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Pre-Aryan Harappan Civilization in India

The name of the river “Indus” served as the basis for the name of the country – “India”, which in ancient times meant the areas east of the Indus, where the states of Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh are now located. Until relatively recently (a few more than a hundred years ago), the first creators of civilization on the Indian subcontinent were considered to be aliens-Aryans. It was generally accepted that the written texts did not contain any information about the great previous culture. Now we can say that they are still recognized, although with difficulty. In particular, in the” Geography ” of Strabo, with reference to the Greek Aristobulus, it is said about a vast country abandoned by the inhabitants because of the change in the course of the Indus. Such information is rare, and the sources that characterize the culture of Harappa, or the Indus Valley civilization, have been and continue to be extracted during archaeological excavations.

Study history

Alexander Cunningham. 1814-1893.

Alexander Cunningham. 1814-1893. First head of the Indian Archaeological Survey.

The Harappan civilization, unlike most other ancient civilizations, has been studied relatively recently. The first signs of it were discovered in the 60s of the XIX century, when samples of stamps so characteristic of this civilization were found near Harappa — in Punjab. They were discovered during the construction of road embankments, for which purpose huge masses of the ancient cultural layer were used. The seals drew the attention of the engineer officer A. Cunningham, later the first head of the Archaeological Survey of India. He is considered one of the founders of Indian archaeology.

However, it was not until 1921 that R. D. Banerjee, a member of the Archaeological Service, when investigating a Buddhist monument in Mohenjo-Daro (“Hill of the Dead”), discovered traces of a much older culture, which he identified as pre-Aryan. At the same time, R. B. Sahni began excavating Harappa. Soon, the head of the Archaeological Service, J. Marshall, began a systematic excavation at Mohenjo-Daro, the results of which made the same stunning impression as the excavations of G. G. Marshall. Schliemann in Troy and mainland Greece: already in the early years, monumental structures made of baked bricks and works of art (including the famous sculpture of the “priest-king”) were found. The relative age of the civilization, traces of which began to be found in various regions of the north of the peninsula, was determined by the finds of characteristic seals in the cities of Mesopotamia, first in Kish and Lagash, then in others. In the early 30s of the XX century, the date of existence of the civilization, the existence of which was not recognized in the ancient written texts of its neighbors, was determined as 2500-1800 BC. It is noteworthy that, despite new dating methods, including radiocarbon dating, the dating of the Harappan civilization of the heyday is currently not much different from the proposed one more than 70 years ago, although the calibrated dates suggest its great antiquity.

The question of the origin of this civilization, which, as it soon became clear, spread over a vast territory, caused a lively debate. Based on the information available at that time, it was natural to assume that the impulses or direct influences that contributed to its emergence came from the west— from the region of Iran and Mesopotamia. In this regard, special attention was paid to the area of the Indo-Iranian border — Baluchistan. The first finds were made here in the 20s of the XX century. Stein, but large-scale research was undertaken after the Second World War and the independence of the states of the subcontinent.

Before the emergence of independent states, the archaeological research of the Harappan culture was mainly limited to the central region of the “Great Indus Valley” (a term proposed by M. R. Mughal), where the largest cities — Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa-are located. Then in India, intensive research was carried out in Gujarat (major excavations — Lothal and Surkotada), Rajasthan (here the Kalibangan excavations are especially important), Punjab. Large-scale works in the second half of the XX century were carried out where the Hakra-Ghaggar river used to flow. About 400 settlements with strata from pre-Harappan to post-Harappan cultures have been found here.

In the 50s and 60s, data were obtained on Eneolithic (Chalcolithic) cultures, the ceramics of which were similar to the finds known in Iran, Afghanistan, and southern Turkmenistan. Assumptions about the influence from these regions, which caused the emergence of first pre-Harappan cultures, and then Harappa itself, were later adjusted. What appeared to be evidence of migrations began to be perceived as the result of interactions, influences that were beneficial, since the local population had the ability not only to perceive them, but also to transform them based on their own traditions. A special role in understanding the processes of the Indus Valley civilization was played by excavations in Pakistan, in particular the Neolithic — Bronze Age settlements of Mehrgarh on the Bolan River, conducted by French researchers.

For the preservation and future research of the monuments of the Harappan civilization, the attempts made by UNESCO in the 60s of the XX century to save one of the most important cities-Mohenjo — Daro-from soil waters and salinization are important. As a result, new data were obtained, which clarified and supplemented the already known ones.

Territory and natural conditions of the Indus Valley

The Indus Valley lies in the northwestern corner of the vast subcontinent, currently the main part of it is located on the territory of Pakistan. It is part of the cultural integration zone bounded on the north by the Amu Darya and on the south by Oman, extending 2,000 km north of the tropic of Cancer. The climate in the entire zone is continental, the rivers have an internal flow.
From the north, the subcontinent is bounded by the highest mountain system of the Himalayas and Karakoram, where the largest rivers of the peninsula originate. The Himalayas play an important role in meeting the summer monsoon, redistributing its course, condensing excess moisture in the glaciers. It is important that the mountains are rich in wood, including valuable species. From the southwest and southeast, the peninsula is washed by the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The Indo-Gangetic lowland forms a crescent with a width of 250-350 km, its length from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal is 3000 km. The five tributaries of the Indus irrigate the Punjab plain-the Five Rivers are the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej. The western part of the Ganges Valley and the area between the Ganges and the Jamna (Doab) is the site of the formation of the classical culture of India, Aryavarta (the Land of the Aryans). In the Karachi region, the Indus deposits form a 200 km long shelf. Now the Indus Valley is a bare lowland with dried-up riverbeds and sand dunes, although even under the Mughals it was covered with dense forests, teeming with game.

To the south of the plain lie the upland and Vindhya Mountains, to the south-the arid Deccan Plateau, framed on the west and east by the mountain ranges-the Western and Eastern Ghats. Most of the rivers of the plateau flow from west to east, with the exception of only two of the significant ones — Narmada and Tapti. The geographical extension of the peninsula is the island of Ceylon. The coastal part is narrow, with few good ports. The total length of the subcontinent from Kashmir to Cape Comorin is about 3,200 km.

