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Old Screeds

Lion-Centaurs in Ancient Indus Valley Seals

I have unearthed plenty of references to lion-centaurs in Ancient Assyria, on cylinder seals and in other art. But so far as ancient sources go, that's it. Nothing but sphinxes and cat-headed gods in Egypt. A few Etruscan hints that I'll blog about some day. Nothing else. Until now!

It seems that in the Ancient Harappan Indus Valley culture, although their use of an alphabet is a topic of debate, it is certain that they used square and cylinder seals, pushed into clay to form a mark . And in a 2013 collection of academic papers, one describes lion-centaurs! "Regional Diversity in the Harappan World: The Evidence of the Seals" is a paper by Marta Ameri. Here is a cylinder seal with a centauric creature, one of two she mentions:

Source: ResearchGate

Here's what Ameri says in the paper:

Also from Kalibangan is one of the nine cylinder seals found in the Greater Indus Valley. This seal belongs to the small subset of narrative seals found in the Harappan corpus and is without a doubt the most interesting of the cylinders found in this region. While the form of this seal is Mesopotamian, its iconography is purely Harappan. It depicts two nude human figures—with spears—who appear to be fighting over a skirted figure standing between them. A composite human animal figure looks on from the right. This centaur figure is found on two other seals, both of which are standard square stamps. The first is also from Kalibangan while the second was found at Nausharo, far to the west. The cylinder seal found at Kalibangan illustrates the final difference between the seals from Kalibangan and those from small classical Harappan sites like Lothal and Chanhu-daro. While the glyptic repertoire at these last two sites is limited to unicorns and a number of other standard animal seals, the seals from Kalibangan are distinguished by their many depictions of mythological themes.

Here is one of the square seals that she mentions:

Source: Marta Ameri

The photos above do not show the seals, of course! They show the impression that is left in clay after the seals were pressed and rolled into it -- like a signet ring into sealing wax. But more importantly, why do I call these lion-centaurs rather than equine centaurs? Well, look closely. The tails are long and catlike, not equine. There are little tufts on the end of the tails, like a lion's. The rear paws are clawed, like a lion's. The forefeet are human, but there can be no question that this is a lion-human hybrid. I'm not sure what the super-long hair is meant to convey -- but it is seen in both seals. Maybe it is a mane? But the "goddess" figure between the two fighters has one too ... maybe that was just a common hairstyle back in that day?

Of note for future inquiry ... Regarding the first seal shown above, this page at quotes Asko Parpola in Deciphering the Indus Script, p. 253.:

"Two warriors, distinguished by the hair worn in a divided bun at the back of the head, are spearing each other, while they are both being held by the hand by a goddess wearing a head-dress with a long pendant (comparable to the ones decorated with cowry shells and turquoise that are worn by the women of Ladakh and Chitral), bangles on the arms, and a skirt. Next to the combat scene (where space appears to have prevented the depiction of those details), her body merges with that of the tiger (later the Hindu goddess of war) and her head-dress is elaborated with animal horns and a tree branch." (emphasis mine)
Interesting that this scholar has dismissed the possibility that this is an equine hybrid but describes the figure as merging with a tiger. The evolution of this Hindu war goddess merits future inquiry as well.

Home | This post was written 20-21 Oct 2019