The Indus Dictionary Project
This ideograph represents an Indus balance weight or a set of Indus balance weights. It is comprised of two elements. The first is equivalent to the Chinese character jiōng 冂, which represents the outer limits of something, and the second is a cube, which is the unit of measurement.
Interestingly, 15 of the tiny cubes will fit into the bigger area. Fifteen is the number of standard Indus weights, in a table on the Sizes website, which supports the theory of a regular pattern in the Indus weight system¹.
However, if you look at the table of Harappan weights on the Sizes website, you will see that there are actually 16 weights listed. So, what is the sixteenth weight? It is 170.6 grams², which is one eighth of the weight of a 1.365 Kg tea brick. This was a foreign measure that was very important to the traders, because it enabled small items to be bartered easily³. Whether for medicine or pleasure, tea was a commodity that was in high demand.
Weight: Mohenjo-daro: Seal: M-297 a: Jagat Pati Joshi and Asko Parpola, 1987: Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions: Volume 1: Page 73: Collections in India: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.
Specific weight of 546.5 grams: Mohenjo-daro: Seal: M-856 a: Sayid Ghulam Mustafa Shah and Asko Parpola, 1991: Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions: Volume 2: Page 78: Collections in Pakistan: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.
Specific weight of 546.5 grams: Mohenjo-daro: Seal: M-920 a: Sayid Ghulam Mustafa Shah and Asko Parpola, 1991: Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions: Volume 2: Page 88: Collections in Pakistan: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.
Whilst Mahadevan's sign number 197 is the noun weight, it may also in certain contexts be the specific weight 546.5 grams (a forerunner of our modern half a kilo). This is supported by the Indus inscriptions with reference to specific shipments.
Indus Script Sign Number 197: Sign List of the Indus Script: Iravatham Mahadevan, 1977: The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables: The Director General Archaeological Survey of India.
1. Harappan Units of Weight: https://sizes.com/units/harappan_weights.htm: Accessed: 12 December 2016.
2. The size of the actual weight (VS 35 from Mohenjo-daro) was 174.5 grams: System of Weights at Mohenjo-daro (according to A. S. Hemmy): Appendix I: Weights at Mohenjo-daro: John Marshall, 1931: Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization - Volume II: Page 596: Arthur Probsthain, London.
3. For evidence of the use of tea bricks as a form of currency, please see Indus inscription H-10.