Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Banyan signs and a Man with Cup and Saucer

Shamanic figure holding grain (after Newcomb & Kirkland 1996: 43).
In the months since my last post, I finally obtained the third volume of the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions (Parpola, Pande & Koskikallio 2010).  As I transcribed the inscriptions in this volume, using the system outlined in this blog, I noted a few symbols I had not seen before (in the first two volumes of the Corpus).  Two of these “new” signs may be considered variations on the DUBYA, a sign with three “stems” joined at the base.  The outer two “stems” curve toward the base, forming a “U” or CUP shape, with the central “stem” vertical.  Many instances of the simple DUBYA seem to occur on pottery, although in virtually all of these cases, they are probably better interpreted as instances of CUPPED POST (over 30 possible occurrences from Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Lothal, Kalibangan, Banawali, Chanhu-daro, Amri, Chandigarh, and Rahman-dheri). 

 Seal M-172 with inscription: DIAMOND / SHISH KEBAB TOPPED DUBYA / 

Most occurrences of the DUBYA on seals and tablets have some addition to the top of the three “stems” and, usually, all three bear the same top.  These symbols may be related to the variously topped POTS referred to as the BANYAN by Korvink (2008: 28).  Three seals from Mohenjo-daro bear a SHISH KEBAB TOPPED DUBYA (M-172, M-414, M-758).  One doubtful occurrence on a pot shard from Harappa contains a possible FORK TOPPED DUBYA (H-1013).  Another, still more doubtful appearance of a CHEVRON-TOPPED DUBYA may occur on a broken tablet, also from Harappa (H-1339). 

 Tablet H-289, side A (left) with inscription (from right): FOUR QUOTES / 

There are also several instances of a BUD TOPPED DUBYA (H-289, H-290, H-577, K-15).  The first two cited from Harappa appear on tablets, while the third is a seal.  The single instance from Kalibangan is also on a seal.  The majority of the remaining DUBYAS are an apparent simplification of the last type which I previously designated LOOP TOPPED DUBYA (seal M-14, seal H-6, tablets H-300, H-2202 {broken & thus uncertain}, H-901A, H-902A, seal K-63, and probably copper ingot C-40).  There are three different varieties of the BUD TOPPED DUBYA and it makes sense to simply include those topped with loops as a fourth variation if this sign.

In two cases, the each of the three “stems” of the DUBYA bears a different top.  The first of these signs contains eleven strokes, so I tentatively designate it as XI 39 (BUD, SKEWERED CIRCLE & FORK TOPPED DUBYA).  It appears on M-1759.  The second also contains eleven strokes: XI 40 (SHISH KEBAB, FORK & BUD TOPPED DUBYA).  It appears on H-2186.  

Tablet H-2186 with inscription, side A (above, reading from right): SHISH KEBAB, FORK & 

It is interesting to note that in the second sign, both the SHISH KEBAB and the BUD occur together, clearly differentiated (though my rendering is not very clear).  This strongly suggests that, while the BUD and LOOP TOPPED versions appear to be variants of the same sign, we should not lump these together with the SHISH KEBAB TOPPED DUBYA.  Without the evidence of this single sign, it would be tempting to see the SHISH KEBAB simply as Mohenjo-daro’s regional variant of the BUD/LOOP (which mainly occurs at Harappa, though also found at Kalibangan and Chanhu-daro). 
In fact, this is evidently how A. Parpola viewed these symbols (1994: 72-73).  In his sign list, updated from the earlier KP version (Koskenniemi and Parpola 1982), the DUBYA symbols with tops are grouped together as sign 123.  Variants “b” and “c” have LOOP tops, “d,” “e,” and “f” have BUD tops, and “g”, “h,” and “i” have SHISH KEBAB tops.  Interestingly, Parpola notes the occurrence of the DUBYA with BUD, SKEWERED CIRCLE, & TRI-FORK tops (his sign 113) but not the variation with SHISH KEBAB, FORK & BUD tops.  Had he seen the latter, he might have split the DUBYA signs into two groups.

 Tablet H-2186 with inscription, side A (above, reading from right): SHISH KEBAB, FORK 

Another sign occurring once in the third volume of the Corpus was previously noted by Wells (2011:174, sign 115): IX 62, MAN HOLDING CUP & CIRCLE.  This sign appears once, on pot shard H-1506.  It is similar to other signs depicting an anthropomorph holding something.  Most of the time, the figure holds just a single item, but there is a MAN HOLDING DOUBLE DEE-SLASHES (XIII 36) and a MAN HOLDING DOUBLE POSTS (IX 27).  In these two, the signs show bilateral symmetry – they are the same on the right and on the left.  But in IX 62, the two sides do not match.  This may be significant because, when seeking parallels in other areas, symmetrical symbols are much easier to match than asymmetrical ones.

For example, among the Egyptian hieroglyphs, there are quite a few depicting anthropomorphs (men, women, and deities) that hold a single object.  Fewer depict two items being held.  Three examples in Gardiner’s list show a man standing and holding something in each hand, each more or less bilaterally symmetrical (glyphs A37, A38, and A 39).  Two asymmetrical standing figures bear a different object in each hand (A22 and A23).  Each of these holds a staff in the right hand, reminiscent of the Indus MAN HOLDING POST.  The left arm hangs down at the side, though, with the second object held horizontally across the body.  In A22, this second object is the ‘b3 scepter (this scepter being glyph S42); in A23 the second object is a mace (T3).  But none of these Egyptian glyphs is particularly close to the Indus sign.

