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The Harappan Early Civilisation Of The Indus Valley



  Satellite image of the Indus River basin. 

When we see the remains of the war zone that is at present and has been played out by the ‘Super Powers' since the Russian invasion in December 1979, it is difficult to visualise that this area and the surrounding areas of Pakistan, Western India, Iran, Kurdistan, Turkmenistan, Southern Uzbekistan, Western Uzbekistan, which included The Indus Valley and the Iranian Plateau, was one of the earliest world farming communities dating back at least 50,000 years, and was the home of The Harappan Civilisation, the largest of the early civilisations, covering an area the size of Western Europe.

The dating of the existence of humans living 50,000 years ago, and that these farming communities were among the earliest in the world are supported by The Smithsonian Institute, Louis Dupree of The University of Pennsylvania and other academics, from artefacts typical of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages.

The importance of the land and surrounding lands of the country we now know as Afghanistan was important in earliest times as it is today, and the ensuing war and support of Western Friendly Government, as it is the important trading and cultural crossroads between the continents, and route for the ‘Gas Pipeline' today, energy upon our world today relies.

The ancient prehistory was closely connected by culture and trade with he neighbouring regions to the East, West and North. Urban civilization began as early as 3000 to 2000 BC on the Iranian Plateau, which would have included The Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, home of the Oxus Civilisation, a Bronze Age Culture of Central Asia dated 2200 to 1700 BC, in the present day lands of Turkmenistan, Northern Afghanistan , Southern Uzbekistan and Western Tajikistan, centred on the Upper Amu Darya. The Greek name for Bactra was Bactria, and today is Balkh in Northern Afghanistan, and Margiana was the Greek name for the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv in today's Turkmenistan.

Archaeological finds from this period indicate the beginnings of the Bronze Age , which would ultimately spread throughout the ancient world from this region. It is believed that the region had early trade contacts with both The Indus Valley Civilisation and Mesopotamia and that the ancient city of Mudigak was either closely affiliated or a colony of the Indus Valley Civilisation, and remains largely circumstantial and speculative, as least is known of this the largest of the early civilisations.

History of South Asia and History of India

Stone Age

70,000-3300 BCE

  • 7000-3300 BCE

Indus Valley Civilization

3300-1700 BCE

Late Harappan Culture

1700-1300 BCE

Vedic Period

1500-500 BCE

  • 1200-500 BCE

Maha Janapadas

700-300 BCE

Magadha Empire

684 BCE-320 BCE

  • 321-184 BCE

Middle Kingdoms

230 BCE-1279 CE

  • 230 BCE-199 CE
  • 60-240

40-550

  • 750-1174
  • 250 BCE-1279

Islamic Sultanates

1206-1596

  • 1206-1526
  • 1490-1596

Hoysala Empire

1040-1346

Kakatiya Empire

1083-1323

Vijayanagara Empire

1336-1565

Mughal Empire

1526-1707

Sikh Empire

1801-1849

Maratha Empire

1674-1818

Colonial Era

1757-1947

Modern States

1947 onwards

The Indus Valley Civilisation 3300 to 1900 BC was an ancient civilization that flourished in the Indus and Chagger-Hakra river valleys  in what is now Pakistan, Western India, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, this was the home of the Harappan Civilisation, named after the first city to be excavated, Harappa in the 1920's, the civilisation was known to the Sumerians as Meluhha.

Although disputed by some the Indus Valley Civilisation is sometimes referred to as the Indus Ghagger-Hakra Civilisation or the Indus-Saraswati Civilisation being identified to the Ghagger Hakra River and the ancient Saraswati River of the Rig Veda.

The ruins of the Harappa Civilisation were first described by Charles Masson in his ‘Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Panjab, but the significance was not realized, even when the British engineers in 1857 used the bricks from the Harappa ruins to form the basis of the East India Railway Line connecting Karachi to Lahore. It was not until 1912 that the Harappan Seals with their, at that time, unknown symbols were discovered by J. Fleet, prompting the mounting of an excavation campaign under Sir John Hubert Marshall in1921/22, and resulting in the discovery of his hitherto unknown civilisation at Harappa, and at Mohenjo-daro. Excavations continued over the decades and the remnants of this ancient civilisation were found as far west as Sutkagan Dor in Baluchistan, and as far east as Lothal in Gujarat.

