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Daniel T.


The Potter's Marks of Tepe Yahya

In: Palorient. 1981, Vol. 7 N1. pp. 107-122.

Abstract This article discusses a group of nearly 400 potter's marks from the site of Tepe Yahya in Kerman province, southern Iran. The potter's marks have been typologically classified, and their distribution by period and phase is shown in a series of tables. The function of these signs is only briefly discussed, while greater attention is given to correspondences between the potter's marks of the Indo-Iranian borderlands and both the Proto-Elamite and Harappan scripts. Hypotheses concerning the possibility of a relationship between Proto-Elamite and Harappan are discussed in light of these correspondences. Rsum L'article porte sur l'tude d'environ 400 marques de potiers provenant du site de Tepe Yahya dans la province de Kerman, dans le sud de l'Iran. Les marques de potiers ont t rpertories selon leur typologie et une srie de tableaux donne leur rpartition par priode et par phase. La fonction de ces signes n 'est que brivement voque, tandis que l'on accorde une plus grande attention aux correspondances qui existent entre les marques de potiers des pourtours indo-iraniens et les critures proto-lamite et harappenne. A la lumire de ces correspondances, on examine la possibilit de liens entre la civilisation proto-lamite et la civilisation harappenne.

Citer ce document / Cite this document : Potts Daniel T. The Potter's Marks of Tepe Yahya. In: Palorient. 1981, Vol. 7 N1. pp. 107-122. doi : 10.3406/paleo.1981.4290


ABSTRACT. The these borderlands and potter's Harappan signs is marks and only are This both discussed have briefly the article been Proto-Elamite discussed, discusses in typologically light of awhile group and these classified, Harappan greater correspondences. of nearly attention and scripts. 400 theirpotter's is Hypotheses distribution given marks to concerning by correspondences from period the and site thephase of possibility between Tepe is shown Yahya of thea in potter's relationship aKerman seriesmarks of province, between tables. of the The southern Proto-Elamite Indo-Iranian function Iran. of RSUM. - L 'article porte sur l'tude d'environ 400 marques de potiers provenant du site de Tepe Yahya dans la province de Kerman, dans le sud de l'Iran. Les marques de potiers ont t rpertories selon leur typologie et une srie de tableaux donne leur rpartition par priode et par phase. La fonction de ces signes n 'est que brivement voque, tandis que l'on accorde une plus grande attention aux correspondances qui existent entre les marques de potiers des pourtours indo-iraniens et les critures proto-lamite et harappenne. A la lumire de ces correspondances, on examine la possibilit de liens entre la civilisation proto-lamite et la civilisation harappenne.

The site of Tepe Yahya has yielded a rich corpus of incised signs on both complete ceramic vessels and, more commonly, on sherds. The purpose of this paper is to present their a) typological characteristics, includ ing the frequency of occurrence of each sign-type along with a sign list and catalogue; and b) a discussion of the spatio-temporal and culture historical significance of the corpus. Finally, speculations on the relationship be tween the potter's marks of the Indo-Iranian borderlands and both, the Proto-Elamite and Harappan scripts will be raised for future examination. THE SITE Tepe Yahya is located in the southwestern part of the Soghun Valley in Kerman province, 220 km south of the city of Kerman, Iran. The valley covers approximat ely 200 sq. km and sits at an altitude of 1500-1525 m.a.s.l., although the mountains which ring the valley can reach twice that height. The site is a circular mound, 19.8 m in height, and 187 m in diameter at the base. It was excavated during the course of six summer seasons (1968-1971, 1973, 1975) by the Har vard-Iran Expedition under the direction of Prof. C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, Peabody Museum, Harvard Univ ersity (1). The excavations have revealed a long stratigraphie sequence, interrupted by certain breaks in the occupat ion of the site, which runs from 5000 B.C. to the first centuries of the Christian era, when the site came under strong Partho-Sasanian influence. We are concer ned here with periods IV through I, i.e. the Bronze and Iron Age occupations, as well as the late, historic (1 ) I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Prof. LambergKarlovsky for permitting me both to participate in the excavations of Tepe Yahya, and to work on the third millennium material for my PhD. dissertation, of which he was the principal advisor. 107

periods (Achaemenian through Partho-Sasanian). Gener ally, we may equate the relevant sub-periods with the following absolute dates (2) IVC2-1 - 3 000-2 800 B.C. IVB6-1 - 2 700-2 200 B.C. IVA3-1 - 2 200-1 800(?) B.C. - Abandonment of the Site III/II - 1 000-300(?) B.C. I - pre 500 A.D. THE CORPUS OF POTTER'S MARKS 353 examples are included in the catalogue presented here. Of these, 108 were recovered during excavations in the south step trench, while another 187 were found in the north step trench. An additional 58 were found in surface contexts. The corpus consists of signs incised on pottery vessels just prior to firing. Normally, they occur on rather coarse, grit-tempered, handmade bowls, cups, and jars, which are known in a variety of simple shapes (Fig. 1). These are dominant in period IVA, although examples of incised potter's marks also occur in IVC, IVB, and III-I levels, i.e. both earlier and later than the period of their greatest florescence. While it seems indis putable that period IVA witnessed the greatest use of these incised signs, I do not believe that the examples from the earlier and later levels are all out context. Rather, I think they attest to considerable continuity in the tradition of incising signs on pots. (2) The lengths of the individual sub-periods and the question of continuity between them, especially in the cases of IVC's relation to IVB, and IVB's relation to IVA, are difficult problems which will not be delved into here. The reader should take note of the different dates which have appeared in various publications concerned with the site over the last decade as the results of the excavations have been analy zed and further refined. It must be realized that the dates given above reflect my own views and not necessarily those of either the director of the excavations, nor the other members of the team publishing diffe rent aspects of the site. :