In the north-west, a significant part of Pakistan is occupied by the mountains and valleys of Balochistan. This is an area that played an important role in the formation of the Indus Valley civilization.

The sources of minerals used in ancient times were located both outside (as will be specifically discussed below) of the subcontinent, and on it itself. It is likely that copper came, in particular, from the deposits between Kabul and Kurrat, from Balochistan and Rajasthan (the Ganesh-var-Khetri deposit). One of the sources of tin could be deposits in Bengal, it is possible that it came from Afghanistan. Gold and silver could come from Afghanistan and the south of the Deccan. Semiprecious and ornamental minerals were brought from Khorasan (turquoise), from the Pamirs, from East Turkestan, from Tibet, from Northern Burma (lapis lazuli, jade). The deposits of ornamental stones, from which beads were so popular, were located on the subcontinent.

The climate, generally tropical monsoon, is at the same time diverse. In the Indo-Iranian border region, it is arid and semi-arid with mainly summer precipitation. East Sindh receives 7 mm of precipitation per year. In the north, in the Himalayas, the winters are cold, on the plains they are mild, and the summers are hot, the temperature is up to + 43°C. On the Deccan Plateau, the temperature fluctuation in different seasons is less sharp.

The geographical location of the Indian subcontinent determines the specifics of its climate, and hence the features of the economy. From October to May, rain is rare, with the exception of parts of the west coast and parts of Ceylon. The peak of the heat is in April, by the end of which the grass burns out and leaves fall from the trees. In June, the monsoon season begins, lasting about two months. At this time, activity outside the homes is difficult, but it is perceived by the Indians as by Europeans-spring, the time of the revival of nature. Now, as in part in ancient times, two types of crops are practiced — rabi, with the use of artificial irrigation, in which the crop was harvested in early summer, and kharif, in which the crop was harvested in the fall. Previously, the soil fertility was regularly restored by the floods of the Indus and the conditions of farming were favorable for agriculture, cattle breeding, fishing, and hunting.

The nature of the subcontinent is characterized by a peculiar severity — people have suffered and are suffering from heat and floods, epidemic diseases characteristic of a hot and humid climate. At the same time, nature has served as a powerful incentive for the formation of a bright and original culture.

Characteristics of the Harappan civilization

Chronology and cultural communities
The chronology of the Harappan civilization is based on evidence of its contacts mainly with Mesopotamia and radiocarbon dates. The time of its existence is divided into three stages:

  • 2900-2200 BC-early
  • 2200-1800 BC-developed (mature)
  • 1800-1300 BC-late

The calibrated dates extend the beginning of its existence, referring it to 3200 BC. A number of researchers note that the calibrated dates contradict the Mesopotamian dates. Some researchers (in particular, K. N. Dikshit) believe that the late period of the existence of the Harappan civilization lasted until 800 BC, i.e. the time of the appearance of iron here. Now it can be considered generally accepted that the end of the existence of civilization was not instantaneous and in some areas it existed until the middle of the second millennium BC and beyond.

For a long time in science, there was an idea of the Harappan civilization as something uniform and little changed over the centuries. This view is the result of a lack of information and under-consideration by archaeologists at a certain stage of research of facts that indicate the peculiarities of the relationship between the economic activities of people and the natural environment, the peculiarities of economic activity and culture in the broadest sense of the word. In recent decades, archaeologists have identified several zones characterized by specific signs of material culture, —

  • eastern,
  • northern,
  • central,
  • southern,
  • western, and
  • southeastern.

Nevertheless, the proximity of the material elements of civilization, at least during its heyday, suggests the existence of a culture whose carriers in different areas maintained close contacts with each other. How were their communities organized? Why is there such a vast community at all? Why is it believed (although new data may refute this) that large cities are emerging relatively quickly? What role did trade play in civilization? Judging by the way ideas about this culture change under the influence of new discoveries, its image is still very far from clear.

Geography of cultural distribution areas and their features

The main areas of distribution of the Harappan civilization are the Indus Valley in Sindh with the adjacent lowlands, the middle Indus, Punjab and the surrounding areas, Gujarat, Balochistan. At its peak, Harappa occupied an unusually large area for an early civilization — about 800,000 square kilometers, far exceeding the territory of the early states of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Probably, not all territories were settled at the same time and developed with the same intensity. It can be assumed that the development of the Indus Valley took place from the territory of Balochistan, it was the inhabitants of this region who could lay the foundations of the Harappan civilization. At the same time, there is an increasing amount of evidence of the existence of pre-Harappan inhabitants in the Indus Valley. Gujarat becomes important only at a later stage, at the same time Makran is developed (its coast is convenient for navigation), signs of the Harappan civilization indicate the gradual spread of its carriers to the south (in particular, in Kach, along with local ceramics, Harappan appears) and the east. In climatic terms, these zones differ:

  • On the plains of Pakistan, the influence of the summer monsoon is felt.
  • On the coast of Makran, the climate is Mediterranean.
  • In Balochistan, small oases are located in the river valleys with permanent or seasonal watercourses, and pastures are located on the mountain slopes.
  • In some areas (the Quetta Valley), where precipitation is relatively high (more than 250 mm per year), non-irrigation farming is possible on a limited scale. In this area, there are deposits of various minerals, copper; recently, lapis lazuli was discovered in the Chagai Mountains, but the question of the use of this deposit in ancient times is still open.

Balochistan is important as a relatively well-studied region, where the dynamics of settlement spread can be traced back to the Neolithic era (Mehrgarh). At the beginning of the third millennium BC, the population in the north and in the central part becomes rare, and only in the south does the Kulli culture continue to exist. It is possible that the reason is the violation of the old economic ties of the population of mountain zones and valleys. At the same time, the population of the Indus Valley is increasing, although the relative desolation of Baluchistan does not mean that only from this region there was an influx of population, moreover, it is very likely that for various and as yet unclear reasons, people from other neighboring regions also came to the area of the Harappan civilization. It is noteworthy that the Harappan settlements were also located on the edge of the Indus Valley, on the routes leading to Iran and Afghanistan.

