Find an Indus Sign!

How do you find an Indus sign in the dictionary?

Example: Mahadevan's sign number 1117:

Step 1. Components:

The first thing to determine is whether the sign can be broken up into different components. Generally speaking, the less complicated a character is, the more likely it is to be a section header with a list of related characters beneath it.

Sign 1117 can be broken down into the two components on the right.

Step 2. Section Header:

Next, you need to find the relevant section header. There are currently three pages of section headers. There is no special method of allocating section headers to a page, so you may need to look at all three of the web pages before you find the sign that you are looking for.


Open the menu in the left hand sidebar by clicking on the list icon. Then, select: Section Headers 1. This will take you to the page pictured below.

Remember that you are looking for a picture that resembles a component of the Indus sign that you want to read. In this instance, sign number 86 matches an element of sign number 1117. It heads up a section called track.

Step 3. Section List:

Next, you need to view the signs that have been grouped under the track section header in order to determine whether any of them match the Indus sign that you want to read. Click on the image of sign number 86 to go to the list of signs that have something to do with tracks.

Many of the surviving Indus inscriptions have something to do with trade. This means that the list of signs related to tracks and roads is quite long. Scroll down to see what else is listed.

Further down the page is the Indus sign which matches the sign that you are looking for.

Step 4. Dictionary Entry:

To go to the dictionary entry for sign number 1117, click on the image.

The dictionary entry gives you a translation for the sign, and a example, usually from the Corpus of Indus Inscriptions, where you can see the sign in use. It may also contain notes about the etymology of the sign, or about how the sign is used.

Step 5. Repeat the Process:

In this instance, the relevant dictionary entry was found by drilling down from Section Header 1. If you had not been successful, you would have needed to search for the second component. If necessary,  repeat steps 1 to 4 to find a different component.

Step 6. Interpretation:

Don't forget that the best translation will depend upon the context. In this instance, Mahadevan's sign number 1 gives us the adjective wide, but in other contexts it could be translated as large.

Image Credits:

Indus Script Signs with Numbers: Sign List of the Indus Script and List of Sign Variants: Iravatham Mahadevan, 1977: The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables: The Director General Archaeological Survey of India.


Indus Script Signs and Motifs without Numbers: Lynn Fawcett, 2017 - 2018.


Screen Shots: Lynn Fawcett, 2017 - 2022.