The main period of the Harappan civilisation lasted from circa 2600BC to 1900BC, the entire Indus Valley Civilisation lasted  circa 3300BC to 1400BC. Discoveries at Mehrgarh changed the entire concept of the Indus Civilisation according to Ahmad Hasan Dani professor emeritus at Quaid -e-Azam University Islamabad stating" There we have the whole sequence, right from the beginning of settled village life.

Date range

Phase

Era

5500-3300

Mehrgarh II-VI (Pottery Neolithic)

Regionalisation Era

3300-2600

Early Harappan (Early Bronze Age)

3300-2800

Harappan 1 (Ravi Phase)

2800-2600

Harappan 2 (Kot Diji Phase, Nausharo I, Mehrgarh VII)

2600-1900

Mature Harappan (Middle Bronze Age)

Integration Era

2600-2450

Harappan 3A (Nausharo II)

2450-2200

Harappan 3B

2200-1900

Harappan 3C

1900-1300

Late Harappan (Cemetery H, Late Bronze Age)

Localisation Era

1900-1700

Harappan 4

1700-1300

Harappan 5

The Indus Valley Civilisation extended from Balochistan to Gujurat, up to Punjab, from the east of the river Jhelum to Rupar on the Upper Sutlej. More recently further sites have been discovered in Pakistan's N.W. Frontier Province, as well as Coastal settlements from Sutkagen Dor in Western Baluchistan to Lothal in Gujarat, and further sites on the Oxus river at Shortughai in Northern Afghanistan, in the Gormal River Valley in North West Pakistan, at Manda on the Beas River near Jammu India, and at Alamgirpur on the Hindon River only 28 km from Delhi. Indus Valley Sites have been found on rivers, and also on the ancient sea coasts like Balakot, and on islands like Dholavira.

Extent and major sites of the Indus Valley Civilization. The shaded area does not include recent excavations such as Rupar, Balakot, Shortughai in Afghanistan, Manda in Jammu, etc. See [1] for a more detailed map. Extent and major sites of the Indus Valley Civilization. The shaded area does not include recent excavations such as Rupar, Balakot, Shortughai in Afghanistan, Manda in Jammu, etc. See  for a more detailed map.Extent and major sites of the Indus Valley Civilization (modern state boundaries shown in red).

Sites are also found in the dry river beds overlapping with the Hakra Channel in Pakistan and the seasonal Chagger River  in India. Many Indus Valley or Harappan sites have been found along the Ghagger-Hakra beds incuding Rupar, Rakhigarhi, Sothi, Kalibangan and Ganwariwala.

According to J.G. Shaffer and D.A. Lichtenstein The Harappan Civilization is a fusion of the Bagor, Hakra and Koti Dij traditional and ethnic groups in the Ghagger-Hakra valley. With over 500 sites found along the dried up river beds of the Ghagger-Hakra River and its tributaries, contrasting the 100 sites found along the Indus and its tributaries, this may be due a large area of the Ghaggar-Hakra Desert has remained untouched since the end of the Indus Period, also the Ghaggar-Hakra, before it dried up was a tributary of the Indus.

The Early Harappan Ravi Phase, named after the Ravi River lasted from around 3300BC until 2800BC, AND PEDATES THE Kot Diji Phase 2800-2600BC, named after the site in Northern Sindh in Pkistan, near Mohenjo Daro. The earliest examples of "Indus Script" date from around 3000BC.

The mature phase of earlier village cultures is represented by Rehman Dheri and Amri in Pkistan. Kot Diji represents the phase leading up to the Mature Harappan, with the citadel representing centralised authority and increased urban quality of life. Another town at this stage of development was found at Kalibangan in India on the Hakra River.

Trade networks linked the culture with related regional cultures and also more distant cultures sourcing raw materials such as Lapis Lazuli and other materials for bead making. Villagers had by this time domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates, cotton, as well as animals including the water buffalo.