In most cases the sign is incised on the exterior of the vessel wall, just above the base. Less frequently, the sign may be found on the base of the vessel, or on the exterior of the upper third of the vessel wall. For lack of a better term, these incised signs have been traditionally referred to as "potter's marks", although this usage represents more a matter of verbal convenience than an a priori interpretation of the function of these signs. An answer to the question of the meaning or function of

these signs is still not in view, and the problem will be largely ignored in this presentation (3). The sign list (Fig. 5) presented here is an attempt to arrange the 353 individual signs recovered into a typolo(3 ) The distinction between a corpus of hand-made vessels bearing incised signs, and a corpus of wheel-made pottery, without such signs, raises certain possibilities of interpretation. The hand-made vessels, perhaps manufactured at home by individuals for their families, may have been fired in communal kilns, of which we have no evidence, and thus required some kind of distinguishing mark so that families could retrieve their own vessels from the kiln after firing, being sure that they had in their possession the pot or pots which they had in fact themsel ves made. It may be interesting in this regard to note that when one breaks down the corpus showing the numbers of signs and sign-types represented in each of the sub-periods under consideration, a substant ially smaller number of signs appears to have been in use during any one sub-period than might have been, at first glance, expected. Grant ed,some of these are also present in other sub-periods, and there is often no temporal continuity between the sub-periods during which a particular sign is found. But the number of sign occurrences, which is never more than 73 in any one sub-period, and of these never more than 49 individual sign-types in use at any one time, would not be incompatible with the numbers of families which may have been making handmade pots during any one sub-period between IVC and III/II. We have no truly reliable means with which to estimate populat ion at the site during the third millennium, but if each sign-type represented one family's property mark, and the maximum number of sign-types in use at one time is 49, then it is at least reasonable, I think, to suppose that the same number of families could have resided simul taneously on the site, Indeed, this may be a very low estimate of population, and the small number of signs present in each sub-period may reflect a relatively restricted production of vessels at home, per haps common among only the poorer families who could not afford (?) wheel-made pottery. Alternatively, it is always possible that of those vessels belonging to one family placed in a kiln it was only necessary to mark the uppermost one of the lot with a sign. Still, if this practice was pursued with any regularity, I would not expect to find such a high number of unique signs within the corpus, unless families produced but an occasional pot or lot of pots for their own use, relying instead more generally upon the products of profes sional potters. Moreover, it is impossible to demonstrate that the vessels in question, handmade though they may be, do represent in fact the work of private individuals as opposed to professional potters. While I think it likely that the vessels which bear incised signs could easily have been made by non-professional, household potters, clearly this explanat ion is only one of several which could be proposed, and I do not want to go on speculating about a hypothesis which, it seems to me, can neither be confirmed nor rejected outright on the basis of the available evidence. One clear objection to this interpretation is raised by the implication that all the signs would then represent family or individual identities, expressed either ideographically or syllabically, depending on what the true nature of this marking system is. However, it seems at least if not more likely that the first three groups of signs (see discussion following) have a numerical significance, and would not stand for owner's or maker's marks. Another obvious alternative would be that the signs represent not owner's or maker's marks, but rather goods which might be contained in the fired pot, but this alternative is, I think, less likely than the one just discussed. 108

FIG. 1. - A selection of pottery types from Tepe Yahya bearing incised signs. Drawings are by the author after originals by Miss Ann Hechle origi nally published by C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky in Excavations at Tepe Yahya, Iran 1967-1969, Progress Report I, Bulletin 27, American Schools of Prehistoric Research, Peabody Museum (Cambridge 1970). Key a) coarse grit buff ware, Period I; b) red wash on plain buff ware, Period IVB; c) plain red-orange ware, Period IVB; d) redslipped tan ware, Period IVA, phase uncertain; e) red wash on plain buff. Period IVA3-1 f) plain brown ware, Period HI; g) plain orangebuff ware, Period IVA3-2; h) brown-slipped tan grit ware. Period I. Scale I cm = 5 cm. : : ;


gical order. As I am not a philologist but rather an archaeologist, I have proceeded in what seemed an intuitively sensible fashion in constructing this typology. The typology consists of 148 entries, some typologically affiliated, running from sign-type la through 76b. This is not intended to be a philological study, and certain sign groups should perhaps have been collapsed, but it is hoped that, as presented, the listing does not mask any variations which may be of either typological or philological significance. What is certain is that the signs fall into groups, some more or less discrete, represented by the 148 entries in the sign-list. These entries can be broken down into twenty sub-groups, roughly identifia ble by the dominant formal characteristics of each signtype. These will be discussed very briefly in turn. Group 1. Linear: la-6 This group is comprised of straight lines only. Straight lines incised on pots from Tepe Yahya occur singly, in pairs, and in groups of three to six lines. When there is more than one line present, they are arranged in parallel fashion. On analogy with many known writing or notational systems, these may repre sent strokes for counting from one to six, or some higher mutliples thereof, but this cannot be determined except within the context of a complete numerical or notational system, the workings of which are not appa rent within this corpus. It is impossible to know whet her the orientation of the lines has any significance. In any case, groups of four and five parallel lines were noted both parallel to and at right angles to the bases of sherds on which they occurred, and for that reason have been considered as variants of the same sign here. Group 2. Punctate: 7a- 19 Also in some ways suggestive of a system of numeric al notation are those signs composed of single or multi ple punctations. In some cases, a certain number of punctations have been arranged in various ways, as for example sign variantss 10a and 10b which are compos ed of four punctations ; sign variants 1 1 a through 1 1 f, composed of five punctations; and sign variants 16a through 16c, composed often punctations. As with the simple linear group, it is impossible to know whether these signs have numerical significance. Group 3. Linear/ Punctate : 20-32 This group of signs is in some respects among the most interesting, in that the arrangement of between 109

