World History Episode 2 The Indus Valley Civilization (Time Stamp 8:01)
Pashupati, Mohenjodaro Seal, 2600 -1900 BCE
Context in CC: “Also they traded. One of the coolest things that the Indus Valley Civilization produced were seals used as identification markers on goods and clay tablets. These seals contained a writing that we still can’t decipher and number of fantastic designs, many featuring animals and monsters.” (5:04) Okay so this quote isn’t lifted from when the seal is actually shown, but it’s more contextually relevant.
Greater Historical/Art Historical Relevance: I, like John, am a huge fan of the Indus Valley civilization. I haven’t studied it since Freshman year of high school, but I still remember it because it was my first taste of art history ever. It’s a pretty fascinating culture, but let’s talk about the seal.
John talks about this seal as proof of the fact that people of the Indus Valley Civilization traded. They found seals like these in Mesopotamia. Archeologists and historians have proposed that this imagery anticipates the Hindu deity Shiva in his role as Pashupati, or ‘Lord of Animals’ (1). However, what’s more interesting is that similar imagery was used in Mesopotamia around the same time.
The most well known example is on the top of the front panel of the Bull Lyre from the Sumerian city of Ur. In the panel a man successfully control two bulls with human faces. While, the lyre is possible contemporary to the Mohenjodaro seals, the imagery used on the seals and on the lyre is actually a reoccurring motif throughout ancient art history.
The 'master of animals’ resurfaces in Minoan, Mycenaean, Greek, and Native American imagery, amongst others. In some instances historians have interpreted the master of animals as a deity, but even if that is not the case, the master of animals motif is a way for these cultures to express someone or something wielding a great power, controls nature.
The best learning derives from discussion, at least that’s what my liberal arts education taught me. My professors always emphasized that there are always multiple ways to interpret a art object or artifact. What do you think this reoccurring motif means? Why did it hold value across so many cultures?
1. J. P. Losty, et al. “Indian subcontinent.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T040113pg2 (accessed August 27, 2012).