By 2600BC The Early Harappan communities had grown into large urban centres, including Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan and Lothal in India. In total over 1052 cities and settlements have been found mainly in the general region of Ghaggar and Indus Rivers and tributaries. By 2500BC irrigation had totally transformed the region. There were sophisticated and technologically advanced urban cultures present, and the quality of the municipal town planning suggests knowledge of urban planning and efficient municipal governments which placed a very high priority on hygiene. The streets of major cities such as Mohenjo-Daro or Harappa were laid out in perfect grid patterns, the houses were alsomplanned to be protected from noise , odors and thieves.

In Harappa, Mohenio-Daro and the recently discovered Rakhigarhi, the urban plans included the world's first urban sanitation system, individual homes and groups of homes obtained water from wells, a room was set aside for bathing , the waste water was then directed through covered drains which lined the major streets. Houses opened only to inner courtyards and smaller lanes, the houses today in this region still resemble some of the same aspects as the original Harappan house building.

The ancient Indus systems of sewage and drainage that had been developed in the cities throughout the region were more advanced than any other forms found in contemporary urban sites in the Middle Eastern Cultures, in fact were even more efficient than those of many present day areas of Pakistan and India.

The advanced architecture of the Harappans included impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. The massive citadels of Indus cities, that protected the Harappans from floods and attackers, were much larger than most Mesopotamian Ziggurats. The purposes of the citadel are uncertain, and are in contrast to the Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt civilizations where no large monumental structures were built. There is no evidence of palaces, temples, or of kings, armies, or priests. Some of the large structures are thought to have been granaries, and one large building was a well built enormous public baths. The walled citadels may not have been defensive, but built to divert flood waters.

Most city dwellers appear to have been traders and artisans, who lived in well defined neighborhoods of same occupations, as in many areas today. The artisans used materials from distant lands for making seals, beads, and other objects. Beautifully fashioned beads of glazed stone called faience have been discovered. The seals depicted images of animals, Gods, and other types of inscriptions, some of the seals were used to stamp clay and trade goods, and were probably used for many other purposes.

Although some houses were larger than others the Indus Civilization Cities were remarkable for the apparent egalitarianism, with all houses also having access to the water and drainage systems, giving the impression of a society with a low concentration on wealth.

The earliest evidence of the use of mathematics is in the artifacts of the Indus Valley Civilization. Excavations at Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and other locations in the Indus River Valley have uncovered evidence of the use of practical mathematics. The people of the Indus Valley manufactured bricks whose dimensions were in the proportion 4:2:1, considered favorable for the stability of a brick structure. They used a standardized system of weights based on the ratios: 1/20, 1/10, 1/5, 1/2, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500, with the unit weight equaling approximately 28 grams (and approximately equal to the English ounce or Greek uncia). They mass produced weights in regular geometrical shapes, which included hexahedra, barrels, cones, and cylinders, thereby demonstrating knowledge of basic geometry.

The inhabitants of Indus civilization also tried to standardize measurement of length to a high degree of accuracy. They designed a ruler-the Mohenjo-daro ruler-whose unit of length (approximately 1.32 inches) was divided into ten equal parts. Bricks manufactured in ancient Mohenjo-daro often had dimensions that were integral multiples of this unit of length.

Unique Harappan inventions include an instrument which was used to measure whole sections of the horizon and the tidal clock, also new techniques in metallurgy, producing copper, bronze, lead and tin. The engineering skills of the Harappans were remarkable, especially in building docks, after the meticulous study of tides, waves and currents.

In 2001, archaeologists studying the remains of two men from Mehrgarh, Pakistan discovered that the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilisation  from the early Harappan periods had a good knowledge of proto-dentistry, this was confirmed in the April 2006 scientific journal ‘Nature' announcing the oldest and first early Neolithic evidence for the drilling of human teeth in a living person found in Mehrgarh, with eleven drilled molar crowns from nine adults were discovered in a Neolithic graveyard in Mehrgarh that dates from 7500-9000 years ago.

Development of a ‘touchstone' bearing gold streaks was found in Banawali, used for testing the purity of gold, a method still used today in parts of India.

 

The The "dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro."

Various sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry and anatomically detailed figurines in terracotta, bronze and steatite have been found at the excavation sites.

