GREAT CITIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION

INDUS VALLEY SITES

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At least three major urban areas were located in the Indus River Valley:Mohenjo-Daro (also spelled Mohenjodaro), Harappa and Dholovira.

Discovered in 1922, Mohenjo-Daro is located in Sindh province in Pakistan. It was once a metropolis of great importance, forming the heart of the Indus Valley Civilization with Harappa (discovered in 1923 in the southern Punjab), Kot Diji (Sindh) and older Mehrgarh (Balochistan). Mohenjo-Daro is considered as one of the most important ancient cities of the ancient world. It had mud and baked bricks’ buildings, an elaborate covered drainage system, a large state granary, a spacious pillared hall, a College of Priests, a palace and a citadel.

Harappa, another major city of the Indus Valley Civilization, was surrounded by a massive brick wall fortification. Other features and plan of the city were similar to that of Mohenjo-Daro. The Kot Diji culture is marked by well-made pottery and houses built of mud-bricks and stone foundations. Mehrgarh, the oldest Civilization (7,000 B.C), remains of which were found in the district Kachhi of Balochistan recently, was the pioneer of the Indus Valley Civilization. The evidence of crop cultivation, animal husbandry and human settlement have been found here. The inhabitants of Mehrgarh were living in mud-brick houses and learned to make pottery around 6,000 B.C..

Mohenjo-Daro

Mohenjo-Daro (540 kilometers from Karachi) was the center of an ancient Indus Valley civilization, and perhaps its capital. The largest of several wealthy cities in the Indus Valley, Mohenjo-Daro covered about one square mile, only a small potion of which has been excavated. A man-made, plateau-like hill, known as the citadel, was on one side of the city. About 300 structures have been excavated there. Mohenjo-Daro means "Mound of the Dead." The plateau-like citadel is believed to be have been the place where the rulers of the kingdom lived. The common people lived in the flatlands. At its height Mohenjo-Daro was home to maybe 80,000 people.

Founded perhaps 6000 years ago, Mohenjo-Daro flourished between 2500 and 2000 B.C. along the irrigated banks of the Indus River when the climate wasn't as harsh as it is today. Only Egypt can lay claim to a civilization that was as old and as large.

Moenjodaro was built entirely of unbaked brick. The acropolis, set on high embankments, the ramparts, and the lower town, which is laid out according to strict rules, provide evidence of an early system of town planning. Mohenjodaro is the most ancient and best-preserved urban ruin on the Indian subcontinent, and exercised a considerable influence on the subsequent development of urbanization on the Indian peninsula.

Of this vast urban ruin of Moenjodaro, only about one-third has been reveal by excavation since 1922. The foundations of the site are threatened by saline action due to a rise of the water table of the Indus River. This was the subject of a UNESCO international campaign in the 1970s, which partially mitigated the attack on the prehistoric mud-brick buildings.

Websites: Moenjodaro: Complete Guide to the Indus Valley civilization (Moenjodaro.org); International Campaign for Moenjodaro (UNESCO Division of the Physical Heritage); Videos: Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro (UNESCO/NHK), NHK World Heritage 100 Series [Windows Media required]

Harappa

Harappa (200 kilometers south of Lahore, 600 kilometers north of Mohenjo-Daro) was another large Indus city. It may have been a twin capital with Mohenjo-Daro. Named after a nearby town it extends over an area of 1.25 square kilometers (400 acres) and was home to 20,000 or more people and probably controlled a New-York-size area covering about 50,000 square miles.

Harappa was located along the Ravi River, a tributary of the Indus, in a fertile flood plain. A reliable source of food helped the city take care of its own needs. Its location at the crossroads of important trade routes helped it prosper.

The Indus Valley civilization is sometimes called the Harappan civilization because the first evidence of the Indus culture was found at Harappa. Archeologists have found remains of a village dating back to 3300 B.C. at Harappa. Potsherds found there have symbols that are similar to the Indus script. By 2200 B.C. Harappa covered 370 acres and was home to about 80,000 people, making it roughly equivalent in size to Ur in Mesopotamia.

Harappa was discovered in 1921 and Mohenjo-daro was found a year later further south by Sir John Marshall. The sites have been continually excavated since then. British railroad workers scavenged large numbers of bricks from Harappa in the 1850s for ballast for tracks for the Lahore-Multan railroad. This means that Harappa has been seriously damaged archaeologically and there is not as much for tourists to see as there is at Mohenjo-Daro.

