Mysteries

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

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?

An Ancient Indus Die

A cubical die with 1 to 6 dots was found in rubble during excavations at Harappa. Many such dice were also found at Mohenjo-daro. 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.

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.

Mystery Platforms

What about the platforms? Another perplexing Indus mystery concerns the so-called workingmen's platforms at Harappa, next to the "granary" whose purpose also eludes us. Photographs from the excavations by the Harappa Archaeological Research Project following M.S. Vats work in the 1920's and 1930's led to at least one interesting clue. Additionally, the direction of the bricks suggests water was used here. What do you think?

See also Mystery at Mound F.

First Street of Mohenjo-daro: Revisited

John Marshall writes of what he called First Street, "The northern part of this street, 145 feet in length, had been dug by Mr. Hargreaves in 1925-6, the rest of the street, some 300 feet in length, was completely exposed by me down to the Intermediate level, the work involving the removal from the street itself of a 10 ft. thick layer of closely packed debris ... The width of the street averages 30 feet and it is the only street so far excavated at Mohenjo-daro that could have been used for wheeled traffic, if wheeled traffic was permitted inside the town.

What's Up with the Granary?

What was the so-called granary used for? There are twelve rooms in this 50 by 40 meter building. It was built on a giant mud-brick platform between 2200 and 2300 BCE, but there is an earlier building under at least one section. Between the rooms are sleeper walls. Excavations in 1998-2000 of this area led to no discovery of grain or pots. At Harappa this structure is next to the equally mysterious "workingmen's platforms" where we think some sort of labor involving water took place (but no traces of indigo dye are found). At Mohenjo-daro, this structure is next to the Great Bath.

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.

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 bbc.co.uk (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.

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?

Pages

Subscribe to Mysteries