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Archaeology Publication

The Harappan Civilization

InArchCenter ID: IACBN001

Also known as Indus Valley civilization, an archaeological culture that flourished from the middle of the third millennium B.C. to the 17th or 16th century B.C. in the northwestern part of the Hindustan Peninsula, in what is now India and Pakistan. It was named after the site of Harappa. Archaeological excavations, which were begun in the 1920s and were conducted by R. Sahni, R. Banerji, J. Marshall, E. Mackay, and B. B. Lal, among others, uncovered about 500 monuments, including the ruins of several capital cities (Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Kalibhangan), seaports, and border fortresses and the remains of settlements. The principal building material was mud brick; the stone was used for the fortress foundations. The cities were laid out on a grid plan of rectilinear streets, with a water supply and sewage systems. One- and two-storied houses, each house consisting of four to six rooms and a bathroom, were grouped around a central court and well. The city’s citadel was fortified by a wall with towers. The economy was based on stock raising (buffalo, swine, and possibly elephants) and irrigated farming (wheat, millet, barley, peas, and, in the later stages, rice). The remains of a 2.5 km long irrigation canal were discovered in Lothal (Gujarat, India). Finds of copper and bronze tools, such as knives, sickles, chisels, and saws, weapons, such as arrowheads, spearheads, and short swords, and varied pottery attest to the development of handicrafts. The discovery of weights and objects from the countries of Northwest Asia in Harappan towns and the discovery of Harappan seals in the cities of Mesopotamia (Ur, Kish, Tell Asmar) indicate the existence of trade between the two regions, carried on by caravan and possibly by sea. The remains of a dock, with an area of 7,740 sq m, were discovered in Lothal, and clay models of sailing ships were found; depictions of ships were also found in Mohenjo-Daro. Works of applied art are represented by seals of steatite (soapstone), with depictions of animals and pictographic symbols (not yet deciphered), and by women’s ornaments, such as necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, made of ivory, precious stones, and various metals. Sculpture gives us an idea of the physical appearance of the bearers of the Harappan civilization. The Harappan burial ritual has been deduced from the burial grounds at Harappa and Lothal. It is characterized by single and double burials, with the dead lying in a supine position in flat graves; the grave goods consisted primarily of pottery. The people of the Harappan civilization worshipped a mother goddess and a god regarded as a prototype of Shiva, as well as fire, trees, and animals. The lack of written sources has made the study of the social and political systems of the Harappan civilization difficult. By analogy with the material culture and economy of the civilizations of Northwest Asia, the Harappan civilization was an early class society with a slaveholding system. The principal producing population, united in communes, was subjected to exploitation. The political system was probably a despotism. It is conjectured that several factors were responsible for the decline of the Harappan civilization, including tectonic displacement, flooding, the depletion and bogging up of the soil, epidemics, and wars. The post-Harappan civilization is considered to be genetically connected with the Harappan civilization. The Harappan civilization has left its mark on the cultures of the modern peoples of India and Pakistan.


Mackay, E. Drevneishaia kul’tura doliny Inda. Moscow, 1951. (Translated from English.) Shchetenko, A. Ia. Drevneishie zemlevladel’cheskie kul’tury Dekana. Leningrad, 1968. Wheeler, M. The Indus Civilization, 3rd ed. Supplementary volume to the Cambridge History of India. London, 1968. Fairservis, W. A. The Roots of Ancient India. New York, 1971. REFERENCES A. IA. SHCHETENKO

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