Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Indus Signs of 17 and 18 Strokes

Seal M-267 with inscription: EX UNDER TABLE / BI-QUOTES //

This group begins with another variant of the POT HATTED BEARER (XVII 1).  The arms are formed by a single horizontal line.  There are two occurrences of this variant from Harappa, Wells finds.  The second sign is more interesting: QUOTE OVER POT HATTED BEARER (ARMLESS) (XVII 2).  The addition of the “quote” between the sides of the “pot” that replaces this bearer’s “head” recalls the POTTED ONE sign.  It also recalls the QUOTE UNDER MAN, though the additional stroke is in a different location here.  This sign is listed only by Wells (W56) and occurs just once (M-267).  Why did the others miss this?  Perhaps it is because the seal surface has many small lumps and dents, making it difficult to determine whether the tiny lump in the “pot” was intentional.
Bas-relief tablet H-701 with inscription (right to left): BI-RAKE IN

The third sign is clearly different, BI-RAKE IN SQUARE WITH EAR (XVII 3).  This time only the list of Koskenniemi and Parpola shows the symbol (KP97).  In his later work, Parpola lists the sign again (2009: sign 106).  The reference there is to H-701, a bas-relief tablet that does not show this symbol particularly clearly.  The “ear” in particular may be nothing more than a flaw.

Proto-cuneiform provides examples of square or rectangular elements containing other symbols.  One of these with multiple prongs is |GA2~a1 x SZA|.  In this case, the first part of the name can indicate a box or basket, while the second or internal sign came to represent a weight measure.
Seal M-6 with inscription: HEADLESS FLYING BIRD / LAMBDA /

There follows a slightly more popular sign, CARTWHEEL IN FAT EX IN DIAMOND (XVII 4).  In other lists, it is enumerated KP384, W394, and Fs N-6a.  Fairservis sees it as a depiction of an urban settlement, used in a proper name for a place, Dravidian tiņ-ūr, “eminence, elevation.”  Wells notes five occurrences from Mohenjo daro.  I would add two from Lothal.  Wells also indicates that there are three variants, but it seems there is actually more variation than that.  Each instance differs in some way or another from the rest.  the central CARTWHEEL is very small in some versions (especially M-225) and relatively large in others (such as M-1318 and M-145).  The surrounding diamond is fairly thin in M-655, while in the others it is a good deal wider.  In M-1318 the central element is a circled “X” rather than the circled asterisk found in the others.  But it is impossible to say that such differences were meaningful with such limited data.
Seal M-218 with inscription: STRIPED BI-FORK TOPPED HAIR PICK / FISH / COMB.

There is another variation on BUGS ON STRIPED LEAF (XVII 5) and another STRIPED BI-FORK TOPPED HAIR PICK (XVII 6), but these symbols have been discussed before.
Broken seal M-802 with inscription: STRIPED ANT / BISECTED TRIANGLE /
When we arrive at the eighteen-stroke symbols, we begin with another POT HATTED BEARER (XVIII 1).  This one has arms that form a chevron, but is otherwise much the same as previous incarnations.  After this comes FLYING ANT (XVIII 2), listed independently in Wells (W93).  It has four short lines emerging from the left side, like previous “ants.”  But it also has two strokes rising from the top and two descending from the bottom, in addition to the doubled curves that emerge from the right.  If this depicts an insect, it is probably the same one as previous “ants.”  The next sign is another possible bug, STRIPED ANT (XVIII 3), also known as KP82 and W94.  As Wells observes, it is a singleton (M-802).

Seal M-85 with inscription: FLYING BIRD / EX ON POST WITH ATTACHED

There follows a new sign, FLYING BIRD (XVIII 4).  This unusual creature is flying sideways in all three occurrences, as cited in Wells (W98).  Koskenniemi and Parola also include this symbol in their list (KP70), as does Fairservis (B-4).  Fairservis thinks all the birds are peacocks and this one is no exception.  But his definition is “tail; sorcery, magic; child,” based on Dravidian near-homophones.

After this, there is a MAN HOLDING COW LEG (XVIII 5), which is also enumerated KP24 and Fs A-27.  Wells is missing this one.  Fairservis sees only one example, which he identifies as MD 1931-289.  I have not seen it.  Parpola notes a single instance in his later work, a seal or tablet identified as 1347 (2009).
Seal M-107 with inscription: BIRD WITH UPRIGHT TAIL / BIRD & FISH BETWEEN PARENTHESES / BI-QUOTES // BELTED FISH / FOOTED STOOL WITH HAIRY LEGS & ATTACHED TRI-FORK / POT (the 2nd symbol is reversed on M-483 and M-484, the FISH preceding the BIRD between the CEE and BACK CEE).

