The Indus Valley glyptic art
Stamp seal and a modern impression: unicorn or bull and inscription, Mature Harappan period, ca. 2600–1900 B.C.
Burnt steatite; 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (3.8 x 3.8 cm)
Dodge Fund, 1949 (49.40.1)
Stamp seals were used in antiquity as marks of ownership and badges of status. In the large urban centers of the Harappan civilization, hundreds of square-shaped stamp seals were found in excavations. They are engraved with images of wild or domestic animals, humans, fantastic creatures, and possibly divinities. The bull is the most popular animal motif on the Indus Valley glyptic art. In this example, the animal is rendered in the typical strict profile, standing before what might be an altar. Its shoulder is covered by a decorated quilt or harness in the shape of an upside-down heart pattern. Most of the square stamp seals have inscriptions along the top edge. The Indus script, invented around 2600 B.C., is yet to be fully deciphered.