Brief Identification Edit

The unicorn seal was created in the ancient Indus River Valley Civilization around the year 2000 BCE. It measures 2.3cm on all sides and is made of steatite. Made from carving into softened material, many of these seals—and others similar in purpose—were believed to have been used a form of identifying traders in the ancient Indus valley. The pictographs above the animal are (as of now) an untranslatable ancient writing. It is currently housed in the Berlin Museum of Asian Art.

Technical Evaluation Edit

This seal is made from a compacted talc substance known as steatite. The seals were created by first softening the talc, compacting it into the square shape, carving the animal and inscription, and then firing it to increase the hardness and whiteness.[1] The material was carved with copper tools which for time period was a common practice among those who could afford them because it was naturally found in the area. The talc that was used to make the steatite was a common natural resource for the Indus River Valley and was easily found in abundance [Kenoyer 1998, 54].

The inscription on the seal are of the "Unicorn", an offering plate, and undecipherable Indus script.[2] This particular seal is among the most common because of its inclusion of the unicorn. According to Caspers, the unicorn is a favorite image among the Indus Valley seals. He continues to write that the unicorn is unique due to the fact that it is only depicted with one horn. Other seals of similarly shaped animals are drawn with two. [Caspers 1991, 313]. Some scholars have argued that the animal is not a unicorn, but rather it is simply a bull depicted in a profile view. The writing above it currently gives no understanding as to whether or not the animal is—in fact—a unicorn, yet other discoveries of small 3D one-horned figures strengthen the unicorn hypothesis. [Drummond 2000, 53].

The sole reason of the script providing no evidence for against the unicorn problem is the fact that it is untranslatable.Several extensive studies have been conducted and they reveal that this ancient form of writing bears no similarities with any other fonts [Parpola 1986, 399-400].

Below the animal is what Caspers called a "sacred brazier", a "manger", or a "sacred filter" and is only seen on the unicorn seals [ 313]. It is almost always seen as an upright staff topped with "box-like" shape and line(s) across it. [Capers 1991, 314].

Local Historical Context Edit

Little is known about the Indus River Valley Civilization due to the fact that their system of record keeping is still unable to be translated. The civilization was only discovered and recognized less than 100 years ago [Fitzsimons 1970, 9]. We can tell through archeological evidence basics of their lives, economy, and government.

If not for the Indus River, it is extremely unlikely the civilization would have ever began. This is because the primary food source for the cities and settlements was farmed around the river's flood cycle. This provided the area with much of its wealth and the reason for creating the trading seals in the first place, merchant markers for trade. [3] Two major cities flourished during the time of the civilization (c.2600-c.1900), they were Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Both cities housed around an estimated 40,000 people most of whom were farmers [Fitzsimons 1970, 11].

As is common for this civilization, what is known about the Indic culture is very limited. Discoveries in the two large cities have found that there was little to no warfare among the people due to the fact that very few weapons have ever been excavated. The remains of the people also show almost no signs of trauma from battle and also a common method of burial among almost all people.[4] Further analysis of the cities shows large extensive walls which is seventy feet thick and twenty-five feet high at its largest. [Fitzsimons 1970, 11]. The cities are also expertly planned with grid-like streets which shows a value for order and a job of city planner being important. Many of the homes in the cities also feature sewage and water systems many years before the great Roman aqueducts. [Fitzsimons 1970, 13].

World-Historical Significance Edit

The true value of the seals becomes apparent when looking at them on a larger global scale. As aforementioned, the primary use of the seals was to identify traders and merchants in trading practices. They were also utilized as a literal seal around the object that secured the goods in place.[5] This prevented tampering with or stealing the goods which it sealed without breaking the piece. If such an act occurred then the person caught could be severely punished [Duff 2011, 10]. The goods in question could be anything from bundles of grain to more specialized local productions such as shell workings, ceramics, and glazed steatite beads [Kenoyer 1997, 262].

Researchers have reason to believe that the seals and inscriptions on them were unique to each merchant. On top of identifying the trader, Duff also conjectures that they would have also served as passports for foreign merchants attempting to enter the large walled cities. [2011, 13]. The seals have been found in a few other civilization which gives some backup to her theory, most notably ancient Mesopotamia.[6]

Suggested Bibliography Edit

Caspers, E. C. L. During. "The Indus Valley 'Unicorn': A near Eastern Connection?". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 34, no. 4 (1991): 312-50.

Drummond, David, and Jonathan Mark Kenoyer. "Bovine Unicorn." Archaeology53, no. 1 (2000): 9.

Duff, Patricia. "An Indus Seal: Spirit of a Civilisation." Research Paper, University of Cambridge, 2011.

Fitzsimons, Matthew A. "The Indus Valley Civilization." The History Teacher 4, no. 1 (1970): 9-22.

Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark. "Birth of a Civilization." Archaeology 51, no. 1 (1998): 54-61.

Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark. "Trade and Technology of the Indus Valley: New Insights from Harappa, Pakistan." World Archaeology 29, no. 2 (1997): 262-80.

Miller, Heather M.-L. "He Indus Talc-Faience Complex: Types of Materials, Clues to Production." In South Asian Archaeology 1999, 111-115. Groningen: E. Forsten, 2008.

Parpola, Asko. "The Indus Script: A Challenging Puzzle." World Archaeology 17, no. 3 (1986): 399-419.

Ancient Scripts. "Indus Script."

Berlin State Museums. "Seal with Unicorn."

Briticanna Online. "Aqueducts."

Briticanna Online. "Talc."

The British Museum. "Indus Seal."

Harappa Online. "Sealing." "Early Civilizations in the Indus Valley." Ancient Civilizations Online Textbook.

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