The Indus Valley Civilization, or Harappan Civilization, named after the ancient city of Harappa, is a Bronze Age civilization whose territory extended around the Indus River Valley in the western part of the Indian subcontinent (modern Pakistan and its surroundings). Its so-called “mature” period runs from about 2600 B.C. to 1900 B.C., but more broadly its successive phases run from at least the end of the fourth millennium B.C. to the beginning of the second millennium B.C.; the chronology varies according to authors.
This civilization developed from a Neolithic focus west of the Indus River in Baluchistan in the 7th millennium BC. The Indus Valley begins to be populated by groups of sedentary farmers and herders around 4000 BC. This is followed by the Early Harappean period, or the era of regionalization, during which the Indus Valley and the surrounding regions are divided between several cultural horizons. It is from the Kot Diji culture, towards the end of the 4th millennium BC and the first centuries of the 3rd millennium BC, that the Indus civilization proper is established, which emerges by integrating the different neighboring cultures.
In its mature phase, from about 2600 to 1900 B.C., it covers a territory much larger than the contemporary civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, extending over the Indus plain, part of Baluchistan, the Ghaggar-Hakra network, the interfluve region between the Indus and Ganges networks, and Gujarat. It is an urban civilization, dominated by several large centers (Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Dholavira, Ganweriwala, Rakhigarhi) with planned urbanism. They generally include a citadel which undoubtedly serves as a framework for political power, the exact nature of which remains poorly known. In any case, it is probably not necessary to envisage a unified state on the scale of the civilization. The cities have walls, streets with an often regular layout and a sophisticated drainage system. The buildings are made of bricks of standardized format. A network of smaller cities, often built on the same pattern, criss-crosses the territory. Around them, agriculture and livestock farming are spread out, covering a wide variety of plants and animals. A highly technical craft industry developed, clearly framed by an administrative organization to which the numerous seals found on the Indus sites bear witness. These seals and other objects bear the signs of a writing that is found in various places. It has not yet been deciphered, which poses an obstacle to a better knowledge of the political, social, economic or religious organization of the Harappeans. In view of the singularities of the archaeological finds, notably the few traces of elites and violence, a particular form of socio-political organization seems to distinguish this culture from other urban civilizations of the same period (Elam, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt). The Harappeans had contacts with the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, also with those of the Iranian plateau and the Persian Gulf, but also with Mesopotamia, where their country appears in the cuneiform sources under the name of Meluhha.
After having known a remarkable stability of about seven centuries, the Indus civilization declines after 1900 B.C., and is succeeded by several regional cultures less marked by the urban fact, devoid of traces of standardization and centralization. The causes of the end of this civilization have been and are still very much debated: in the past, invasions by Aryan conquerors have been invoked, as well as environmental and climatic problems, or economic problems. Whatever the case, the characteristic features of the Indus civilization disappeared during the first half of the second millennium B.C. What remains of it in the civilizations of historical India is still the subject of debate that cannot be resolved for lack of a better knowledge of Harappan culture.
The Indus civilization was rediscovered after millennia of oblivion, during the British colonial period, starting in the 1920s. Archaeological exploration continued in Pakistan and India after independence and partition and allowed the identification of more than a thousand Harappan archaeological sites. The excavation campaigns carried out on some of them, following increasingly modernized methods, have gradually made it possible to draw up a more precise picture of the evolution of this civilization and the life of the ancient Harappeans, even if many grey areas remain.
In the mid-19th century, British colonial authorities in India became interested in exploring and preserving the ancient past of this region. The engineer and archaeologist Alexander Cunningham visited the site of Harappa in the 1850s and collected Harappan artefacts, including an inscribed seal, but he dated the site to fifteen centuries ago and no excavations took place. In 1861, the Archaeological Survey of India (or ASI) was founded and he became its director in order to organize the archaeological exploration of India. It is in this context that other Harappan sites were visited (such as Sutkagan Dor), but the most ancient past of the Indus was unknown.
The archaeological explorations intensify and are modernized at the beginning of the XXth century under the leadership of John Marshall. In 1920, he sent Daya Ram Sahni to undertake the excavations of Harappa in order to understand Cunningham”s discoveries, and the following year R. D. Banerji to Mohenjo-daro, a site better known for its ancient stupa, but he spotted ruins from the Harappan period that he excavated from 1922. In 1924 Marshall, after having analyzed the discoveries from the two sites, notably the inscribed seals, proclaimed the rediscovery of the Indus civilization. The publication of the objects discovered aroused the interest of specialists in ancient Mesopotamia, who established synchronisms with the Sumerian period and thus made it possible to situate the civilization uncovered in the highest antiquity. Marshall personally took the direction of the excavations of Mohenjo-daro with the help of various assistants, who were then in charge of the excavations of other Harappean sites (K. N. Dikshit, M. S. Vats, D. R. Sahni, E. Mackay). These were located as far as the eastern Punjab and Gujarat, revealing the very vast extension of this civilization, which did not prevent its material culture from being very homogeneous.
In 1944 Mortimer Wheeler took over the direction of the ASI, and undertook a modernization of the excavation methods, to which he trained a new generation of archaeologists. He directed the excavations at Harappa, then after the independence and the partition he became adviser to the government of Pakistan for the archaeological excavations, and worked at Mohenjo-daro. His work and that of S. Piggott forged the image of a Harappan civilization dominated by a centralized state controlling a set of cities with planned and standardized urbanism, combining a strong bureaucratic framework with a high technical level. For their part, Indian archaeologists (S. R. Rao, B. B. Lal, B. K. Thapar) began to uncover several major sites on the soil of their country: Lothal in Gujarat, Kalibangan in Rajasthan. The exploration of more ancient sites in Pakistan allowed the origins of the Indus civilization to be highlighted: Kot Diji, Amri (excavated by a French team led by J.-M. Casal), then Mehrgarh in Baluchistan (French excavations under the direction of J.-F. Jarrige). The latter region was then revealed as the Neolithic focus at the origin of the Indus civilization. The different cultures of the early Harappean phase preceding the mature phase are then identified.
The archaeological exploration of the sites of the Harappan and earlier phases has continued since then, with an emphasis on sites with “urban” features (notably walls), starting with the two primordial sites for the rediscovery of this civilization, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, which are continually excavated and remain the best known. Other major cities are discovered, starting with Dholavira in Gujarat, and the Ghaggar-Hakra region also becomes an important place of excavations. Archaeological surveys were also conducted, such as that of R. Mughal in the Cholistan desert. Further west, the discovery of sites located on the land routes crossing the Iranian plateau (Shahr-e Sokhteh, Shortughai, Tepe Yahya, etc.) and maritime routes on the shores of the Persian Gulf brought to light the existence of long-distance exchange networks during the Harappean era. If the Indus script still resists attempts at deciphering it and thus retains its secrets, the better knowledge of the civilization and its material culture over a longer period and territory has led to the questioning of many hypotheses posed at the time of Marshall and Wheeler, and to the refinement of interpretations, even though these remain very uncertain, notably concerning the origins and end of the Indus civilization.
The Indus civilization has at its heart a vast alluvial plain, which can be designated as a “Great Indus”. This vast geographical ensemble includes the basin of the Indus and its tributaries and also that of another system flowing then to the east, called Ghaggar in India, Hakra in Pakistan, sometimes Saraswati, alternative names to designate the same river. This one is today much less important (it is a seasonal endoreic river) than in the past when it received other tributaries since diverted towards the Indus, and can be also the Yamuna which flows nowadays in the Gange. The upper part of this plain corresponds largely to the Punjab, crossed by several major rivers, which converge to join the Indus, which becomes a very large river with strong flow in its lower part, the Sindh, which forms a delta flowing into the Arabian Sea. In this very flat area, changes of watercourse have been common since prehistoric times; the eastern part of the delta, the Nara, nowadays an arm of the Indus, was perhaps in Harappean times connected to the Saraswati
This plain is bordered by several mountain ranges: the Baluchistan Mountains to the west, the Hindu Kush and Karakorum to the northwest, the Himalayas to the northeast, where the above-mentioned rivers originate, and the Aravalli to the southeast. To the east lies the desert of Cholistan
Two climatic systems share this ensemble: the winter cyclones and the summer monsoon cause two wet periods in the northern part of the Indus, and also in the surrounding mountains where they cause snowfall. Gujarat and Sindh are drier but are sometimes marked by its wet seasons.
Research on the climate of the Harappan period has not yet led to unanimous conclusions. It has been suggested that the climate was wetter in the Punjab at that time than nowadays, favoring agricultural development. But it has also been suggested that the monsoon was less pronounced during the late Harappean phases (c. 2100-1500 B.C.), resulting in a hotter and drier climate that played a role in the decline of the Indus civilization. The diversity of environments and climates covered by the mature Indus civilization makes it difficult to accept the hypothesis of climatic changes that affected (positively or negatively) all of these simultaneously.
The bases of the chronology of the Indus civilization were laid by Mortimer Wheeler, who distinguished three great times in the evolution of this civilization according to a classical ternary rhythm
This is the chronological division most traditionally followed. It was opposed to another chronology, developed by Jim Schaffer in 1992, which developed the concept of an “Indus (cultural) tradition” going from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, coexisting with other traditions of the neighboring regions (Helmand, Baluchistan), with a chronology henceforth in four times, four “eras”, since it includes the Neolithic:
This chronology makes it possible to integrate into the Indus chronology the earlier phases that are partly at its origin, such as the Neolithic of Mehrgarh, integrates the evolutions of research that deal with questions of state-building, urbanization, and “complex” societies, as well as with a less catastrophic vision of collapses, and also leaves room for the elaboration of other chronologies for “traditions” of other regions of the Indian subcontinent that have undergone their own evolutions.
This division has been refined and adopted by several of the syntheses written since then (Kenoyer, Young and Coningham, to a certain extent Wright), while others remain closer to the traditional division while amending it to integrate the earlier phases for the same reasons (Possehl, Singh). These different chronological interpretations lead in particular to a different treatment of the beginnings of the Harappean civilization: some make the ancient Harappean begin around 3200 B.C. (beginning of the Kot Diji period), while others go back further in the era of regionalization.