Harappa was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The archaeological sequence at the site of Harappa is over 13 metres deep, spanning the period between the fourth and second millennium B.C. Being located beside an old course of the Ravi River, its inhabitants had easy access to trade networks, aquatic food stuffs as well as water for drinking and cultivation, perhaps explaining why the site was occupied for so long. Indeed, the site represents a classic archaeological tell site, that is an artificial mound created by generations of superimposed mud brick structures. Its excavators have proposed the following chronology: 1) Ravi Aspect of the Hakra phase c.3300-2800 B.C.; 2) Kot Dijian (Early Harappan) phase c.2800-2600 B.C.; 3) Harappan Phase c.2600-1900 B.C.; 4) Transitional Phase c.1900-1800 B.C.; 5) Late Harappan Phase c.1800-1300 B.C. [Source: Department of Archaeology and Museums of Pakistan]

“The earliest evidence for occupation at the site, that of a small agricultural settlement, has been identified at the foot of the north-west corner of mound AB, but by third millennium B.C. all AB and much of E were also settled. The site continued to expand and reached its full extent of over 100 hectares during the mature of Harappan period between 2600 and 1900 B.C. Harappa’s unique town plan is at its most obvious during this period with at least for self contained walled centres, each on its own raised mounds. Cemetery H represents the final transformation of this urbanised, literate civilisation into a mosaic of mobile cultures demonstrating little socio economic integration. Following its abandonment in the second millennium B.C., the upper parts of its mud-brick structures eroded sufficiently to protect those below. Certainly the hoistoric occupation of parts of the site although frequently reusing Bronze Age bricks, had little impact. However, three more recent developments have greatly affected the property. The first, the removal of thousands of bricks for railway ballast in the 1850s, destroyed many of the late phases of occupation the second, the increasing use of irrigation agriculture, resulted in gross salination; whilst the third, archaeological excavations, exposed structures to the destructive nature of salination. As a result many of the structures exposed and conserved by Wheeler in the 1940s have been completely destroyed.

Good website: Harappa.com harappa.com;

Harappa Archaeology Site

There is no evidence of monumental temples and palaces or large-scale sculpture in the Harappan world. Rather, the focus seems to have been on private housing, public works, and urban infrastructure, with an emphasis on a sanitary and abundant water supply.

According to PBS: “Remnants of Harappa's citadel wall, made of mud brick, are still visible, even though many of its bricks were plundered during the construction of a railway in the 19th century. Archaeological excavations indicate that the city's granaries were situated north of the citadel, while a cemetery was located to its south. Similar to the other cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, the streets were laid out in a grid-like pattern, running either north to south or east to west. The settlement's flat-roof homes, of one or two stories, featured indoor plumbing that connected to a highly-developed drainage and waste removal system. Painted pottery, bronze and copper tools, terra cotta figures, and numerous inscribed stamped seals, decorated with animal motifs, are among the artifacts that have been unearthed at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Even with these finds, the identities of the cities' rulers remain in doubt. [Source: PBS, The Story of India, pbs.org/thestoryofindia]

Harappa was surrounded by a massive brick wall fortification. Other features and plan of the city were similar to that of Mohenjo-Daro. Harappa has not been excavated as thoroughly as Mohenjo-Daro. According to the report submitted to UNESCO: The archaeological site of Harappa consists of a series of low archaeological mounds and cemeteries to the south of a dry bed of the Ravi river. Although covering a full extent of 150 hectares the property and its buffer zone comprises eight mounds and two cemeteries – the remainder being buried deep beneath the surrounding agricultural land or the modern village of Harappa. A modern sign posted network of concrete paths links most of these mounds. The site’s sequence stretches from the fourth to the second millennium B.C. and whilst there are a limited number of open sections, the only exposed structures, on mound AB and F, date to the third millennium. There are a number of historic structures scattered across the property including an un-conserved Gupta period temple, a partially conserved mosque, the recently excavated foundations of a Mughal serai and the ruins of a colonial police station. Modern purpose built structures are located close to mound E being adjacent to the access road. These include a museum (currently being enlarged), rest house, police house, public toilets, snack bar and children’s play area, store rooms in addition to the complex housing the Harappa Archaeological Research Project other modern features include a small cemetery to the east of mound AB. A modern reconstruction of a Bronze Age city wall and gate has been constructed on the southern edge of mounds E and ET alongside the access road.” [Source: Department of Archaeology and Museums of Pakistan]