two and sixteen punctations, variously arranged to the right or left of a single line or pair of parallel lines, is highly suggestive of some kind of notational system. What the respective values might be for a single line, or pair of lines, remains a mystery, yet in arranging these first three groups of signs while making up the sign list I had the distinct feeling that there well might be a simple numerical system here which behaved according to certain unknown rules. Scholars more familiar than myself with early notational systems, or with primitive notational systems still in use, may see something in these signs which I have not been able to draw out. Group 4. Globular: 33a-33e These signs are perhaps all variants of a simple circle or oval incised on a pot with varying degrees of care. Should there be any significance in the variations obser ved,however, I felt it wiser to present the material as I found it, rather than abstracting one ideal sign from all the variants noted. Group 5. Globular / Linear : 34a- 34e As with Group 4, there may be no significance to the variants listed here, but they are all just dissimilar enough to warrant separation, in my opinion. These signs all consist of an oval with a line running through it, either lengthwise or widthwise. Sign 34e should be mentioned briefly because it was not found on a sherd or pot from Tepe Yahya itself, but rather on a piece found in a cairn burial (SU 70 43) in the Soghun Valley by Mr William Fitz. It presumably dates to period II on the mound, as do many of the known cairns around the site. Group 6. Globular / Punctate : 35-36g This group consists of incised circles which have from one to eight distinct punctations either in or around them. One example, sign 36g, consisted of a circle with a mass of tiny, random punctations within it. Group 7. X- Shapes : 37 a- 37b Sign 37a, a simple incised X, is the most common sign in the entire corpus. Thirty-one examples have been noted. Indeed, this simple sign is to be found almost anywhere in the world where potter's marks have been studied. One example of a wavy variant, sign 37b, was also noted.


Group 8. Cruciform : 37c- 37d Two examples were found of crosses incised in out line form. One of these may date to period IVC, a lthough it comes from a problematic context. Group 9. Cruciform I Punctate : 37'e- 38c These signs consist of single-line crosses adorned with between two and six punctations. The punctations all occur in symmetrical arrangements, often around two of the opposite distal ends of the cross. Group 10. Hatched: 39-49 This group consists of two or more parallel lines which cross-cut one or more parallel lines, often fo rming a grid pattern. Group 11. Open: 50a A single sign is listed here, but it is typologically affiliated to Group 12. It is a three-sided, open form, and may be the basic sign of which Group 12 represents the variants. Group 12. Open /Punctate: 50b- 50f Variants of sign 50a, sometimes with curving lines or straight lines forming a peak, may have between one and four distinct punctations located both within and outside the incised shape. One variant, sign 50f, has a mass of tiny punctations made in random fashion. Group 13. Trilinear : 5 la- 5 Id Although orientation may be of no significance, I have listed under four separate headings a sign which consists of three parallel strokes running perpendicular to a straight line. Group 14. Irregular Trilinear : 52a-52b Three parallel strokes run diagonally off of a straight line. Whether this sign is to be typologically related to the previous one just discussed, or whether it is related to signs 60a-60c, is unclear. Group 15. Quadrilinear : 54 This sign is just like those of Group 1 3 , except that instead of three parallel lines running perpendicular to a 110

straight line, we find four. This sign may have some affiliation with signs 51a through 5 Id. Group 16. Trident : 54a-58 This is a somewhat mixed group of sign variants, all of which show a basic trident shape with what may be called "modifiers". These modifiers include a perpendi cular line running through the stem of the trident, a punctation placed on either side of the central prong of the trident, an incised circle on top of the trident's prongs, or a scatter of tiny punctations at the base of the trident. The prongs of the trident may be rendered in a curvilinear or rectilinear fashion. As this is one of the few signs which occurs with other signs (see discussion below), the impression is all the more strong that we are dealing with a basic sign form - the trident - plus its modifiers. Whether those modifiers have syllabic, nu merical, or ideational significance is unknown. Group 17. Winged: 59a-59d The signs in this group, with the exception of the last and most poorly formed example, consist of a pair of upright parallel lines cross-cut or attached to one or more incised lines. The overall impression is not dissimil ar to that of a bird rendered schematically as a stickfigure. Group 18. Vegetal: 60a-61 This is a group of signs whose variants resemble the archaic Sumerian and Proto-Elamite signs for wheat. They may be compared with sign nos. 1 10 and 1 1 1 in Falkenstein's A rchaische Texte aus Uruk (Berlin 1936), and with sign nos. 76a and 76b in Meriggi's La scrittura proto-elamica (Rome 1971). In one case, that of sign 60d, three punctations have been added to the sign. In another instance, the rendering is very schematic, and more "dendritic" in appearance than the rest of the known examples. Group 19. V-Shape: 62a-63b These signs consist of either a simple V, or a V with a straight, dividing line through the middle. Again, leaving open the question of orientation, I have listed all known variants separately. Group 20. Irregular: 64 -76b This final category is comprised of all those unique signs which could not be associated typologically with


the rest of the signs in the corpus. Several are of particular interest, including sign 64, which has a clear parallel in the Proto-Elamite script, and sign 70a, which is not unlike the archaic Sumerian sign for "plow". Also of interest is sign 65 which has a close Harappan parallel, and occurs in the longest "inscription" of inci sed signs found on the pottery from Tepe Yahya. Signs 67 and 76b should also be noted because they occur as "modifiers" with sign 54b which has already been dis cussed. DISTRIBUTIONAL CHARACTERISTICS Discounting for the moment those signs which come from surface contexts, and those to which definite subperiod designations could not be made, we are left with a corpus of 24 1 incised signs from periods IVC through III-I. These show the following temporal distribution (see also Table 6 which gives the full breakdown of sign-types by period, including their numerical fr equency) : TABLE 1 Distribution of Potter's Marks Through Time at Tepe Yahya Period Number IVC IVB IVA3-2 IVA3-1 IVA2 IVA1 1 19 18 40 58 72 III-I 33

