Image: Iravatham Mahadevan
Image: Iravatham Mahadevan

This is a pictograph of a handle and a flint blade. It is an ideograph for the verb to chop, to slice, to split or to splice.

Illustrative Text References:

Mohenjo-daro: Seal: M-257 a: Jagat Pati Joshi and Asko Parpola, 1987: Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions: Volume 1: Page 63: Collections in India: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.


Mohenjo-daro: Seal: M-856 a: Sayid Ghulam Mustafa Shah and Asko Parpola, 1991: Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions: Volume 2: Page 78: Collections in Pakistan: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.


This symbol is related to Mahadevan's sign number 2065, but whereas the blade body in sign number 2065 curves in a sickle shape, the handle in sign number 1100 is straight.

This makes perfect sense in the light of example M-856, because you would be unlikely to use a sickle to split open a cylinder of tea cakes.

Inscription M-856 also gives us a fascinating insight into the etymology of the Chinese word qiē 切.  Xu Shen's definition for qiē 切 was to measure with a knife¹. Hence, it is the verb to segment or to slice. Qiē is a composite character made up of the word knife on the right and the numeral seven on the left, which is precisely what we see in inscription M-856. Thus, the Chinese character may well be derived by reference to splitting a tǒng (a stack of seven cakes, each weighing 546.5 grams, wrapped in bamboo) of pu'er tea into tea cakes.

Image Credits:

Indus Script Sign Numbers 1100 and 1344: List of Sign Variants: Iravatham Mahadevan, 1977: The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables: The Director General Archaeological Survey of India.


1. Xu Shen, 121: Shuowen Jiezi (Explaining and Analysing Characters).