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.
Seals and tablets with inscriptions from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.
Only a few specimens of this unicorn amulet-type seal have been found. One was during Marshall's excavations at Mohenjo-daro in the 1920s (top), another at Dholavira a few years ago (bottom). It appears to have been worn around the neck, and have had room for something to be put inside.
Although Marshall himself did not favor the amulet theory, he wrote of one of these seals: "The amulet theory finds some support, however, in the shape of ... [a] seal [which] measures 0.77 in. square and 0.3 in. thick, excluding its boss.
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.
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.
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.
J.M. Kenoyer describes it as a "square seal with animal whose multiple-heads include three important totemic animals: the bull, the unicorn, the antelope. All three animals appear individually on other seals along with script, but this seal has no script. The perforated boss on the back is plain, without the groove found on most seals." (Ancient Cities, p. 194).
E.J.H. Mackay wrote that "a possible explanation of this unusual devices is that its owner may have sought the protection or assistance of three separate deities represented by the heads of these three animals" (Further Excavations,
In color is a seal, in black and white two seals and corresponding sealings made from them (Joshi and Parpola, Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions, Vol. 1, M 306-8).
Mark Kenoyer writes that "discoveries of this motif on seals from Mohenjo-daro definitely show a male figure and most scholars have assumed some connection with the carved seals from Mesopotamia that illustrate episodes from the famous Gilgamesh epic.
"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.
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.
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.