Although there is lots there that interests archaeologists there is not so much to interest tourists. The small on-site museum contains inscribed seals, molded tablets with the undeciphered Indus language, ornaments, beads, small objects of faienence, semiprecious stones, shell and ivory, potter, ceramics and bronzes and reconstructions of two Harrapan graves. The museum at Harappa contains exhibits from the cemetery and other parts of the site, including etched carnelian beads, shell objects, tools and domestic implements, toys, seals, animal and human figurines, and weights. Hours: 8:30am to 12:30pm and 2:30pm to 5:30pm in the summer.

Harappa Archaeology

The first archaeological work at Harappa began in 1921 and eventually revealed a large, 4,000-year-old city. Unfortunately, however, British engineers had destroyed large portions of the site in the 1850s, when they used the fired bricks from which it was built—which had withstood the ravages of nearly four millennia—to construct a railroad to Lahore.

Andrew Buncombe wrote in The Independent: “The skills of” Harappa’s “residents – at least in terms of making bricks that could endure centuries – were revealed by two British engineers, John and William Brunton, who were building the East Indian Railway Company line to connect Lahore and Karachi and needed ballast for their track. The engineers later wrote that locals told them of well-made bricks from an ancient ruined city that the villagers had made use of. With little concern for preserving the ruins, huge numbers of the Indus-era bricks were reduced to rubble and used to support the tracks heading west. In the early 20th century, excavation of Harappa proceeded along with that of the other Indus city at Mohenjo-daro, and it was at that time many of the seals now on display in the Harappa museum containing symbols and images of animals were discovered.” [Source: Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, March 25, 2010]

Excavations by the The Harappa Archaeological Research Project (HARP) have yielded troves of information about ancient Indus life, craft production, and preceding cultures like the Ravi Phase. Richard H. Meadow and Jonathan Mark Kenoyerthe ancient mounds of Harappa are characterized by imposing erosion gullies, piles of brick rubble and fragmentary walls. Excavations in the 1920's and 1930's exposed large areas of the urban occupation, but found only more extensive evidence of the intensive brick robbing. The architecture and city planning of Harappa was similar to that of Mohenjo-daro and the varieties of artifacts recovered from the excavations confirmed that these two sites represented the same cultural tradition which has come to be known as the Harappa Phase of the Indus Valley Civilization. Recent excavations by the Harappa Archaeological Research Project have been able to build on these earlier studies to define at least five major periods of development. [Source: Meadow, R.H. and J.M. Kenoyer (2001) Recent discoveries and highlights from excavations at Harappa: 1998-2000. INDO-KOKO-KENKYU [Indian Archaeological Studies] 22: 19-36.]

These five periods represent a continuous process of cultural development where new aspects of culture are balanced with long term continuities and linkages in many crafts and artifact styles.
Period 1 — Ravi aspect of the Hakra Phase — 3300 BCE - c. 2800 BC
Period 2 — Kot Diji (Early Harappa) Phase — c. 2800 BCE - c. 2600 BC
Period 3A — Harappa Phase A — c. 2600 BC - c. 2450 BCE
Period 3B — Harappa Phase B — c. 2450 BC - c. 2200 BC
Period 3C — Harappa Phase C — 2200 BC - c. 1900 BC
Period 4 — Harappa/Late Harappa Transitional — c. 1900 BC - c. 1800 BCE(?)
Period 5 — Late Harappa Phase — c. 1800 BC (?) - < 1300 BC

“The Ravi or Hakra Phase represents the initial occupation of the site (Period 1 : >3500 BC -2800 BCE). Over time, the economic and political importance of this small community resulted in its growth and expansion during the Kot Diji (Early Harappan) Phase (Period 2 : 2,800 BCE - 2,600 BCE). Excavations of the early Ravi and Kot Diji levels from different parts of the ancient city have focused on aspects of settlement organization, craft technologies, subsistence activities and various forms of social and political organization. A special emphasis has been placed on defining the contexts for the use of writing and technological changes in writing as it evolved along with other new technologies during the critical period of transition between 2800 and 2600 BCE.