The emergence of such a vast civilization is the result of economic and cultural integration, which preserved regional characteristics. The continuity of development with the neighboring areas and with the pre-Harappan cultures of the Indus Valley can be traced in many ways. In the end, a very peculiar culture was formed. Its most important features —

  • extensive development of the valleys of large rivers, the
  • emergence of large cities (evidence of the existence of a complex society or societies),
  • exchange for long distances, the
  • development of crafts and highly artistic art,
  • the emergence of writing, the
  • existence of complex religious beliefs, the calendar, etc.

It is hardly productive to assume that the “idea of civilization” was brought to the Indus Valley from outside, from Mesopotamia or Iran. On the contrary, all available evidence points to its deep local roots, although one cannot ignore the role of contacts with other cultural entities, the extent of the expected impact of which, however, remains unclear. So, A. Dani believed that in neighboring Iran, three areas played an extremely important role in the formation of Harappa-the southeast (Bumpur, Tepe Yahya, and the coast), the Helmand region, a mediator in the transfer of north and southeastern Iranian cultural elements, and the Damghan region in the northeast. From there, the connections spread through Afghanistan and Balochistan. Further on, we will have to say what role distant connections played in the history of Harappa.

The central part of the Harappan civilization was located in the Indus Valley, a huge river with a variable course, the depth and width of which in the summer as a result of melting snow and monsoon rains are doubled. Its waters produce fertile sediments, but the river’s inconstancy has created and continues to create great difficulties for land development. In Sindh, where one of the largest cities of the Harappan civilization, Mohenjo-Daro, is located, the coastal areas were dominated by lush thickets of reeds and moisture-loving plants, then there were forests in which reptiles, rhinos and elephants, tigers, wild boars, antelopes, and deer lived in ancient times. Until relatively recently, as mentioned above, these places abounded in game. Many representatives of the local fauna and flora of the Harappan culture were depicted on their products.

Another important area of civilization was Punjab, where the city that gave the name to the entire culture — Harappa-is located. The natural situation here is similar to that in Sindh, the flora and fauna are not much different from Sindh. Rain farming is possible in the Islamabad area. Forests are common in the hills and mountains surrounding Punjab and the surrounding areas. There is reason to believe that in ancient times in the Punjab, especially in neighboring Rajasthan, a significant role was played by mobile forms of cattle breeding.

The geographical conditions of Gujarat are similar to those of Southern Sindh. Recently, signs of the existence of pre-Harappan settlements have been found here.

Population of the regions

The data of anthropology, according to some researchers, indicate the heterogeneity of the anthropological type of the carriers of the Harappan civilization. Among them were representatives of the Mediterranean and Alpine types, according to some researchers who came from the west, Mongoloids from the mountainous regions and proto-Australoids, the supposed autochthonous population. At the same time, V. P. Alekseev believed that the main type was the long-headed, narrow-faced Caucasians, dark-haired and dark-eyed, related to the population of the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, and Near Asia. It is possible that the diversity of the burial rites of Harappa itself, Mohenjo-Daro, Kalibangan, Rupara, Lothal, and Balochistan speaks about the polyethnicity of the carriers of the Harappan culture. It is noteworthy that in the late Harappa, the urn-burials of corpses (simultaneous burials in Swat) appeared.

Agriculture in the Harappan civilization

In the economy, due to the variety of environmental conditions, two forms of agriculture and animal husbandry and mobile cattle breeding dominated, and gathering and hunting, as well as the use of river and sea resources, also played a role. According to B. Subbarao, in the early history of India, three stages can be distinguished, which are associated with the prevailing forms of management, —

  • pre-Harappan-in the north-west there were cultures of settled farmers and pastoralists, in the rest of the territory — hunters and gatherers.
  • Harappan-there was an urban civilization, communities of archaic farmers-pastoralists and hunter-gatherers.
  • and post-Harappan-sedentary agricultural cultures were widely spread, the area of which included Central Hindustan, which felt a strong influence of the Harappan civilization.

Rain farming was practiced on land that was sufficiently moistened by monsoon rains. In the foothill and mountain areas, stone embankments were built to retain water, and terraces were built for the arrangement of sown areas. In the river valleys in ancient times, although there is no absolute data on this account, flood waters were accumulated by creating dams and dams. There is no information about the channels, which is understandable due to the thick layers of sediments. The main agricultural crops were wheat and barley, lentils and peas of several types, flax, as well as such an important crop as cotton. The main crop is believed to have been harvested in the summer (rabi) until the middle of the third millennium BC. Later, in some areas, the kharif harvest was also practiced, in which the sowing was carried out in the summer, and the harvest in the autumn. In this late period, millet introduced from the West and its varieties spread. Rice is beginning to be cultivated — prints have been found in Rangpur and Lothal, and it may be cultivated in Kalibangan. In the west of Uttar Pradesh, intermediate forms from wild to cultural have been identified. There was an opinion about the beginning of rice cultivation here in the V millennium BC, somewhat earlier than in China. It is believed that at the beginning of the second millennium BC, this important culture is increasingly spreading in South Asia, although its origin remains unclear.

New forms of agriculture allowed us to move away from the typical Harappan practice of growing winter cereals, thanks to which new zones were introduced in the old territories, as well as land in the east was developed. By the end of the IV-beginning of the III millennium BC, the life support base is becoming more diverse than before. The resources of sea coasts and rivers are more widely exploited, and in some settlements fish and shellfish were used more than other animal food (for example, Balakot).