A number of gold, terracotta and stone figurines of girls in dancing poses reveal the presence of some dance form. Sir John Marshall is known to have reacted with surprise when he saw the famous Indus bronze statuette of a slender-limbed "dancing girl" in Mohenjo-daro:

... When I first saw them I found it difficult to believe that they were prehistoric; they seemed to completely upset all established ideas about early art, and culture.. Modeling such as this was unknown in the ancient world up to the Hellenistic age of Greece, and I thought, therefore, that some mistake must surely have been made; that these figures had found their way into levels some 3000 years older than those to which they properly belonged. ... Now, in these statuettes, it is just this anatomical truth which is so startling; that makes us wonder whether, in this all-important matter, Greek artistry could possibly have been anticipated by the sculptors of a far-off age on the banks of the Indus.

Many crafts "such as shell working, ceramics, and agate and glazed steatite bead making" were used in the making of necklaces, bangles, and other ornaments from all phases of Harappan sites and some of these crafts are still practiced in the subcontinent today. Some make-up and toiletry items (a special kind of combs (kakai), the use of collyrium and a special three-in-one toiletry gadget) that were found in Harappan contexts have similar counterparts in modern India  Terracotta female figurines were found (ca. 2800-2600 BCE) which had red color applied to the "manga" (line of partition of the hair), a tradition which is still seen in India.

Seals have been found at Mohenjo-daro depicting a figure standing on its head, and another sitting cross-legged in a yoga-like pose (see image, Pashupati, below right).

A harp-like instrument depicted on an Indus seal and two shell objects found at Lothal indicate the use of stringed musical instruments. The Harappans also made various toys and games, among them cubical dices (with one to six holes on the faces) which were found in sites like Mohenjo-Daro.

 

An artistic conception of ancient Lothal (Archaeological Survey of India). [2]An artistic conception of ancient Lothal (Archaeological Survey of India}

The Indus civilization's economy appears to have depended significantly on trade, which was facilitated by major advances in transport technology. These advances included bullock carts, that are identical to those seen throughout South Asia today, as well as boats. Most of these boats were probably small, flat-bottomed craft, perhaps driven by sail, similar to those one can see on the Indus River today; however, there is secondary evidence of sea-going craft. Archaeologists have discovered a massive, dredged canal and docking facility at the coastal city of Lothal..

Computer-aided reconstruction of Harappan coastal settlement at Sokhta Koh near Pasni on the western-most          Computer-aided reconstruction of Harappan coastal settlement at Sokhta Koh near Pasni on the western-most outreaches of the civilization outreaches of the civilizationwith southern Turkmenistan and northern Iran which suggest considerable mobility and trade.

During 4300 - 3200 BC of Chalcolithic period ( copper age ), Indus Valley Civilization area shows ceramic similarities. During Early Harappan period about 3200-2600 BCE, similarities in pottery, seals, figurines, ornaments etc. document intensive caravan trade with Central Asia and the Iranian plateau.

Judging from the dispersal of Indus civilization artifacts, the trade networks, economically, integrated a huge area, including portions of Afghanistan, the coastal regions of Persia, northern and central India, and Mesopotamia.

There was an extensive maritime trade network operating between the Harappan and Mesopotamian civilisations as early as the middle Harappan Phase, with much commerce being handled by "middlemen merchants from Dilmun" (modern Bahrain and Failaka, located in the Persian Gulf) Such long-distance sea-trade became feasible with the innovative development of plank-built watercraft, equipped with a single central mast supporting a sail of woven rushes or cloth.

Several coastal settlements like Sotkagen-dor (astride Dasht River, north of Jiwani), Sokhta Koh, (astride Shadi River, north of Pasni) and Balakot (near Sonmiani) in Pakistan along with Lothal in India testify to their role as Harappan trading outposts. Shallow harbours located at the estuary of rivers opening into the sea, allowed brisk maritime trade with Mesopotamian cities.

Post 1980 studies indicate that food production was largely indigenous to the Indus Valley. It is known that the people of Mehrgarh used domesticated wheats and barley and the major cultivated cereal crop was naked six-row barley, a crop derived from two-row barley (see Shaffer and Liechtenstein 1995, 1999). Archaeologist Jim G. Shaffer (1999: 245) writes that the Mehrgarh site "demonstrates that food production was an indigenous South Asian phenomenon" and that the data support interpretation of "the prehistoric urbanization and complex social organization in South Asia as based on indigenous, but not isolated, cultural developments."