The era of regionalization: the antecedents (c. 5500-3200
The Indus civilization was preceded by the first agricultural cultures in this part of South Asia, which appeared in the hills of Baluchistan, west of the Indus valley. The best known site of this culture is Mehrgarh, dating from about 6500 B.C. These first farmers mastered the cultivation of wheat, and had domesticated animals, thus a “Neolithic” economy, obviously brought from the Near East and then adapted locally (native species being quickly domesticated). Genetic studies conducted on individuals from the mature Indus tradition do not, however, in the present state of knowledge (quantitatively limited) argue in favor of major migratory movements from the Iranian plateau or Central Asia, which would confirm that the Neolithization of the Indian subcontinent was essentially carried out by hunter-gatherer populations present in this region at the end of the Paleolithic period, based on a cultural assemblage adopted by diffusion, and not by the massive migration from the west of already Neolithicized populations. Pottery was used there around 5500 B.C. (it was found earlier in the Ganges valley, at Lahuradewa in Uttar Pradesh). The Indus civilization developed from this technological base, spreading into the alluvial plain of what are today the Pakistani provinces of Sindh and Punjab. This expansion seems here to have been achieved more by migration than by cultural diffusion.
The 4th millennium BC, traditionally considered as an “early Harappean” phase (some people have it preceded by a “pre-Harappean” phase), is increasingly seen as a long “era of regionalization” during which the sedentary communities of the Indus constitute proto-urban settlements and progressively develop what were to become the characteristic features of the mature Harappean civilization, with the constitution of an integrated cultural complex, which is achieved between the end of the 4th millennium BC and the first centuries of the 3rd millennium BC. This period has been identified on about 300 sites, distributed among several regional cultures more or less well documented and circumscribed in space and time, designated from eponymous sites and identified by their ceramic material.
In Balochistan, the Kili Gul Muhammad period (4300-3500 B.C.), whose eponymous site is located in the Quetta valley, sees Mehrgarh continue to develop to about 100 hectares, with numerous workshops working with wheel-thrown pottery, lapis lazuli and other quality stones, and funerary material indicates that the site is integrated into the exchange networks crossing the Iranian plateau. The Kechi Beg period (3500-3000 B.C.) and then the Damb Sadaat period (3000-2600 B.C.) saw this specialization in production continue, as well as the elaboration of monumental architecture with the high terrace (with a cultic function?) of the eponymous site of the second period and the vast, partially cleared terrace of Mehrgarh (level VII). Further south, the site of Nal gave its name to a polychrome ceramic with naturalistic and geometric decorations, which precedes the development of the Kulli culture, contemporary with the Integration Era and linked to that of Sindh.
The lower Indus Valley is dominated by its own cultures. Balakot Period I dates from 4000-3500 B.C. This site, located on the coast 88 kilometers northwest of Karachi, is the oldest known village in the lowlands, built of mud bricks, some of which already have the 1:2:4 ratio characteristic of the integration era. Its inhabitants seem to rely heavily on fishing (with exploitation of marine resources and the coastal zone), hunting and gathering, although they have domesticated animals and cultivate wheat and jujube. The oldest ceramic material shows affinities with the highland cultures of Baluchistan. The site of Amri (Sindh), located further north on the western bank of the Indus, in direct contact with Balochistan, gave its name to a later period (3600-3000 BC). It attests to the continued development of the communities in the lower zones: increasingly elaborate mud architecture (with granaries of the kind found in the upper zones), the introduction of wheel-painted pottery, copper objects, and also the appearance of the triangular clay “loaves” characteristic of the integration era. About twenty other contemporary sites have been uncovered in the province of Sindh, a sign of the success of the colonization of the Indus Valley, which laid the foundations for the development of the Harappan culture. This culture of Amri would participate more broadly in a complex that also includes Baluchistan: it is sometimes referred to as “Amri-Nal”. The sites of Gujarat also present material linking them to this horizon (Dholavira, Padri, Kuntasi).
Further north in the Punjab, cultures characterized by the “Hakra-Ravi” pottery tradition (c. 3500 to 2700 BC at the latest, depending on the region) are developing. The Hakra type pottery is wheel-made, painted and incised; like its name, it is widespread in the Hakra basin. Ravi type ceramics, further west (notably in Harappa, whose settlement began at this period), are similar but it is not known if they belong to the same cultural group. 99 sites from this period were identified in the Cholistan desert, thus in the Hakra zone, during a survey, ranging from temporary camps to permanent villages (Lathwala, 26 hectares), proof of the existence of a hierarchical settlement network from this period onwards and of the beginning of a concentration of settlement around a few major sites. Hakra and Ravi type pottery show motifs that are later found in the styles of Kot Diji and the Mature Harappean period.
Towards integration (c. 3200-2600 BC)
During the last centuries of the 3rd millennium B.C., a culture is identified that begins to spread progressively in the Indus Valley, the archaeological culture commonly named after the site of Kot Diji (Sindh), even if this name is not unanimously accepted. It corresponds above all to styles of pottery, mostly shaped on the wheel, with different types of decoration, notably simple bands in black or brown decorating the neck of the vessels, which evolve towards more complex, sinuous, circular motifs, as well as geometric decorations, “fishbone” and “pipal leaf” decorations, and also representations of the “horned deity”. The appearance of this pottery with features that make it a clear antecedent to those of the Mature period can be seen at various sites in Sindh, including Kot Diji, Amri and Chanhu-daro, but antecedents to Harappan pottery can also be found elsewhere (Harappa in Punjab, Nausharo in Baluchistan). This style of pottery is found on sites in other regions. It is very similar to that attested in the Cholistan desert at the same time (notably at Kalibangan), also in the eastern part of the Ghaggar-Hakra domain and between the Indus and Ganges basins, sometimes called “Sothi-Siswal”. Elsewhere, regional cultures (Damb Sadaat, Amri-Nal, Hakra-Ravi) continue while coming closer or less close to the ancient Harappan horizon, according to different rhythms in different places.
Whatever the denomination and the extension given to it, the period from about 3200 to 2600 B.C. is unanimously considered to be part of the early phase of the “Harappan civilization”, which can be traced back to the middle of the fourth millennium B.C. For the proponents of the “Indus tradition” concept, which goes back further in time and integrates it, it is the final phase of the era of regionalization. The most striking aspect of the developments of this period is the appearance of larger settlements, surrounded by mud walls, showing the emergence of communities integrating more and more people and able to undertake works planned by an authority whose nature escapes us. In addition to Kot Diji (2.6 ha), these include Harappa (over 20 hectares) and Kalibangan (4 hectares). Some of these sites also have artisanal areas specialized in pottery, which shows a further division of labor. Rehman Dheri includes a large platform backed by its wall that may have supported a public building. Next comes a set of smaller settlements, permanent villages scattered in the countryside surrounding the larger sites that function as anchor points for the communities. No doubt regular trade networks linked the different regions mentioned from this period onwards; thus Harappa delivered products from the coastal areas.
The Kot Diji period
The mature period: an era of integration (c. 2600-1900 BC)
Around 2600 BC, after this phase of discontinuity, numerous sites developed along the Indus and its tributaries, and along the Ghaggar-Hakra hydrographic system, as well as in neighboring regions (Gujarat).
In a few generations, approximately between 2600 and 2500, in poorly understood circumstances, a series of sites emerges, ranging from vast agglomerations of more than one hundred hectares (Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Ganweriwala) to villages, passing through “cities” of intermediate size (Lothal, Kalibangan, Chanhu-daro, etc.). This is the period of the so-called “mature” Harappan civilization, during which the features generally associated with the Indus civilization develop. It is an “era of integration”, as defined by J. Schafer, a period of “pronounced homogeneity of material culture spread over a vast territory, reflecting an intense level of interaction between social groups”.
The internal chronological division of this period is still poorly defined, the synchronisms between sites not always being well established. Without doubt, the characteristic features of the mature period are all brought together only during its last three centuries (c. 2200-1900 B.C.).
At its maximum extension, the Harappean civilization covers a space (between 1 million and 3 million km² according to estimates) and very diverse environments. In addition to the alluvial plain of the Indus and its tributaries, it integrated regions that had previously had their own cultures, to varying degrees. In the west, part of Baluchistan is integrated (Nausharo) and Harappean sites are found as far as the Makran coast (Sutkagan Dor), but the Kulli culture is not part of the Harappan complex. The Ghaggar-Hakra system, the desert of Cholistan
The material culture on these different sites shows many similarities, including breaks with the previous period: urban planning, construction methods, hydraulic works, urban sanitation, use of standardized bricks, standardized weights and measures, similar pottery, similar craft techniques (carnelian beadwork, copper and bronze objects, stone blades), use of seals and Harappean writing, all of which are crossed by numerous exchanges within and between the regions.
The emergence of the mature Harappean phenomenon seems so sudden that some researchers may have thought it was the result of an external conquest or migration, but today these theories are no longer valid. Archaeologists are convinced that they have proven that it originated from the ancient Harappean culture that preceded it as we have seen. The political and social organization of the mature Harappean civilization cannot be determined with certainty in the absence of written sources, so many proposals have been made with regard to archaeological discoveries, and by comparison with the other civilizations of High Antiquity, first of all Mesopotamia. In all likelihood, the period of integration corresponds to a stage of advanced political development, which many describe as a “state”, based on a central political authority on which the ideology unifying and defending the social order and ensuring its expansion is based. This is accompanied by an advanced division of labor and organization of production, which can be seen in particular in the various characteristics of the Indus civilization found over a vast area and the fact that the urban habitat is clearly planned. In the past, with regard to these elements one could evoke the existence of an “empire” (M. Wheeler, S. Piggott). The cultural uniformity, for a long time put forward as a characteristic of the Harappean civilization, has nevertheless been relativized because differences between regions and sites have appeared: the organization of cities is not as uniform as was thought, as well as material culture, starting with pottery, the plants cultivated and consumed vary from one region to another, funerary practices diverge, monuments are specific to certain sites (such as the Kalibangan platforms interpreted in the past as “fire altars”), while it has appeared unlikely that such a vast territory could have been dominated by a single political entity at this period.
