outside municipal drains or cesspits located under streets. Thousands of square-shaped seals made mainly from steatite, a type of sandstone, have been discovered in homes, storehouses, workshops and scattered around city walls. Steatite stone is soft and easy to carve with a thin-pointed copper or stone tool. When the seal is fired at high temperatures, they harden and turn to a lighter color. None are found in burials. In one case skeletons were found scattered on stairways of a home. Thirteen individuals appear to have died of unknown causes at the same time. Copper bracelets and finger rings were found on bones along with faience beads and a seal. Thousands of seals have been found. What are they and what can they tell us about the occupants of the homes, their religion and commercial interests? The Indus seals are small and square-shaped. The front or obverse side contains an engraved image with or without an inscription. A boss perforated with a hole is on its back indicating that it could be hung by a cord from around one’s wrist or suspended from a garment or other object. When in use the seal could be held with two fingers by gripping the small knob on the back. Although we are unsure of how seals were used in the Indus, many scholars assume that they functioned to identify an individual or a group just as a signature or corporate seal does today. Pressed against soft clay or other pliable materials, the carved image on its obverse left a distinctive image. Impressions left by some seals indicate that they were impressed on mud that
8 was embedded onto cloth wrapped around containers that held commodities. After the mud and cloth was applied around the top of the container and its lid to act as an airtight fastener, the seal was impressed, leaving an image that identified the owner of the container and its contents. The container could then be stored or exported. The earliest seals inscribed with animals and script were found at the site of Harappa carved with images of crocodiles, fish, goats, hares, swastikas and incense burners. From ca. 2500-1700 so-called signature seals were mass produced. On their obverse, these seals depict animal images with on average seven as yet undeciphered signs or symbols inscribed above the image. At Mohenjo-daro 75% of the seals depicted a single animal or composite creature. The unicorn is most frequent, followed by short-horn bulls, zebu (a distinctive long-horned humped bull), elephant as well as rhinoceros, water buffalo, goat, antelope, crocodile and hare. Peacocks, monkeys, squirrels, cobras, tigers, mongooses and birds in flight are depicted on other types of seals as well as on pottery. Only rarely are gods, goddess or myths depicted on signature seals. What do these images tell us both about the owners of the seals and the climate and environment they lived in? Pictures of tigers, monkeys, cobras and mongoose indicate a hot jungle environment, but what message do unicorns relate?
9 \ Mohenjo-daro, ca. 2600-1900 B.C.E., Islamabad Museum This 2 inch by 2 inch fired signature seal was found at Harappa. It contains an inscription on the top and a beautifully carved image of a unicorn below.
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