12. Was the trade relationship between the Harappans and the Mesopotamians a direct one?

Terracotta sealing from a unicorn seal, Mohenjo-daro.

Or were there any mediators in Iran (which had a civilization in ancient periods which was located in the southwestern part of fertile cresent region)? As you know, the Rosetta Stone was issued by Ptolemy \/ - which was due to interactions between the Greeks and Egyptians. This interaction started with settling of Ionians and Cretans as per by Herodotus. Could it be that these mediators would have used both the cuneiform and Indus valley script? What are the possibilities of finding a bilingual according to you? Submitted by Arthur Evans

Jane McIntosh
The trade relationship during the later 3rd millennium was a direct one: ships from Meluhha (the Indus) docked in Mesopotamian ports; some Meluhhans settled in Sumer; and there is a seal belonging to a Mesopotamian whose job it was to act as an interpreter of the Meluhhan language. On the other hand, there is nothing to suggest that people from Mesopotamia reached the Indus, so it is clear that the Harappans conducted the trade between the two civilizations. Mesopotamian ships sailed the length of the Gulf, as far as the western coast of Magan (Oman peninsula), trading directly with Magan and with Dilmun (Bahrain); ships from Magan and Dilmun also docked in Mesopotamian ports. Trade also took place across the Gulf, between Elam and the city-states on the Iranian plateau in the east and Mesopotamia, Dilmun and Magan in the north and west.

Dilmun operated as a middleman between Mesopotamia and the Indus in some of this trade, and after the Ur III state collapsed its role in this grew: in the early 2nd millennium BC both Harappan and Mesopotamian ships sailed only to Bahrain, which acted as an entrepot between them. This would be the place one might expect to find a bilingual, but it hasn't happened yet: there are local seals with Harappan inscriptions, but the local seals are otherwise uninscribed. It seems probable that the Harappans used perishable materials for their records, and presumably this would have applied to records of their transactions in Dilmun too. A cuneiform tablet with a Harappan bilingual text might turn up here but I think it unlikely.

Richard Meadow
There is archaeological evidence for maritime relations between the Harappans and Arabia and some textual and iconographic evidence that Mesopotamians knew about the Harappan world (Meluhha) and for at least a few Indus people in Mesopotamia – including what has been identified as an Indus translator. There is a bit of Indus-like material in eastern Iran and southern Central Asia, but contact across Iran may have been more indirect while that through maritime means more direct, although the evidence for such a scenario is not particularly rich.

Asko Parpola
In the beginning of the Mature Harappan period, around 2400 BCE, the Harappans sailed all the way to Mesopotamia, but soon thereafter, the Dilmun culture of the Gulf seems to have become a mediator of this sea trade. In Early Harappan times, the trade was overland, with the Proto-Elamite people as the partners/mediators. There is a chance that a cuneiform tablet is found, which has the impression of an Indus seal and which mentions in cuneiform the name of the Indus seal owner (cf. my book Deciphering the Indus script, 1994, p. 273-274, quoting a parallel with the impression of a Dilmun seal).

Rita Wright
About trade relationships and how that will yield a Rosetta Stone; there were so-called “language turners” in Mesopotamia who tried to translate the Indus script, at least that’s what some specialists in Mesopotamia have said – (see my box entry in my book where I discuss the Indus script). Perhaps one of them finally did it! If so, there may be a Mesopotamian text in which this was accomplished. I hope so but am not holding my breath. We need to continue to find ways, using scientific and humanistic analyses, to get at the sorts of questions we need answers to without texts to rely on.

Shereen Ratnagar
The Ptolemies were Greek-speaking rulers (Pharoahs, if you like) of Egypt. In any case, we don’t need middlemen to give us hopes of a bilingual. There could have been agreements drawn up by Mesopotamians and Indus people that needed to be written in the languages of each.

Iravatham Mahadevan
At the earliest stage the Harappans traded directly with the Akkadian city, states. At a much later period, there are some intermediaries from the Gulf region. You may like refer to the writings by Simo and Asko Parpola and R. Brunswig (1977), Daniel Potts 1982, Asko Parpola 1994 and Gregory Possehl 1996, 1997 & 2008, dealing with this matter.