Image: Iravatham Mahadevan
Image: Iravatham Mahadevan

This is a pictograph of a knife with a straight blade and its sharpening tool. The knife is placed on the right. 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 knife in sign number 2065 curves in a sickle shape, the knife in sign number 1100 is straight.

This makes perfect sense in the light of the sample text, 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 the inscription M-856. Thus, the Chinese character may well be derived by reference to splitting a tǒng 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).