The initial urban character of Harappa begins during the Kot Diji Phase, but it is in the following Harappa Phase (Period 3 : 2,600 BCE - 1900 BCE) that the settlement became a major urban center with links to other equally large centers, towns and rural settlements throughout the greater Indus Valley. With the rise of the Indus cities, technology and crafts appear to have become an essential mechanism for creating unique wealth objects to distinguish socio-economic classes and reinforce the hierarchy of these classes in an urban context. The use of inscribed seals, along with various forms of writing on a wide range of artifacts appears to be directly associated with the need to communicate social or ritual status and for economic control. Much of the most recent excavations at Harappa have focused on understanding the details of social, economic and political developments during Period 3. Initial results reveal a dynamic period of urban expansion, growth, decay and reorganization.

Aside from the earlier excavations in the Cemetery H area, only limited preserved occupation areas have been identified dating to the Late Harappa Phases (Period 4 and 5: 1900-1300 BCE). However, these small areas have provided invaluable information on the nature of the Late Harappan subsistence, architecture and every day life. In contrast to earlier interpretations of decline and abandonment, the city was in fact thriving and at the center of important cultural, economic, and ideological transformations.

During the last five years excavations have focused on all of the major phases represented at the site. The year 2000 season was the 14th season of research at Harappa, currently under the auspices of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project, directed by Dr. Richard H. Meadow (Harvard University) and Dr. J. Mark Kenoyer (University of Wisconsin-Madison) with the assistance of Dr. Rita P. Wright (New York University). Excavations by HARP are conducted in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan, which was represented in 2000 by Mr. Saeed-ur-Rehman (Director-General), Mr. Farzand Massih (Curator, Harappa Museum and Dept. Representative) and Asim Dogar (Assistant Curator).

Dholavira

Dholovira (50 kilometers south of the Pakistan border, 100 kilometers northeast of Bhuj as the crow flies) is a large, recently excavated, and remarkably well-preserved city to the south of Gujarat. It is a 5000-year-old, Indus-Valley-linked city in the desolate Rann area of Kutch in far western India that once stood on an island in a marsh, periodically flooded by the Arabian Sea. Dholavira was occupied between 2900 and 1500 B.C. with evidence of decline around 2100 B.C. Around 2000 B.C. the site was abandoned and the reinhabited around 1500 B.C. Tokens, seals and figurines that have been unearthed that are like those found at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, the two main ancient Indus Valley civilization cities..

Dholavira is the second-largest Indus Valley site in India and fifth-largest overall. Locally called Kotada Timba, it is situated on a piece of land that becomes an island when the Rann of Kuch lake forms during seasonal monsson flooding. The city contained stepwells to reach water in artificially constructed reservoirs. One of the most famous examples of Indus Valley writing is the Dholavira Signboard, ten Indus characters from the northern gate of Dholavira. Scholars believe that Dholavira may have supplied salt to the Indus area and was once connected to the Arabian Sea by a channel or canal though no evidence of such a waterway has been found. Other large non-Harappa and non-Mohenjo-daro Indus settlements include Lurewala in the central Indus valley, Ganweriawala in the Cholistan desert and Kalibangan and Lothal in India. Some have suggested that these were independent city states. Other have argued they were provincial capitals under Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.

Dholavira: A Harappan City was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The City of Dholavira located in Khadir island of the Rann of Kutchch belonged to matured Harappan phase. Today what is seen as a fortified quadrangular city set in harsh arid land, was once a thriving metropolis for 1200 years (3000 B.C.-1800 B.C.) and had an access to the sea prior to decrease in sea level...No one theory can explain the eventual abandonment of Dholavira. The urban order gradually ruralised and the eastward shift of habitation at a period of time when geo-climatic conditions challenged life in Khadir Island. The site seen today is the partly excavated area of a settlement abandoned for more than four millennia. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The excavated site of Dholavira demonstrates the ingenuity of Harappan people to evolve a highly organised system of town planning with perfected proportions, interrelation of functional areas, street-pattern and an efficient water conservation system that supported life for more than 1200 years (3000 B.C. to 1800 B.C.) against harsh hot arid climate. Its scale of enclosures, the hierarchical street pattern and defined spatial utilization i.e. land for industries, administration etc, as well as infrastructure like waste water disposal system, show the sophisticated urban life enjoyed between in this metropolis. With its acropolis or citadel within the fortified area Dholavira remains the most expansive example of the Harappan town-planning system where a three-tier zonation comprising of a distinct upper (citadel, bailey) and middle (having a distinct street-pattern, large scale enclosure and a ceremonial ground) towns enclosed by a lower town (with narrower streets, smaller enclosures and industrial area (suggested by articles recovered)) – distinguishes the city of Dholavira from other metropolises of the Indus Valley Civilisation.”

