Seals from the Indus Valley

Teaching ideas

The imagery on the seals is graphically very clear and makes them quite easy for students to start with.

Use the images of the three seals and then the five seal impressions in For the classroom and identify the animals, but do not reveal what the objects are. Ask the students what they think the other areas of the seal show; notice the consistent layout of each seal and ask them whether they can find other things in common. Then ask what the students think the objects are. Ask how big they think they are and how this might change or confirm their initial thoughts. Show them the back view in For the classroom. What do they think the lump was for? Then reveal the size and discuss again and explain that archaeologists think they are seal stones. You may want to explain the difference between seal and impression.

From looking at these seals, what can the students guess about the civilisation that created them? Ask them to create a list, based on their discussion, of the aspects of the civilisation that arise from the seals and then find out more about them.

Do some map work looking at the places where examples of seals have been found. Find out about what exports might have been moving with the seals and why we may not be able to identify some of these so easily. This will involve discussion of the difference between manufactured goods and raw materials. The BBC Primary History website in For the classroom will be useful here.

How have seals been used through time? You could try a long-period enquiry from ancient seals, through the medieval period, the Tudors, the nineteenth century and to the present day. These resources include Object Files on a Mesopotamian cylinder seal and the seal of a English baron of the 13th century. A search of the Collection section of the British Museum website will generate many useful examples to start with, including some marine mammals.

Discuss the need to seal documents or packages and the need to identify the ownership or origin of goods. Can students think of the systems we have today? They might consider adhesive envelope flaps, computer passwords, trademarks, labels and logos.

Create a seal by carving a piece of clay or a bar of soap. Students could plan their design on squared paper at the same scale or larger so they have to decrease the values to get the seal the correct size. Try stamping the finished seals into other soft materials. Discuss the differences between how the seal looks and how its impression looks – the effects can be very different. You could explore with the students how the word seal is used in the English language and compare the different usages.

The following activities and enquiry focus on the script.

Ask the students to copy out some of the signs and to make guesses as to what they might mean. Compare their ideas with those in the Indus dictionary in For the classroom.

Show the students how to create their own code to represent a short message. Let them have a go at deciphering each other’s code. Reveal that experts around the world have been working for years trying to decipher the Indus Valley script. There is a challenging but informative game about this topic on this British Museum website about ancient India. Students could do an enquiry about the decipherment of other scripts such as Egyptian hieroglyphs, cuneiform, Linear B, Maya glyphs.

What was writing for? Use the Indus Valley seals and the examples of writing in A bigger picture to begin an investigation of other writing systems. Consider what cross-cultural similarities there are between uses of writing and what this tells us about the beginnings of civilisations. These resources also include Object Files about Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Roman writing.

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Seals from the Indus Valley