As already mentioned, the Neolithic inhabitants of the territories that were later covered by the Harappan civilization were still engaged in animal husbandry. In different places, different types of cattle predominated, on well-watered alluvial lands, large cattle dominated, although small ones were also bred. Outside of alluvium, the picture was reversed. In the alluvial valleys, primarily in the Indus Valley, the number of cattle was very significant — in some places up to 75% of all animals used (Jalipur near Harappa).

Important changes take place at the beginning of the second millennium BC: in the settlement of Pirak in the northern part of the Kachi Valley, near Mehrgarh, not only the bones of a camel and a donkey were found, but also the oldest evidence of horse breeding in South Asia.

A primitive wooden plow was used to work the land, and oxen were harnessed to it, but it is obvious that small areas of particularly soft soil were worked with a hoe, a tool such as a stick-digger and a harrow. Traces of cross-ploughing have been found in Kalibangan — another indication of highly developed agriculture. The use of crop rotation is not excluded. Obviously, there are different ways of managing; there are reasons to assume that they played a complementary role. At the same time, there is no data on how relations between, for example, mainly fishermen and farmers or livestock breeders were regulated.

Settlements of the Harappan civilization

The study of the dynamics of the spread of the Harappa culture is difficult due to the low availability of early strata. Systems of interconnected settlements of different sizes and functions are also difficult to identify due to the concealment of many settlements, primarily small ones, under layers of sediment. Despite the difficulties of studying the dynamics of settlement, some progress has been made in this area. Thus, it is believed that more than a third of the Amri-type settlements in Sindh were abandoned in the Harappan period, but the rest continued to exist in the southwestern part.

Most of the settlements are small, from 0.5 to several hectares, these are rural settlements. The population was mostly rural. Currently, more than 1,000 settlements have been discovered. There are four large settlements (in addition to the two long-known ones, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, Ganveriwala and Rakhi-garhi in Punjab), with an area of many tens of hectares, although it is difficult to determine the exact inhabited territory. Thus, the hill DK excavated in Mohenjo-Daro has an area of 26 hectares, while the total area is estimated at 80 and even 260 hectares, the hill E in Harappa — 15 hectares, although there are other hills here.

For a number of large settlements, a three-part structure was identified — parts were given the conditional names “citadel”, “middle city”and” lower city”. A fourth development area has also been discovered in Dholavir. Both large and some relatively small settlements had bypass walls surrounding the territory of a sub-rectangular shape. They were built from baked bricks and raw materials (in Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and some other settlements), stone and other available materials. It is assumed that the main purpose of the bypass walls is not defensive, they were supposed to serve as a means of protection against flooding. Perhaps their construction was the result of the desire to limit the territory of the habitat of certain social organisms. Thus, in Banavali, Surkotad and Kalibangan, the territory was divided into two parts by a wall. There is an opinion that the actual fortification was necessary only on the outskirts of the Harappan territory, on outposts created on foreign lands. The regular construction of Harappan settlements sharply distinguishes them from the chaotic layout of cities of other civilizations of the Ancient East and can contribute to the reconstruction of the features of social organization, which is still far from clear.

Under favorable conditions for the study, it is possible to establish that the settlements were located in groups — “clusters”. The small number of settlements in the vicinity of Harappa is surprising. A cluster of settlements was found 200 km south of Harappa, near Fort Abbas. The early Harappan settlement of Gomanwala had an area of 27.3 hectares, perhaps almost the same as modern Harappa. Another cluster found upstream of the Ghaggar in Rajasthan is Kalibangan, Siswal, Banavali, etc.; here the pre-Harappan layers (the Sothi-Kalibangan complex, which is similar to Kot-Diji) are also uncovered. Since the beginning of Harappa, there have been significant changes in the Hakra-Ghaggar system: the number of settlements increases fourfold and reaches 174. In the cluster at Fort Derawara, the largest was Ganweriwala (81.5 ha), located 300 km from Mohenjo Daro and Harappa.

320 km from Harappa, on Drshadvati is the Rakhigarhi settlement, which is estimated to have an area of 80 hectares, although it has not been excavated. In Gujarat, the Harappan settlements are small. In late Harappa, there were more than 150 settlements, many of them small and seasonal. The seaside port of Lothal stands out-a supposed port that carried out trade in copper, carnelian, steatite, shells, maintained contacts with hunting and gathering communities and, perhaps, those who were engaged in specialized cattle breeding.

Recently, it has been suggested that in the territory of the Harappan civilization from the previous period to the later one, there were 7 or 8 large settlements – “capitals”, surrounded by towns and villages. In the strict sense, these were not central settlements, since they could also be located on the outskirts of the territories, making contacts between different ecological and economic zones.

Mohenjo-Daro Settlement

Moohenjo-Daro settlement Plan

Plan of the settlement of Moohenjo-Daro.

It is advisable to consider the features of large settlements on the example of the long-studied Mohenjo-Daro. Its exact size is unknown due to accumulated sediments, but it is significant that traces of buildings were found 2 km from the proposed border of the city. In the heyday, the maximum number of inhabitants is determined at 35-40 thousand people. The thickness of the cultural layer is very significant— fragments of clay vessels were found at a depth of 16 to 20 m from the level of the modern surface, while the mainland was not reached. And now you can clearly see the ancient division of the city into two parts — the “citadel” and the “lower city”, separated by an undeveloped plot. The building material was burnt and raw brick, wood. In all likelihood, the burnt brick was used because of its ability to counteract the destructive effects of moisture.

The structures of the” citadel ” were located on a five-meter brick platform. Two large structures of unclear purpose have been excavated here, which were most likely intended for meetings (the assumption that one of them could be the residence of a high-ranking person is unlikely). One of them with an area of 70×22 m. with thick walls had a lobby, the other-a hall with an area of about 900 sq. m. – was divided into four parts by rows of pillars.

The base of the structure, the upper part of which was made of wood, was also found here. According to popular belief, it was a vast, 1350 sq. m., public granary, at the base of which deep ventilation channels were made. A similar granary was discovered in Harappa at the foot of the “citadel”; here its area is 800 sq. m.

Modern view of Mohenjo Daro.

