Seals and tablets with inscriptions from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

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.

Mahadevan's Indus Script Dictionary

None of the many proposed decipherments of the ancient Indus script by many different scholars since the late 1920's is widely accepted. But there are good ideas, and many of them are from Iravatham Mahadevan in Chennai, India's most important scholar of the Indus script. Here he proposes readings of some the most common Indus signs, including the three "functionaries," part of a set of signs, one of which combines the terminal "jar" sign, the most frequent Indus sign, for which Mahadevan also proposes a reading.

Trident Hand Seals

Seal fragment of a man with double bun and three fingered hand or trident. Trench 39 North, upper levels, Harappa Phase.
Complete fragment of seal with the trident hand, from Richard Meadow: H98-3505/8347-105 Steatite seal, intaglio. White fired steatite with a white core. Red speckling on interior below glaze level, slightly speckled on surface. Grinding marks visible on surface. Fragment of writing and top of animal motif remain - 2 or 3 signs are partially visible and 1 sign is complete (~”N”). The man with a double-bun hair style may be holding a trident or simply raising his hand. The animal motif is probably a tiger because of the multiple strokes.

4 Unicorns

Richard H. Meadow at Harvard wrote in response to a question about whether the so-called unicorn seal depicts a mythical animal or a composite: "Some believe the one, some the other. There is no evidence for any unicorn - one horned beast - from the faunal record. A third belief is that it was a wild ox with the horns shown in profile. That is possible, although if so it is idealized and perhaps a conventional depiction.

An Indus Sign Place Name?

"Following these criteria, at least one Harappan toponym can be isolated with a fair amount of confidence. Altogether 70 Indus insciptions have been recovered from Chanhujo-daro. Eleven of them contain the sign [shown], which is not known from any of the other thousands of Indus inscriptions found at other sites," writes Asko Parpola.

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.