Friday, September 2, 2011

Last Group of Indus Signs

Bar seal M-411 with inscription: FLYING BIRD / 3 POSTS / POT //

When the signs become complex, it is difficult to count strokes, making this a less than ideal method of organizing them.  For this reason, I will briefly cover the rest of the signs in my list, from those classed as 19 strokes to 24.  The first of these is a variant of a previous sign, differing only in the number of stripes: FLYING BIRD (XIX 1).  Elsewhere it is enumerated KP70, W98 and Fs B-4. 
Bird depicted in northwestern North America (Keyser 1992: 96, fig. 70b).

Flying birds are frequently depicted as here, that is, with both wings spread.  In fact, that seems to be the most common form outside the Indus Valley.  I will note here only the North American Thunderbird, the designation most often given to birds with spread wings that appear in Native American art.  Examples occur in the southwest in Texas (Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 47, Pl. 13, no. 3; p. 116, Pl. 74; p. 186, Pl. 135 no. 16-A), in the northwest in Washington (Keyser 1992: 90, fig. 63a & b; p. 96, fig. 70b), and in Navaho sand paintings (Newcomb and Reichard 1975: 47 and Pl. XV, detail p. 61 and Pl. XXIX as Thunderbirds).
Bar seal Krs-1 with inscription: CUPPED SPOON / QUADRUPED / SHISH KEBAB / PINCH //
STACKED TRIPLE CIRCLES (possibly three units of information).

Broken seal M-1319 with partial inscription: QUADRUPED /

Quadrupeds are the next symbols in my list.  There is a striped version with a rounded “nose” and simple vertical “tail” facing left (XIX 2) and another with ears that faces the opposite direction (XIX 3).  In his latest work, Parpola distinguishes two quadrupeds among the Indus signs, designated 46 a-j when facing right, 47 a-g when facing left.  Some depictions are reasonably realistic, while others are so stylized that it is anyone’s guess what they are.  Although horned bovines dominate as the iconic element (especially the “unicorn” bull), none of those used as signs appear to have horns.
Tablet M-1356 with inscription: SWASTIKA / ENDLESS KNOT (or two icons).

There follows another DOUBLE GRIDS (XX 1), that we need not discuss further (three columns of five squares each).  After it I have placed one of the more elaborate versions of the ENDLESS KNOT (XX 2).  This one occurs once at Mohenjo daro (M-1356).  Having previously discussed such motifs, I add nothing further here.
Broken seal H-577 with partial inscription: PRAWN (?) / 4 QUOTES / BUD & CHEVRON TOPPED POT / POT.

After this, I list BUD AND CHEVRON TOPPED DUBYA (XXI 1), found elsewhere as KP117 (without the additional chevrons), W320, and Fs J-3 (again without the additional chevrons).  Fairservis suggests that it represents a quantity of woven cloth or spun thread.  Wells states that it is a singleton from Harappa (H-577).  It is probably best grouped with other DUBYA symbols with various tops (LOOP TOPPED DUBYA, CIRCLE TOPPED DUBYA, BUD TOPPED DUBYA, etc.).
Broken seal M-639 with inscription: POTTED BI-RAKE ON CARTWHEEL

The following sign is a ligature of three elements: POTTED BI-RAKE ON CARTWHEEL (XXI 2).  It appears in the literature as KP330 and W328.  It is a singleton from Mohenjo daro (M-639).  Afterward, I noted another CRAB IN LEAF TOPPED POT (XXII 1), but as a variant of a previous sign, it needs no further discussion.
Seal M-288 with inscription: DOUBLE MEN CARRYING TRIANGLE / LAMBDA /

Yet another DOUBLE GRIDS (2 x 7) follows based on Wells’ enumeration (XXII 2).  He designates it W513, finding a single instance from Mohenjo daro (M-25).  After this common type of symbol, there is another singleton, DOUBLE MEN CARRYING TRIANGLE (XXII 3).  It is also enumerated KP6, W52, and Fs A-11.  Fairservis sees this as two men with a carrying pole who bear a conical weight (a very large weight!).  Perhaps, he suggests, it should be defined as, “one who assembles.”  I would have expected, "one who carries."
Seal M-290 with inscription: COW LEG / QUADRUPED / COMB.

Afterward, I originally included three more quadrupeds (XXII 4, XXIV 1, XXIV 2), which need not detain us.  Suffice it to say that Wells enumerates each separately, being the “splitter” that he is, while others group these with the other quadrupeds, being “lumpers.”  I now think it better to “lump,” at least with regard to quadrupeds.
Bar seal M-1336 with inscription: QUADRUPED / MALLET / POTTED THREE.

