Bricks, Beads and Bones The Harappan Civilisation- NCERT Notes UPSC
Apr 01, 2022
The Indus valley civilization is also called the Harappan culture. Archaeologists use the term “culture” for a group of objects, distinctive in style, that are usually found within a specific area and period of time. These distinctive objects include seals, beads, weights, stone blades and even baked bricks.
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There were several archaeological cultures in the region prior to the Mature Harappan.
These cultures were associated with distinctive pottery, evidence of agriculture and pastoralism, and crafts.
Settlements were generally small, and there were virtually no large buildings.
It appears that there was a break between the Early Harappan and the Harappan civilisation, evident from large-scale burning at some sites, as well as the abandonment of certain settlements.
Mature Harappan culture developed in some of the areas occupied by the Early Harappan cultures and shared common subsistence strategies.
They ate a wide range of plant and animal products, including fish.
Their dietary practices have been reconstructed from finds of charred grains and seeds.
Grains found at Harappan sites include wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea and sesame.
Millets are found from sites in Gujarat.
Finds of rice are relatively rare.
Animal bones found at Harappan sites include those of cattle, sheep, goat, buffalo, pig and of wild species such as boar, deer, gharial, fish and fowl.
Seals and terracotta sculptures indicate that the bull was known and that oxen were used for ploughing.
Terracotta models of the plough have been found at sites in Cholistan and at Banawali(Haryana).
A Terracotta Bull
Evidence of a ploughed field at Kalibangan (Rajasthan) associated with early Harappan levels. They had two sets of furrows at right angles, suggesting two different crops grown at the same time.
Most Harappan sites are located in semi-arid lands, where irrigation was probably required for agriculture.
Traces of canals have been found at the Harappan site of Shortughai in Afghanistan, but not in Punjab or Sind.
It is also likely that water drawn from wells was used for irrigation.
Water reservoirs found in Dholavira (Gujarat) may have been used to store water for agriculture.
Mohenjodaro: A Planned Urban Centre
The settlement is divided into two sections, one smaller but higher and the other much larger but lower, designated as the Citadel and the Lower Town respectively.
Buildings of the citadel were constructed on mud brick platforms and it was walled.
The Lower Town was also walled. Several buildings were built on platforms, which served as foundations.
The settlement was first planned and then implemented.
Bricks were of a standardised ratio, where the length and breadth were four times and twice the height respectively.
Such bricks were used at all Harappan settlements.
Layout of Mohenjodaro
Laying Out Drains
The planned drainage system was one of the main features of Harappan cities.
Roads and streets were laid out along an approximate “grid” pattern, intersecting at right angles, streets with drains were laid out first and then houses were built along with them.
The Lower Town at Mohenjodaro provides examples of residential buildings.
Many were centred on a courtyard, with rooms on all sides.
The courtyard was probably the centre of activities.
There are no windows in the walls along the ground level.
The main entrance does not give a direct view of the interior or the courtyard.
Every house had its own bathroom paved with bricks, with drains connected through the wall to the street drains.
Some houses have remains of staircases to reach a second storey or the roof.
Many houses had wells, often in a room that could be reached from the outside and perhaps used by passers-by.
Total number of wells in Mohenjodaro is estimated to be about 700.
The Harappans procured materials for craft production in various ways.
They established settlements such asNageshwar and Balakot in areas where shell was available.
Shortughai, in far-off Afghanistan, near the best source of lapis lazuli, a blue stone that was apparently very highly valued.
Lothal was near sources of carnelian (from Bharuch in Gujarat), steatite (from south Rajasthan and north Gujarat) and metal (from Rajasthan).
Another strategy was to send expeditions to areas such as the Khetri region of Rajasthan (for copper) and South India (for gold).
These expeditions established communication with local communities.
Finds of Harappan artefacts such as steatite micro beads in these areas are indications of such contact.