“Among antiquities recovered during excavation, an inscription measuring 3 meters long had been recovered from the chamber near the northern gate of the castle. Though its content is yet to be deciphered but based on the size of the incised letters, its conspicuous location and visibility, it has been identified as a sign-board. This is an exceptional find unlike any other sites, also suggesting that common people were versed in letters.

“The expansive water management system designed to store every drop of water available shows the ingenuity of the people to survive against the rapid geo-climatic transformations. Water diverted from seasonal streams, scanty precipitation and available ground was sourced, stored, in large stone-cut reservoirs which are extant along the eastern and southern fortification. To further access water, few rock-cut wells, which date as one of the oldest examples, are evident in different parts of the city, the most impressive one being located in the citadel. Such elaborate water conservation methods of Dholavira is unique and measures as one of the most efficient systems of the ancient world.

“The importance of Dholavira`s planning was furthered with the excavation of Kampilya (the capital of South Panchala of Mahabharata), Uttar Pradesh, a city considered of mythical origin in the Gangetic plains. Belonging to the Gangetic Civilization, which is considered the second phase of urbanization of the Indian, sub-continent, Kampilya adopted the town planning principles (in terms of scale, hierarchy of space and road network) established in Dholavira. Kampilya, transformed under continued habitation, the importance of Dholavira remains lie in its ability to illustrate planning and urban life in two distinct subsequent cultural phases of the Indian Subcontinent.”

Ruined City of Dholavira

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “ The ancient site of Dholavira covers an area of about 100 hectares (247 acres) and is surrounded by two water channels called Manhar and Mansar. Dholavira is a great example of a planned city. At its heart is a central citadel where rulers or high officials once lived. In the middle town, there are spacious dwellings and in the lower town, one can find markets. The fortification of the city is in the form a parallelogram. Surrounded by the Great Rann of Kutch, it offers a peek into the minds that made this settlement so great for its times. Among the ruins are some of the earliest expert water conservation systems. There are also remains of what seem like the world's first signages and they are all written using the ancient Indus script. Dholavira is a great spot to learn about the Harappan culture. It portrays the seven stages of civilisation. Terracotta pottery, beads, gold and copper ornaments, seals, fish hooks, animal figurines, tools, and urns have been excavated from here.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: This 47 hectares quadrangular city lay between two seasonal streams, the Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south, and had three distinct zones-the Upper, Middle and Lower Towns and shows the use of a specific proportion, considering the basic unit of measurement as 1 dhanus equivalent to 1.9 meters. First, the citadel, consisting of enclosures identified as a castle and a bailey (by excavators), having massive mud-brick walls flanked by dressed stones. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“To the north of the citadel was the quadrangular middle town having an area identified as the ceremonial ground or stadia. The latter served as a transition from the citadel to the middle and was accessed from the citadel through a grand gateway on its northern wall. Measuring 283 meters in length and 47.5 meters in width, the stadia had four narrow terraces possibly as seating arrangement. The middle town was characterised by a network of streets with defined hierarchy, intersecting at perfect angles. Beyond the middle town and enclosing it and the citadel was the lower town where commoners or the working population lived.”

Dholavira Construction and Water Conservation

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Dholavira shows large scale use of dressed stone in construction. Few rooms have been found to have been built of dressed stone and in some cases show segments of highly polished stone pillars of square or circular section having a central hole. To create a pillar, such segments were piled to attain requisite height and a wooden pole was inserted to ensure stability. This method of constructing a column was an ingenious alternative to a monolithic column. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Water conservation of Dholavira speaks volume of the ingenuity of the people who developed a system based on rainwater harvesting to support life in a parched landscape, with scanty sweet water. Relying partly on rain-water and little from the ground a complex water system comprising of large rock-cut reservoirs, located at the eastern and southern fortification and rock-cut wells were developed.