Unique signs amount to just over one-third of the entire corpus (33.72 96), representing 105 out of a total of 353 complete signs included in this study. This does not include an additional 20 fragmentary signs. Signifi cantly, however, unique sign-types represent over twothirds (105 out of 148) of the total number of entries in the master sign-list. These have been listed in Table 3. TABLE 3 Distribution of Unique Sign- Types Shown by Period. Sign IVC IVB IVA3-2 IVA3-1 IVA2 IVA1 III-I Uncertain 1 lb 1 4b 1 5a 1 5b 6 1 7a1 1 7b 1 8b 1 9c 1 lia 1 lie 1 lie 1 llf 1 14 1 15 1 16a 1 16b 1 16c 1 17 1 18 1 21 1 22b 1 22c 1 23b 1 25 1 26 1 27 1 28 1 29 1 30a 1 30b 1 31a 1 1 31b 1 32 1 33b 1 33c 1 33d 1 33e 34a 1 34b 1 34c 1 34d 1 34e 1 35 1 36a 1 36b 1 36c 1 111

This temporal distribution can be refined further if we consider not the gross number of signs recorded for each sub-period, but rather the number of sign-types represented in each sub-period. It will be remembered that 1 48 sign-types have been tentatively defined within the entire corpus of potter's marks from Tepe Yahya. TABLE 2 Distribution of Sign- Types Through Time at Tepe Yahya Period Number IVC IVB IVA3-2 IVA3-1 IVA2 IVA1 1 14 16 27 45 49 III-I 28


TABLE3 (continued) Sign 36d 36e 37b 37c 37d 37e 38a 38b 38c 42b 43b 44b 45 46 47 48 49 50a 50b 50c 50d 50e 50f 51a 51b 53 5 4b 55 56b 59a 59b 59c 59d 60b 60d 6 0e 61 62b 63a 63b 64 65 66a 66b 66c 69 70a 70b 71a 71b 72 73 74a 74b 75a 75b 76a 76b IVC IVB IVA3-2 IVA3-1 IVA2 IVA1 III-I Uncertain 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

The temporal distribution of the unique signs is shown in Table 4. TABLE 4 Distribution of Unique Sign-Types Through Time at Tepe Yahya Period Number IVC IVB IVA3-2 IVA3-1 IVA2 IVA1 1 20 24 III-I 10

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

1 1 1 1

1 1

In addition, 22 sign-types were noted which could not be assigned to a particular period (4), while an additional 10 sign-types could be assigned by period, but because of problematic context, not to a specific subperiod (5). It is impossible to say what significance, if any, may be attached to the apparent increase from period IVC through the end of period IVA in the number of unique signs. However, this trend clearly parallels the general increase in the number of potter's marks found on the site through the end of period IVA as shown in Tables 1 and 2. A fairly small number of sign-types, numbering only 43 in all, occur more than once in the corpus. These have been shown in Table 5. They may be summarized as follows 10 signs occur twice in the corpus, 8 signs occur three times, 9 signs occur four times, 2 signs occur five times, 4 signs occur six times, 1 sign occurs seven times, 1 sign occurs nine times, 2 signs occur ten times, 1 sign occurs eleven times, 1 sign occurs twelve times, 1 sign occurs thirteen times, 1 sign occurs twenty-four times, and finally, one sign occurs a total of thirty-three times. It is important to note that although sign-types represented by more than one example amount to only 43 out of 148 entries in the master sign list, they nonetheless account for over two-thirds of the total of 353 examples found at the site. Furthermore, out of 248 examples which we can assign to 43 signtypes, there is a significantly high occurrence of indivi dualsign-types in more than one sub-period, suggesting some continuity in the use of particular signs. Let us leave aside the 80 examples whose period or sub-period attribution could not confidently be determi(4) This category includes all examples with lost or broken identifi cation, as well as surface finds. (5) This category includes all examples from excavated contexts which could not confidently be assigned to one particular sub-period, but which could have fallen into either of two sub-periods. 112 :

1 1 1


TABLE 5 Distribution of Sign- Types which occur more than once shown by period. Sign Total IVC IVB IVA3-2 IVA3-1 IVA2 IVA1 III-I Uncertain 10b 2 1 1 lid 2 1 1 13 2 2 23a 2 1 1 36f 2 2 1 1 36g 2 40 2 1 1 44a 2 1 1 56a 2 1 1 57 2 2 62a 2 1 1 1 1 1 10a 3 1 1 1 12 3 1 2 24 3 1 1 1 39 3 1 2 41 3 1 2 54a 3 1 60c 3 1 1 4a 4 1 1 2 7a 4 1 1 1 1 9a 4 2 1 1 20 4 1 1 1 1 22a 4 1 1 2 43a 4 3 1 51d 4 1 1 1 1 52a 4 1 1 2 58 4 3 1 60a 4 1 1 1 1 la 5 1 1 3 51c 5 1 1 1 2 9b 1 1 6 2 2 lib 6 1 1 4 52b 6 2 1 3 1 4 42a 7 2 1 3 7 2. 1 68 1 2 3 9 3 67 2 2 2 3 1 19 10 1 2 2 1 2 2 33a 10 1 5 12 1 1 1 3 2 7 1 3 1 8a 12 3 1 3 4 2 3 13 10 3 1 3 3 4 9d 24 37a 33 2 7 5 3 1 15

