Mysteries and unsolved archaeological puzzles of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

Mystery at Mound F #3

A perfect unicorn seal found in Trench 49E, Harappa. The craftsmanship and balance of the three fish signs, the arrow and two strokes with the so-called unicorn's head and sacred relic is remarkable. Excavations in 1997 at the southeast corner of the Mound F "granary" area were undertaken to recover a full sequence of pottery, architectural features, and inscribed objects. Here workers have found a seal near the base of the excavations in Trench 41NE that dates only somewhat later than the original "granary" structure.

What Were the Cones?

Decorated terra cotta cones are found at both Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, but no one knows what they may have been used for. Some scholars suggest that they were hung on a string as a plumb-bob for use by masons and carpenters. Others feel that they may have been toys or possibly used for writing. No traces of ink have been found on the tips, but many of the tips are worn smooth or chipped. What do you think they may have been used for?

Ancient Indus Passports?

Photograph courtesy of Toshiki Osada
Seals as urban passports? Mackay wrote "most of the inhabitants of the Indus valley seem to have worn amulets of some kind or another. The so-called seal (Pl. M), of which many examples have been found, must now be regarded as having served also as an amulet, on account of the animals incised upon it. In most cases only the upper part, bearing the inscription was employed as a seal proper . . .. Objects of this type seem to have belonged to everyone, a fact which would necessitate a certain amount of mass production." What would you need to mass produce something to denote identity?

Lothal Terracotta Dice and Game Board

"Much valuable information about the various indoor games indulged in by the Harappans is available from the gamesmen, game-boards and dices found at the major Indus cities. A game involving the use of dice was very popular in the Harappan and later times, especially in the time of the Mahabharata war. The Pandava prince is said to have lost everything including his kingdom in a game of dice. An ealrier reference to the games is contained in the Rdveda whcih mentions the use of Vibhitika wood for making dice.

The First Seal

The first seal, found at Harappa before 1872. Included in The British Museum's A History of the World in 100 Objects, a nice podcast of the chapter on this black stone unicorn seal is available for free at (Episode 16, Indus seal). Sir Alexander Cunningham, who led the first excavations there in 1872-73 and published news of the seal, wrote 50 years before we understood that the Indus civilization had existed: "The most curious object discovered at Harappa is a seal, ... The seal is a smooth black stone without polish.

Indus Elephants

It is unknown whether elephants were domesticated in the Indus Civilization. However, one of the few elephant figurines from Harappa is a head with large stylized ears and red and white stripes painted across the face. This may mirror the custom of decorating domesticated elephants (red and white are common colors) for ceremonies or rituals that is still practiced in South Asia. Elephant bones have also been found at Harappa. Approximate dimensions (W x H (L) x D): 5.4 x 4.8 x 4.6 cm. Photograph by Richard H. Meadow. See also Hollow Elephant Figurine from Harappa and Elephant Head.

Ivory Counters from Mohenjo-daro

"Bone and ivory counters with circles and lines, carved in ways that do not correspond to dice, may have been used for predicting the future," writes Mark Kenoyer about these objects in Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization (p. 120). The counter on the right has a duck ornament at one end, the counter on the left has a double duck ornament on the end. The larger one may be a stylized figurine with triple circle motifs incised on both faces. What do you think these objects were used for?

Ancient Indus Dice

A cubical die with 1 to 6 dots was found in rubble during excavations at Harappa between 1995 and 2001. Many dice were also found at Mohenjo-daro, and John Marshall writes: "That dicing was a common game at Mohenjo-daro is proved by the number of pieces that have been found. In all cases they are made of pottery and are usually cubical, ranging in size from 1.2 by 1.2 by 1.2 inches to 1.5 by 1.5 by 15 inches ... The dice of Mohenjo-daro are not marked in the same way as to-day, i.e. so that the sum of the points on any two opposite sides amounts to seven.

Proto-Historic Objects from Balochistan

Today an unusual and spectacular exhibition opens at the National Museum of Oriental Art (MNAO) 'Giuseppe Tucci' in Rome, Italy. Living Symbols presents a group of painted protohistoric objects from the 4th and 3rd millennium BCE, illegally excavated in Balochistan and seized in 2005 by the Italian police. Although much about their provenance is lost, they are apparently from the little know Nal Buthi and Kulli cultures that preceded (Nal) and accompanied (Kulli) the height of Indus culture.