Unicorn Seal 33

Another extremely well-preserved seal, about which Dr. Mark writes (Ancient Cities, p. 189):

"Large square unicorn seal with perforated boss on the back. 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 three incised lines depicting a pipal leaf-shaped blanket or halter, while most unicorn figures have only a double incised line. The arching horn is shown as if spiraling or ribbed, and the jowl is incised with multiple folds. Acollar or additional folds encircle the throat. In front of the unicorn is a ritual offering stand with droplets of water or sacred liquid along the bottom of the bowl. The top portion of the stand renders a square grid or sieve that actually may have been a circular cylinder."

Elsewhere he elaborates on the unicorn motif (p. 87-88):

"These figurines and the seal motifs demonstrate that the Indus people believed in this one-horned animal, and - even if it turns out to be only a mythical creature, — it was a very important symbol for their elites and traders. Perhaps this animal was like the mythical animals carved onto the Shang bronzes in early China that guided or protected the owner in the real world as well as in the spirit world.

"The unicorn motif is found at almost every site where seals have been recovered and even in Mesopotamian sites. At Mohenjo-daro, over 60 percent of the seals carry this motif, and at Harappa the unicorn is found on around 46 percent of the seals. The predominance of the unicorn motif at the largest urban centers and its widespread distribution throughout the Indus Valley and beyond indicates that the people belonging to this clan or trading community were not only numerous, but were present in every major settlement and were involved in long-distance trade to areas outside of the Indus Valley.

"Carved in many different styles, unicorn seals were probably made by local artisans at all of the major sites (cat. no. 14). Usually the head is upturned with the horn arching from the back of the skull; the flaring nostrils and wide eyes present a dynamic image. The unicorn is often shown with a collar around the throat and a decorated quilt or harness in the shape of a pipal leaf on the shoulders. The tufted tail and male genitalia are similar to those on the humped-bull motifs, but overall the unicorn has a delicate build similar to an antelope or gazelle.

"On the basis of current evidence, we can assume that the unicorn clan probably represents the aristocracy or merchants directly involved in governing the different settlements and supporting the political and economic power of the major cities. This does not mean that they were the most powerful clan or community, but that they implemented the laws and reinforced the religious practices and economic standards that united the Indus cities. The less widely distributed seals with the bull, elephant, rhinoceros and tiger motifs may have represented the most powerful and centralized communities which actually ruled the cities."

Material: Fired white, hardened steatite
Dimensions: 5.08 x 5.08 cm
Mohenjo-daro, HR 743
National Museum, Karachi, NMP 50.192 Marshall 1931: pl. CIII, 8

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