Chinese characters da4 "big" and jia1 "press."
In Chinese, as noted in the much earlier blog concerning the MAN sign, a parallel symbol is the word for “big” (da4).  This Chinese character is a little simpler than the Indus MAN, in modern writing.  The head and upper torso are depicted together as a single vertical stroke which continues downward, curving off to the left side, to form one leg as well.  The arms are a single horizontal stroke crossing the “body.”  And the second leg is another curved line, arising from just beneath the arms and pointing in the opposite direction from the first stroke.  The character also serves as a radical, or base, for forming several more complex characters.  In none of these does the basic figure clearly hold something. 

Old Chinese characters yi4 "and, also" and yeh4 "night."

 But there are a few that are reminiscent of the Indus type which does hold something.  For example, jia1 includes the figure with the widespread arms, beneath which hang two small chevron-like appendages (essentially identical to one form of lai2, “to come,” except that in “come” the central vertical stroke continues down between the spread legs, thus creating the character meaning “tree”).  This forms a character meaning “to press” (among other things).  In this case, the two objects suspended from the arms are identical to each other.  In the older seal writing, there is also a character formed by the person with a dot or “quote” under each arm; this is yi4 which originally referred to sides (now written very differently and used as a conjunction, “and, also”) (Wieger 1965: 158).
Complex Chinese characters are typically asymmetrical but rarely pictorial.  Among those formed on the 37th radical (“big”), few resemble a man holding things.  One that does is qi4, in which the human figure forms the base of the character, with two different elements just above the arms.  The element on the left resembles the Indus SHISH KEBAB (or the Chinese hand) and on the right, a small version of the character for a knife.  Together these elements form the word for “covenant, bond, deed.”

Chinese qi4 "covenant."

In rock art, which is often clearly pictorial, there are many examples of human figures holding various items.  In the American Southwest, for example, a simple anthropomorphic figure may hold an element resembling the Indus SKEWERED DONUT in one hand, which may represent an atlatl or spear-thrower (from Rio Piedra Pintada, Rio Grande County, Colorado, in Slifer 1998: 61).  In the example shown, the other hand grasps a curved stick in one case, while a column of dots extends above the right side of the smaller figure.  A more complex figure, perhaps a shaman, seems to clasp an ear of grain on each side (from Seminole Canyon in Texas, in Newcomb and Kirkland 1996: 43, figure 11.2, detail, shown at beginning of this post).  A third example is from the American northeast, showing an anthropomorph with a bow and arrow in one hand and a possible tomahawk in the other (from an Indian grave marker in Kingston, New York, in Lenik 2002: 167, fig. 133).  

Anthropomorphs bearing objects (after Slifer 1998: 61).

Schematic human figures also appear in some rock art from Africa.  One example shown here seems to depict a warrior mounted on a horse, with a weapon and a shield (LeQuellec 2004: 58, fig. 3, from Kourki in southern Niger).  A second bears two enigmatic staffs (2004: 86, fig. 46, from the Pedra do Feitiço, “stone of the fetish” by the Zaire river in Democratic Republic of Congo).  These are not so very different from dueling warriors depicted on stone at Valcamonica in Europe (Arcà 2004).  Here, two figures face one another, each bearing an apparent weapon in one hand and a shield in the other.  The weapon of the figure on the right is difficult to make out amid the multiple abrasions and pits in the rock, but the “staff” of the figure on the left is quite clear.

Anthropomorph with bow and tomahawk over canoe and dancers (after Lenik 2002: 167).

Thus, while human-like figures appear in places all over the world, the more obscure symbols without symmetry (variously topped DUBYAS) are unique to the Indus Civilization.

African mounted warrior (after LeQuellec 2004: 58).

Anthropomorph bearing weapons (?) after the "Stone of the Fetish" in Congo (LeQuellec 2004: 46).

Duelling warriors from Valcamonica in the European Alps (after Arcà 2004).
Arcà, A. 2004. “Warriors and Iron Age duels in Valcamonica rock art” in TRACCE Online Rock Art Bulletin 20 (December 5, 2004). Available online at .
Korvink, M. 2008. The Indus Script: A Positional-Statistical Approach. Gilund Press.
Lenik, E.J. 2002. Picture Rocks: American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodlands. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
LeQuellec, J.-L. 2004. Rock Art in Africa: Mythology & Legend. Paris: Flammarion.
Newcomb, W.W., Jr., and F. Kirkland. 1996. The Rock Art of Texas Indians. Austin: University of Texas.
Parpola, A. 1994 & 2009. Deciphering the Indus Script. Cambridge: University Press.
Parpola, A., B.M. Pande and P. Koskikallio. 2010. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. Volume 3: New material, untraced objects, and collections outside India and Pakistan. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.
Slifer, D. 1998. Signs of Life: Rock Art of the Upper Rio Grande. Santa Fe, NM: Ancient City Press.
Wells, B.K. 2011. Epigraphic Approaches to Indus Writing. Oxford & Oakville: Oxbow Books.
Wieger, L. 1965. Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification and Signification. New York: Paragon & Dover (reprint of original published in 1915 & 1927 by Catholic Mission Press).

1 comment:

  1. You may be interested in my FB pages at: