genitalia.
Anthropomorphs from Indian punchmarked coins, most including a single dot
beside the head (Gupta 1960: Pl. II, symbols 90 and 91, variants).

The asymmetry of the Indus sign, with the “comb” element only on one side, may be compared with the asymmetry of a dot beside the head of some variants of a symbol on Indian punchmarked coins (Gupta 1960: Pl. II, symbols 90 and 91).  These “men” do not appear to hold anything and the added dot may represent hair.

Detail from Navaho rug depicting yei perhaps holding pine boughs (Lamb 1992: 33). 

In South America, dots (plural rather than singular) may represent dust kicked up by activity in Moche pottery motifs (Donnan and McClelland 1999: 106).  As such, dots are frequently part of scenes of battling warriors and of ritual running.  In North America, pronged elements are sometimes depicted in the hands of anthropomorphic figures in Navaho sand paintings (Newcomb and Reichard 1975: 54, Pl. IV and XXXII).  These elements represent feathers attached to strings.  The string are part of the standard adornment of divine figures or yei, while the number of feathers indicate the generosity of the Navaho.
Detail from seal M-142 with inscription: VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES //

Another anthropomorphic Indus sign is COMB BELTED MAN (XII 15), also known as KP22 and W20.  This rare sign occurs four times, always at Mohenjo daro.  In each case, the feet of the anthropomorph are shown, a feature rarely seen in other signs.  The “comb” element in this case protrudes from the waist of the “man,” with the prongs descending.  In one instance, there are two “teeth” on either side of the body (M-831).  In the others, there are three “teeth” on each side.  This minor difference may not be significant.

Anthropomorph with concentric circles thickening body (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: Pl. 12e).

Human-like figures are extremely common around the world, as already noted in previous posts.  Such a figure with a “comb” is generally rare, though a roughly similar “rayed arc” stands above the head of many figures in northwest America (Keyser 1992: 61, fig. 35a).  In the Southwest, there are Hohokam petroglyphs of an anthropomorph with a very different element superimposed on the central body (Noble 1991: 64-65).  Here, the central element is sometimes spiral in form, a circle within a circle, or simply a rounded thickening of the body.

The BEARER sign on pot shard H-374.

The BEARER is another anthropomorph (XII 16).  Variants comprising twelve strokes have lines to indicate the arms (lacking in other variants).  This more common sign is also enumerated KP1(a), W4, and Fs A-7.  Fairservis considers it a man with a carrying pole from which hang two looped cords.  He assigns the meaning “watchman.”  Wells notes 35 occurrences of all 16 variants, 21 from Mohenjo daro, six from Harappa, three from Kalibangan, two from Chanhujo daro, and one each from Lothal, Dholavira, and Allahdino.

Pictograph from the Columbia Plateau of northwest America,
perhaps depicting a female puberty rite (Keyser 1992: 59, fig. 33). 

An exact duplicate of the BEARER does not appear in other scripts.  However, there are other depictions of a human-like figure bearing items on both sides.  In the American northwest, a stick figure with a dot beneath each arm appears to represent a woman (Keyser 1992: 38, fig. 7).  In another pictograph, the figure is enclosed in a circle and bears an arrow-like element in each hand (1992: 59, fig. 33).  This has been interpreted as a girl during a puberty ceremony, holding fir branches used in a bathing ritual.  Anthropomorphs with star-like hands – or holding something – occur in the rock art of the Southwest as well (Heizer and Baumhoff 1984: Pl. 18; 16 occurrences in eastern California, 60 in Nevada, pp. 90 and 337).  They may depict shamans or kachinas.  However, these “kachinas” either have bodies shaped like inverted triangles (in Nevada) or rectangles (eastern California).

There is also an anthropomorph with either very short arms or rectangular objects on each side among the symbols on Indian punchmarked coins.  This figure appears alongside an elephant (seen in profile), with a pronged element termed a “taurine” (Gupta 1960: Pl. II, symbol 111).
Seal M-813 with inscription: VEE IN DIAMOND / BI-QUOTES // MALLET / TRI-FORK / CHEVRON-HATTED BEARER (I have not shown the detail adequately, but the "bearer" here has arms beneath the shoulder pole).

