Seals and tablets with inscriptions from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.
Large square unicorn sealing (left) and seal from Mohenjo-daro. The unicorn is the most common motif on Indus seals and appears to represent a mythical animal that Greek and Roman sources trace back to the Indian subcontinent. A relatively long inscription of eight symbols runs along the top of the seal. The elongated body and slender arching neck is typical of unicorn figurines, as are the tail with bushy end and the bovine hooves. This figure has a triple incised line depicting a pipal leaf shaped blanket or halter, while most unicorn figures have only a double incised line.
This seal from Mohenjo-daro contains, perhaps more compactly than any other, what we can tell of ancient Indus beliefs and traditions. Several script signs are interspersed with the figures along the top of the seal and a single sign is placed at the base of the tree. This scene may represent a special ritual sacrifice to a deity with seven figures in procession. The seal has a grooved and perforated boss and the edges are worn and rounded from repeated use. It shows a deity with horned headdress and bangles on both arms, standing in a pipal (sacred fig) tree and looking down on a kneeling
"The earliest representation of a unicorn is found on seals and sealings from sites in the northern Indus region, dated to c. 2600 BCE." writes Jonathan Mark Kenoyer. "This motif is not reported from any other contemporaneous civilization and appears to be unique to the Indus region. The unicorn motif continued to be used throughout the greater Indus region for over 700 years and disappeared along with the Indus script and other diagnostic elements of Indus ideology and bureaucracy c.
"At their best, it would be no exaggeration to describe them as little masterpieces of controlled realism, with a monumental strength in one sense out of all proportion to their size and in another entirely related to it," wrote Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Seal with Two-Horned Zebu Bull and Inscription, ca. 2000 BCE. As Mark Kenoyer writes "The majestic zebu bull, with its heavy dewlap and wide curving horns is perhaps the most impressive motif found on the Indus seals.
The impressions of a pipal leaf found in the upper clay levels of a drain in Harappa, shown here with a modern pipal leaf, indicate that what many think was a sacred tree even at that time was growing in the ancient city of Harappa. A well at Mohenjo-daro, a sealing from the city and the pipal motif on a unicorn seal are other examples of this critical leaf in Indus culture. See also Unicorn and Pipal Tree Seal.
The seal that the publicity emblem (above) for the film Mohenjo Daro is actually based on (below) offers the opportunity to look at one of the most unresolved issues in ancient Indus studies: what was the so-called one-horned unicorn, and where did it come from? Drs. Parpola and Kenoyer have two different perspectives. Asko Parpola writes "One broken round Indus seal from Mohenjodaro, M-417 (below), shows animal foreparts (protomes) arranged in a whorl.
Long rectangular seals with no animal motifs from the last part of the Harappan Phase (2200-1900 BCE) found at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. "This type of seal is found with only abstract writing, which radically altered communication. Impressions made by the square seals carry two distinct messages, one is presented in a script that could only have been understood by a literate person and the other in the animal motif, that even a child could comprehend.
Further to the discussion of chimeras, among the first unicorn seals found by John Marshall at Mohenjo-daro in the 1920's was this one. He wrote: "The animal most often represented on the seals is the apparently single-horned beast ... There is a possibility, I think, that the artist intended to represent one horn behind the other. In other animals, however, the two horns are shown quite distinctly. In some respects the body of this beast, which is always a male, resembles that of an antelope of heavy build, such as the eland or oryx, and in others that of an ox.
1. A clay sealing from the Harappa Phase levels (2600-1900 BCE) that may have come from a large bundle of goods shipped to the site from a distant region. The clay does not appear to be the same type of clay as found near Harappa and has the impression of two different seals. 2. A clay sealing from the Harappa Phase levels (2600-1900 BCE) that may have come from a large bundle of goods shipped to the site from a distant region. The clay does not appear to be the same type of clay as found near Harappa and has the impression of two different seals.
A particularly beautiful tree on a terra-cotta tablet discovered at Harappa in 1995. "Growing from a low platform, this sinuous tree with short leaves may have been held sacred like the pipal tree" writes J.M. Kenoyer. See also Pipal Leaves: Revisited.