|Consideration of the picture puzzle principle employed by the early
scripts suggests a way to recognize the identity of the underlying
language. We should try to find a specific context where a given,
pictorially identifiable sign apparently has been used in a meaning
different from the primary pictorial meaning, and more particularly a
context that with fair accuracy enables us to determine what that intended
phonetic meaning was. In the language underlying the script, the
pictorial meaning and the intended meaning were expressed with words
The function of the object on which a given Indus inscription occurs can
be an important clue to the intended meaning of the signs. The Indus
texts are mostly inscriptions on carved seal stones intended for stamping
clay seals. More than a hundred clay tags with ancient seal impressions
come from a burnt-down grain warehouse at the Harappan port town of Lothal.
Many of these tags also bear impressions of woven cloth, reed matting or
other packing material. This shows that the tags were once attached to
bales of goods, and that the seals were used, as in ancient West Asia, for
controlling economic transactions.
Indus seals coming from West Asian sites testify to trade relations
entertained by the Indus civilisation with Mesopotamia. It seems most
likely, therefore, that the contents of the Indus seal inscriptions are
analogical to the contemporaneous Mesopotamian ones, which can be read and
understood. These latter seals chiefly contain proper names, with or
without attributes of various kinds, and titles of the priestly elite.
Proper names were mostly theophoric, i.e. they contained names of
divinities as their components. In priestly titles, too, the deity served
by the priest is usually specified. In classical Indian civilization,
too, proper names of human individuals usually mention divinities.
Names of divinities, therefore, can reasonably be expected to occur in
the inscriptions of the Indus seals in great numbers and in definite
positions suiting both proper names and priestly titles. A large group of
signs meeting these conditions has the basic appearance of 'fish'.