Blog posts about the art of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

Indus-style Boat

Found near Mohenjo-daro.

The nautical historian Basil Greenhill makes an interesting point about why this boat style may have endured on the Indus: "As for the punts [long, narrow, flat-bottomed boats, square at both ends and propelled with a long pole, used on inland waters chiefly for recreation], their silhouette bears perhaps some resemblance to that of the boat depicted in one of the two scribings of boats found at Moenjo Daro, the Indus civilization site which lies on the west side of the river roughly in the center of the long stretch of the Indus on which these boats are to be found today.

Toys of the Indus Valley

Approximate dimensions (W x H(L) x D): 7.2 x 9.4 x 3.0 cm. Photograph by Georg Helmes.
Holes along the length of the cart serve to hold wooden side bars and at the center of the cart two of the wooden side bars can be extended below the frame to hold the axle. A long stick inserted into the holes at the end of the cart would have been used to support a yoke. The two wheels were found lying next to the cart frame. Period III, Harappan, 2300-2200 B. C. Similar carts are still used in rural areas of Pakistan and India.
Among the most convincing cases for figurines as toys are the hollow bird figurines that have a hole either on the back near the tail or in front of the torso that allowed them to be used as whistles. Similar terracotta "bird whistles" are still found in South Asia. Approximate dimensions (W x H(L) x D): 3.8 x 5.5 x 5.3 cm. Photograph by Richard H. Meadow.
Terracotta figurines have long been considered toys, often without question. Other objects such as carts, wheels, and charpoi (cots) made of terracotta at a similar scale may reinforce this interpretation for at least some of the terracotta figurines. Several styles of carts as well as wheels made of terracotta have been found at Harappa. These were probably originally held together by wooden components that have not preserved.

Movable head of a bovine figurine from Harappa. Some movable figurine heads are pierced through the horns on either side of the head. The movable heads of figurines often depict cattle. They are usually pierced laterally through the neck and vertically or sagittally through the head in order to secure them to the bodies and control them with a cord. Also a toy cart from Nausharo, a bird whistle and a complete ox or water buffalo cart with figurine.

A Story Tablet from Harappa

One side of a planoconvex molded tablet found in 1995 in Mound ET at Harappa. Mark Kenoyer writes about his narrative scene depicting the killing of a water buffalo: "A person, possibly a man, with hair tied in a bun on the back of the head, impales a water buffalo with a barbed spear. The hunter's foot presses down on the water buffalo's head as he thrusts the spear into its shoulder. In Later Hindu rituals, the water buffalo sacrifice is associated with the worship of the goddess Durga, but on this seal the sacrifice takes place in the presence of a priest or deity seated in yogic position.

Deity Strangling Tigers Tablet

Planoconvex molded tablet from Harappa showing a deity battling two tigers. "The thick jungles of the Indus Valley were full of tigers and leopards, so it is not surprising that the image of a ferocious feline is a recurring motif in ritual narratives on seals as well as molded tablets... The figure strangling the two tigers may represent a female, as a pronounced breast can be seen in profile.

The First Indus Women, 1924

The first Indus women surfaced in the Illustrated London News on September 20, 1924. John Marshall was announcing the discovery of a civilization in India far earlier than Western archaeologists had surmised and these Harappan figurines were earlier than any others. Similar figurines from more recent discoveries at Harappa are also shown below, with captions. These are typical of female figurines from Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Why do you think there might be so many more female than male figurines?

See also Embodying Indus Life: Terra Cotta Figurines of Harappa.

An Ancient Indus Plate

Copper and bronze plates were probably used exclusively by wealthy upper class city dwellers.
Ledge shouldered cooking pots with low neck and flaring rim. One vessel has red slip on the neck and rim, while the other is fired grey-black. A small black fired bowl is seen in the foreground. Period III, Harappan, 2300-2200 B.C.E.
Green stone (fuchsite) tumbler from Mohenjo-daro
This metal vessel is almost identical to many terra cotta cooking vessels and was probably intended for a very wealthy family. It was made by hammering a sheet of copper and raising the hollow base and rim separately. The two pieces were joined together with cold hammering at the ledge. This vessel contained a hoard of copper weapons and tools.

Ancient Indus food, drink and cooking vessels would likely not be out of place in South Asia today, so familiar are the designs and materials A copper/bronze plate from Mohenjo-daro, terra cotta cooking pots from Nausharo (2200-2300 BCE), a stone (fuchsite) drinking vessel from Mohenjo-daro, and a copper/bronze cooking pot from Harappa.

Humped Bull Figurine

Humped bull figurine from Mohenjo-daro with molded head that is twisted to the side, and a mold used to make the head. The legs were made separated rather than being joined together. Hand formed body and attached head. Eyes are carved with appliqué pupils as on the large hollow bull figurines.

Material (Figurine and mold): terra cotta.
Figurine – Dimensions: 5.23 cm height, 8.59 cm length, 2.92 cm width Mohenjo-daro, MD 832. Mold – Dimensions: 4.4 cm height, 3.7 cm length, 3.2 cm width. Mohenjo-daro, MD 1634.

See also Seal with Two-Horned Zebu Bull.

Steatite Disc Beads

This set of steatite disc beads found at Harappa, each about 1 cm in diameter, were found in a Kot Diji phase (ca. 2800-2600 BCE) street and appear to be a necklace segment that was lost in the trash. The manufacturing marks are clearly visible. The matched nature of the beads suggests that a preform of raw steatite was shaped, drilled with a copper tube, and subsequently sewn into segments.


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