World History Encyclopedia, Era 2: Early Civilizations, 4000-1000 BCE
By: Kevin M. McGeough, Editor
Thousands of small stone seals of around 2500 BCE with enigmatic script and more than 400 pictographic symbols have been excavated from Harappa. Even though these were the first objects discovered in excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, the pictographic code has not yet
been deciphered. Some experts believe that these seals could have been used as markers in trade, while others assume that some of these seals might have religious significance.
The usual material for Harappan seals was steatite, a soft stone. These seals were emblazoned with animal figurines or sacred entities. These figures were located in the center of seals, and above them was a short line of Indus script writing. According to one view, these seals were used to stamp clay as a form of trademark for accounting purposes to indicate ownership. Stamped bricks were excavated from the Indus settlements, and the same way of stamping bricks is seen in present-day Pakistan. In another view, people relied on these seals to create protective spiritual amulets.
The seals carried a wide range of motifs. Certain seals show various mathematical formulas and numbers. For instance, the presence of pi confirms the awareness of sophisticated and complex mathematics by these people. Female figurines are also portrayed on these seals with well-designed hair furnished with heavy metal jewelry. This shows that Indus Valley people were rich in art and aesthetics. Some seals have motifs of a man sitting in yoga-like position surrounded by animals, which depict the central and important position of humanity in their cosmic beliefs. Most scholars are agreed that the horned bull that appears on Indus seals should not be recognized as Nandi or Shiva's bull, while elephants adorned on these seals have nothing to do with Hindu beliefs. Osteological evidence proved the absence of horses in Indus Valley civilization before 2000 BCE, and indeed horses are not found on these seals.
Signet ring seals were very common all over Bronze Age West Asia, especially in Halaf times in Syria and in the Tal-i-Bakun phase of southern
Steatite seals from Mohenjo-daro. (Borromeo/Art Resource, NY)
Persia. But it is interesting that Mesopotamian cylinder seals are absent from the Harappan sites. The presence of certain Harappan seals in Mesopotamia also suggests a strong trade and cultural connection between the two civilizations.
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Parpola, Asko. 7000 Years of Seals.
Edited by Dominique Collon. London: British Museum Press, 1997.
Possehl, Gregory. The Indus Age: The Writing System.
Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.