Indus civilization agriculture must have been highly productive; after all, it was capable of generating surpluses sufficient to support tens of thousands of urban residents who were not primarily engaged in agriculture. It relied on the considerable technological achievements of the pre-Harappan culture, including the plough. Still, very little is known about the farmers who supported the cities or their agricultural methods. Some of them undoubtedly made use of the fertile alluvial soil left by rivers after the flood season, but this simple method of agriculture is not thought to be productive enough to support cities. There is no evidence of irrigation, but such evidence could have been obliterated by repeated, catastrophic floods.

The Indus civilization appears to contradict the hydraulic despotism hypothesis of the origin of urban civilization and the state. According to this hypothesis, all early, large-scale civilizations arose as a by-product of irrigation systems capable of generating massive agricultural surpluses.

It is often assumed that intensive agricultural production requires dams and canals. This assumption is easily refuted. Throughout Asia, rice farmers produce significant agricultural surpluses from terraced, hillside rice paddies, which result not from slavery but rather the accumulated labor of many generations of people. Instead of building canals, Indus civilization people may have built water diversion schemes, which-like terrace agriculture-can be elaborated by generations of small-scale labour investments. It should be noted that only the easternmost section of the Indus Civilization people could build their lives around the monsoon, a weather pattern in which the bulk of a year's rainfall occurs in a four-month period; others had to depend on the seasonal flooding of rivers caused by snow melt at high elevations.

 

An Indus Valley seal depicting Pashupati seated in a yoga-like posture and surrounded by animals.An Indus Valley seal depicting Pashupati seated in a yoga-like posture and surrounded by animals.

Well over 400 distinct Indus symbols have been found on seals or ceramic pots and over a dozen other materials, including a "signboard" that apparently once hung over the gate of the inner citadel of the Indus city of Dholavira. Typical Indus inscriptions are no more than four or five characters in length, most of which (aside from the Dholavira "signboard") are exquisitely tiny; the longest on a single surface, which is less than 1 inch (2.54 cm) square, is 17 signs long; the longest on any object (found on three different faces of a mass-produced object) has a length of 26 symbols.

While the Indus Valley Civilization is often characterized as a "literate society" on the evidence of these inscriptions, this description has been challenged on linguistic and archaeological grounds: it has been pointed out that the brevity of the inscriptions is unparalleled in any known premodern literate society. Based partly on this evidence, a controversial paper by Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel (2004) argues that the Indus system did not encode language, but was instead similar to a variety of non-linguistic sign systems used extensively in the Near East and other societies. It has also been claimed on occasion that the symbols were exclusively used for economic transactions, but this claim leaves unexplained the appearance of Indus symbols on many ritual objects, many of which were mass produced in molds. No parallels to these mass-produced inscriptions are known in any other early ancient civilizations.

Photos of many of the thousands of extant inscriptions are published in the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions (1987, 1991), edited by A. Parpola and his colleagues. Publication of a final third volume, which will reportedly republish photos taken in the 1920s and 1930s of hundreds of lost or stolen inscriptions, along with many discovered in the last few decades, has been announced for several years, but has not yet found its way into print. For now, researchers must supplement the materials in the Corpus by study of the tiny photos in the excavation reports of Marshall (1931), Mackay (1938, 1943), Wheeler (1947), or reproductions in more recent scattered sources.

 

Mature Harappan Mature Harappan "Priest King" statue, Mohenjo-daro ,Wearing Sindhi Ajrak, late Mature Harappan period, National Museum, Karachi, Pakistan

In view of the large number of figurines found in the Indus valley, it has been suggested that the Harappan people worshipped a Mother goddess symbolizing fertility; however, this interpretation is not unanimously accepted. Some Indus valley seals show swastikas which are found in other later religions and mythologies. In the earlier phases of their culture, the Harappans buried their dead; however, later, especially in the cemetery H culture of the late Harrapan period, they also cremated their dead and buried the ashes in burial urns. Many Indus valley seals show animals; for example, a seal showing a figure seated in a yoga-like posture and surrounded by animals has been compared to the "lord of creatures," Pashupati

Around 1800 BCE, signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BCE, most of the cities were abandoned. However, the Indus Valley Civilisation did not disappear suddenly, and many elements of the Indus Civilization can be found in later cultures. Current archaeological data suggests that material culture classified as Late Harappan may have persisted until at least c. 1000-900 BCE, and was partially contemporaneous with the Painted Grey Ware and perhaps early NBP cultures Archaeologists have emphasised that just as in most areas of the world, there was a continuous series of cultural developments. These link "the so-called two major phases of urbanisation in South Asia".