ned. Multiplying the total number of sign-types repre sented more than once at the site (i.e. 43), by the total number of sub-periods under consideration (i.e. 7, inclu ding IVC, IVB, IVA3-2, IVA3-1, IVA2, IVA1, and IIII), we find a total 301 potential instances, which we shall call "chronological cells", in which potter's marks could occur. In fact, they occur only in 108 of the chronological cells. 19 sign-types, of which we have two or more examples, are represented more than once in a single sub-period. Thus, for example, sign la, which occurs five times in the collection, is known from three examples dating to IVA1 These 19 sign-types just mentioned occur in 35 different chronological cells, and account for 95 examples in all within our collection. On the other hand, 29 additional sign-types are known from more than one example, but in no case is the same sign represented more than once in any indivi dual sub-period, rather multiple occurrences of these signs are distributed in anywhere from two to seven sub-periods. These are not always chronologically adja cent. Thus, for example, sign 54a is found in subperiods IVA2 and III-I, but not in IVA1. Whether in fact the sign in such a case was not used in the interve ning period of time, or whether it is simply not repre sented in our collection by chance, we do not know. Eleven cases were recorded of two or more signs found juxtaposed on the same sherd or pot. The total number of signs grouped in this manner never exceeds four. These multi-sign "inscriptions" are illustrated in Fig. 2. Of these, surely the most interesting is Fig. 2:c, which is made up of the following four signs : 24-6524-62a. Two of these signs, 65 and 62a, are well known in the Harappan script, and are listed as signs 204 and 184, respectively, in a recent corpus of Harappan ins criptions (6). Also of considerable interest are the groups illustrated as Fig. 2:e, f, and g. As mentioned above in discussing Group 16 (Trident: 54a-58), it appears that we are dealing with a root sign, 54b, and "modifiers" which include signs 67 and 76b. Spatio-Temporal Significance and Culture Historical Significance In comparison with other sites in the Indo-Iranian borderlands on which potter's marks have been found, the size of the collection from Tepe Yahya, numbering some 353 examples, is large but not uniquely so. The (6) KOSKENNIEMI and PARPOLA 1979: 19-20. 113 .


FIG. 2. - Multi-sign inscriptions on pottery from Tepe Yahya. excavations of Damb Sadaat in the Quetta Valley of Pakistan, for example, produced a total of 362 potter's marks (7). The work of Engineer Ali Hakemi at the important site of Shahdad/Xabis to the north of Tepe Yahya on the edge of the Dasht-i Lut yielded a collec tionof 348 (8). However, this is not to imply that such high frequencies are universal within this geographic zone. The site of Bampur in Baluchistan, for example, yielded very few (9), and the same is true of Shahr-i Sokhta in Iranian Sistan(lO). Moreover, it is important to note that even in the cases of the largest collections of potter's marks from sites which one might expect to show a high degree of similarity, such as Tepe Yahya and Shahdad, very few signs are shared. In addition, (7) FAIRSERVIS 1958 328. (8) HAKEMI 1976 5. (9) DE CARDI 1970. (10) TOSI 1968, 1969. : : 114 :

when we turn to published potter's marks from further afield, found on sites such as Amri, Bla Kot, Mundigak, and various locales in Turkmenia and Bactria, extremely fewr signs are shared. Fig. 3 illustrates the shared signs which I have found in publications of pottery from various sites in the Indo-Iranian border lands, Central Asia, and the Indus Valley. Note, howev er,that these span a considerable period of time, ran ging from the third millennium in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenia through the first millennium South Indian megalithic. The potter's marks of Tepe Yahya, and indeed of the entire Indo-Iranian borderland region, gain particular importance in light of recent arguments concerning the genesis of the Harappan script. In particular, two sug gestions have been put forward which deserve critical examination. I would like to close with some thoughts on these. First, it has been suggested that there is a relationship between the Proto-Elamite writing system and the Ha rappan script. This suggestion is not new. It was made as early as 1932 by G.R. Hunter, who wrote (1 1) "That the languages are unconnected is probable, and the phonetic value of the signs may well be different. But that they are unrelated in origin seems to be contra dicted by the number of resemblances that seem to be too close to be explained by coincidence". In recent years V/.C. rice (12) has sought to investi gate the possibility of uncovering structural parallels in Proto-Elamite, Linear A, and what he calls Proto-Indic, i.e. Harappan. More boldly, W.A. Fairservis, Jr. (13) has suggested that the actual languages involved, and not simply the scripts, may be linked, and he has postulated the existence of an Ursprache which he calls "Plateau Proto-Dravidian". This recalls recent efforts by D. McAlpin (14), a linguist and Dravidianist, to demonst rate that "Elamite, a major language of West Asia, is cognate with the Dravidian language family of South Asia", and further, to attempt to reconstruct "ProtoElamo-Dravidian". The second argument which I would like to examine suggests that the roots of the Harappan script are in the potter's mark tradition of the Indo-Iranian borderlands and pre-Harappan Indus Valley. This possibility has (11) (12) (13) (14) HUNTER 1932: 483. BRICE 1967: 32-44; FAIRSERVIS 1976: Tables 49-56: 1977 28-32. McALPIN 1974: 89-101; 1975: 105. :