Recent models are based instead on the existence of several entities centred on the largest agglomerations dominating the hierarchical urban network, namely Mohenjo-daro in Sindh, Harappa in Punjab, Dholavira in Gujarat, Ganweriwala (and also Lurewala) in Cholistan and Rakhigarhi in Haryana, which implies the existence of hierarchical, political and economic relations (notably trade networks) between these sites and those that make up their hinterland, as well as between the different regions. G. Possehl, who does not recognize a “state” in the Harappean civilization, proposed the existence of six regional “domains”, coherent entities from the geographical point of view, based on these large urban centers, thus proposing the existence of a diversity between the “Harappan(ne)s”. J. Kenoyer, D. Chakrabarti and R. Wright have similarly envisaged a divided political landscape, with similarity in material culture not necessarily implying political unity. In any case, this political organization is sufficiently solid to be able to maintain the functioning of this system for several centuries.
A hierarchical urban network
More than a thousand sites dated to the Mature Period have been identified. They are commonly divided according to their size, this criterion making it possible to determine several groups constituting a hierarchical network. At the top are the five largest sites (over 80 hectares): Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Ganweriwala, Rakhigari, Dholavira. Then come the second rank sites with urban features, also of different sizes, some of which are between 10 and 50 hectares, other sites between 5 and 10 hectares, then small sites with walls covering 1 to 5 hectares. Finally, there are a myriad of even smaller sites of a rural character or specializing in crafts.
These are the five major sites identified and excavated, perhaps the “capitals” of the various Harappean political entities; other sites that have been prospected may have reached a significant size.
Mohenjo-daro (Sindh) is the largest known Harappan site, covering more than 200 hectares, and also the most excavated. It was founded at the beginning of the integration period according to a regular plan. It is organized around two main tells: the lower city to the east and the citadel to the west. The first, covering about 80 hectares, was perhaps surrounded by a wall. Its interior space is divided by four main avenues running east-west and north-south, from which numerous smaller streets divided the city into blocks containing residences and workshops and supplied with water by wells (more than 700 identified in the city). A large public building was uncovered to the south (temple? residence of a chief?). The citadel, protected by a thick wall or retaining wall, includes an artificial platform of 400 x 200 m rising to a height of 12 m, comprising a group of monumental buildings whose names only indicate a function envisaged during the first excavation campaigns, which has since been generally rejected: from north to south, the “great bath,” the “granary,” the “college of priests,” the “assembly hall” (see below).
Harappa (western Punjab), the eponymous site of the Indus civilization, occupied since ancient times, covers more than 150 hectares. The first excavators had identified an organization around two hills as in Mohenjo-daro, but since then excavations have shown the presence of at least four distinct walled complexes around a vast depression, perhaps a sort of reservoir. These complexes must have been built as the site expanded, but the links between the communities occupying them escape us. Tell F, surrounded by a thick wall, is in some ways the equivalent of the citadel of Mohenjo-daro, comprising various public buildings, again units identified as “granaries”, and residential spaces. Tell AB, higher and also protected by a great wall, is too eroded for buildings to have been identified. Tell E, a lower city also walled in, has a gate in its southern part opening onto an avenue 5 meters wide, and a space identified as a market, with workshops nearby.
Dholavira (Gujarat), spread over about 100 hectares, is located on the island of Kadir, in contact with maritime resources and communication routes. It has been occupied since ancient times, but without showing any Harappan features at that time; it adopted them at the beginning of the integration era. Its organization is atypical: a large, roughly rectangular outer wall delimits a space of 47 hectares, with a lower city where artisanal spaces have been identified, as well as large cisterns dug into the rock to collect rainwater, and in its center three other rectangular spaces had been divided by walls: a “middle city”, and a citadel divided into two units of comparable size (the “enclosure” and the “castle”) comprising monuments with undetermined functions.
Rakhigarhi (Haryana), covering more than 100 hectares, shows a planned occupation from the ancient period. Five tells have been identified, including a citadel surrounded by a mud-brick wall, with platforms, ritual spaces (“fire altars”), and craft spaces.
Ganweriwala (Punjab), in the Cholistan desert, is a site of about 80 hectares divided into two tells, which has not been regularly excavated.
These are sites of very different sizes, ranging from 1 to 50 hectares, which have walls and which bear witness to a planned organization of the habitat. They therefore have urban features and function as relays of the main sites. Several categories can be distinguished within this group, depending on their size.
Kalibangan (Rajasthan), located on the Ghaggar, is occupied from the ancient period on a tell (KLB-1), then develops in the mature period on two ensembles, with the appearance of a lower city more extended to the east and divided by vast streets whose layout does not follow that of the walls (KLB-2) and also of an enigmatic small ritual space (KLB-3, of the “fire altars”). The first complex (KLB-1) is then a citadel with thick walls, divided into two sets, with residential units to the north, and a probably ritual space to the south, with a well and a bath.
Banawali (Haryana, Hissar district), also located on the Ghaggar, is a site occupied from ancient times but completely reworked in the early integration era. It is surrounded by an outer wall measuring 275 × 130 meters, with a semi-elliptical inner wall 105 meters long and 6 meters wide, delimiting in its southern part a citadel, linked with the lower city by a citadel. Residences and artisanal spaces have been excavated there.
Lothal (Saurashtra, Gujarat) is a coastal site of more than 4 hectares defended by a wall of 300 × 400 meters, with streets drawing an orthonormal plane. Despite its small size, the site had dwellings with hydraulic facilities made of baked bricks, and several craft areas. To the east of the site was a rectangular baked-brick basin with a floor area of about 212 × 36 m and a depth of 4.15 m, which was interpreted as a place where ships could dock.
Sutkagan Dor (Baluchistan) is the westernmost Harappan site to have been excavated, on the Makran coastal region, but 48 kilometers inland, perhaps near a since-drained creek that gave it access to the sea. The site is divided between a lower city to the north and east, and a citadel defended by a thick wall and turrets, including a mud-brick platform measuring 173 × 103 meters.
Surkotada (Kutch, Gujarat) is a small walled site of 130 x 65 meters with bastions at the corners, divided into two parts by an internal wall, a “citadel” to the west and a “residential area” to the east, with irregularly laid out streets. Many other sites of the same size do not have a clear internal organization, and have only one wall, like Kuntasi, a site of 2 hectares delimited by a wall that was between 1 and 1.5 meters, which had several craft spaces.
Allahdino, located about forty kilometers east of Karachi, is a site of 1.4 hectares without a wall, but with a habitat organized around a courtyard including a large residence erected on a platform. A set of precious objects (in gold, silver, bronze, agate, carnelian) was found there, showing that some of its inhabitants had been able to accumulate significant wealth. It may have been a kind of manor house governing a rural estate, or an establishment with an administrative or commercial function.
The sites of artisanal specialization are especially known in coastal areas where several villages marked by the exploitation of fishery resources have been uncovered. This is the case of Nageshwar in the Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat), whose inhabitants work shellfish in large quantities. Padri in Saurashtra seems to specialize in the exploitation of sea salt.
Many village sites have been identified in the interior spaces of Gujarat, on the periphery of the Harappan territory, dating for many from the late Mature and early Late Period. Several occupy a rather large area for villages (2.5 hectares for Rojdi during the Mature Period, about 7 in the early Late Period when it takes on a more “urban” appearance with a wall). They are undoubtedly occupied by agro-pastoral communities, who generally live in a sort of hut; we find objects typical of Harappan material, which shows a certain degree of integration in the exchange networks of the period. This area could correspond to a space in the process of urbanization and integration into the Harappean civilization, starting with the sites of the coastal region; but here this process was clearly interrupted with the end of the integration era.
The components of the Harappan agglomerations
The urban planning ability of the Indus civilization is evident in the large cities and also in other settlements.
Harappan cities are surrounded by a wall built of mud bricks, with an outer facing of baked bricks or stone. They are maintained regularly and sometimes over a very long period of time, as evidenced by the fact that the walls of Harappa have been in place for about seven centuries. These walls are pierced by doors made of baked bricks or stone, leaving passages generally 2.5 to 3 meters wide, more restricted than the streets, no doubt in order to control access to the city. There is little evidence that these walls and gates had a defensive purpose, the gates opening directly onto the streets without any other form of control; but there are cases of gates with a defensive function, as in Surkotada where it has an “L” shape.
The main and secondary settlements of the mature period are divided into walled sectors separated by a wall, usually two, which archaeologists call “lower city” and “citadel”, the second being generally erected higher and having more massive walls, also traces of a more assertive defensive function. In a classical way, the citadel is located in the west and the lower city in the east, but this model admits exceptions like Banawali and Dholavira which have a citadel in the south. Moreover, cities like Harappa and Dholavira are divided into more than two sectors.
Following an organization that emerges during the ancient period and spreads systematically at the beginning of the mature period, Harappean settlements are organized in residential blocks separated by streets generally oriented east-west and north-south. The main roads are more than 8 meters wide, with a divider in their center. They open onto a set of secondary streets 4-5 meters wide.
Contrary to what has been proposed in the past, there is no evidence of standardization of units of measurement in architecture and urban planning. It has been proposed to identify objects found at a handful of sites as serving as scales of measurement, but even if they had such a function they would all offer different measurements, and are in any case too small to be used for long measurements. On the other hand, it is certain that a ratio of 1:2:4 (height, width and length) is used to mold the bricks on Harappean sites. The bricks were generally raw, but on the main sites they are also fired. Small mud bricks measure about 6 × 12 × 24 cm or 7 × 14 × 28 cm, and are used for most walls, drainage systems, stairs, and kilns. Large mud bricks are about 10 × 20 × 40 cm and are used for terraces and walls. Baked bricks are used for wall cladding, sometimes also for hydraulic installations (water drainage, baths, wells). Stone or pottery shards could also be used to reinforce imposing structures. In regions where stone is more abundant (Kutch, Baluchistan), it is used to make the bases of walls and terraces, sometimes also for hydraulic installations. Wood is also used in construction, to make support pillars, beams, and door and window frames.
The quality of the hydraulic installations on the Harappean sites quickly attracted the interest of the archaeologists. This concerns wells, reservoirs, baths and sewage pipes.
Harappan towns often have wells to provide water for their residents. In Mohenjo-daro, each residential block has its own well, and there are also wells along the streets. In Harappa, there are fewer wells, but the depression in the center of the site may have served as a reservoir, fed by rainwater or a supply canal derived from the Ravi. At Dholavira, in a more arid environment, the system was more complex: dams were built on the two seasonal rivers flowing towards the city, to slow down their course and divert it towards reservoirs; these, cut into the rock and
The residences are commonly equipped with baths and latrines, and there were devices for the evacuation of wastewater: a small pipe connects the residence to a larger pipe collecting the wastewater from the residential block, which was then directed beyond the city walls to the surrounding fields. In Dholavira, there is evidence of tanks for collecting wastewater, well separated from those for water supply.
There is no specific model of the Harappan house. The residences are made up of several rooms, often organized around a central space, and open onto side streets. The largest constructions include many rooms, and are perhaps to be interpreted as palaces. According to the models of terracotta residences that have been found, these houses have a terraced roof, and one or two floors, which is confirmed on certain sites by the presence of stair bases. The kitchens must have been located in the courtyards or in closed rooms where fireplaces have been found. The latrines and water rooms, equipped with baked brick platforms used for bathing, are located in small rooms along an exterior wall in order to evacuate water through pipes.
The citadels of the Harappean cities are built on mud-brick terraces, surrounded by a wall that is generally more imposing than the rest of the town, which clearly makes them places of power linked to the ruling elites.
The constructions that have been excavated where their surface has not been too much eroded have given rise to many interpretations. The citadel of Mohenjo-daro is the most studied monumental group. It includes various, named according to the first interpretations concerning them, and do not indicate an assured function. The “Great Bath,” a complex of 49 × 33 m that has its own exterior wall, includes an entrance with two successive doors to the south, leading to an antechamber and then a central colonnade of 27 × 23 m leading to the 12 × 7 m baked brick pool that gave the building its name, which is waterproofed with bitumen. Rooms, including shower rooms, and another colonnade surround this unit. To the east of the Great Bath is a space called the “attic”, which is large but very eroded, and further south a pillared hall.
The Great Bath may have been used for rituals related to its basin, but the state of knowledge does not allow us to know more. A building at Harappa was also named “granary” after Wheeler, who saw it as a public granary; it is a building organized around two 42 × 17 meter blocks divided into smaller 15.77 × 5.33 meter units separated by corridors. No trace of grain was found in either the Mohenjo-daro granary or the Harappa granary, which are in fact two structures of different appearance. J. Kenoyer sees the granary at Mohenjo-daro as a large hall, while G. Possehl maintains a utilitarian interpretation by seeing it as a warehouse linked to the Great Bath. A building in the HR-B sector of Mohenjo-daro, measuring 80 × 40 m and comprising 156 rooms, which could be interpreted as a complex of seven units, was reinterpreted by M. Vidale as a palatial-type complex. Others have similarly suggested that temples or elite residences were present in various large buildings in the main settlements. In the secondary site of Lothal, a building of the citadel designated as a “warehouse”, comprising 64 podiums of 1.5 m height and 3.6 m², separated from each other by a space of 1 m. Seals were found there, which would argue in favor of the warehouse hypothesis.
Burials from the different phases of the Harappean period have been uncovered at several sites.
Harappa has provided most of this documentation and the most studied: cemetery R-37, of mature age with about 100 graves, and cemetery H, two strata (I and II) of late age with about 150 burials, located south of tell AB and east of tell E, and to a lesser extent area G located south of tell ET has yielded about 20 skeletons, apparently of mature age. These cemeteries, first and foremost R-37, have been the subject of much research in the fields of bioarchaeology (study of skeletons from archaeological excavations) that have provided valuable knowledge about the lives of the people buried there (morphometry, dental anthropology, paleopathology, paleodiet, and isotopic analyses). The paleopathological studies on this necropolis have revealed that the deceased found there had good health conditions during their lives, and it is estimated that they probably came from the wealthy categories of the population.
The cemeteries at the other sites have not been as extensively excavated and researched. At Mohenjo-daro no cemetery was excavated, but about 46 graves were uncovered during excavations of the residential areas. A large cemetery was explored at Dholavira but few graves were excavated. A cemetery was excavated at Farmana (Haryana), comprising 78 graves in an area of 0.07 hectares (the cemetery being about 3 hectares in total). Other burials have been uncovered at Rakhigarhi, Kalibangan, Lothal. There is no evidence of any other burial practice than burial, although it has been proposed that cremation was practiced.
Graves and funeral equipment
The burials are generally made in simple rectangular or oval pits dug in the ground, in which an individual is placed, lying on his or her back with the head towards the north at Harappa, while at Farmana one can see an evolution of the orientation over time, perhaps reflecting the succession of different groups on the site. Some bodies were placed in wooden coffins, and
The tombs of adults are generally accompanied by pottery, but not those of children. The quantity varies from one tomb to another: some adults are buried without pottery, others with some, and this goes up to 52 pots at Harappa and 72 at Kalibangan. Ornaments (bead necklaces, amulets, bracelets, bronze mirrors) are mostly worn by women, less by men. On the other hand, no seals or inscribed objects are found in the tombs, nor are there any objects made of gold or precious stones. Although their tombs ultimately show few precious objects, social distinctions appear all the same and objects made of metal and hard stone, terracotta bracelets or painted pottery of quality seem to be markers of wealth.
A wide variety of craft activities
The development of the Harappean civilization is reflected in a diversification and specialization of artisanal activities, already visible during the ancient phases, and which continues during the mature period. The existence of numerous specialties has been attested or deduced from data from archaeological excavations. Wood, clay and animal products (especially bones) are the most readily available in urban centers and villages and can be processed in relatively simple ways. Stone is certainly less easily accessible, but it is used to manufacture certain objects in polished or cut stone following fairly simple processes. The manufacture of fabrics is very poorly documented because there is almost no trace of it, but we know that cotton, linen and hemp were cultivated, sheep”s wool was used, and silk fibers were identified on ornaments and could therefore have been used to make clothing. The production of luxury items for the elite requires more expertise. This concerns bracelets made of clay fired at high temperature (“porcelain stoneware”) or glassy (“earthenware”), those made of shells, wooden furniture with inlays of shell or colored stones, the work of soapstone to make seals and semi-precious hard stones (agate, carnelian) for beads for necklaces and other ornaments, that of mother-of-pearl as well as the metallurgy of copper, bronze, gold and silver.
Circuits and organization of artisanal productions
These different craft activities are integrated into circuits of circulation and transformation ranging from the extraction of raw materials and their dissemination, to the realization of a finished product in a workshop and its distribution to its final destination, even if later uses are possible (ultimately up to the burial, which is the privileged place of discovery of objects made by Harappean craftsmen). The great change in the Mature Period is clearly the integration of some of these cycles into institutions run by the Indus elites, as evidenced by the numerous seal impressions, the fact that they present a uniform iconography, and the existence of standardized weights and measures.
The emergence of large Harappan agglomerations is accompanied by the intensification of trade in raw materials and finished products, based on the networks formed during the regionalization era. These networks are based on the major urban centers and a set of secondary towns located near the areas of extraction of raw materials and on the communication axes.
For the transport of goods, oxen-drawn carts may be used, as evidenced by the clay models that have come to light. They were probably more useful for short distances, while pack animals were used for longer transports. River and sea transport by boat must have made it possible to move a greater quantity of goods. The fact that several major Indus sites are located on waterways or near the coast is obviously not insignificant. The development of maritime trade during this period also suggests technical innovations in the field of navigation. In the absence of archaeological finds of boats from this period, imagery gives an idea of their appearance: two representations on a seal and tablet from Mohenjo-daro show elongated flat-bottomed boats with a cabin on the deck, and a model from Lothal represents a boat with a mast.
It is possible to deduce the origin of certain raw materials based on their current distribution near the Indus Valley, but these deductions are rarely supported by archaeological excavations to confirm them, as in the case of the flint deposits of the Rohri Hills (Sindh) where quarry sites have been dated to this period. The mountainous regions surrounding the Indus plain undoubtedly provided a large proportion of the minerals exploited there. Copper, lead and zinc probably come from the deposits of Rajasthan, tin could come from Haryana or Afghanistan. Soapstone probably comes from the Hazara region, north of Islamabad. Lapis lazuli is clearly from Afghanistan, although it is found in Baluchistan.
The sites located on these networks often have a pronounced artisanal role. Shortughai, located in Badakhshan, Afghanistan, on the route for lapis lazuli and tin to the Indus, has a material culture that links it to the Harappan horizon and craft activities take place there. Lothal is often identified as a staging point in the networks of exchange of products, and is also an important artisanal center. The coastal areas play an important role because of their location on the shipping routes, but also because marine resources (fish, shellfish) are very popular in the large cities. The community settled in the coastal village of Balakot thus serves as the first link in this network, and in addition the shellfish are processed by local craftsmen.
Surface excavations of Harappean sites have repeatedly attempted to identify areas dedicated to a particular craft activity. Analyses seem to indicate that activities such as brick making, pottery and metallurgy are excluded from city centers because of their polluting nature, while the manufacture of luxury objects seems to be done in small workshops, at the household level, which implies different scales of production. At Mohenjo-daro, artisanal spaces have been identified in several places on the site: fragments of pottery, shells and stone are concentrated to the south and east of the lower town, which seems to have been an important artisanal space. Chanhu-daro may have been a city specialized in artisanal production, since about half of its surface area seems to have been occupied by workshops; in particular, beads made of carnelian and other stones were produced, as well as objects made of copper, ivory, shell and bone, and stone weights. But the artisanal activities could have been relegated to the periphery of the large sites, which have been little explored. As mentioned previously, the surveys have thus allowed the identification of some sort of “industrial villages”, including coastal sites such as Balakot and Nageshwar, which are specialized in the work of shells.
The functioning of these product circulation networks cannot be determined in the absence of sources. J. Kenoyer assumes that barter or reciprocal exchanges between landowners and artisans must have played a major role. But what is best documented is the level of control by public or private institutions controlled by the elites, documented by seals and seal prints, which in many cases clearly concern the movement of products. The control of trade is also seen in the existence of a relatively standardized system of stone weights, which is found on the major Harappan sites, at least similar in the relationships between units of measurement, as there are slight variations and also some sort of regional scale systems. At Harappa, they were found especially near the city gates and workshops, which could indicate a fiscal role, as these were essential places for the circulation of goods. In any case, their existence presupposes an authority controlling these circuits in some way, or at least those of a certain type of product of crucial importance to the elites.
The existence of control is indeed more likely for products of more complex realization and on the large sites of the alluvial plain. This is the case at Chanhu-daro for the production of carnelian beads, based on excavations of discarded deposits, finished products, and craft spaces, indicating that the raw material, still uncut, is brought from Gujarat, and then all stages of production are carried out on site, clearly under the supervision of a central authority, which is reflected in the high quality and uniformity of the products. This is the case of the porcelain bracelets associated with the elites, of which a manufacturing workshop has been uncovered at Mohenjo-daro, revealing the existence of a multi-stage production subject to various controls. This also concerns earthenware, and productions requiring raw materials transported from distant countries, such as soapstone, shells or copper. The presence of certain artisanal districts over long periods of time also seems to indicate the presence of communities of artisans well established in the community, passing on their know-how over several generations. On the other hand, the traces of production control in the sites of the peripheral coastal region of the Saurashtra are less clear, the production areas being less concentrated there.
The arts of the Indus
The productions of the Indus craftsmen that have come down to us concern a reduced number of specialties in relation to what had to be produced, above all for reasons of conservation of the objects. These are primarily pottery and other objects in clay, those in metal, stone sculpture, the work of hard stones and the engraving of seals, and finally objects in shells. Harappean craft production is characterized, as seen above, by the production in large quantities of certain objects, following standardized methods, and their distribution over a vast area. Certain productions, such as bracelets made of stoneware, earthenware and shells, or carnelian beads, seem to have an important social function for the elite and are imitated in other layers of society by replicas in terracotta. The meaning of the artistic motifs present in sculpture or glyptics is generally not understood, as there is little certainty about the Harappan symbolic universe.
Ceramic ware from the Harappean period was made on the wheel and fired in various types of kilns with an upward draft (hearth at the bottom with an air supply and ware to be fired placed on a platform above). Open air ovens must also have existed. The clay “loaves” commonly found in the cooking spaces of Indus sites must have served to retain heat (they are also found in fireplaces and braziers). Potters” workshops have been found for example at Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Chanhu-daro, Lothal, Nausharo, Balakot.
Harappean pottery is of various qualities, ranging from thick fruste ceramics to fine painted ware. The most common paste is red, obtained by the addition of iron oxide, but black or grey can be found. The shapes are diverse. The most common among the common pottery of the mature period are cooking pots with a round base and thick rims (for ease of handling), medium-sized storage jars, dishes, bowls and cups. Among the more elaborate characteristic types are: pedestal cups and chalices, perhaps for ritual use; S-shaped jars; storage jars with black slip, which are a specialized production; pierced jars that may have had a sieve function (narrow-based jars). The painted ceramics are black (on red paste), a color obtained by a mixture of iron oxide and black manganese. The motifs are horizontal lines, geometric shapes, fish scale or pipal leaf decorations, intersecting circles. There are few human representations. This high quality painted ceramic must have been used by the elite, perhaps for ritual purposes.
The terracotta figurines are very diverse: men and women seated and in daily activities, numerous female figurines, ox-drawn carts, various animals (bulls, buffaloes, monkeys, elephants, etc.)… The modelling, by hand, is generally rough, with many elements added by applying clay (notably the hairstyles and jewelry of the female figurines). However some animal figurines are more finely executed and painted. Some parts are sometimes removable, such as the animals in a carriage, which could indicate that they are children”s toys.
Female figures with a protruding headdress and jewels with more prominent breasts (elements added by clay application) are among the most common figurines of the Harappean civilization. They have complex hair and hairstyles, including a fan shape and their ornaments, bracelets and belts of beads, more or less sophisticated. The interpretation of the function, or functions of these female statuettes remains open: in the past, it was thought that they were “mother-goddesses” but this is unlikely, and if they did have a religious significance, it may have been in relation to sexuality.
The Harappeans seem to have been particularly fond of bracelets. The most common ones are made of clay following a basic process; they can be painted. Others are produced according to more elaborate processes. They are made of clay at high temperature, following a specific process giving them a dark color (brown or gray) with a stone-like appearance, which made the first archaeologists to discover them referred to them as stoneware bangles, which can be translated as “bracelets in porcelain stoneware”. This technique is only used to produce these rings, which have a standardized size and a quality of execution involving a high level of supervision by skilled craftsmen, and they were probably intended for the social elite. This impression is reinforced by the fact that they often bear inscriptions, of very small size. Production areas for these objects have been excavated in Mohenjo-daro, and Harappa is the other identified production site.
In the Harappan context, faience refers to “a vitreous paste produced from finely ground quartz and colored with various minerals” (J. M. Kenoyer). These dyes are very varied, and the earthenware can be blue and blue-green as well as brown, red or white depending on the ore used, probably recovered from the waste of the workshops of semi-precious stones. The mixture is then fired at a high temperature (over 1,000°C), and ground again to produce a glazed frit, from which the desired object is formed, before being fired. Earthenware objects can be beads for necklaces or belts, bracelets or rings for the elite, figurines, and also tablets with inscriptions and images, perhaps for ritual use. In the late period, around 1700 BC, this technology led to the manufacture of the first glass objects in the Indian subcontinent.
Stone crafting was highly developed in the Indus civilization, as attested by the regular finds of flint blade debris at archaeological sites. During the Mature Period, these were mainly objects worked from flint quarried in the Rohri Hills of Sindh, where quarries of the period have been identified. The flint blocks are first worked on site to obtain shapes from which the blades can be easily cut. A large part of these semi-finished products are shipped to urban and village sites where they are worked in workshops or at home. With flint scraps found in many homes in Mohenjo-daro, it is indeed possible that flint blades were often worked in a domestic setting. Artifacts found at Indus sites were cut to form crested blades, which were originally intended to be used as knives or sickles. Flints could also be used to make tools for crafts, such as scrapers for ceramic crafts, chisels for incising shells, and arrowheads. The most precise craftsmen produced microliths of 2-3 millimeters in thickness.
Elephant ivory is a material commonly used by Indus craftsmen. It is used to make a wide variety of objects: sticks used for make-up, combs, needles, beads, small engraved objects. Small engraved ivory plates are used as decorative inlays for furniture. Small engraved objects, such as dice, seem to have been used for games. Bone is also very common, often worked in the same workshops. It is used to make various everyday objects: handles for metal objects, beads, weaving instruments or ceramic work. Animal horns and antlers are apparently worked to make the same types of objects but are less common.
The metal is used to make tools or weapons: axes, knives, razors, spear and arrow points, spades, fish hooks, saws, drills, dishes, etc. They are essentially made of copper, and are found on many sites of the Indus. Copper ore probably circulated from its places of extraction (Aravallis, Oman) in the form of ingots and then smelted in the Harappan workshops. Copper alloys are also attested, bronze with tin but also with lead, arsenic and silver. Such craft spaces have been located and sometimes excavated, at Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Chanhu-daro, Kuntasi and Lothal. At Chanhu-daro a workshop yielded an anvil and a scale. Cold hammering must have been the most common technique, but simple molds are used, and copper wire could also be made.
The bronze statuettes testify to the mastery of the lost wax technique by the Harappan founders. The most famous one represents a naked and adorned young woman, in an attitude that made her nicknamed “The Dancer”, exhumed at Mohenjo-daro. Others of the same type have been unearthed. Their context is perhaps religious, since they seem to represent offering bearers.
Objects are also made of gold and silver as well as an alloy of the two, electrum. They are mainly attested in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, also in the “treasure” of Allahdino. Gold and silver are mainly used for jewelry, and their work commonly requires the use of filigree and granulation techniques. Thus, we know pendants, earrings, necklace beads, brooches, and also bracelets and rings in these precious metals; silver is also used for luxury tableware.
Stone sculptures uncovered at Harappean sites often represent seated male figures, interpreted as authority figures (kings, priests, clan leaders), although this is not certain. They date rather from the end of the Mature Period (beginning of the 2nd millennium BC). The fact that all these statues have a different face shape has led to the suggestion that they are representations of real, and not idealized, characters. The best known Harappan sculpture comes from Mohenjo-Daro, that of a man often referred to, but again without very precise reasons, as a “king-priest”. It depicts a bearded figure, his hair slicked back, wearing a headband with a circular ring at the level of his forehead, a garment decorated with clover motifs, and an armband with a circular ornament. Only the head and shoulders of the figure have survived, and it was probably originally depicted in a sitting position.
The craftsmen specialized in the work of hard stones (lapidary) of the Harappean civilization developed a know-how that places their creations among the most remarkable of the Indus civilization, intended for the elite. Workshops for working hard stones have been discovered on several sites in the Indus, some of them practicing large-scale production (Chanhu-daro, Mohenjo-daro, Lothal). The craftsmen worked with a wide variety of precious or semi-precious stones: agate and carnelian above all, but also amethyst, chalcedony, jasper, serpentine, etc.; lapis lazuli, on the other hand, was rarely used in the Indus. These stones are cut in a very fine way, so as to form beads. The Indus craftsmen had tools capable of perforating them along their length in order to thread them into necklaces, belts or other. Some of the carnelian beads used to form belts are very long, between 6 and 13 centimeters. They were heated to make them easier to work with (and also to give them a brighter color), before being drilled with various types of drills, an intricate process that would take several days to complete a single bead. Carnelian beads can also be painted, with a bleaching agent (based on sodium carbonate). Necklaces can also include beads made of metals (gold, silver, copper), ivory, shell, earthenware and soapstone, as well as imitations of hard stones in painted terracotta for less affluent people. Soapstone beads can be very small (1-3 millimeters), which again shows the great precision shown by Harappan craftsmen. These skills seem to have been recognized by neighboring civilizations, since Harappan bead necklaces (or local imitations) are found on sites as far away as Mesopotamia.
The other production of the Harappean lapidaries are the seals, most of them in steatite (there are also some in other stones such as agate), discovered in large quantities on the Indus sites. Here again, several production sites have been identified. They are square in shape (generally 3 to 4 centimeters on a side), and often bear brief inscriptions in Indus script. The most common representations are of animals: a unicorn animal, designated as a “unicorn”, but also zebu, buffalo, tiger, elephant, crocodile and others. The animal representations are more or less detailed, and may be accompanied by a brazier or incense burner, or an offering table. The fact that these motifs are common has led to the assumption that they were used to identify groups (clan, merchant guild), the one symbolized by the unicorn being the most powerful. Other stamps depict mythological motifs, including the “horned deity”, represented seated in the manner of yogis, and surrounded by animals, a form of the god known as the “master of animals” (a common motif in the Middle East), and more complex scenes such as that of the seal known as the “divine adoration” (see below).
Shells from coastal regions are used to make various ornamental and decorative objects, starting with bracelets, which are found on many Harappean sites, particularly in burials, which says a lot about their symbolic aspect. They are generally made from the shell of Turbinella pyrum, a marine gastropod very common on the Indian coast, whose shell is spiral-shaped (a type of periwinkle). Shell workshops have been identified primarily at coastal sites (Balakot, Nageshwar, Gola Dhoro), but also at inland sites (Mohenjo-daro, Chanhu-daro, Harappa). The scraps from these workshops have made it possible to reconstruct the stages of shell cutting: the top of the shell is broken off in order to extract the mollusc, then the lower part is removed, and finally with a bronze saw the widest circular part of the shell is cut out from which the bracelet is made. In general the bracelets are thick, but some are thinner. They are polished and decorated with an engraved chevron. Shells are also used to make small containers, often from another marine gastropod, Chicoreus ramosus. They are also worked into smaller pieces for use as decorative inlays in wooden furniture and stone carvings.
The mature Harappean period saw the development of a writing system, perhaps derived from symbols attested for the ancient period. It is attested essentially in an administrative and managerial context, through brief inscriptions. The script it transcribes has not been identified, and all attempts at translation have failed.
Supports and writing system
More than 3,700 inscribed objects have been uncovered, more than half from Mohenjo-daro, and another large portion from Harappa. Most of them are seals and seal impressions on clay, including some kind of tokens or tablets, also tablets and other inscribed or cast objects made of bronze or copper, bone and stone, pottery.
The inscriptions are short: the longest is barely 26 signs, and in general the inscriptions on stamps have five signs. The repertoire includes 400 to 450 simple or compound signs, with variations. It seems that there have been changes over time, but the stratigraphic context of the objects unearthed in the past is not well documented, which makes their chronological classification difficult. In any case, the similarity of the signs reflects once again the high degree of cultural integration existing in the Harappan civilization, or at least its elite. It is generally assumed that this writing is a “logo-syllabic” system, associating logograms (a sign = a thing) and syllabic phonograms (a sign = a sound, here a syllable), the same sign being able to potentially signify both. The writing was probably read from left to right. The absence of long texts and bilinguals makes any translation impossible, which implies guessing the written language, or at least the linguistic group to which it belonged (Dravidian and Indo-European languages being the most often proposed candidates), since even if one supposes that several languages were spoken on the territory covered by the Indus civilization, it seems that writing was used to transcribe only one language, that of the elite.
The functions of the registered objects
The question of the uses of this writing, undoubtedly economic, administrative, political and religious, often refers to that of the objects on which it is inscribed. The most common writings are those appearing on the seals of pottery used for transactions or storage, which refers to a control and authentication of these operations by administrators or merchants who had to be identified by the seals. The understanding of these seals implies not only the interpretation of the writing signs, but also the images that appear on them, generally animals, which perhaps served to identify groups (guilds, castes, clans?) or individuals (a sort of identity document?). These seals undoubtedly have several utilitarian and symbolic uses. Inscriptions on tokens and tablets probably have a similar type of managerial purpose, serving to record operations and communicate information about them between several people. Some inscriptions may have a religious and ritual context, serving to identify a deity to whom offerings were intended. It has also been proposed that inscribed metal tablets and tokens may have served as currency. A panel with an inlaid inscription found at Dholavira is more atypical; it has been designated as a “sign” but its exact purpose, perhaps as part of a civic use, is unknown.
With regard to archaeological discoveries, the Indus civilization is to be placed in the category of so-called “complex” societies that emerged at the end of the Neolithic period in several parts of the world (Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Mesoamerica, Peru), characterized by a high degree of social stratification and division of labor, the presence of urban agglomerations, and agriculture and animal husbandry spread over a vast territory. As its writing has not been deciphered, knowledge of the social structure of the Harappean civilization is, however, more limited than for other similar civilizations with writing, and the socio-political interpretation of the archaeological finds is not very certain, and everything leads us to believe that many aspects of this civilization will remain forever impossible to approach.
Studies of skeletons from Harappan cemeteries (bioarchaeology) have broadened the field of study beyond the interpretation of architecture and art, and offered new perspectives for analysis. But they still offer few certainties, and the burials that have been discovered concern a very limited sample of the Harappan population, coming above all from one site (Harappa) and probably more from the elite group.
Agriculture, livestock and livelihood strategies
The nature of the agricultural system of the Indus civilization is still largely subject to conjecture, due to the paucity of information that has reached us, particularly because few agricultural village sites have been excavated and bioarchaeological studies on the diet of this period are still in their infancy. The most tangible elements are the plants cultivated and animals slaughtered, identified thanks to the remains collected on the archaeological sites, which then allow, by comparing with the known practices of recent periods, to infer the subsistence strategies of the Harappeans, which may have varied according to place and time due to the temporal and spatial extent of this civilization. The agricultural economy of the Indus tradition was formed from domesticated plants and animals obviously coming from the Near East (wheat, barley, lentils, peas, flax, sheep, goats, oxen), but the local cultures of South Asia quickly took over the principle and a plethora of domestication episodes occurred from indigenous species (zebu, buffalo, local pig, chicken, sesame, cotton, millet, rice, melon, cucumber and many other tropical plants), with foci (loosely) localized as the case may be in Baluchistan, the Indus, the Middle Ganges, Gujarat or eastern regions.
On the vast territory covered by the Harappan civilization, the agricultural potential is varied. Schematically, one can distinguish two climatic systems, the winter cyclones and the summer monsoon which create two wet periods more or less marked according to the regions (Sindh and Gujarat being drier, humidity being more marked in the north) and two main types of soils exploited for agriculture, those of the Indus alluvial plain and the Ghaggar-Hakra system, and the black soils “with cotton” or “regur” of the hotter and drier regions, in Gujarat and in Rajasthan
Crops are very varied, as indicated by the remains of many types of cultivation that have been identified on archaeological sites, and cultivation practices must also have differed according to the potential of the regions. Cereal cultivation has been based since the Neolithic on wheat and barley, the main winter crops at present and probably also in the past. Rice and millet, spring cereals, were introduced during the Harappean era from the east (the Ganges valley for the former). Legumes, peas and beans, sesame, sorghum, melon, watermelon, dates, grapes are other attested food crops, while cotton also seems to be cultivated. A study conducted at the small site of Masudpur (Haryana, in the Rakhigarhi hinterland) indicates that from the middle of the 3rd millennium BC at the latest, winter crops (wheat, barley, vetches) and summer crops (millet, rice, tropical crops such as mung beans, urd beans and kuluttha) were associated and that the peasants therefore planted and harvested throughout the year, thus having a very varied diet. As far as agricultural techniques are concerned, there is no decisive trace of irrigation works, but canals from the Harappean period have been identified, and it is at least evident that the farmers were able to obtain supplies from the wells and reservoirs common at the sites of the time. Clay models of plows have been uncovered.
Research on the findings of crop sites emerging during the Late Harappean period has repeatedly concluded that the plant and animal products consumed were diversified, in continuity with the previous phase (in particular following the work of S. Weber). Harappan farmers would thus have participated in a long-term phenomenon moving towards subsistence strategies based on more intensive and broader-spectrum agriculture and animal husbandry, in particular thanks to the system of double annual harvests, supplemented by fishing and hunting, making it possible to ensure the availability of food resources during all seasons of the year. This subsistence strategy, particularly adapted to semi-arid climates, continues to this day.
Political organization and ruling elites
The Harappean civilization is an urban civilization with a network of hierarchical settlements, with at its summit a group of important cities with a monumental architecture concentrated in a separate space, the “citadel”. This was to include administrative buildings and palaces of sorts, and to serve as the political center of the various entities sharing the space covered by this civilization. It is generally admitted that there are not sufficient arguments to consider the existence of a centralized “empire” directed by a group exercising a power of autocratic nature at the scale of this one. All this argues in any case for the existence of complex political structures led by an elite, whether they are considered to deserve the label of “state” properly speaking or not (this varies according to the authors and the definition they accept for this concept), and therefore of social stratification, even if it is perhaps less pronounced than in the urban civilizations that are contemporary with it. In any case it is less visible in the archaeological repertoire. But in the absence of deciphered writing, any hypothesis remains very conjectural.
The objects brought to light in the burials and elsewhere such as painted pottery, bracelets and ornaments made of pearls and pendants of hard stones and metal, or the seals are for J. Kenoyer markers of a Harappean elite. Kenoyer markers of a Harappean elite. It would then remain to define the nature of this group, which is able to ensure during more than 700 years a very sophisticated urban organization for the period, with its walls, roads, hydraulic installations, etc., and how it proceeds for that. Although there are public buildings (such as the Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro and the buildings surrounding it), there is no decisive trace of a centralized monarchical authority enthroned at the top of this elite (such as tombs, palaces or art characterizable as “royal”, despite the statue of the “priest-king” seen above) or even of common representations of this elite, following the Mesopotamian and Egyptian examples. This suggests the possibility of a less centralized model of political organization not attested in other contemporary civilizations. Moreover, it is possible that several systems existed and coexisted in this vast space and during this long period. G. Possehl proposed to see in the Harappean society a kind of very disciplined corporatist organization based on the sharing of a common ideology, directed by some kind of councils, resting on cooperation rather than on hierarchical authority, and he does not see a “State” in the Indus. Without completely rejecting the possibility of monarchs at times, J. Kenoyer has proposed for his part to envisage for most of the period a state power but collegial, associating landed, merchant or religious elites at the head of “city-states”. B. B. Lal envisaged a caste system. It has also been proposed that the animals represented on the Harappean seals (unicorn, humped bull, elephant, rhinoceros, etc.) are symbols of different clans or socio-political organizations.
A peaceful society?
There is no obvious trace of warfare on the sites of the Indus civilization: no artistic representation of conflicts, few weapons have been brought to light and they may as well have been used for hunting as for warfare, the fortifications are certainly systematic on the urban sites but they rarely present properly defensive works and seem rather to have been intended as a symbolic barrier and to control the flows of goods and people.
This makes the Harappean civilization unique compared to other similar societies, where traces of conflict are common, even without the support of texts. For this reason, the models of political systems mentioned above often conclude that warfare, while not necessarily absent, did not play an important role in this civilization, and privilege economic and ideological phenomena as well as inter-group cooperation rather than coercion by the dominant elite as the foundation of social order. However, some consider this interpretation of the sources to be potentially excessive and perhaps to underestimate the role of conflict in this civilization.
A 2012 study of the trauma observed on skulls from Harappa cemeteries reassessed the question by finding a rather high number of lesions due to violence, less important in cemetery R-37, whose deceased are undoubtedly placed higher on the social scale than those of the other cemeteries (area G, probably also dating from the mature period, and H, from the late period), which would tend to relativize if not invalidate this vision of Harappean society as little marked by interpersonal violence, tensions and social exclusion. As things stand, the analyses of social inequalities and violence based on human remains are insufficiently developed to make it possible to clarify this.
Biological affinities and mobilities
Bioarchaeological analyses of skeletons found in Harappan necropolises initially focused on the search for anthropological characteristics of individuals in order to determine whether or not the ancient Harappans were the ancestors of the present-day populations of the same regions, and also to identify the supposed “Aryan invasions”, by analyzing in particular the shape and size of the skulls in order to determine a “racial type” of the individuals according to the ancient terminology, “phenotypic characteristics” in recent studies. Work at the end of the 20th century concluded that there were heterogeneous populations on the Harappan sites, with a resemblance of the ancient populations to the present ones (the skeletons of Harappa resembling the present populations of the Punjab, those of Mohenjo-daro to those of Sindh). As previously mentioned, genetic studies have since concluded that the populations of the Harappan periods originated from groups occupying the same regions in the Paleolithic and not from migrations from another region, that their genetic heritage is found in populations currently living in the same regions, with the trace of an intrusion of elements from the Eurasian steppes during the first half of the 2nd millennium BC (thus the Indo-Aryan migrations).
Bioarchaeological studies have also studied mobility over shorter distances. Phenotypic studies and more recently chemical studies using bone isotopes to analyze the movements of individuals, concerning the R-37 cemetery of Harappa, have determined that the men buried there are generally not from the city, while those of the women are. This has been interpreted as evidence of matrilocal marriage practices (husbands come to live with their wives), and perhaps even fosterage, meaning that men migrated to Harappa in their youth in order to live there and marry women from local families.
For the late period and more broadly for the 2nd millennium BC, analyses of the skeletons of Harappa (cemetery H), and also of sites in the Deccan (thus outside the Indus tradition), draw up a more gloomy report on the situation of the northern half of the Indian subcontinent at the end of the Harappan period: there would indeed be a form of “crisis” during this period, which is reflected in markers of stress revealing chronic malnutrition, high infant mortality, and more common diseases and infections.
Judging by the relative uniformity of architectural traditions, art, decorative motifs and symbols, and funerary practices, the communities of the Harappean civilization share a common ideology and beliefs, although variations in space and time are perceptible. It remains to detect the characteristics of this religious universe, which is essentially approached by visual sources. The proposals given by J. Marshall in 1931, based above all on the iconography and architecture of Mohenjo-daro and parallels with the Hindu religion, remain, despite the criticisms received, the basis of current attempts at reconstruction.
Two great figures considered as divine can be found in the iconography.
The first is a great goddess, or a group of “mother-goddesses” linked to fertility. This is based on the findings of numerous terracotta figurines representing naked women, then on the parallels drawn with other ancient civilizations and also with Hinduism (Shakti, Kâlî, etc.), the fact that agricultural societies generally value the function of giving fertility. It is nevertheless complicated to consider as a whole the female figurines, which have diverse forms and do not necessarily present traits associated with fertility or maternity. Moreover, it is generally difficult to attribute a religious context to them. Moreover, these female figures do not appear in glyptics and metal sculpture. A seal known as the “divine adoration” seal represents a figure placed in a plant, facing another figure with a goat”s head in a posture of adoration; following Marshall, the first figure is considered to be a goddess (but others do not find her feminine traits), associated with a plant or a tree as is common in Hinduism. This representation is found on other seals.
The second major figure is a male deity that Marshall had spotted on a steatite seal from Mohenjo-daro, a male figure with a helmet decorated with large bull horns (also referred to as a “horned deity”), seated on a canopy, cross-legged, and accompanied by four animals, an elephant, a rhinoceros, a buffalo and a tiger. He would resemble Shiva (we speak of “proto-Shiva”) or one of his forms, Pashupati. This interpretation has received much criticism, but a resemblance to the later figure of Shiva and the posture reminiscent of a yogi is commonly acknowledged, whether coincidental or not. Going further, this figure could be associated with the animal world, in particular the buffalo that would symbolize it (especially its horns), and also associates it with phallic objects reminiscent of Hindu lingas and some kind of betyls unearthed on Indusian sites. The fact that these objects have a cultic use has however been discussed.
The Indus seals also show other fantastic figures that could have a divine status or be some kind of genies or demons: some kind of minotaurs, humans with horns, unicorns.
Places of worship and rituals
No building uncovered at Indus sites could be identified with certainty as a temple or even a ritual space. It has thus been proposed that the bathrooms of the residences could have been used for domestic religious ceremonies, but this remains highly speculative. As for the monumental architecture, perhaps a religious function should be given to several buildings at Mohenjo-daro, first and foremost the Great Bath, whose structure gave it its name would have had a ritual function, or else served as a sacred reservoir where fish or other animals were kept. But it is a unique structure of its kind. The neighboring building called the “college of priests” seems to be associated with it but does not present any structure that could have had a religious function. It has also been proposed that some buildings in the lower city had a ritual function, such as House I, which has an atypical structure and has yielded numerous unicorn seals. The “fire altars” found at several sites, primarily Kalibangan, have also given rise to speculation as to a religious function. They consist of a platform on which are seven small pits with a clay lining, containing ashes, charcoal, and the remains of earthenware objects. B. B. Lal designated them as “fire altars”, therefore places where offerings were dedicated to a deity by being incinerated. The same platform has a jar containing ashes and charcoal to the west, as well as a well and a bathing area, which looks like a ritual space for ablutions, but again this space could very well have had a profane function.
Glyptics represents in several cases some kind of processions of figures carrying banners and images of unicorns, or beating a drum in front of a tiger, and other possible religious rituals, with kneeling figures making offerings to deities, as in the seal of adoration mentioned above.
The Indus civilization or “tradition” maintains more or less intense relations with the other cultural traditions of the Indian subcontinent, which are in its direct vicinity, whether in terms of material or immaterial exchanges. The former are especially visible, in the light of the dispersion of manufactured objects of the Indus civilization and the raw materials used by Indus craftsmen.
Cultures of northwest and south India
The quantities of copper and soapstone imported from the Aravalli mines in Rajasthan indicate that the people of the Indus cities must have had regular relations with this region, where the Ganeshwar culture flourished. Copper arrowheads of this culture are found in Kalibangan in ancient times, and Harappan-type copper objects have been unearthed at sites of the Ganeshwar culture. This suggests, therefore, that wares made in the Indus horizon from Rajasthani copper may then be exported to the latter region. The dominant local pottery is ochre-colored, but the presence of slipware similar to that of Harappan Gujarat suggests contacts with that region. The culture of Ahar-Banas, which developed further south, shows less evidence of contact with the Harappan horizon, as does that of Kayatha, which is even further south, but the fact that raw materials characteristic of these regions (tin, gold, agate, carnelian) are found in the Indus suggests the existence of at least indirect links. Much further south, Harappan artifacts have been unearthed, including inscribed seals at Daimabad in Maharashtra and a stone axe with a short inscription in Indus script discovered in Tamil Nadu. It is possible that gold from Karnataka was imported into the Indus, but there is no conclusive evidence for this.
Baluchistan, Iranian plateau and Central Asia
In Balochistan, although there are some purely Harappean sites during the integration period, other sites in the interior of the southern part of the region are of the Kulli culture, characterized by buff ware with black or brown painted decoration. The Nindowari site appears to be the seat of a local chieftaincy, independent of the Harappan area but with links to it.