The third sign of twenty-four strokes is POT HATTED BEARER WITH RAKE (XXIV 3), also known as KP5 only.  Following Fairservis’ criteria, this ligature would combine the meaning “Great Guardian” (the “bearer” with his “hat”) with “downriver, south” (the “comb”).  So, perhaps we should rename this fellow the Great Southern Guardian.  But he disappears from Parpola’s later list (2009).  I am inclined to delete him myself.
Bar seal M-1262 with inscription: DOUBLE EF PRONGED EXITS / FOOTED STOOL WITH

Wells prompts me to now note DOUBLE EF PRONGED EXITS (XXIV 4), his W479.  It occurs once at Mohenjo daro, he observes (M-1262).  I see another instance from Lothal (L-105).  The single “exit” of this type is Fairservis’ “irrigation sluice,” so I imagine he would say the doubled instances are “two irrigation sluices.”

This odd symbol is vaguely like the proto-cuneiform DUB~b, a rectangle filled with hash marks, with two strokes extending from the left side (the “ef prongs”).  This came to mean “clay tablet” as well as “to store, heap up; divide off; mark off a sector; move in a circle; shake; pour out; sprinkle; dye (fabric); beat, crush (cloth).”  It has no relationship to the Indus sign, I am sure.
Seal M-627 with inscription: FISH / SINGLE POST / SINGLE QOTE // GRID (3 X 7) / POTTED ONE / STRIPED LOOP UNDER CHEVRON / DOUBLE GRIDS (3 X 7) (this may be evidence that doubling creates a different symbol from the single appearance, and that Wells is correct in separating single from doubled instances in his list).

Another DOUBLE GRIDS appears here in my list (XXIV 5), with three columns of 7 squares each.  Then, finally, the last sign is DOUBLE STACKED TWELVES (XXIV 6).  Again, only Wells notes this to be a sign in its own right (W207).  He finds nine instances, one apiece from Harappa and Lothal, plus seven from Kalibangan (duplicate bas-relief tablets made in a mould).  On the Kalibangan tablets, there is a small separation between the two sets of strokes, so it really seems to be a doubling of the STACKED TWELVE.  However, in the other two examples, there is no such separation.  The Harappa and Lothal examples look like three rows of eight marks each, making 24.  I do not know if this is significant, so I include Wells’ sign here as a safeguard.  Note that Fairservis does not recognize this as one of the apparent numerals.  He thinks it means rain.
Tablet K-69 with inscription (from right to left): DOUBLE MEN (over SLASH?) / DOUBLED STACKED TWELVES / BI-QUOTES // RAKE OVER RAKE / DEE / DEE-SLASH (note the small space between 1st and 2nd "12").

It is interesting to note how many tally marks appear in other areas, where meanings remain unknown.  In North America, such marks are frequently found in rock art.  They are frequent in Texas (e.g., Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 47, Pl. 13, no. 2; p. 90 Pl. 50, no. 1; p. 122 Pl. 80; p. 149, Pl. 99 no. 7).  Groups of two short marks may often represent deer tracks, while a single stroke may be the remnant of a more complex motif that has been largely lost to weathering.  But larger groups occur in great numbers through all periods and in all styles.  Smaller groups predominate -- threes, fours, and sixes being particularly common -- but much larger groups also appear here and there (including 9, 13, 16, 18, 26, 51, and 80). 

Replica of L-115 with inscription: SINGLE POST / DOUBLE STACKED TWELVES / CUPPED POST / TABLE.

Similarly, Australian rock art also includes so-called tally marks, groups of usually vertical lines (Layton 2009: 146, 197).  Some have construed these as enumerative, saying the people marked down the number of months they spent at the site (of the rock art) in this manner.  However, there is no way of verifying this for the oldest art, which was made over 10,000  years ago (2009: 242).  In any case, groups of more than 24 "tallies" are not at all rare.  This makes it all the more interesting that 12 and its double, 24, are the highest apparent numerals in the Indus script.  I take this as further evidence that the seals and tablets were not economic accounts and the apparent numerals were not functioning in the same way as those on proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite tablets.

Detail from seal H-14 with inscription: DOUBLE STACKED TWELVES / RAKE / PINCH //
WHISKERED FISH / BI-RAKE & BI-FORK TOPPED POT / POT (no space between 12's here).

Fairservis, W.A. 1992. The Harappan Civilization and Its Writing. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

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

Keyser, J.D. 1992. Indian Rock Art of the Columbia Plateau. Seattle: University of Washington.

Layton, R. 2009 (and 1992). Australian Rock Art: A New Synthesis. Cambridge: University Press.

Newcomb, W.W. Jr. and F. Kirkland. 1996. The Rock Art of Texas Indians. Austin: University of Texas.

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. (also see Epigraphic Approaches to Indus Writing. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books.)

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