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V/f) f

1> [xi A

FIG. 3. - Comparison of potter's marks from sites in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, Central Asia, and the Indian sub-continent. Key to the sources of published potter's marks used in compiling Tig. 3:1) 1 1976; 2) V.M. MASSON and V.I. SARIANIDI, Central Asia : Turkmenia Before the Achaemenids, London Thames & Hudson 3) J.-M. CASAL, Fouilles de Mundigak, 2 vols.. Paris Klincksieck 4) FAIRSERVIS 1958. and for Sistan and the Zhob-Lorelai districts, see W.A. FAIRSERVIS Jr. 1961 Archaeological Studies in the Seistan Basin of Southwestern Afghanistan and Eastern Iran, New York American Museum of Natural History, and W.A. FAIRSERVIS Jr. 1959, Archaeological Surveys in the Z hob and Lorelai Districts, West Pakistan, New York American Museum of Natural History: 5) V.I. SARIANIDI 1977, Bactrian Centre of Ancient Art. Mesopotamia XII 97-1 10; 6) J.-M. CASAL 1964. Fouilles d'Amri, Paris Publications de la Commission des Fouilles Archologiques; 7) G. F. DALES 1979, The Balakot Project Summary of Four Years of Excavations in Pakistan , South Asian Archaeology 1977, M. TADDEI, d.. Naples; Istituto Universitario Orientale: 241-274; 8) LAL 1962. : ; : : : : been raised by a number of scholars (15), but perhaps most forcefully argued by B.B. Lai (16), who has shown that during the Mature Harappan period when the script was in use, potter's marks (which he calls "graff iti")can be found which are both identical to signs in the Harappan script, and to signs in the pre-Harappan potter's mark tradition. In regard to the hypothesis that the Proto-Elamite and Harappan scripts are related, and in particular that the Proto-Elamite writing system is ancestral to the Mature Harappan script, I can see no way of reconciling this suggestion with the chronological and culture histo rical realities of the area. First, the Proto-Elamite script which developed in southwestern Iran and was used between 3400-2800 B.C. (17) is separated by a gap of several hundred years, depending on the chronology one adopts for the Indus civilization (18), from the period which witnessed the use of the Mature Harappan (15) LAL 1962: 4ff; CASAL 1966: 19; FAIRSERVIS 1971 279; DALES 1979: 256. (16) LAL 1962: 4-24; 1975 173. (17) V ALLAT 1978 63-66. (18) See. e.g. JACOBSEN 1979: 467-502; DALES 1973 157170. : : 115 : script, roughly 2500-1800 (?) B.C. Discounting the question of geographical distance - a problem we know did not totally inhibit relations between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia during the later third mill enium (19) - the two are simply not contemporary. Nevertheless, I do not feel that the typological similar ities between Harappan and Proto-Elamite should be lightly dismissed. They are not quantitatively great, in relation to the number of signs present in each of these scripts, but neither are they all of such a simple charact er as to be meaningless. While I am inclined to think there is some significance in these parallels, I feel strongl y that they should not be taken at face value, given the glaring chronological discrepancy between the dates for the two scripts. Turning to the second set of propositions, I am inclined to agree with Lai and others regarding the contribution of the potter's mark tradition to the deve lopment of the Harappan script. The parallels are espe cially convincing in light of the fact that the signs involved occur both in the pre-Harappan era and during the Harappan period at sites where the script was in (19) PARPOLA, PARPOLA and BRUNSWIG 1977 129-165. : : . ;


use. Once again, we are dealing with only a fraction of the number of signs known in both the script and the potter's mark tradition when we point to parallels be tween the two. Nevertheless, it appears that some, if very few, of the signs incised on pottery in the preHarappan period were incorporated into the Harappan script when it was developed, and in fact, as Lai has shown, continued in use after the Harappan script cea sed to be used. If the potter's mark tradition provided, in some sense, a symbolic sub-stratum upon which, in part, the Harap pan script was built, it must nevertheless be recognized that this hypothesis for the genesis of the script neglects altogether the problem of how to explain the parallels between Harappan and Proto-Elamite. Thus, as an explanation, I find it only partially successful. However, as I have said above, I find no culture historical or chronological justification for the suggestion, as it pre sently stands, that Proto-Elamite was in some way contributory to Harappan. In attempting to resolve this impasse, let us consider the following observation. Just as Harappan and ProtoElamite share certain signs, and the potter's mark tradi tion of the Indo-Iranian borderlands and Indus Valley shares certain signs with Harappan, so too does the potter's mark corpus share certain signs with ProtoElamite. One way in which the typological parallels between Proto-Elamite and Harappan can be reconciled with the hypothesis that the potter's mark tradition, which occurs before, during, and after the Mature Ha rappan period, "form(s) part and parcel of the signary available on the Harappan seals" (20) is by postulating that the Proto-Elamite script exerted some influence upon the appearance of a potter's mark tradition in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, and that this tradition, in turn, provided a partial basis for the development of the Harappan script. If there is any connection between the corpus of Proto-Elamite signs used at the beginning of the third millennium and the later Harappan signary, I suggest it is via the medium of the potter's marks in use throughout the Indo-Iranian borderlands which absor bed certain signs of ultimate Proto-Elamite origin, some of which were in time incorporated into the Harappan script. This hypothesis would help solve the following pro blems 1. It would account for the chronological gap separa ting typologically similar signs in the Proto-Elamite : (20) LAL 1975: 173. 116

scripts, used in the late fourth and early third millen nium, and the Harappan script, used in the second half of the third millennium and early second millen nium, by postulating an intermediary "stage" in the use of incised symbols in the post-Proto-Elamite/preHarappan era. 2. It would account for the attested parallels between Harappan and Proto-Elamite in the absence of any culture historically possible connection between the two cultures. 3. It would account for the attested parallels between potter's marks of the third millennium in the IndoIranian borderlands, and the Proto-Elamite script. This is, it must be stressed, an hypothesis and no thing more. I am well aware of its dficiences, as well as its arguable implications, and these should now be addressed. No one, to my knowledge, has ever suggested that the Proto-Elamite script may have served as a substra tum for the later florescence of potter's marks in the Indo-Iranian borderlands. What is the culture historical basis for such a suggestion ? Archaeological research conducted in Iran during the last decade has provided indisputable evidence of Proto-Elamite expansion onto the eastern Iranian Plateau in Jamdat Nasr/ED I times. Before this was known, of course, there was no justif ication for expecting any kind of formal relation between the Susian system of writing and the third millennium potter's marks of the Indo-Iranian borderlands. Now, however, we know quite definitely of a Proto-Elamite occupation at Tepe Yahya 3000 B.C. which left examp lesof typical Proto-Elamite account tablets, cylinder seals, cylinder sealings, and certain classes of ceramics with parallels at Susa(21). We know also that ProtoElamite influence extended to Shahr-i Sokhta, where Proto-Elamite cylinder sealings and a single tablet have been found (22). It may also have been felt further north at Hissar near Damghan. Recent investigations there may also have brought to light a Proto-Elamite tablet, albeit in a poor state of preservation which makes its firm identification difficult (23). Proto-Elamite influence, if indirect, is also attested quite clearly at various sites in Soviet Central Asia and Bactria, as Pierre Amiet has shown (24). (21) LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY 1971 87 ff; 1978 114; POTTS 1980: 425ff. (22) TUSA 1978 255; AMIET and TOSI 1978. (23) M. TOSI, personal communication. (24) AMIET 1977: 89-122; 1979: 202. : :