“Huge stone drains can be seen in the city the directed storm water to the western and northern section of the lower town separated by broad bunds, creating in-effect a series of reservoirs. The most imposing well was located in the castle and is possibly the earliest example of a rock cut well. The city also drew water from the seasonal streams flowing on the northern and southern faces of the fortification. The water from these streams was slowed by a series of dams and partly channelized water into the lower town. Every drop of water was conserved to ensure survival.”

Lothal

Lothal (50 kilometers southwest of Ahmedabad) abounds with ancient ruins. One of the most excavated sites of the Harappan era, it gives a profound insight into the structures and settlement of the Indus Valley civilisation. Though Lothal is said to belong to the Dravidian era, recent findings point out its association with Vedas and Sanskrit scriptures. A local museum standing in the place traces 4,500 years of history of Lothal and one can delve into all the interesting tidbits to their heart's contents.

Archaeological Museum in Lothal displays artifacts such as games, weights, jewelry and seals, from the Indus Valley Civilisation. You can also find many interesting animal figurines on display. The figurine of a rhino, as archaeologists say, shows that the animal was once present in the area and the landscape comprised a swampy and green scenery. Another intriguing figurine is that of a gorilla that has left historians scratching their heads on how people living here knew what a gorilla was supposed to look like. The museum traces 4,500 years of history of Lothal and one can delve into all the interesting tidbits to their heart's contents.

According to a report submittted to UNESCO: The archaeological remains of the Harappan port-town of Lothal is located along the Bhogava river, a tributary of Sabarmati, in the Gulf of Khambat. Measuring about 7 HA, Lothals thick (12-21 meter) peripheral walls were designed to withstand the repeated tidal flood, which probably resulted in the bringing the city to an end. The site provides evidence of Harappa culture between 2400 B.C. to 1600 B.C..” [Source: Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO]

“The excavated site of Lothal is the only port-town of the Indus Valley Civilisation. A metropolis with an upper and a lower town had in on its northern side a basin with vertical wall, inlet and outlet channels which has been identified as a tidal dockyard. Satellite image show that river channel, now dried, would have brought in considerable volume of water during high tide which would have filled the basin and facilitated sailing of boats upstream. The remains of stone anchors, marine shells, sealings which trace its source in the Persian Gulf together with the structure identified as a warehouse further aid the comprehension of the functioning of the Lothal port.

“Set in the dried river bed, along a silted bed of the channel (where occasional) tidal water can still be seen, in the archaeological site of Lothal the typical heirarchial town planning systems and the dockyard is discernable. The remains have been consolidated post excavation and is in stable state of conservation.

“The defined zones within a fortified enclosure, i.e. the combination of an upper and lower town where the former is characterised by heirarchial layout of street and infrastructure of a dockyard aunthenticate Lothals as a Harappan port town. The identification of the tidal creek rough which boats would have sailed upstream, the controlled (water) inlet and outlet system provided in the humongous basin and the marks of flooding which ultimately resulted in rendering it non-functional provide physical evidence of the working systems of the tidal port.

“The availability of antiquities whose origin is traceable to the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia and the presence of what is identified as a bead making industry further attributes Lothal as an industrial port town of the Harappan culture. The site is located in a rural agricultural landscape with scanty vegetation and with traces of the dried tidal channel through which boats sailed upstream. The excavated remains are protected and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, whose mandates are defined as by Ancient Monuments and Sites Remains Act'1958 (amended in 2010).

History of Lothal

Literally meaning mound of the dead, Lothal was once a popular pottery village. It was inhabited by people who used micaceous (similar to terracotta) pottery and lived on the banks of River Sabarmati. Around circa 2450 B.C., a colony was established by merchants who arrived by the sea and later masons, smiths, seal-cutters, potters joined in. Along with them, they brought technology, crafts and sea-borne trade tools. In a few years’ time, Lothal became famous as an industrial center as well as the most important port of the empire.

