Seals from the Indus Valley

The Indus Valley is indeed a historical treasure, located in Pakistan and northeast India. In this valley, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro are two of the spectacular and immensely crucial cities to be unearthed by archaeologists. Harappa is thought to have supported a population of 50,000 in its time, which is about five times more than the population of towns and villages scattered around it. These cities have been planned very carefully, keeping the urban criteria in mind. In their time, they were based on an intertwined network of streets and alleys with magnificent city walls, warehouses for food storage, and the world’s first sanitation system. The houses were equipped with all the possible luxurious quarters like courtyards, cooking and resting areas, second stories, etc.

Scientists have discovered a beautiful collection of carved stone seals, minuscule figurines, pretty beads and various cooking utensils made of clay, gold, ivory, copper, and glass and embellished with precious stones. It seems to be evident that several pairs of skillful hands resided in or near these districts.

Seals recovered from the Indus Valley had images of animals
Seals recovered from the Indus Valley had images of animals

The Seals

These tiny beauties were first carved from stone and then fired to increase their durability. 3500 of these have been so far found, with the most typical shape being a square along the top, an animal at the center and other symbols at the bottom. The animals include rhinos, elephants, bulls, and unicorns. The back of the seal has a projection for gripping, as well as a hole so as to carry around the neck.

Early writing?

The top of the seals bears a few symbols, which most probably must be in the language of the valley. We can predict so because identical symbols have also been found on other objects, pots, etc. The styles of writing of the time can be observed from these texts, but the script itself remains to be deciphered. These scripts may be business transactions or trading records for all we know.

Indus civilization seal at the Indian Museum
Indus civilization seal at the Indian Museum

What might the seals indicate about trading?

Since they were used to close jars and be imprinted on fabrics, these seals may be used as tags. Indus Valley seals have been found in cities of Central Asia and the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, indicating that they were placed on the exported goods. A large number were also discovered in a city in India. Mesopotamian written records also found confirm trade with the Indus. We can conclude that the Indus Valley was a substantial part of an extensive and long-distance trading network.

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