 

Indus tablets. The first one shows a Swastika Indus tablets. The first one shows a Swastika.

A possible natural reason for the IVC's decline is connected with climate change: The Indus valley climate grew significantly cooler and drier from about 1800 BCE. A crucial factor may have been the disappearance of substantial portions of the Ghaggar Hakra river system. A tectonic event may have diverted the system's sources toward the Ganges Plain, though there is some uncertainty about the date of this event. Although this particular factor is speculative, and not generally accepted, the decline of the IVC, as with any other civilisation, will have been due to a combination of various reasons.

In the course of the 2nd millennium BCE, remnants of the IVC's culture would (the so-called Cemetery H culture) amalgamate with those of Indo-Aryan peoples according to Indo Aryan Invasion or Migration theory, likely contributing to what eventually resulted in the rise of Vedic culture and eventually historical Hinduism. Judging from the abundant figurines, which may depict female fertility, that they left behind, some assume that IVC people worshipped a Mother goddess (compare Shakti and Kali, several thousands years later). However, there is no firm agreement among experts as to whether or not these figurines actually depict female fertility, or if they depict something else. Also these people ate beef and buried their dead. IVC seals depict animals, perhaps as the objects of veneration, comparable to the zoomorphic aspects of some Hindu gods. Seals that some think resemble Pashupati in a yogic posture have also been discovered.

In the aftermath of the Indus Civilization's collapse, regional cultures emerged, to varying degrees showing the influence of the Indus Civilization. In the formerly great city of Harappa, burials have been found that correspond to a regional culture called the Cemetery H culture. At the same time, the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture expanded from Rajasthan into the Ganetic Plain.. The Cemetery H culture has the earliest evidence for cremation, a practice dominant in Hinduism until today.

Computer-aided reconstruction of coastal Harappan settlement at Sokhta Koh near Pasni, Pakistan. Computer-aided reconstruction of coastal Harappan settlement at Sokhta Koh near Pasni, Pakistan.

The coastal Harappan site at Sokhta Koh, 'burnt hill' (also known as Sotka Koh) was first surveyed by an American archaeologist George F Dales in 1960, while exploring estuaries along the Makran coast, Balochistan, Pakistan. The site is located about 15 miles north of Pasni. A similar site at Sutkagen-dor lies about 30 miles inland, astride Dasht River, north of Jiwani. Their position along a coastline (that was possibly much farther inland) goes well with evidence of overseas commerce in Harappan times. Based on pottery styles, it is estimated that the settlement belongs to the Mature Harappan (Integration) Era (2600-1900 BC).

 

Aerial picture of site, un-retouched Aerial picture of site, un-retouched

Sokhta Koh is an outcrop of low hillocks in the Shadi Kaur (river) valley, surrounded by jagged, stratified hills north of Pasni. Presently, the river flows just next to the site while loops of old riverbeds meander nearby. Small rivulets and 'nullahs' mostly fed by rainwater, empty into Shadi Kaur, itself rather anaemic in the stark and dry countryside.

While the hillocks are about two miles in circuit, the visible remnants of the settlement, which occupy the south-eastern portion, are less than a mile around. The settlement itself is difficult to appreciate from the ground since no structures stand out in relief. Except for a few sporadic digs, the site has not been extensively excavated.

Dry ravines, which mark out the northern and southern boundaries, traverse the site. Also visible are signs of numerous open-pit ovens buried under rubble. Another noteworthy point is the lack of visible evidence of walled fortification.

In the absence of detailed digging, little can be said about the architecture and buildings. However, at several places, erosion by elements reveals remnants of rooms in which stratified rock was used as a base, over which mud or mud-brick walls were raised. Absence of baked bricks, despite a well-established pottery industry, indicates that rainfall may have been low and hence not a threat to mud structures. Riverine flooding, if any, was also probably not a factor due to the siting of the settlement atop hillocks. An aerial view (picture, above) gives a clear indication of rectangular room foundations as well as alignment with the cardinal points of the compass.

