Pictorial Interpretation of the Indus Signs
The Indus script has about 400 signs and is mainly pictographic in character. However there are also many signs too stylised or simplified to be identified pictorially. Two main characteristics of the script are modification of signs by the addition of diacritic-like marks and combination of two or more signs into composite signs. According to Parpola's estimate, about half the number of signs are basic and the other half are composite. Many of the signs also show minor graphic variants due to different scribal styles or materials on which the inscriptions are recorded. An early seal fragment from Harappa
Parpola's latest and comprehensive Sign List (with 398 signs and no less than 1839 variants) illustrated in this volume (pp.70-78) will replace all earlier lists to remain as the standard source of reference. Experts may differ whether a given sign is basic or composite or a variant of another sign. However Parpola has now provided the most complete documentation enabling other scholars to draw their own conclusions.
The Indus Inscriptions
The Indus inscriptions are found only on small objects, mostly stone seals and on pottery. According to Parpola about 3700 inscriptions are presently known from about forty Harappan and twenty foreign sites. A seal from Harappa.
The inscriptions are all extremely brief, averaging not more than about five signs in a text. Parpola believes that longer Indus inscriptions might have been written on palm leaves or cloth which have perished.
No bi-lingual inscription has so far come to light to aid decipherment. The only external clues available are those provided by the archaeological context,the typology of the objects carrying the inscriptions, and the accompanying pictorial motifs. The pictorial motifs are mostly those of animals, especially the so-called unicorn, but also many others including the bull, buffalo, elephant, tiger, rhinoceros, antelope and a few mythical or composite beasts. There are also some interesting religious or mythological motifs depicting deities and sacrificial scenes.