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Types of Objects, find-spots and functions served by the messages conveyed through the objects
Many tablets (both incised and embossed varieties, generally made of faience, terracotta or stone) occur in multiples suggesting some form of distribution of common, identical messages (or underlying material life-support phenomena).
Copper tablets found in Mohenjodaro are incised with pictorials in inscriptions and script signs. The historical periods record the evidence of the use of copper tablets to authenticate title deeds or property transactions. This evidence is an apparent legacy of the Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization. No other contemporary civilization has produced such definitive evidence of conveying property through copper-plate inscriptions. (Cylinder seals and clay tablets had been used in Mesopotamia to convey movable property items).
Banawali Seal Impression (B-23); A mighty person stands in front of unicorn and markhor with upturned faces (apparently listening to the person); two signs occur: fish and arrow graphemes. The sealing is on terracotta. The ten steatite seals and one sealing have only come from the lower town, not the citadel these seals were generally recovered from houses which on the basis of their contents have been tentatively attributed to a trader or jeweler (Bisht, R.S., 1982, Excavations at Banawali: 1974-77, in: Gregory L. Possehl, Harappan Civilization, Delhi, p.118).
Apart the use of copper tablets and in a few cases, the use of silver and copper for seals which indicates that the messages are possibly engraved by metal- and/or fire-workers (cf. the use of fired-in faience for seals), the dramatic clue to the decipherment of the script comes from the characteristic shapes of a few objects.
There are also inscriptions on bronze implements,
re-inforcing the deduction that the metal- and/or fire-workers were the major
script-writers of the civilization. If the writers of the script were also the owners of
or traders in the products made from metal- and fire-work, then the messages
conveyed were likely to be related to their life-activities. This is a possibility because
at this stage of the evolution of chalcolithic cultures, ca. 3000 B.C., the
differentiation in the labour-force might not have reached a stage when a separate group
of or the profession of 'script-writers' had been recognized.
|Seven script signs recurring on two
inscribed copper axes and on a seal and a seal impression, Mohenjodaro;
obverse (a,c) and reverse (b.d) of two axe blades (2798=DK7856 and 2796=DK7535) in
room 15, house I, block 12A,G section, DK area together with a copper hoard; e
is a fragmentary seal (2119) from room 5, house I, block 26,G section, DK
f is an impression of a seal (c. 4.5cm sq.) on a clay tag found in the drain 124, house X, block 8, HR-B area.
Drawn after Mackay 1938: II, pl. 126:t and pl. 131:35-6; Photo archive of the ASI, Sind Vol. 17, p. 79:
400 (=a,b); Mackay 1938: II, pl. 126:2; pl. 131:31; Sind vol. 17, p. 80: 403-4 (=c,d); Mackay 1938: II, pl. 85: 119 (=e);
CISI 2: 183, M-1384 (=f); cf. Parpola, 1994, p. 108.
Some objects are shaped like a double-axe (FS 133), some like a sickle ( ?or crescent FS 131), some like a fish (FS 68), some like a tortoise (FS 70), some like a leaf (FS 79).
[Using the rebus method, it should be possible to interpret the 'fish',
'tortoise', 'leaf', 'pillar' to discern the underlying substantive 'meanings'.]
A remarkable legacy of the civilization occurs in the use of 'fish' sign on a copper anthropomorph found in a copper hoard. This is an apparent link of the 'fish' broadly with the profession of 'metal-work'.
Findspots of some seals
[House I, HR-A area, Mohenjo-daro: Find spots of twelve seals together with many prestige objects, all from one house; Wheeler assumed that this was a temple; the house has rooms immediately adjacent to the exit, transit rooms having more than one door, terminal rooms with just one door; seals were found in all these rooms. After Jansen, Michael, 1986, Die Indus-Zivilisation: Wiederentdeckung einer fruhen Hochkultur, Cologne, 200f., fig. 125]
Seals have been found in almost every exposed room excavated in Mohenjodaro. In room 85 in house IX of the HR-area in Mohenjodaro were found five unicorn selas. In this room a mass of shell-lay was found along with many waste pieces of sea-shells indicating this to be a shell-cutters room (Mackay, 1931a: I, 195).
Possible use of the messages conveyed through inscriptions in trade
In addition to the field symbol, the texts of the inscriptions are composed of an average of five signs. The longest inscription has 26 signs (found on two identical three-sided tablets: M-494 and M-495 of Parpola corpus).
There are over 25 inscriptions with only pictorial motifs, 40 inscriptions with only one sign (in addition to the field symbol); about 110 inscriptions have only two signs; and nearly 150 inscriptions have only 3 signs. (See also: Sepo Koskenniemi et al., 1973, p. x)
This is a remarkably cryptic (economical) use of graphemes and an indication that the graphemes (or signs) and (perhaps, also pictorials) may refer to physical objects and numbers.
Among the ashes on a warehouse floor in Lothal were found a hundred clay tags, bearing inscriptions created by seal impressions on one side and of packing materials (bamboo, mattings, woven cloth, cords, reeds) on the other.
It has also been noted by earlier attempts at decipherment that many seals with inscriptions have cord holes, suggesting that the seals might have been worn by their owners.
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