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

Parpola's Indus Script Dictionary

The Indus script remains to be deciphered and we will probably never be sure until a bilingual text of some sort is found (not improbable). Until then, Asko Parpola's work on the fish sign is probably the closest to guarded approval by other major scholars. The initial insight into the fish/star connection in Dravidian languages was made by a Jesuit priest, Father Heras, in 1932. Dr. Parpola has been studying this undeciphered writing for over 40 years at the University of Helsinki in Finland and is co-editor of collections of all seals and inscriptions in India and Pakistan.

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Detailed Religious Scene Seal

One of the most evocative seals from Mohenjo-daro, depicting a deity with horned headdress and bangles on both arms, standing in a pipal (sacred fig) tree and looking down on a kneeling worshiper. A human head rests on a small stool and giant ram and seven figures in procession complete the narrative. Asko Parpola writes "An anthropomorphic figure has knelt in front of a fig tree, with hands raised in respectful salutation, prayer or worship. This reverence suggests the divinity of its object, another anthropomorphic figure standing inside the fig tree.

Deity Fighting Off Two Tigers on Seal

This drama is depicted on at least two other seals from the ancient Indus metropolis. In other scenes from Harappa, this is a female deity standing on an elephant with a spoked wheel sign above her head (see Deity Strangling Tigers Tablet).

Asko Parpola writes: "The 'contest' motif is one of the most convincing and widely accepted parallels between Harappan and Near Eastern glyptic art. A considerable number of Harappan seals depict a manly hero, each hand grasping a tiger by the throat. In Mesopotamian art, the fight with lions and / or bulls is the most popular motif.

Grand and Rare Zebu Bull Motif

The grand and rare humped zebu (bos indicus) motif on a pot from Nausharo (ca. 2600-2500 BCE) and on a square steatite seal from Mohenjo-daro (ca. 2500 BCE). Note how similar they are.

The majestic zebu bull, with its heavy dewlap and wide curving horns is perhaps the most impressive motif found on the Indus seals. Generally carved on large seals with relatively short inscriptions, the zebu motif is found almost exclusively at the largest cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

The rarity of zebu seals is curious because the humped bull is a recurring theme in many of the ritual and decorative

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.

The Chimaera: Revisited

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.

Back of a Seal

Ernest Mackay writes (1931): "The boss was then carefully rounded off after the groove that always runs across its center had been roughly made by a V-shaped cut. The rounding of the boss was apparently done with a knife and finished off with an abrasive, after which a hole was bored through it from opposite sides to take a cord."

See also Seal with Two-Horned Zebu Bull.


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