There is evidence in the Khetri area for the Ganeshwar-Jodhpura culture, with its distinctive non-Harappan pottery and an unusual wealth of copper objects.
It is possible that the inhabitants of this region supplied copper to the Harappans.
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Contact with Distant Lands
Copper was probably brought from Oman. Chemical analyses have shown that both the Omani copper and Harappan artefacts have traces of nickel, suggesting a common origin.
A large Harappan jar coated with a thick layer of black clay has been found at Omani sites.
Mesopotamian texts datable to the third millennium BCE refer to copper coming from a region called Magan, perhaps a name for Oman.
A Harappan jar found in Oman
Mesopotamian texts mention contacts with regions named Dilmun (probably the island of Bahrain), Magan and Meluhha, possibly the Harappan region.
They mention the products from Meluhha: carnelian, lapis lazuli, copper, gold, and varieties of wood.
It is likely that communication with Oman, Bahrain or Mesopotamia was by sea.
Mesopotamian texts refer to Meluhha as a land of seafarers, ships and boats are depicted on seals.
Seal depicting a boat
Seals, Script, Weights
Seals and Sealing
Used to facilitate long-distance communication.
Each bag of goods was affixed with some wet clay on which the seal was pressed.
If the bag reached with the seal intact, that meant it wasn’t tempered.
Sealing also conveyed the identity of the sender.
An Enigmatic Script
Harappan seals usually have a line of writing, probably containing the name and title of the owner.
The motif (generally an animal) conveyed a meaning to those who could not read.
Most inscriptions are short, the longest containing about 26 signs. Although the script remains undeciphered to date, it was evidently not alphabetical (where each sign stands for a vowel or a consonant)
It has many signs – somewhere between 375 and 400.
The script was written from right to left.
Exchanges were regulated by a precise system of weights, usually made of a stone called Chert and generally cubical, with no markings.
The lower denominations of weights were binary (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. up to 12,800), while the higher denominations followed the decimal system.
Smaller weights were probably used for weighing jewellery and beads.
Metal scale pans have also been found.
There are indications of complex decisions being taken and implemented in Harappan society. For example, the extraordinary uniformity of Harappan artefacts is evident in pottery seals, weights and bricks, which were of uniform ratio throughout the region.
Palaces and Kings
A large building found at Mohenjodaro was labelled as a palace by archaeologists, but no spectacular finds were associated with it.
A stone statue was labelled the “priest-king”. This is because archaeologists were familiar with the Mesopotamian history and its “priest-kings” and have found parallels in the Indus region.
Some archaeologists believe that Harappan society had no rulers and that everybody enjoyed equal status.
Others feel there was no single ruler but several, that Mohenjodaro, Harappa and others had separate rulers.
However, similarity in artefacts, the evidence for planned settlements, the standardised ratio of brick size hint towards a single state.
The End of the Civilisation
By 1800 BCE most of the Mature Harappan sites in regions such as Cholistan had been abandoned.
Simultaneously, there was an expansion of population into new settlements in Gujarat, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
In the few sites that continued to be occupied after 1900 BCE there was a transformation of material culture, marked by the disappearance of the distinctive artefacts of the civilisation – weights, seals, special beads. Writing, long-distance trade, and craft specialisation also disappeared.
House construction techniques deteriorated, and large public structures were no longer produced.
Artefacts and settlements indicate a rural way of life in what are called “Late Harappan” or “successor cultures”.
These changes may have been due to climatic change, deforestation, excessive floods, shifting and/or drying up of rivers, to overuse of the landscape.
Discovering the Harappan Civilisation
Cunningham, the first Director-General of the ASI, began archaeological excavations in the mid-nineteenth century, his main interest was in the study of the Early Historic and later periods.
He used the accounts left by Chinese Buddhist pilgrims who had visited the subcontinent between the fourth and seventh centuries CE to locate early settlements.
A site like Harappa, which was not part of the itinerary of the Chinese pilgrims and was not known as an Early Historic city, did not fit very neatly within his framework of the investigation.
Harappan artefacts were found fairly often during the nineteenth century but Cunningham did not realise how old these were.
Cunningham was given a Harappa seal, but he tried to place it within the time frame with which he was familiar because he thought that Indian history began with the first cities in the Ganga valley.
A New Old Civilization
The importance of the findings was realized when seals were discovered by Daya Ram Sahni in layers that were definitely much older than Early Historic levels
Rakhal Das Banerji found similar seals at Mohenjodaro, hinting that these sites were part of a single archaeological culture.
In 1924, John Marshall, Director-General of the ASI, announced the discovery of a new civilisation in the Indus valley.
New techniques and Questions
An extensive survey in Kutch has revealed a number of Harappan settlements and explorations in Punjab and Haryana have been added to the list of Harappan sites.
Kalibangan, Lothal, Rakhi Garhi and most recently Dholavira have been discovered, explored and excavated.
Problems of Piecing Together the Past
It is not the Harappan script that helps in understanding the ancient civilization, but the material evidence like pottery, tools, ornaments, household objects etc.
Recovering artefacts is just the beginning of the archaeological enterprise.
Archaeologists then classify their finds in terms of material, such as stone, clay, metal, bone, ivory, etc.
The second, and more complicated, is in terms of function, for instance, whether an artefact is a tool or an ornament, or both, or something meant for ritual use.
Archaeologists also try to identify the function of an artefact by investigating the context in which it was found was it found in a house, drain, grave or in a kiln
Sometimes, archaeologists take recourse to indirect evidence. For example, there are traces of cotton at some Harappan sites, to find out about clothing we have to depend on indirect evidence including depictions in sculpture.
Problems of Interpretation
Early archaeologists thought that certain objects which seemed unusual or unfamiliar may have had a religious significance.
These included terracotta figurines of women, heavily jewelled, some with elaborate headdresses, regarded as mother goddesses.
Rare stone statuary of men in an almost standardised posture, seated with one hand on the knee – such as the “priest-king” was also similarly classified.
In other instances, structures have been assigned ritual significance. These include the Great Bath and fire altars found at Kalibangan and Lothal.
Attempts have also been made to reconstruct religious beliefs and practices by examining seals, some of which seem to depict ritual scenes.
Others, with plant motifs, are thought to indicate nature worship.
Some animals – such as the one-horned animal, often called the “unicorn” – depicted on seals seem to be mythical, composite creatures.
In some seals, a figure shown seated cross-legged in a “yogic” posture, sometimes surrounded by animals, has been regarded as a depiction of “proto-Shiva”, an early form of one of the major deities of Hinduism.
A ‘Proto-Shiva” seat
Conical stone objects have been classified as lingas.
Timeline: 1: Major Periods in Early Indian Archaeology
2 million BP (before present): Lower Palaeolithic
80,000: Middle Palaeolithic
35,000: Upper Palaeolithic
10,000: Neolithic (early agriculturists and pastoralists)
6,000: Chalcolithic (first use of copper)
2600 BCE: Harappan civilisation
1000 BCE: Early iron, megalithic burials
600 BCE-400CE: Early Historic
Timeline 2: Major Developments in Harappan Archaeology
1875: Report of Alexander Cunningham on Harappan seal.
1921: M.S. Vats begins excavations at Harappa.
1925: Excavations begin at Mohenjodaro.
1946: R.E.M. Wheeler excavates at Harappa.
1955: S.R. Rao begins excavations at Lothal.
1960: B.B. Lal and B.K. Thapar begin excavations at Kalibangan.
1974: M.R. Mughal begins explorations in Bahawalpur.
1980: A team of German and Italian archaeologists begins surface explorations at Mohenjodaro.
1986: American team begins excavations at Harappa.
1990: R.S. Bisht begins excavations at Dholavira.
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