In the western direction, an urban culture exists in the Helmand region, attested by the sites of Mundigak and Shahr-e Sokhteh, and sites in southern Iran have yielded a few Harappan objects (Tepe Yahya). But it seems that the people of the Indus had contacts with the regions located further north, as attested by the site of Shortughai in Badakhshan, obviously occupied by a population belonging to the Indus culture, which can be seen as a trading post, since this region is rich in lapis lazuli and also in tin and gold. The sites of the culture blossoming directly to the west, the Bactro-Margian Archaeological Complex (BMAC, or Oxus civilization), have yielded carnelian beads of the Harappan type. Those of the more distant Kopet-Dag (Namazga-depe, Altyn-depe), located near jade and turquoise deposits, have also yielded objects of Harappean origin, including seals.
Cultures of the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia
The other important axis of communication towards the west is maritime. Harappan maritime trade developed during the Mature Period, and probably explains in good part (along with the exploitation of fish resources) the rise of the coastal sites of Gujarat (Lothal) and Makran (Sutkagan Dor). It lasts until the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC (around 1700).
Objects from the Indus have been brought to light at sites in Oman (Ra”s al-Junaiz) and the United Arab Emirates (Umm an-Nar, Tell Abraq, Hili), the Magan country of Mesopotamian texts, rich in copper, and further east in Bahrain (seals and objects from this region have been brought to light in the Harappan area (Lothal in particular). Moreover, it is undoubtedly through the Persian Gulf trade that objects from the Indus (seals, beads, ivory inlays) reached Susa in southwestern Iran, the ancient Elam.
Finally, at the western end of the Gulf, several sources indicate contacts between the Indus civilization and Lower Mesopotamia. The cuneiform texts of the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. mention a country of Meluhha, located beyond the countries of Dilmun and Magan, a name behind which one recognizes the Indus. An inscription of Sargon of Akkad (c. 2334-2290) thus mentions boats from Meluhha docking at Akkad. It is in particular a commercial partner from whom one buys carnelian, wood, figurines, furniture, and also boats. Mesopotamian texts also mention “sons of Meluhha”, so perhaps Harappeans, unless they were merchants specialized in trade with Meluhha. A seal belonging to a Meluhha translator (probably a Mesopotamian who learned the language of that country) is known. A village bearing the name Meluhha is also attested near Lagash, and could be linked to a Harappan settlement. Contacts are in any case confirmed by the presence of objects from the Indus on sites in the Mesopotamian South, notably the carnelian necklaces from the royal tombs of Ur (26th century B.C.), seals, weights and ceramics of the Harappan type.
For more than 700 years, the Indus civilization was prosperous. Then, from the end of the 3rd millennium BC, it began to gradually disintegrate: the end of large urban agglomerations, of planned urbanism, of monumental architecture, of the system of writing and of weights and measures. Several local cultures gradually emerge, thus without a brutal rupture, succeeding the “mature” Harappean civilization where it had developed. It is a long and complex phenomenon which could be defined as a late Harappean period, then an era of “localization”. The end of the Harappean cities could also be seen as the consequence of a “crisis”, and analyzed under the angle of the study of a collapse, a de-urbanization, or even of a simple transformation and a reorganization whose causes, undoubtedly multiple, remain to be elucidated.
The new regional cultures
In the Punjab, the recent Harappan period is that of the culture known as the “H cemetery” of Harappa, which goes from about 1900 BC to 1500 or 1300 depending on the authors. The archaeological material from this cemetery has yielded red pottery painted black, representing stylized birds, bulls, fish and plants; this pottery clearly derives from earlier traditions, and cannot be seen as reflecting the arrival of outside populations. This material is found on the sites prospected in Cholistan. In this region, only one site from the previous period remains occupied, and the number of identified sites is 50 compared to 174 for the previous period. Many of the new sites are temporary camps and there is less evidence of artisanal specialization; but the largest site, Kudwala, still covers 38.1 hectares, and a handful of others cover between 10 and 20 hectares.
In the lower Indus Valley, Mohenjo-daro is depopulated, civic authority disappears as evidenced by the reoccupation of its central part by ceramic kilns, and many small sites such as Allahdino and Balakot are abandoned. The Jhukar period, which locally succeeded the Integration Era, is poorly known, identified only by surveys of a handful of sites (Jhukar, Mohenjo-daro, Amri, Chanhu-daro, Lohumjo-daro). The characteristic pottery of the period, red
In the Indus-Gangetic interfluve region, 563 small sites (generally less than 5 hectares) from the period have been surveyed. The Banawali site is still occupied. Analyses of the Sanghol (Indian Punjab) and Hulli (Uttar Pradesh) sites show that agriculture was very diversified at this time. The region was then integrated into the culture of ochre-colored pottery.
In Gujarat, urban sites such as Dholavira and Lothal are depopulating and losing their urban character, while remaining occupied. The number of sites identified around the Gulf of Kutch and in Saurashtra for the period is nonetheless greater than that of the previous period (120 versus 18), but they are much less extensive. In the late period, a red lustre ceramic appears that supplants the older traditions. The vast site of Rangjpur, which sometimes gives its name to the period, covers about 50 hectares. The site of Rojdi, which covers 7 hectares, has an enclosure made of packed earth mixed with stones. A diversification of cultivated plants and an intensification of these crops, spread throughout the year, have been observed, a phenomenon that seems characteristic of the period of location, and thus a change in the modes of subsistence.
In the highlands of Baluchistan, several sites bear witness to violent destruction (Nausharo, Gumla), commonly seen as testifying to the abrupt end of the Harappean era, and in any case many sites are abandoned or reoccupied by necropolises, in some cases with material seen as having elements of Central Asian or Iranian origin. The site of Pirak in the Kachi Plain was populated around 2000 BC and occupied continuously until about 1300 BC. It is an artisanal center integrated in exchange networks reaching as far as Gujarat and the Arabian Sea.
North of the Indus, in the Swat and Dir valleys, where the mature civilization was not present, the Gandhara tomb culture, dated to 1700-1400 B.C. for its first phase (the last phase, the fourth, to the fourth century B.C. or later, owes its name to its cist tombs, and has been seen as a manifestation of Indo-Aryan migrations from Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent (see below). C. or later), which owes its name to its cist tombs, and in which one wanted to see a manifestation of the Indo-Aryan migrations from Central Asia to the Indian sub-continent (see below). There is no real material evidence of such a relationship, and moreover the tombs attributed to this culture have turned out to have extremely diverse dates after new analyses and to testify rather to a kind of funerary tradition extending over several millennia than to a “culture” as such. The study of the habitats of the period is limited.
Why the collapse?
The causes of the “collapse” of the Indus civilization have given rise to many proposals.
The topos of the invasion of an outside population has been put forward, with the protagonists being the Indo-Aryans of Indo-European language (Vedic Sanskrit) who would be the ancestors of the upper caste of ancient Indian society, the Brahmans, dominating the other castes coming from the populations already present on the spot, a fact that would be echoed in the Rig-Veda (see theory of the Aryan invasion). This hypothesis is generally rejected by archaeologists: the Vedic narratives are complex to contextualize, the traces of violent destruction resulting from an invasion in the Indus Valley are not conclusive, it is difficult to detect migrations on the basis of material culture alone, and genetic studies arguing in favor of migrations greatly impacting the profile of the populations of the Indian subcontinent are not deemed conclusive. In the words of U. Singh, “one of the most popular explanations for the decline of the Harappan civilization is one for which there is the least evidence. Nevertheless, the idea of important migrations from Central Asia during this period with an impact on the end of the Indus civilization remains widespread. Without pronouncing on its link with this collapse, studies in 2018 conclude on a genetic input from the Eurasian steppes in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, which would argue in favor of a population expansion corresponding to the arrival of speakers of the ancestor of Vedic Sanskrit in this region.
Natural causes have also been invoked: floods due to Indus River floods have been recorded as far away as Mohenjo-daro, and seem to have been recurrent; they are sometimes attributed to tectonic events, and in one scenario the river waters would have been moved away from the city. This cannot be confirmed. On the other hand, the evidence of progressive drying of the Ghaggar-Hakra hydrographic network as a result of movements of the rivers watering them is clearer and would explain the decline in the number of sites in this region, although the chronology of this phenomenon is poorly determined. For the coastal areas, a sudden rise in the waters of the Arabian Sea has also been evoked, causing flooding and salinization of the soil. In any case, these explanations are difficult to generalize to the scale of the entire Harappan civilization. The overexploitation of the soil is also invoked as being at the origin of a salinization of these, making them less fertile, which could have played in the decline of the Harappean civilization. Others have advanced the role of deforestation. These proposals did not have much echo in the absence of probative elements. Indeed, arguments based on environmental criteria, which also include hypotheses of climatic change, as well as explanations postulating epidemics that would have contributed to this decline, are considered to be of little relevance for such a vast space, covering very different regions and environments. In another register, it has been argued that the decline of long-distance trade would have resulted from political changes in Mesopotamia, or from a change in the supply of the latter, redirected towards the west, and ultimately negatively affected the trade networks crossing the Persian Gulf and the Iranian plateau, thus the Harappan merchants and the elites of this civilization, weakening the political system; Here again, evidence is lacking, as the sites involved in the Gulf trade obviously disappeared after the collapse of the Harappean civilization. Paleopathological studies would seem to show an increase in violence and disease during the late phase, which would be caused by the breakdown of the system and would in turn have accelerated the depopulation of the cities.
This would suggest a search for several causes, a “mix” of these different elements, which would have ultimately destabilized the Harappan political and social edifice and led to its fall. This implies the inclusion of ideological and psychological elements in the equation, explaining the search for new alternatives or the rejection of the domination of the traditional elites. But in the absence of a better understanding of the Harappan social system, this remains impossible to grasp. Moreover, according to N. Yoffee”s proposals concerning the collapses of prehistoric and ancient cultures, it should be noted that these are recurrent dynamics, and that for these high periods it is rather the constitution and stabilization of a state that are exceptional than its absence or failure.