The CHEVRON HATTED BEARER also includes twelve strokes in some variants (XII 17).  It is also enumerated KP3, W27a and W28, and Fs A-9.  Fairservis sees this as a combination of the previous BEARER and the SPEAR sign (his A-7 plus H-5).  In his view, the ligature represents an honorific title similar to that of the previous sign, a guardian of some sort.  Wells notes three occurrences of the armless version (W28, containing 9 or 10 strokes) and three of the type with arms (W27).  Of the latter, two have arms that form a chevron, while the third has either a “V” shape (Wells’ depiction) or a single horizontal stroke encompassing both arms (my view of M-197).  There is a vague resemblance between the “chevron hat” atop this Indus sign and the peaked cap or crown worn by Near Eastern deities (e.g., hat of the storm god in bas-reliefs).

Bas-relief tablet M-1425A with inscription (from right): [tree icon] / SEATED MAN HOLDING CUP
 / FOUR QUOTES / CUP / MAN BETWEEN POSTS / COMB / [another icon?].

The next Indus symbol takes the form of an anthropomorph that is seated, holding a “U” shape with both hands: SEATED MAN HOLDING CUP (XII 18).  It appears elsewhere as W22 and Fs A-29.  Fairservis describes it as a kneeling figure with a container, with the definition “cubit,” i.e., a measure of quantity or depth.  Koskenniemi and Parpola omit this symbol, perhaps considering it part of the scene rather than a sign (in which case, the scene depicts the "man with cup" before a tree).  In any case, it occurs four times, with three of these appearing on duplicate tablets.  All are from Mohenjo daro.

Scene from a cylinder seal from Susa depicting seated person on right, with cup (?),
another person standing before the first, and various decorative (?) motifs,
including a crescent moon, a bird with its head tucked under its wing,
and a gazelle (Collon 2005: 56, fig. 228).

Seated deities often appear on Near Eastern cylinder seals, with one or more figures – human or divine – standing before them (Collon 2005: 53 and 56, illustration based on fig. 228 from Susa, Iran).  The seated figure often holds a vessel of some kind.  However, these seated figures are virtually always perched on stools or other raised seats, unlike the Indus XII 18.

Isis seated on a pectoral of gold, inset with lapis lazuli and other stones, from King Tut's tomb;
Nephthys is on the other side of the pectoral, mirroring her sister's pose
(redrawn from postcard purchased at the King Tut exhibit).

In Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as in art, humans and deities often sit.  In the example shown, Isis sits with one knee up, as depicted on a pectoral ornament from King Tutankhamen’s tomb.  Her divine sister, the goddess Nephthys, sits in the same fashion on the opposite side of the ornament.  The two goddesses flank a vulture.
Seal C-23 with inscription: BUGS ON STRIPED LEAF / THREE QUOTES (?) / CIRCLED BISECTED RECTANGLE / ARCHER / CORN HOLDER // (2nd row) SHIELD (?) / PANTS (?) // (3rd row) MAN WITH DOUBLE DEE-SLASHES / CIRCLED VEE (note the unusual depiction of feet and rounded heads of the anthropomorphs).

The last of the anthropomorphs in this set is ARCHER (XII 19), probably a variation on the simpler MAN WITH DEE-SLASH.  This particular variation has a round head and the feet are depicted.  As such, the sign appears elsewhere only as W36.  It probably occurs twice at Chanhujo daro (clearly on C-23, broken away but for the head and the weapon on C-24).  Bowmen, of course, appear widely, but since I noted parallels previously in connection with simpler variations, I will not specify them here.

Seal M-1087 with inscription: EYELESS FEATHERED DUCK HEAD / PANTS /

Today’s final sign is EYELESS FEATHERED DUCK HEAD (XII 20), also known as KP76 and W86.  It may actually depict a crab.  Wells finds nine occurrences in four variants.  Of these, eight are from Mohenjo daro, including all four variants.  A single instance is from Lothal (L-47).  The number of prongs differs between variants, as does the precise form of the “beak” of the “duck.”  This sign resembles one found in proto-cuneiform, namely, NE~e (shown in a previous post).  This came to mean “this/that one.”  It probably does not depict a crustacean, but other unusual signs may: ZATU 699~a and ~b also sport six or more prongs.  Both the latter are essentially pronged circles, with markings inside.


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