Modern view of Mohenjo Daro.

Finally, on the “citadel” there was a “large pool”, built later than other buildings. Its area is 11.70×6.90 m, and its depth is 2.40 m. On the narrow sides, wooden stairs covered with bitumen led up to it. For water resistance, lime and bitumen coating was made. The pool was filled from a nearby well, and emptied by means of a chute in one of the walls. It was surrounded by a gallery, from which the pillars were preserved. It is assumed that it could serve for ritual ablutions, which were given great importance. Evidence of this is the existence of “bathrooms”in residential buildings.

The “Lower Town” was occupied by residential development. The blocks of houses were separated by straight, right-angled streets and alleys. The considerable height of the walls-up to 6 m. – caused the now rejected opinion that the houses were not one-story: the height of the walls, as well as the great depth of the wells regularly located (one for every three houses), is the result of rebuilding.

Rooms with flat floors were grouped around courtyards, the area of the largest block, consisting of two parts connected by a covered passage, is 1400 sq.m.; there is no reason to judge its belonging to a high — ranking person. In general, the area of the houses reached 355 square meters, and they consisted of 5-9 rooms.

Landscaping was unusually developed for antiquity. In the houses there are bathrooms and toilets. Under the pavement laid lined with baked brick sewer channels, at a certain distance from each other were located septic tanks.

Relatively recent studies of Mohenjo-Daro allowed us to trace the changes in the principles of its development. During the period of developed Harappa, it was cramped, with axial wide streets. The houses were both small and large, and their plans were varied. No traces of artisan activity were found. Later, the number of small buildings increases, and the layout becomes more unified. The craft area is approaching the residential area. Finally, at a later stage of civilization, the dwellings form isolated groups, and traces of handicraft production are found. The sewer system is falling into disrepair, which indicates a crisis in the organization of urban life.

Crafts and art

For the traditional culture of antiquity, such as the Harappan, the division into craft and art is hardly legitimate. The creations of artisans, whether they were intended for everyday life or for rituals, are often marked by high skill. At the same time, among the things of each category, there are better and worse made, there are also rough ones, for the manufacture of which no great skill was required. Differences in the quality of products indicate the existence of high-class professionals, stone carvers, jewelers, sculptors. In different settlements, workshops were found where dishes, jewelry (including from shells), etc. were made. The works of the Harappan masters are deeply distinctive, and attempts to find analogies to them in other regions, in particular in Mesopotamia, as a rule, are reduced to a small number of probable imports from the Indus Valley and difficult-to-prove similarities of individual pictorial motifs.

Tools of labor

So, the production of tools, utensils, and building materials was highly developed and specialized. One of the most important indicators is the level of metalworking. It is noteworthy that there are few items of weapons, although copper and bronze daggers and knives, arrowheads and spears were found. Tools are largely associated with the processing of wood (axes, chisels, adzes), with the household (needles, punctures). Vessels were made of copper and silver, and rarely of lead. It was known to cast in open molds, cold and hot forging; some products were cast in the technique of lost wax. Alloys of copper with arsenic, lead, and tin were used, and a large percentage — about 30 — of tin bronzes was notable. Jewelry (bracelets and beads) were made of stone, shells, copper, silver, and rarely gold. Bracelets, as in later times, were often worn; in all probability, this custom was of a ritual nature. In special cases, vessels made of copper and even gold were used.

Stone tools have not gone out of use, and over time, the variety of types decreases, the quality of raw materials and processing technology increases. Vessels were made of soft types of stone, including figurative ones that had a ritual purpose, from various minerals — beads, seals. Materials for both metal and stone products were often delivered from afar.


Another indicator of a highly developed craft is ceramic production. The dishes were made on a circle of rapid rotation and fired in two-tier furnaces. The shapes are varied and generally standard — bowls, goblets, dishes, braziers, vessels with a pointed bottom and coasters, vessels for making dairy products. The tradition of painting vessels persists, although it is fading: the painting is black on a red background, geometric and figurative — images of animals, plants, and fish. Although the ceramics are of good quality, the vessels are heavy and differ from the more elegant products of pre-Harappan times, which happens in ceramic production not only of ancient cultures when it becomes mass-produced.

Women’s figurines were made of clay, and less often-men’s figurines, including characters in horned headdresses. They are undoubtedly associated with mythological representations and rituals. These figurines are quite conventional, with taped details that convey body parts and numerous ornaments. Very expressive figures of oxen, sometimes harnessed to carts, wild and domestic animals were made of clay and stone. At least some of them could be toys.

Small stone and metal sculptures of men and women, which well convey the anthropological type of at least part of the carriers of the Harappan civilization, are very similar to life. The most famous is a fragment of a sculptural image of a bearded man in a diadem, in a robe decorated with relief shamrocks. The squint of his eyes resembles the position of the eyelids of a meditating person.

Production of seals

The real masterpieces were seals made mainly of steatite-stamps intended, as the found prints show, for sealing goods, although it is very likely that they were also perceived as amulets and talismans. They are flat, square or rectangular, with a protrusion with a hole on the back. A few samples are round; there are practically no cylindrical seals, so characteristic of Mesopotamia, Iran and other areas of Near Asia. As on the vessels, they depicted mainly plants and animals (“tur”, the so-called unicorn, humpback bull, tiger, crocodile, snakes, fantastic polymorphic creatures). In Mohenjo-Daro, there are about 75% of such images. The images are in-depth, made with great skill and understanding of the shapes of the bodies, transmitted close to nature. As a rule, animals are depicted calmly standing near objects that are interpreted as feeders or conventional symbols. In addition, samples were found with images of anthropomorphic creatures of male and female sex in various poses, including those resembling yogic ones. They are represented by participants in the rituals. In addition to the image, a short inscription could be placed on the seals. There are seals with conditional geometric shapes.

