Image: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Lynn Fawcett

This Indus sign is a pictograph of a hole or void, combined with the word hidden. It is an ideograph for the adjective dangerous. The symbol shares a common root with the Chinese character xiōng 凶.

Illustrative Text Reference:

Mohenjo-daro: Seal: M-272 a: Jagat Pati Joshi and Asko Parpola, 1987: Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions: Volume 1: Page 66: Collections in India: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.


This is Mahadevan's sign number 2554, which I have redrawn to better reflect the original symbol.


Seal number M-272 illustrates the importance of studying the motif as well as the glyphs on an Indus seal.

The motif is a male goat with large recurved horns similar to those of a Sindh ibex.

The goat is looking over his shoulder, to the left, with a large eye. This tells us two things. Firstly, that we are to look at something, and secondly, that the inscription should be read from left to right.

The goat's rear legs are raised, which indicates that he is bucking in an attempt to remove something from his back. On his back he wears a pack saddle. Therefore, we know that he is a pack goat.

There are only two characters on the seal. They are danger or dangerous, and in or inside. Inside is positioned above the pack saddle.

Putting all of this together, and reading from left to right, gives us: danger, inside, pack, look. Thus, the seal warns us that the load is dangerous. Unfortunately, we are not told why. It seems likely that there would have been a second seal on the pack which described the contents.

A two seal system would have been an efficient way to operate, because it would obviate the need for a dedicated seal for each type of dangerous good, and it would immediately alert the carrier to the fact that he needed to read the information on the seals.

Image Credit:

Dangerous: Lynn Fawcett, 2017.