Harappa is an archaeological site in Punjab, Pakistan, about 24 km (15 mi) west of Sahiwal. The site takes its name from a modern village located near the former course of the Ravi River which now runs 8 km (5.0 mi) to the north. The current village of Harappa is less than 1 km (0.62 mi) from the ancient site. Although modern Harappa has a legacy railway station from the British Raj period, it is a small crossroads town of 15,000 people today.
The site of the ancient city contains the ruins of a Bronze Age fortified city, which was part of the Indus Valley Civilisation centred in Sindh and the Punjab, and then the Cemetery H culture. The city is believed to have had as many as 23,500 residents and occupied about 150 hectares (370 acres) with clay brick houses at its greatest extent during the Mature Harappan phase (2600 BC – 1900 BC), which is considered large for its time. Per archaeological convention of naming a previously unknown civilisation by its first excavated site, the Indus Valley Civilisation is also called the Harappan Civilisation.
The ancient city of Harappa was heavily damaged under British rule, when bricks from the ruins were used as track ballast in the construction of the Lahore–Multan Railway. In 2005, a controversial amusement park scheme at the site was abandoned when builders unearthed many archaeological artifacts during the early stages of building work. A plea from the Pakistani archaeologist Mohit Prem Kumar to the Ministry of Culture resulted in a restoration of the site.
The Harappan Civilisation has its earliest roots in cultures such as that of Mehrgarh, approximately 6000 BC. The two greatest cities, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, emerged circa 2600 BC along the Indus River valley in Punjab and Sindh. The civilisation, with a possible writing system, urban centers, and diversified social and economic system, was rediscovered in the 1920s also after excavations at Mohenjo-daro in Sindh near Larkana, and Harappa, in west Punjab south of Lahore. A number of other sites stretching from the Himalayan foothills in east Punjab, India in the north, to Gujarat in the south and east, and to Pakistani Balochistan in the west have also been discovered and studied. Although the archaeological site at Harappa was damaged in 1857 when engineers constructing the Lahore–Multan railroad used brick from the Harappa ruins for track ballast, an abundance of artifacts have nevertheless been found. The bricks discovered were made of red sand, clay, stones and were baked at very high temperature. As early as 1826 Harappa, located in west Punjab, attracted the attention of Daya Ram Sahni, who gets credit for preliminary excavations of Harappa. Because of the reducing sea-levels certain regions in late Harappan period were abandoned. Towards the end Harappan civilization lost features such as writing and hydraulic engineering. As a result the ganges valley settlement gained prominence and ganges cities developed.
Culture & Economy
The Indus Valley civilisation was mainly an urban culture sustained by surplus agricultural production and commerce, the latter including trade with Sumer in southern Mesopotamia. Both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are generally characterized as having “differentiated living quarters, flat-roofed brick houses, and fortified administrative or religious centers.” Although such similarities have given rise to arguments for the existence of a standardized system of urban layout and planning, the similarities are largely due to the presence of a semi-orthogonal type of civic layout, and a comparison of the layouts of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa shows that they are in fact, arranged in a quite dissimilar fashion.
The weights and measures of the Indus Valley Civilisation, on the other hand, were highly standardized, and conform to a set scale of gradations. Distinctive seals were used, among other applications, perhaps for identification of property and shipment of goods. Although copper and bronze were in use, iron was not yet employed. “Cotton was woven and dyed for clothing; wheat, rice, and a variety of vegetables and fruits were cultivated; and a number of animals, including the humped bull, were domesticated,” as well as “fowl for fighting“. Wheel-made pottery—some of it adorned with animal and geometric motifs—has been found in profusion at all the major Indus sites. A centralized administration for each city, though not the whole civilisation, has been inferred from the revealed cultural uniformity; however, it remains uncertain whether authority lay with a commercial oligarchy. Harappans had many trade routes along the Indus River that went as far as the Persian Gulf, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Some of the most valuable things traded were carnelian and lapis lazuli.
What is clear is that Harappan society was not entirely peaceful, with the human skeletal remains demonstrating some of the highest rates of injury (15.5%) found in South Asian prehistory. Paleopathological analysis demonstrated that leprosy and tuberculosis were present at Harappa, with the highest prevalence of both disease and trauma present in the skeletons from Area G (an ossuary located south-east of the city walls). Furthermore, rates of cranio-facial trauma and infection increased through time demonstrating that the civilisation collapsed amid illness and injury. The bioarchaeologists who examined the remains have suggested that the combined evidence for differences in mortuary treatment and epidemiology indicate that some individuals and communities at Harappa were excluded from access to basic resources like health and safety, a basic feature of hierarchical societies worldwide.
The harappans had traded with Babylonia among other areas. Cotton textiles and agricultural products were the primary trading objects. The Harappan merchants also had procurement colonies in Mesopotamia which also served as trading centers.
- Ravi Aspect of the Hakra phase, c. 3300 – 2800 BC.
- Kot Dijian (Early Harappan) phase, c. 2800 – 2600 BC.
- Harappan Phase, c. 2600 – 1900 BC.
- Transitional Phase, c. 1900 – 1800 BC.
- Late Harappan Phase, c. 1800 – 1300 BC.
By far the most exquisite and obscure artifacts unearthed to date are the small, square steatite (soapstone) seals engraved with human or animal motifs. A large number of seals have been found at such sites as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Many bear pictographic inscriptions generally thought to be a form of writing or script. Despite the efforts of philologists from all parts of the world, and despite the use of modern cryptographic analysis, the signs remain undeciphered. It is also unknown if they reflect proto-Dravidian or other non-Vedic language(s). The ascribing of Indus Valley Civilisation iconography and epigraphy to historically known cultures is extremely problematic, in part due to the rather tenuous archaeological evidence for such claims, as well as the projection of modern South Asian political concerns onto the archaeological record of the area. This is especially evident in the radically varying interpretations of Harappan material culture as seen from both Pakistan- and India-based scholars.
In February 2006 a school teacher in the village of Sembian-Kandiyur in Tamil Nadu discovered a stone celt (tool) with an inscription estimated to be up to 3,500 years old. Indian epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan postulated that the four signs were in the Indus script and called the find “the greatest archaeological discovery of a century in Tamil Nadu”. Based on this evidence he goes on to suggest that the language used in the Indus Valley was of Dravidian origin. However, the absence of a Bronze Age in South India, contrasted with the knowledge of bronze making techniques in the Indus Valley cultures, calls into question the validity of this hypothesis.
The area of late Harappan period consisted of areas of Daimabad, Maharashtra and Badakshan regions of Afghanistan. The area covered by this civilization would have been very large with distance of around 1500 miles.
Early Symbols Similar to Indus Script
Clay and stone tablets unearthed at Harappa, which were carbon dated 3300–3200 BC., contain trident-shaped and plant-like markings. “It is a big question as to if we can call what we have found true writing, but we have found symbols that have similarities to what became Indus script” said Dr. Richard Meadow of Harvard University, Director of the Harappa Archeological Research Project. This primitive writing is placed slightly earlier than primitive writings of the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, dated c.3100 BC. These markings have similarities to what later became Indus Script.