TEPE YAHYA 1 l 0 -f- ft # iltiM M/MI //ii'l- ~i uu ^ Pr-Elamite 1 | m + f & % ri 4 , I Nr 1 II lil lili 0 + # Harappan f 1 TEPE YAHYA Pr-Elamite Harappan ^ f ^

X EX # dI> b x v^v ex

FIG. 4. - the Comparison Proto-Elamite of signs script, in the and Tepe the Yahya Harappan potter's script. mark corpus, Key to the Parallels Between Tepe Yahya Potter's Marks, Proto-Elamite, and Harappan Tepe Yahya + Pr-Elamite + + Harappan + + + Tepe Yahya Pr-Elamite Harappan la I2 1 44 60a 76a lOl 2 9 145 60c 76b 3 1 9a 1 47 60d 1 00 4a 60e 99 9d 169 62a 42 184 34d I38d 63b 75 315 37a 6 240 64 1 85 38b 8b 260 65 204 42a 264 67 I9l 48 7 68 98 224 50a 32 69 1 46 5lb 41 72 230 53 41c 98 74a 43 54a 36a 86 76a 253 56a 36u 76b 138e

Refers to the master sign-list of the Yahya potter's marks. + + Refers to sign numbers in P. Meriggi. La scrittura proto-elumicu (Rome 1 97 1 ). + Refers to sign numbers in K. Koskenniemi and A. Parpola, Corpus of Texts in the Indus Script (Helsinki 1979). S Sign occurs on an Indus seal from Lothal (Lai 1962). The possibility should be considered that formal pa rallels between potter's marks from sites like Tepe Ya hya, and signs in the Proto-Elamite script stem not solely from the extreme universality of many pictographic representations, as shown through both psycholog ical experiments and studies of historically unrelated scripts (25). The known presence of Proto-Elamites in eastern Iran at the beginning of the third millennium, writing on tablets in exactly the same manner as was then used in Susiana (26), could have left its mark in the area by introducing the concepts of recording and mar king things with symbols for identification, although these functions were performed on tablets and with cylinder seals. It is also possible that in introducing an illiterate population to the notion of signs (27), some of (25) JOHNSON 1962: 147-159. (26) MERIGGI n.d. 7. (27) Black-on-red ware beakers, found at Tepe Yahya in periods VB, VA2, and VA1 sometimes had potter's marks painted on the base. These were most abundant in period VA1. A total of 68 examples : 117 these, following the Proto-Elamite retreat from the re gion (28), were taken up by local peoples for use on pottery. Many others used on pottery admittedly bear no apparent relation at all with the Proto-Elamite signary. However, there are enough parallels between the potter's marks and the Proto-Elamite script to suggest that the resemblance is not simply a matter of the chance "re-invention" of simple signs by people who knew nothing of the earlier system of writing. For the purpose of considering this hypothesis in a more concrete manner, I have illustrated the parallels between the Tepe Yahya potter's mark corpus and the Proto-Elamite script in Fig. 4. It is undoubtedly true that if such a reconstruction is valid, then the local users of these signs easily adapted them to a purpose which was were found in all. There appears to be no continuity between period V and the subsequent occupation of the site, however, and it does not seem likely that the painted potter's marks are related to the later incised ones. (28) LAMBERG-KARLOVSKY 1978: 118; AMIET 1977: 200.


entirely different than that for which they were first developed. Whether there is any significant functional relationship between writing on clay in Proto-Elamite and marking a pot with a single sign of ultimate ProtoElamite inspiration cannot be determined, as we do not know what those signs on pots mean. It is quite possible that there is no functional relationship at all, and that the peoples of this region had their own ideas about how a sign might be used which were quite unrelated to those of a scribe keeping administrative records in Proto-Elamite on clay tablets. There are obvious difficulties with this theory, howev er, it could be argued, for instance, that potter's marks are too scarce at Tepe Yahya between the end of the Proto-Elamite occupation and the beginning of period IVA, leaving us with a gap of considerable duration in the use of incised signs at the site, and therefore throwi ng doubt on the suggestion that there could be any direct relation between the script of 3000 B.C. and the potter's marks of the third millennium. This a problem, and it is compounded by the fact that occupational continuity between periods IVC and IVB is, in my opinion, a point which cannot be satisfactorily resolved on the basis of our present evidence. Was the entire site 9a la lb 9b 2 9c 3 9d , 4a 10a 10b < 4b 5a lia. lib* 5b 6 llc 7a lid *t 7a' Ile J 7b J 8a 12 I 13 '. 14 I ' 23b ' 15.*'\* 24 ) 16a'" 25 16bJS 26 16c 27 -& 17 .". 28 18 ; 29 30a <J> 30b 31a 36a 0 'II' 36b/ ) I-

abandoned when the IVC complex was deserted, or was there never a complete break in occupation, rather a reassertion of the local southeast Iranian population, so overshadowed in the archaeological record of period IVC by the Proto-Elamites ? We are severely hampered in unravelling this pro blem by the fact that the only architecture found in the southern step trench of IVC date all seems related to the main building with its Proto-Elamite artifacts, while no architecture at all was found in comparable levels in the northern step trench. At Godin Tepe several centuries earlier (Godin Tepe V) a foreign enclave, suggested by Weiss and Young to be merchants of Susa , dwelt alongside a native population who were attested through the recovery of domestic architecture and local ceramics, continuous from the preceding period VI hori zon (1 ). At Tepe Yahya, however, there is no comparab le continuity between the site's period V ceramics and domestic architecture, and that of the following period IVC. Still, this does not tell us whether the ProtoElamite presence at the site was in the nature of an isolated outpost erected upon a long-abandoned mound, (29) WEISS and YOUNG 1975 2-18. 42b Jti" 43a 43b X 44a 50f RES 51a- ^| 63a 63b \l/ 7tt\ 64 1 65 X 66a vA> * 5 \ IX .9 76b U :


