Masao NOGUCHI (Graduate of Tokai University, Japan)


The recent focus on radiocarbon dating in archaeology can be problematic when the transitional sequence of each artifact type is not properly considered. An example of this is the "Indus style" seal. One of the typical artifacts of the Indus Civilization, it was in use for hundreds of years during the height of the Indus Civilization. Some Indus style seals were also found in Mesopotamia. I attempt to show that the Indus style seal is the most useful of all of the artifacts found in the Indus Civilization for understanding sequences of artifacts from this ancient civilization. With this perspective, I have developed a new research methodology that offers new possibilities for studying the Indus style seal on the basis of the typological sequence of seal handles.


A total of 183 seals were studied, including:

  1. 50 seals photographed by the author in Pakistan; and

  2. 133 seals studied from the photographs of the backs and other angles of the seals in the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions (Joshi and Parpola 1987; Shah and Parpola 1991) - hereafter referred to as CISI - and in Geoffrey Cook's (1994) paper.

I do not include seals that were imports from foreign countries, the so-called "foreign artifacts" by Gotoh (1999), or the "convex type" of seal because these seals are not relevant for this study. I also do not include seals with non-perforated handles because I consider these seals to be unfinished Indus style seals.

All of the seals that are included in this study were recovered in excavations at Mohenjo-daro or Harappa. Indeed, almost all of the excavated seals have been found at these two sites. Of course, some seals have also been recovered in excavations at Lothal, Chanhu-daro, Kalibangan, and other sites. However, only a few seals with the handle type under consideration found at these sites were published in CISI, the primary source of information about most of the seals in this study. Therefore, I include only the seals that were excavated at Mohenjo-daro or Harappa in this study.

3. ANALYSIS: Classifying Types and Re-examining the Manufacturing Process

The seals were classified based upon my own observations. I have identified six primary types and some sub-types (Fig.1) as follows:

Type I The handle has no groove. I subdivided Type I into Types Ia, Ib, Ic, and Id based upon the motif.
Type Ia This type has a geometric motif, a fairly common motif in a large area west of Baluchistan before the advent of the Indus Civilization. The fact that a seal with a Type Ia handle was excavated at the site of Mehrgarh from an earlier layer (Period VII) is worthy of note (Figs. 1 & 2). These seals are the same as the "Central Asian style" seals identified by Gotoh (1999).
Type Ib This type has no script, but only a mythological scene, an animal, or a structure motif. Bisht (2000) reports that this type of seal has been found in layers pre-dating the Indus Civilization in the excavations at Dholavira (Period III).
Type Ic This is very similar to the typical Indus style seal. However, I do not consider this motif (see Fig.1) an example of the "Indus style" unicorn, but rather the ancestor of that motif type because this unicorn has no associated "standard" and no ornamentation on its shoulder. These are characteristic of other Type Ic seals.
Type Id This type has no motif.
Type II The handle looks like a rough circle or a rounded cornered square in its plane aspect, and it has an incised groove down the center. The groove of the Type II handle is wide and shallow compared with the grooves on the handles of Types III and IV, which are deeply "V-shaped". In other words, the groove of the handle of Type II isn't really a "groove," but rather a "design line" or a motif on the handle.
Type III The plane aspect looks like two rough semicircles arranged opposite each other and centered around a central groove. The central groove is longer than either of the side lines and the ends of each of these lines can be linked by drawing a hexagonal line around all of the ends (Fig.3).
Type IV The plane aspect looks like two ovals in parallel centered around the central groove, as if there are two bosses. The lengths of the central groove and both side lines are equal, and the ends of each of these lines can be linked by drawing a square line around all of the ends (Fig.3).
Type V This type has no handle, although the seal itself may (Type Va) or may not (Type Vb) be perforated.
Type VI All others.I have observed that there are also some differences in the cross-sections of the handles of Types II-IV (Fig.3). However, I was unable to analyze all of the cross-sections of the seals' handles in this study. As a result, the description of the cross-section of each handle is supplemental, and in this study the classification of the type of handle is based only on the plane aspect of the handle.


A. Typological Sequence of Indus Style Seal Handles

In addition to classifying the types of handles, I tried to better understand the typological sequence of Indus style seals by re-examining them with regard to manufacturing processes (Fig.4), as previously suggested by Mackay (see Marshall 1931; Mackay 1938).

An important point of the manufacturing process is the technique known as "shaping". The Type II handle has no trace of shaping. That is to say that the final manufacturing process for Type II was to draw a "design line". However, Types III and IV do have evidence of shaping.

Moreover, Types III and IV are symmetrical in structure and certainly need a "symmetrical axis". I suggest that the "design line" on Type II functions as the "symmetrical axis" on Types III and IV.