The images on the seals are associated with festivals and rituals — feeding an animal, feeding a snake, worshipping a tree in the branches of which a goddess could be depicted, marrying gods in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms. Judging by the available materials, the main role in the marriage myths was played by the goddess. Images similar to those applied to the seal are found on copper plates of unknown purpose. There were prismatic stone and clay objects, the belonging of which to the category of seals is questionable, perhaps they played the role of amulets. The seals may have served as signs of ownership, but there is no doubt that they also served ritual purposes, were something like amulets, and the images on them contain information about mythological representations and rituals. Research by W. F. Vogt of the Mohenjo-Daro seals did not give grounds to judge social differentiation among the population.

It is on the study of seals and related products that the works on deciphering the proto-Indian script are based.

Writing and language

Harappan inscription found near the north gate of Dholavir

A Harappan inscription found near the north gate of Dholavir.

The study of the writing system and the language of the Harappan texts has not yet been completed; a significant role in the research was played by domestic researchers (a group led by Yu. V. Knorozov). The conclusions they came to are presented here on the basis of the work of M. F. Albedil ” Proto-Indian civilization. Essays of Culture” (Moscow, 1994). The difficulty of understanding the texts is that they are written in an unknown script in an unknown language, and there are no bilinguals. There are about 3000 texts, lapidary (mostly 5-6 characters) and monotonous. The letter was hieroglyphic (about 400 characters), written from right to left. It is assumed that the texts were of a sacred nature.

It turned out that the early texts were applied on stone plates, then-on stone, less often metal seals. They do not exclude the existence of cursive writing. When interpreting the signs, pictograms of modern peoples of India, primarily Dravidian-speaking ones, were used.

The researchers believe that they have deciphered the general meaning of most of the inscriptions and revealed the formal structure of the grammatical system. Comparison with the structure of the languages that hypothetically existed in the Indus Valley led to the exclusion of all but Dravidian. At the same time, scientists consider it unacceptable to mechanically extrapolate the phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary of historically recorded languages into Proto-Indian. The emphasis is on the study of the texts themselves, and the Dravidian elements are used as a “correction factor”. The translation is based on the semantic interpretation of the sign, which is determined by the method of positional statistics. They also turned to Sanskrit, as a result of which it was possible to identify the correspondence of 60 astronomical and calendar names and the structural correspondence in the name of the years of the 60-year chronological cycle of Jupiter, known only in the Sanskrit version.

It is assumed that the text block consisted of the name of the owner of the seal in a respectful form, explanations of a calendar and chronological nature, and an indication of the period of validity of the seal. There is an assumption that the seals of the officials belonged to them temporarily, for a certain period.

Judging by the deciphering of the texts, the solar agricultural year began with the autumnal equinox. There were 12 months in the year, the names of which reflected the phenomena of nature, and “micro-seasons” were distinguished. The astronomical year was based on four fixed points — the solstices and equinoxes. New moons and full moons were worshipped. The symbol of the winter solstice, the beginning of the year, is supposed to be the tour. There were several subsystems of counting time — lunar (hunting-gathering), solar (agricultural), state (civil) and priestly. In addition, there were calendar cycles — 5-, 12-, 60-year; they had symbolic designations. These are the assumptions of domestic researchers of proto-Indian texts.

The problem of exchange and trade

For a long time in the science of antiquity, there was an idea of more or less isolation and self-sufficiency of ancient social formations, in particular the Harappan ones. Thus, W. Ferservice wrote that trade played a large role in Sumer, somewhat less-in Egypt, and the Harappan civilization was in a state of isolation and trade relations were random, not systematic. Later, in the 70s of the XX century, the attitude to the role of exchange and trade in ancient times changed dramatically, especially in foreign science. Reconstructions not only of the economy, but also of the social structure of ancient societies that were not written or did not have informative written texts began to be carried out taking into account the role of exchange, and not at the local level, but over long distances. Now some researchers attach great importance to the role of trade in the formation and existence of the Harappan civilization. In particular, a number of Indian scholars believe that traders played a large role in the formation of cities and ideological ideas, and they believe that the reason for the decline of cities is the disruption of trade with countries west of Harappa. The decline of trade in the late period is attributed by researchers (including K. N. Dikshit) to the weakening of the central government, as a result of which trade routes became unsafe. The change in the political situation in Mesopotamia, the rise of Hammurabi to power caused the weakening of the cities of Southern Mesopotamia, and trade routes began to reorient to the west, to Anatolia and the Mediterranean. The source of copper was Cyprus, and not, as before, Oman and its neighboring territories.

Trade with Western countries

The existence of links between the carriers of the Harappan civilization and their close and distant neighbors cannot be doubted, primarily because the Indus Valley, its indigenous territory, like Mesopotamia, is poor in minerals that people needed and used. From the territory of the subcontinent came minerals and shells, which were widely used in various industries. From more remote areas, copper was delivered (its deposits were exploited in Iran, in particular in Kerman, and Afghanistan) and gold. Tin, as the available information suggests, came from Central Asia (one of the alleged sources is the Ferghana Valley, the other is located in the south-west of Afghanistan), lapis lazuli — from Badakhshan (if not from the Chagai Mountains), turquoise — from Iran. Already in the Neolithic Mehrgarh, connections with Iran are clearly traced, from where widely used minerals were delivered — crystalline gypsum (“alabaster” of archaeological literature) and steatite. The appearance of late Harappan settlements in the foothills of the Himalayas may be due to the need of civilization for mineral raw materials — in one of the settlements, traces of the production of various beads, clearly intended for exchange, were found.