45 46 47 38bJ 48 38c- 49 39 if 50a 37dc 37e 38a -

51b f sic m 5ia LU

52a ^ 52b 53 LUJ

0 0 FIG. 5. - Master sign list of the potter's marks from Tepe Yahya. 118

54a Lf 54b y 55 56a f 2a /\ 56b 2b V/


or whether the establishment of a Proto-Elamite pre sence soon brought in its wake the re-settlement of the mound by locals from the vicinity. If such were the case, and these people continued to inhabit the mound following the abandonment of the Proto-Elamite buil ding, then it can be suggested that the requisite local population existed which could have adopted for their own purposes some of the signs used by their former neighbors for record-keeping. That this should have occurred immediately after the Proto-Elamites ceased to occupy the site may be considered by some as a sine qua non for the hypothesi zed connection between the script and the potter's marks to be held a possibility at all. In fact, several potter's marks out of thousands of unmarked sherds are found in IVC and IVB levels, although the majority are from IVB1 through IVA4. On the other hand, at the risk of seeming to stretch the bounds of credibility beyond endurance, it could also be suggested that the influence of the script may have been more immediately felt on other sites in the borderlands, as yet unexplored. In this way, the custom of incising pots with signs could have become common at Tepe Yahya at a slightly later date, and the rare appearance of potter's marks in period IVB, becoming more common in period IVA, and stea dily increasing in numbers through the final phase of IVA, might be explained. This must remain, however, at present no more than pure speculation. Finally, it should be noted that many of the potter's marks which have parallels in the Harappan script, are

also those which show affinities to the Proto-Elamite script (fig. 4). Thus, the question may be asked, does this represent the conscious selection of certain signs from Proto-Elamite by the peoples of the Indo-Iranian bor derlands, and in turn the intentional incorporation of some of the same signs in Harappan because of the symbolic and/or syllabic value of these signs ? That is an intriguing possibility, but as we can read neither Proto-Elamite nor Harappan, and as signs with no ob vious representational value can have had a variety of meanings in different cultural contexts, we can do no more than point this out as a possibility. I have tried in the preceding discussion to reconcile, both chronologically and culture historically, two hypot heses concerning the origin of the Indus script. It is an intriguing linguistic puzzle indeed, and one which de serves the attention of scholars with a deeper under standing of Proto-Elamite, Harappan, and the archaeo logy of the Indo-Iranian borderlands than I have to offer. If this discussion, however obvious its shortco mingsmay be, has served to stimulate further work on the problems involved, then it will have more than served its purpose. Daniel POTTS Institut fur Vorderasiatische Alterkumskunde Freie Universit t Berlin Bilterstr. 8-12 I Berlin 33


TABLE 6 Complete catalogue of sign-types represented in the Tepe Yahya potter's mark corpus, showing their numerical frequency and temporal distribution. Sign IVC IVB IVA3-2 IVA3-1 I VA 2 I VA 1 Uncertain Total Sign IVC IVB IVA3-2[lVA3-lj la 1 1 3 5 37c lb 1 1 37d 2 1 1 1 3 1 5 12 1 37e 3 1 3 4 2 3 13 38a 4a 1 1 2 4 38b 4b 1 1 38c 5a 1 1 39 1 5b 1 1 40 6 1 1 41 1 1 1 4 7a 1 42a 2 7a 1 1 42b 7b 1 1 43a 8a 1 3 1 7 12 43b 8b 1 1 44a 1 9a 2 1 1 4 44b 9b 2 1 1 6 2 45 1 1 9c 46 9d 1 3 3 4 10 24 3 47 10a 1 1 1 3 48 1 10b 1 1 2 49 lia 1 1 50a 1 lib 1 1 4 6 50b 1 1 lie 50c 1 lid 1 2 1 50d lie 1 1 50e llf 1 1 50f 12 1 3 1 1 51a 2 13 2 51b 14 1 1 51c 15 1 1 5 Id 1 16a 1 1 5 2a Hb 1 1 52b 16c 1 1 53 17 1 1 54a 18 1 1 54b 19 2 2 3 1 2 10 55 20 1 1 1 1 4 56a 21 1 1 56b 1 57 2 2a 1 1 2 4 58 2 2b 1 1 22c 1 1 59a 2 3a 1 1 2 59b 23b 1 1 59c 1 24 1 2 3 59d 25 1 1 60a 1 26 1 1 60b 27 1 1 60c 1 28 1 1 60d 29 1 1 60e 30a 1 1 61 30b 1 1 62a 31a 1 1 62b 31b 1 1 6 3a ] 1 63b 32 2 1 2 2 2 10 64 33a 1 1 1 65 33b 1 1 66a 33c 1 1 66b 33d 1 66c 33e 1 1 67 34a 1 1 68 2 1 34b 1 69 34c 1 1 70a 34d 1 1 1 70b 34e 1 71a 35 1 1 71b 36a 1 1 72 36b 1 1 36c 1 1 73 74a 36d 1 1 1 74b 36e 1 1 1 36f 2 2 75a 2 1 75b 1 36g 7 5 3 .1 15 37a 2 76a 1 1 37b 76b 120 |

IVA2 IVA1 1 1 1 -I Uncertain Total] 1 1 1 1 1 "T 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 2 1 2 3 1 4 7 1 1 3 1 4 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 5 1 1 1 4 1 1 2 4 2 1 3 6 1 1 1 2 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 2 2 3 1 4 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 2 3 9 1 3 7 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1



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