Generally, the transitions in the sequences of each type of artifact are related to changes in manufacturing techniques. The difference in technique between Type II and Types III - IV is the process of producing a handle with rich three-dimensional effect using the "shaping" technique, in addition to using the "design line" as the "symmetrical axis" of Types III and IV.

If the "convex type" seals recovered in excavations at Dholavira from layers that post-date the Indus Civilization (Dholavira VI) are considered, it is possible to suggest a sequence of "Type I => Type II => Type III => Type IV". (Type IV includes the rectangular seal with only a few script signs that is considered to be the ancestor of the "convex type" seal (Figs. 1 & 5).)"

B. The Genealogy and Development of the Indus Style Seal

  1. The Roots of the Indus Style Seal: Some Central Asian cultural elements spread westward from Baluchistan, and one of these elements appeared in the "Central Asian style" seal (Gotoh 1999) in the western area of the Indus plain during the Mehrgarh VII period.

  2. The Early Stages of the Indus Civilization: The Indus Civilization began in the eastern part of the Indus plain and various cultural elements were assimilated as it spread westward.

    => The Type Ia seal appeared on the Indus plain.

    => The craftsmen of the Early Indus Civilization produced their original motif in the Type Ib seal (the ancestor of the Indus style seal).

    => The Type Ic transitional type to the Indus style seal (Types II-IV) appeared.

  3. The Mature Indus Civilization: The development of the Indus Civilization brought about the development of sea trade and the establishment of a distinctive social system.

    => Increasing demand for seals resulted in improvement in the Indus craftsmen's techniques.

    => The Indus style seal evolved from Type II to Type IV through the transitional type, Type III.

    => As sea trade through the Persian Gulf developed, the "Persian Gulf" seal was produced in the Persian Gulf (influenced by the Indus style seal).

    => Some "Persian Gulf" seals were brought to Mesopotamia (a "Persian Gulf" seal was found at Ur).

  4. The Decline of the Indus Civilization: With the decline of sea trade and a decreased demand for seals, Indus craftsmen began omitting the design motif.

    => The rectangular seal with only a few script signs and a handle (Type IV) and then the perforated "convex type" seal became the dominant Indus seal types.

    => In the Persian Gulf, craftsmen produced the "Dilmun style" seal after the "Persian Gulf" seal.

  5. The Aftermath of the Indus Civilization: The Indus seal was appropriated by various cultures such as Jhukar and others in India and Pakistan.


Future studies should more carefully consider and record information about the handles when collecting data regarding the seals. In previous studies of the seals, the focus of attention has been limited to the motif and the script with hardly any attention given to the handles of the seals. For example, only the inscribed surfaces of most of the seals considered in this study were illustrated in the excavation reports in which they were originally published. Future excavation reports should include photographs or figures that show all angles and aspects of each seal to facilitate more thorough and systematic research.


This is a summary of the graduation thesis that I submitted to Tokai University in March of 2002. I would like to acknowledge the help, encouragement, and comments of Prof. Hideo Kondo and Dr. Manabu Koiso, both of Tokai University. I would also like to thank Mr. Tsuyosi Kawai of the Municipal Museum of Nagoya and Dr. Saeed-ur-Rehman, Director General of the Department of Archaeology and Museums, who allowed me to take photographs in archaeological institutions in Pakistan. These include the Harappa Museum, the Mohenjo-daro Museum, the National Museum of Pakistan, and the Exploration and Excavation Branch of the Department of Archaeology. I must also thank all of the staff at these institutions for their very kind hospitality and assistance.

In addition, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Ms. Sharri R. Clark of Harvard University who kindly proofread this summary and provided assistance with my English.


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Gotoh, T., Notes on the Foreign Artifacts in the Indus Valley Civilization (in Japanese),

Kokogaku zassi (Japan), Vol. 84, No. 4, pp.70-88, 1999.

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Kenoyer, J. M., Indus Civilization-Crafts, Symbolic Designs and Technology (in Japanese). Oriente (Japan), No.23, pp.3-19, 2001.

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Mackay, E. J. H., Further Excavations at Mohenjo-daro, 2 Vols., Government of Indian Press, New Delhi, 1938.

Marshall, S. J., Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization, 3 Vols., Probstain, London, 1931.

Mitchell, T.C., Indus and Gulf Type Seals from Ur, In S.H.A.A.Khalifa and M.Rice (eds.), Bahrain through the Ages: the Archaeology, pp.278-285, Kegan Paul Inc, London, 1986.

Shah, S. G. M. and Parpola, A. (eds.), Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions: 2.Collections in Pakistan, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsinki, 1991.

Shudai, H., Chronology and Problems of the Indus Region (in Japanese), In H.Kondo (ed.), Formation and Development of Cities in the Ancient Orient, Society for Ancient City Studies, Hiratsuka, 1999.