31 • Indus Valley Seals

Mehrgarh area, circa 3500 BC
Size: 6 cm long

It is assumed that the seals were used for trade, particularly long-distance trade, that the different animals are badges of clans, and that the script spells out the name or title of the owner. The theory has several awkward corners, however. There are about ten animals which are most commonly shown, while at Mohenjo-daro 60 per cent of the animal seals show unicorns. At Harappa it is 46 per cent. There are other animals that are very rare, such as the tiger and markhor goat, and occasionally a horned and naked man seated in a yogic pose with an erection turns up. The same inscription appears with different animals, and sometimes several animals appear on one seal, or a single animal with three different heads. Nevertheless, at their best they are objects of great refinement and beauty, and all the more tantalizing for their undecipherable script. Most are made from steatite that has been hardened by heating after engraving, with a pierced knob at the back. (See also no. 6 for the seals with unicorns.)

a. A bearded bull and inscription. Size: 3.4 cm square
b. A fine zebu and inscription. Size: 3.3 cm square
c. A zebu and inscription. Size: 2.9 cm square
d. A rhinoceros and inscription. Size: 3.6 × 3.4 cm
e. A horned shaman and inscription. Size: 3 cm square
f. An elephant and inscription. Size: 2.6 cm square
g. A bull and inscription. Size: 3 cm square
h. A markhor goat and inscription. Size: 2.6 cm square
i. A unicorn, incense burner and inscription. Size: 3 cm square
j. A horned buffalo and inscription. Size: 2.7 cm square