Already at the end of the IV millennium BC, the names of the southern countries — Dilmun, Magan, Melukha-began to appear in Mesopotamian texts. There has been and continues to be a debate about their localization in science. Probably, during the III-II thousand BC, they were understood as different territories. However, it is clear that Dilmun and Magan were intermediate between Mesopotamia and Melukha — the supposed Indus valley. Dilmun (Bahrain) has always played a mediating role, while the real sources of the much-prized copper, wood, and minerals were not always known to the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and their source could be considered the point from which they received them — Dilmun. Recent discoveries have made it clear that one of the most important suppliers of copper to Mesopotamia was Oman. Standard copper ingots weighing about 6 kg are typical for finds of this kind from Syria to Lothal. It is noteworthy that the peak of information about this exchange falls on the heyday of Harappa, around the beginning of the second millennium BC. Harappan type seals are found in Ur, Ummah, Nippur, Tell Asmar, on the islands of the Persian Gulf, Bahrain and Faylaq, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. An inscription in the Harappan script has been found in Oman. Carriers of another culture, the kulli, were also associated with the western regions — typical products for it were found in Abu Dhabi.

At the end of the third millennium BC, Harappan merchants and their families lived in Lagash. There have also been suggestions about the existence of Mesopotamian colonies in the territory of Harappa, although direct data on this matter is still insufficient. Everyone is surprised by the extremely small number of things characteristic of the Mesopotamian civilization in the Harappan territory. This is usually attributed to the fact that they could be made from short-lived materials; fabrics are mentioned among the likely imports. Perhaps the absence of foreign things is a consequence of the firm commitment of the “Harappans” to their traditions: researchers recall that in the houses of Indian merchants in the XIX century, it was rare to find things of foreign production.

The sea route was most likely used — there are known images of sailing ships that were built from wood and reeds. The voyage was coasting, the sailors did not let the shore out of sight. There is an opinion, shared, however, not by all researchers, that the port was Lothal in Gujarat, where a structure similar to a dock was discovered. A seal characteristic of the Persian Gulf region was found in Lothal.

Trade with the Nordic countries

The exchange with close territories could be direct, with distant ones — indirect. At the same time, the discovery of a real Harappan colony in Northern Afghanistan, near the confluence of the Kokchi and Amu Darya, is symptomatic. It is believed that Shortugai was a “trading post” on the route connecting Harappa with the territory of Turkmenistan and other neighboring regions. One of the likely objects of interest of the “Harappans” is lapis lazuli, and possibly tin. The inhabitants of Shortugai brought lentils and sesame from India, and the local crops they cultivated were grapes, wheat, rye, and alfalfa; they bred zebu and buffalo from their native places. On the settlements of the Anau culture of Southern Turkmenistan, Harappan type seals, ivory products were found, there are signs characteristic of Harappan products in the forms and decor of ceramic vessels.

Overland routes ran north through mountain passes, bypassing the Deshte Lut desert to the Diyala Valley, along river valleys within its territory, possibly along the coast — Harappan settlements were found on the Makran coast. It is unlikely that oxcarts were used for distant wanderings, models of which made of clay and bronze were found in different settlements. But already in the period of developed Harappa, two-humped camels began to be used, which are believed to have been domesticated in Central Asia, data on which were obtained in Southern Turkmenistan, where the camel, according to existing assumptions, was tamed as early as the IV millennium BC. In exchange operations, mainly cubic stone weights weighing were used 8, 16, 32, 64, 160, 200, 320, 640, 1600, 3200, 6400, 8000 They also used conical, spherical, and barrel-shaped weights. Rulers with dimensional divisions were also used.

The question of the place of foreign trade in the economic life of the “Harappans” remains debatable. Was it an essential or peripheral part of the economy? Was it a more or less regular exchange, or was it a planned trade? How were the products of internal exchange realized in it? Was the trade directed by “government administrators” or professional agents?

As in the study of other areas of Harappan culture, the answer to these questions depends on the reconstruction of the social order as a whole, the understanding of which is far from clear. Nevertheless, it is hardly legitimate to conclude that the trade and production of goods did not differ much from modern ones.

Social structure

Researchers of large Harappan settlements from the moment when their structure became clear, expressed, on the basis of the division of these settlements into two or more parts, the assumption of the division of society into the nobles-the inhabitants of the” citadel ” and the rest of the population. Some researchers interpret the inscriptions on the clay bracelets as titles. M. Wheeler saw the analogy of the social organization of Harappa in the city-states of Mesopotamia, and considered the idea of cities to be brought from Sumer. Many researchers have written about a Harappan “empire” with centralized power and an exploited rural population. They also assumed the existence of several classes — oligarchies, warriors, merchants and artisans (K. N. Dikshit), rulers, farmers-traders, workers (B. B. Lal), to which some added slaves. M. F. Albedil wrote about the possibility of the existence of a highly centralized political structure in proto-Indian society. At the same time, it allowed for a strong role of local centers, in which the central power was partially duplicated on the ground. Some researchers rightly focus on the specifics of Harappan society, in particular on the place of the priesthood in public life, which was different than in Mesopotamia with its organized temple farms. Nevertheless, there are reasons to believe that at least at some stages, especially during the period of advanced Harappa, there may have been a strong ruling elite consisting of priests. On the basis of the deciphering of documents of proto-Indian writing proposed in Russian science, it is possible to assume the functioning of temples and priests, and even the presence of political leaders.

Thus, the data do not allow us to draw direct parallels between the social organization of Mesopotamia or Elam and that of the carriers of the Harappan civilization. So far, despite the considerable amount of excavations, there are no signs of the existence of rulers and persons who concentrated in their hands significant material values, deposited, in particular, in burials, as was the case in Mesopotamia or Egypt. The weak manifestation of the military function in society is symptomatic. Apparently, there was no significant wealth concentrated in the temples. No documents of economic content have been found or identified.

At the same time, there are facts indicating the existence of property inequality, the presence in society of groups that occupied different social positions and performed different functions. The accumulation of valuables suggests, in particular, the treasures found in Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and other places. U. Ferservice, taking into account the peculiarities of the Harappan civilization, drew attention to the large number of short-lived settlements and the significant role of cattle breeding, which could act as a symbol of wealth. Settlements in a particular area played a different role — among them were mainly agricultural and those in which handicraft production and exchange prevailed. These settlements were interconnected. He suggested that the form of organization was not a city-state or a single state, but a chiefdom. According to his hypothesis, the Harappan chiefdoms were based on kinship ties and similar to those known in Hawaii, Northwestern America, Southeast Asia, and West Africa.

