Volume 91 1982 > Volume 91, No. 3 > Fused glyphs in the Easter Island script, by J. B. M. Guy, p 445-448
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FUSED GLYPHS IN THE EASTER ISLAND SCRIPT

Summary: Glyph 231 (in Barthel's numerical transcription) is claimed to be an alternative writing for an unattested compound 330.61.22.61, and glyph 211s:42 an alternative writing for the attested sequence 40-211s. Such fused glyphs were very probably read and written from bottom to top.

FIGURE 1
GLYPH 231, TABLET ARUKU-KURENGA

Using a lower-case letter to represent an anthropomorphic figure and an uppercase letter for a zoomorphic or inanimate figure, we find on line 3 of the recto of tablet Aruku-Kurenga a symbol (a) repeated 11 times, each time holding a different non-anthropomorphic shape (A, B, C, ...K). The sequence is broken between the fifth and sixth occurrences of this symbol (i.e. between compound glyphs aE and aF) by another anthropomorphic figure with both arms raised, a different head shape, but the same lower limb shapes (w), and identified by Barthel as glyph 231 of his nomenclature, although it lacks the ear-like protrusions on the sides of the head of glyph 231.

Later on the same line, and continuing on to line 4, glyphs B to K, or what appear to be slight variants thereof, are repeated in the same order. Glyphs C to K are each preceded by a figure seated sideways, with its arm raised (b). Glyph pairs bE and bF are again separated, this time by glyph b itself, followed by a glyph consisting of two raised arms attached to the base of a rod-like shape (W).

With subscripts denoting probable variants, line 3 and the beginning of line 4 exhibit the following pattern:

[...]aA aB aC aD aE w aF aG aH aI aJ aK [...]

[..........]B1 bC bD b1E b1W b1F1 b2G b2H1 b2I b1I1 b2J1 b2K1[...]

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A similar sequence is found on line 6, with elements B to K preceded, not by an anthropomorphic figure, but by glyph A:

[...] AB1 AC1 A1D AE AW1 AF A2G1 AH2 A[?] AI2 AI1 AJ2 AK2 [...]

Glyph I occurs once between glyphs H and J in the first sequence (aH aI aJ), and twice in the second sequence (b2H1 b2I b1I1 b2J1). In the third sequence the glyph pairs containing variants of H and J (AH2 and AJ2) are separated by three or four glyph pairs (the text is partly illegible), the last two of which are composed of glyph A and what could be variants of glyph I (AH2 A[?] AI2 AI1 AJ2).

Lines 3, 4, and 6 of the recto of tablet Aruku-Kurenga therefore appear to contain three variants of a same text of the pattern

xA xB xC xD xE xF xG xH (xI)n xJ xK

in which the notation (...)n indicates that the group enclosed in parentheses is repeated n times, n increasing, very probably by one, on each new occurrence of the pattern.

The pattern predicts the occurrence of a group aW in the first sequence in a position where a single glyph (w) is in fact found. The similarity of shapes between the lower halves of glyphs a and w, and between glyph W and the upper half of glyph w suggests that w is a fused form of an unattested compound aW.

FIGURE 2
GLYPH 211s:42, TABLET ARUKU-KURENGA

Line 1 of tablet Aruku-Kurenga opens with a text exhibiting a pattern of the type (subscripts indicating probable variants):

A B C D E F

A B C D1E F G H I J

A F C D F

A F C D1E F H1I A1

The lower part of the initial glyph (A) is missing. Barthel's nomenclature, however, shows only two glyphs with such a head shape and with arms raised. They are catalogued under 595 and are mirror images of each other. Thus, it seems reasonable to reconstruct the lower part of this glyph as identical to that of the glyph with a similar head shape and one raised arm occurring later in line 1.

The anthropomorphic figure denoted here by D1 differs from the one denoted by D in that it merely stands next to the shield-like object to its left (C), whereas D is shown holding it.

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The repetitive pattern is here broken by the absence of glyph E (third line of the transcription above), and that of glyph G (last line of transcription). The former may be a scribe's error. The latter seems to arise from the use of a fused glyph. Glyph G (Barthel's 40) is a shallow crescent shape, glyph H (Barthel's 211) a standing anthropomorphic figure, both arms raised, with a ribbon-like appendage dangling from one elbow. Glyph H1 (Barthel's 211s:42) differs from glyph H in that its legs are replaced by a crescent shape lying on its convex side. Taking H1 as equivalent to the sequence G H, and — perhaps incorrectly — treating the absence of E as a scribe's mistake, restores a pattern strongly reminiscent of a song, an incantation, or a piece of poetry:

A B C D E F

A B C D1E F G H I J

A F C D E F

A F C D1 E F G H I A1

CONCLUSION
General Structure of the Glyphs

The reading of the texts proceeded from left to right and bottom to top, reversing the tablet on reaching the end of each line. The lower and upper halves of both fused glyphs discussed above correspond respectively to the left and right members of a sequence of two separate glyphs of probably identical meaning or reading. Such fused glyphs must, therefore, have been read — and almost certainly also carved — from bottom to top. That the sequence in which the components of fused glyphs were joined happens to coincide with the general direction of reading suggests that not only fused glyphs, but all individual glyphs, excepting those with the most basic, unanalysable shapes, were also written from bottom to top.

Fused Glyphs as Free Variants

The sequence for which fused glyph 231 (Barthel's notation) stands is not attested, and the use of a fused glyph in its stead can therefore be explained as conditioned. However, both the sequence 40-211s and its fused form 211s:42 being attested, the latter was probably used in free variation with the full form.

Since the non-occurrence of the sequence 330.61.22.61 may be purely accidental, fused glyph 231 may also be a free variant. It would then seem safer to take as a tentative working hypothesis that all fused forms were free stylistic variations.

REFERENCES
  • BARTHEL, Thomas, 1958. Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift. Hamburg, Cram, de Gruyter.
  • STEPHEN-CHAUVET, 1935. L'Île de Pâques at ses mystères. Paris, éditions Tel.

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