Another repeated symbol appears next in my list, one which has two variants: FISH AND BIRD BETWEEN PARENTHESES or BIRD AND FISH BETWEEN PARENTHESES (XVIII 6).  The name reflects the sequence of the two bracketed elements.  It is listed elsewhere as KP63 (bird plus fish) and KP64 (fish plus bird) and as W126 only (no reversed example shown and only one variant is noted).  Wells notes two occurrences, one each from Mohenjo daro and Harappa.  But I see five examples from the first city (two of them duplicates), plus the single instance from Harappa, making six in all (M-483 and M-484 fish plus bird; M107, M-446-7, and H-468 bird plus fish).

An elaborate variation on the “X” shape follows, as SNOWFLAKE (XVIII 7), listed only by Koskenniemi and Parpola (KP239).  It appears again in Parpola’s later work (2009: 75, no. 244).  There, he identifies its occurrence as on the bas-relief tablet M495, a three-sided prism.  The SNOWFLAKE is the first symbol on the right on side G, a position that is equivocal.  Sometimes an iconic element appears in first or final position, rather than a sign per se.  It is possible that this symbol is, then, an icon rather than a sign, but it is better to include it in a thorough list than to ignore it.  There are many variations on the “X” shape elsewhere, but I do not know of another one quite like this.
Seal M-261 with inscription: TRIPLE TRIANGLES ON FAT EX / SINGLE QUOTE // LAMBDA / POT (?).

There follows TRIPLE TRIANGLES ON FAT EX (XVIII 8), also known as KP257 and W551.  It has a single representative from Mohenjo daro (M-261).  It is an unusual type of ligature as well.  Usually it is a trident shape or a “post” that is attached to another sign, not the three triangles.  However, TRIPLE TRIANGLES by itself appears in a variety of orientations, as if the Harappans did not quite know how best to position it.

Afterward, we find VEE IN DIAMOND WITH TRIPLE SHISH KEBABS (XVIII 9), found elsewhere as KP393 and W400.  It, too, is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-151), according to Wells.  However, I believe it occurs at Kalibangan as well (K-22).
Detail from seal K-22 with inscription: 3 POSTS / 3 POSTS / BEARER /
VEE IN DIAMOND WITH TRIPLE SHISH KEBABS (are the first two signs really a single symbol, SIX POSTS ?).

Two more versions of DOUBLE GRIDS come next in the list (XVIII 10 for grids 3 x 4; XVIII 11 for those 2 x 5).  Wells enumerates these independently, but the other list-makers group them with the rest of the grids.  Although I have included them in my list as separate signs, I am inclined to agree with Fairservis and Koskenniemi and Parpola.
Tablet M-597, B side with single-sign inscription: EF PRONGED CHEVRON UPON POTTED SIX.

Then we have EF PRONGED CHEVRON UPON POTTED SIX (XVIII 12).  It is enumerated KP329 and W588 in the literature, with 10 occurrences at Mohenjo daro.  It appears on copper tablets and is quite difficult to make out in the photographs.  Parpola has published drawings of these artifacts, though, showing the inscriptions and the icons (2009: 111-112).  This symbol occurs on one side of tablets that Parpola designates C4a and C4b.  On the other side, there is an inscription that runs from right to left on C4a, from left to right on C4b: CIRCLED TRI-FORK / BELTED FISH / STRIPED LEAF / POT.  This same inscription appears on tablets designated A2, where an iconic animal takes the place of sign XVIII 12 on the reverse.  This animal is a composite, with a bovine body and bearing short, curved horns, but with an apparent tiger’s tail.  Parpola interprets this juxtaposition as indicating the sign represents the animal.  The sign also occurs in an inscription on another set of tablets, designated C3.  Here, if we are to read from right to left, the inscription is DOUBLE CHEVRONS / EF PRONGED CHEVRON UPON POTTED SIX.  The reverse of the tablet bears another inscription, this one containing five signs (DOT IN FISH / PRAWN / ZEE / CROSSROADS EX / POT).  I find myself wondering whether XVIII 12 means the same thing in both locations – alone versus in an inscription.  Any thoughts?

Fairservis, W.A. 1992. The Harappan Civilization and Its Writing: A Model for the Decipherment of the Indus Script. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Joshi, J.P. and A. Parpola. 1987. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 1. Collections in India. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Koskenniemi, K. and A Parpola. 1982. A Concordance to the Texts in the Indus Script. Helsinki: Department of Asian and African Studies, University of Helsinki.

Parpola, A. 2009 (and 1994). Deciphering the Indus Script. Cambridge: University Press.

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

Wells, B.K. 1998. An Introduction to Indus Writing: A Thesis (see also 2011. Epigraphic Approaches to Indus Writing. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books.).

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