The degree of development of cities, crafts and economy, the addition of its specialized forms, agriculture and cattle breeding suggested the need to regulate relations between representatives of different spheres of activity. The circulation of “primitive values”, which can be traced, in particular, by the example of lapis lazuli products, has led other researchers to suggest the formation of chiefdoms-type formations already at the early stage of Harappa. In the future, the emergence of a state is assumed, in which power was no longer associated with genealogical rank, and production relations are separated from relations based on kinship. The application of the concept of chiefdom to reconstruct the social structure of the pre-state societies of the East has raised objections. As an alternative to it, another model was proposed, based on the study of the akephalic societies of the Eastern Himalayas (in Russian science, its development belongs to Yu.E. Berezkin). Type of economy-irrigated agriculture and cattle breeding. Signs of such societies, some of which can be captured on archaeological material, are expressed in the appearance of settlements. These are closely built villages without monumental architecture with many small shrines, the existence of differences in property status, overcome by a special institute of redistribution such as potlatch, specialized craft, trade exchange, obtaining exotic prestigious things through trade over long distances. They are not chiefdoms, nor are they groups of isolated village communities. At the same time, the communal and tribal institutions were weak, and the individual, thanks to individual ownership of the means of production, was independent. Social life is regulated in the course of mass ceremonies and festivals, during which complex systems of relations were formed, covering the entire area of the ethnos ‘ habitat. In the villages, there were councils of respected men. It can not be excluded that the society of the carriers of the Harappan civilization without a layer of elite and with public facilities that required relatively small labor costs, could rather be similar to those described, but on a larger scale. It should be noted that before and, most notably, now, with the advent of new data, opinions are expressed about the existence of the state.

Religious and mythological representations and rituals

It is difficult to judge myths, beliefs, rituals, as well as the spiritual life of the “Harappans” in general, primarily because of the low information content of written monuments, even if we recognize the accuracy of their interpretation. The sources are primarily images on seals and other things, samples of clay, stone, metal sculptures, traces of rites. Temples-one of the main evidences of the worship of the gods-did not exist or are not defined. One of the reasons for reconstructions is the comparison of the known data with the ideas and rituals of the supposed historical successors of the speakers of the Harappan civilization or, as many researchers tend to think, related to them in the language of the Dravidian-speaking peoples of India.

The animals depicted on the seals and metal plates: a humpback Indian bull, a gaur bull, a buffalo, an animal similar to a bull, but depicted with one horn (“unicorn”), a tiger, a rhinoceros, a crocodile, an elephant, rarely a rabbit, birds, fantastic multi — headed animals, according to the assumption of domestic researchers, served as symbols, some of them — the cardinal directions and/or seasons. They also depicted trees — pipal, ashvattha. The tree is sometimes depicted rising from a ring-shaped enclosure-it probably served as an object of worship, embodying the idea of a “world tree” (fences of this appearance were found during excavations). In later times, the venerated trees were decorated, in particular, in order to have children. Sacrificial rituals played an important role.

Proto-Shiva Seal

A seal depicting a horned character, possibly a yogi, or proto-Shiva, or Pashuvati (lord of the animals).

There are known images of anthropomorphic creatures of the female and male sex, found, in particular, in scenes of worship to them. One seal depicts a horned male character, whose pose, in the opinion of J. R. R. Tolkien, is the same. E. During Caspers pointed to the images of a horned and tailed character with a bow, indicating, in her opinion, the existence of hunting rites. Female beings, whose images are also known in small plastic, are usually associated with the images of “mother goddesses”. Apparently, there were many such mythological creatures, they, at least in part, were associated with fertility cults, ideas about life and death. Among the gods, the predecessors of Skanda, the creator gods, the ancestral spirits of the Yakshas, the Gandharvas, and the Apsaras are assumed. There were rites of sacred marriage, perhaps carried out seasonally.

The research of Yu. V. Knorozov, M. F. Albedil and other Russian scientists suggests the veneration of the heavenly bodies, based on deep knowledge in the field of astronomy and observations of natural phenomena. Famous sculptures of men and women most likely depicted priests and performers of ritual dances. There are reports that the rites were performed in open courtyards; in Kalibangan, something like fire altars near the platform were found on the “citadel”. Podiums with signs of cattle sacrifices were found. It is very likely that there are shamanic rites and corresponding representations. Images of bull hunters may be associated with the ancient ideas inherent in hunters; the image of people jumping over a buffalo is interesting (W. Ferservice suggested the possibility of Cretan influence on this image made in an unusual linear style, which requires new confirmation). The objects of worship were conical and cylindrical stones-something like lingams and ring-shaped objects-possible predecessors of the yoni.

Many researchers have no doubt about the profound impact of the religious practices and ideas of the Harappan culture carriers on the later ones brought by the Aryans. These include, in particular, the practice of yoga.

In general, the interpretation of the evidence of the Harappan religion, as well as the social system, depends on the position of the researcher:

  • if we assume that society was organized hierarchically, and civilization was a complete entity, we can talk about the pantheon, the priesthood with a hierarchy, etc.;
  • if we assume that the organization of society was archaic, then we will have to talk about the diversity of ideas and religious life, even if they have a certain commonality.

The disappearance of the Harappan civilization

The reasons why the Harappan civilization could disappear, according to tradition, are two —

  • changing climatic conditions, and, as a result, changing the riverbed of the Indus,
  • the arrival of other ethnic groups in the Indus Valley, and in particular the Aryans.

You can read more about what could have happened in the corresponding article.

Be that as it may, the role of the Harappan civilization in the history of India is still really difficult to determine, although, like many researchers, it can be regarded as extremely important. Among the preserved heritage, there are forms of traditional lifestyle, social structure, and a significant array of religious beliefs and rituals. It is assumed that the four-level division and the caste system were formed under the influence of non-Aryan ethno-cultural substrates.

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