Pottery jar excavated from the corner of a room at Sokhta Koh (Pointed bottom outlined) Pottery jar excavated from the corner of a room at Sokhta Koh (Pointed bottom outlined)

The site is strewn all over by hundreds of thousands of potsherds which constitute the visible detritus of the extinct settlement. Scores of open pit ovens for firing the pottery can also be discerned. It is tempting to think of this vast pottery-making industry as a sort of a 'packaging facility' for perishable commodities that were exported in exchange for luxury goods. The sherds are of kiln-baked ware that includes jars, plates, pierced colanders, lids with knobs and fine terra cotta bangle-shaped pieces. The pottery is wheel-turned and mostly pink, with a few buff samples. Some wares, particularly jars, have a reddish glazed band around the neck. The designs are a decorative feature of most pottery and are only of black colour. Designs are restricted to geometrical shapes and include horizontal lines of varying thickness, fish scale patterns, intersecting circles, comb-like patterns and wavy lines. Human and animal motifs are notably absent. 'Potters marks' are evident on the rims of some jars and pots. The complete absence of toys, seals, statues and jewellery, at least at the uppermost level, indicate a rather utilitarian environment. Further excavation is bound to reveal at least some elements that might mitigate the seeming socio-cultural isolation of this Harappan outpost.

Sokhta Koh may have been abandoned due to recession of coast caused by one or more of following reasons:

  • Gradual or catastrophic tectonic uplift
  • Deposition of alluvial soil/silt in Shadi Kaur delta
  • Deposition of sand on beach and in the estuary by wave action

Evidence of ruins of another location nearer to the sea, at the mouth of Shadi Kaur, seems to indicate possible relocation after the estuary harbour at Sokhta Koh had dried up due to coastal recession. Discovery of a harbour, as well as the source of firewood for large-scale pottery firing would be significant challenges for future excavations. Significance as a Trading Outpost.

Sokhta Koh as a waypoint on the Harappan 'Interaction Network' Sokhta Koh as a waypoint on the Harappan 'Interaction Network'

Chris J D Kostman in his paper, The Indus Valley Civilization: In Search of Those Elusive Centers and Peripheries, discusses: "A primary, if not the primary, rationale for long-range trade driving force would be a need for 'luxury goods,' raw materials, and other items not found in the riverine alluvial plain which made up the vast majority of the Indus Civilization. In the Indus Valley, sought-after materials included copper, gold, silver, tin, jasper and agate cherts, carnelian, azurite, lapis, fine shell, steatite, antimony, and ivory. Forays would have been made towards and beyond the civilization's peripheral areas to obtain these goods. At the minimum, then, there is an economic motive for inter-regional travel. Silvio Durante's study (1979) of marine shells from India and their appearance in the archaeological record in such distant sites as Tepe Yahya and Shahr-i-Sokhta in Iran, as well as in the Indus Valley, sheds light on the ancient trading routes of certain types of shells which are specifically and exclusively found along the Indian coastline proper. Durante primarily discusses the marine shell Xancus pyrum and the fact that it was traded whole and intact, then worked or reworked (into jewellry? sic) at its destination site, perhaps then moving on to other locations. The importance of this specific shell is that Xancus pyrum has a very limited geographic distribution and thus has almost the same significance in the field of shells as that of lapis lazuli in the context of mineral resources as regards the determination of the possible routes along which a locally unavailable raw material is transported from a well-defined place of origin to the place where it is processed and, as also in the case of Xancus pyrum, consumed). Perhaps, as these shells crossed so many cultural hands, they were left unworked in order for the final owner or consumer to work the raw material into a style and usage specific to their region. Durante offers four possible trade routes from their gathering zone along the west and northwest Indian coast to destinations west: sea route direct to the Iranian coastal area; sea route to Sutkagen-dor and Sotka-koh on the Makran coast, then overland westwards; overland through the Indus plain and then through the Makran interior to Sistan; overland through the Indus Valley and then through the Gomal Valley to Sistan."

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This article was published on Wednesday 26 December, 2007.



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