However, everything got destroyed by the floods in 2350 B.C. that resulted in the town getting reconstructed from scratch. Not only was Lothal rebuilt, it was improved upon by the survivors who ensured they strengthened the main walls of the fort, raised the town’s level, constructed an artificial dock and an extensive warehouse. After the next floods hit Lothal around 150 years later, the town was constructed once again and was turned into a city. The third flood, which hit the city in circa 2000 B.C., saw the inhabitants migrating to higher and safer environs. Around 1900 B.C., Lothal once again got submerged in floods and the period is known as Mature Harappan Period, giving way to the Late Harappan Period. until around the 16th century, civilisation prospered here. Over time, the city was abandoned.

Archaeological Remains of Lothal

The Archaeological remains of a Harappa Port-Town, Lothal was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in. 2014 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The archaeological remains of the Harappa port-town of Lothal is located along the Bhogava river, a tributary of Sabarmati, in the Gulf of Khambat. Measuring about 7 HA, Lothals thick (12-21 meter) peripheral walls were designed to withstand the repeated tidal flood, which probably resulted in the bringing the city to an end. [Source: Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO]

“Within the quadrangular fortified layout, Lothal has two primary zones – the upper and the lower town. The citadel or the upper town is located in the south eastern corner and is demarcated by platforms of mud-brick of 4 meters in height instead of a fortification wall. Within the citadel are wide streets, drains and rows of bathing platforms, suggested a planned layout. In this enclosure is a large structure, identified as a warehouse with a square platform and whose partly charred walls retains the impression of sealings, which were probably tied together, awaiting export.

“The remains of the lower town suggest that the area had a bead-making factory. Close by the enclosure identified as a warehouse, along the eastern side where a wharf-like platform, is a basin measuring 217 meters long and 26 meters in width, identified as a tidal dock-yard. At the north and southern end of the basis are identified an inlet and an outlet which would have aided in maintaining the adequate water level to facilitate sailing. Stone anchors, marine shells and seals possibly belonging to the Persian Gulf corroborate the use of this basin as a dockyard where boats would have been sailed upstream from the Gulf of Cambay during high tide.

Rakhigarhi: a Major Indus Valley City in Harayana, India

Majid Sheikh wrote in Dawn: “The discovery of a Harappan site at Rakhigarhi in Haryana, India, by archaeologists of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune, has set the Indian academic world alight. This has been classified as a ‘Mature Harappan Period’ find, dating 4,000 to 4,500 years old. The excitement is over the announced discovery of four skeletons, two men, a woman and a child. [Source: Majid Sheikh, Dawn, May 5, 2015]

Dr Vasant Shinde, vice-chancellor of the college and director of the Rakhigarhi excavation announced and as reported by Indian newspaper: “We want to study the DNA of the Harappan people and try to find out who they were. So we excavated the skeletons scientifically at Rakhigarhi. There was no contamination. All the four skeletons are in good condition. The facial bones of two skeletons are intact. We are going to show the world how the Harappan man looked like. The archaeologists of the Deccan institute, and Haryana’s Department of Archaeology, have stated that the skeletons belonged to the Mature Harappan period (2600 B.C.-1900 B.C.)

Rakhigarhi is in Hisar district. The site has 21 trenches and four burial pits. Dr Shinde, a specialist in Harappan civilisation has excavated Harappan sites at Farmana, Girawad and Mitathal, all in Haryana. He says: “The 21 trenches yielded typical Harappan painted pottery, including goblets, terracotta figurines of wild boar and dogs, and furnaces and hearths that provided evidence of a bangle- and bead-making industry”.

The Indians have announced to the academic world that the latest Rakhigarhi finds establish it as the biggest Harappan civilisation site although many have doubts about this claim. Dr Shinde says: “It was earlier thought that the origin of the early Harappan phase took place in Sind, in present-day Pakistan, because many sites had not been discovered then. In the last ten years, we have discovered many sites in Haryana, and there are at least five Harappan sites such as Kunal, Bhirrana, Farmana, Girawad and Mitathal, which are producing early dates and where the early Harappan phase could go back to 5000 B.C. We want to confirm it.

“Rakhigarhi is an ideal candidate to believe that the beginning of the Harappan civilisation took place in the Ghaggar basin in Haryana and it gradually grew from here. If we get the confirmation, it will be interesting because the origin would have taken place in the Ghaggar basin in India and slowly moved to the Indus valley. That is one of the important aims of our current excavation at Rakhigarhi.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2020


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