Modern archaeological excavations at the ancient Indus city of Harappa in Punjab, Pakistan have been going on since 1986. They are being conducted by HARP, the Harappa Archaeological Research Project. HARP is a joint undertaking of Harvard University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and New York University. The Principal Investigators are Dr. Richard H. Meadow (Project Director), Dr. Jonathan Mark Kenoyer (Co-Project and Field Director), and Dr. Rita Wright (Assistant Project Director and Director of the Beas Survey).
|Research is carried out in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan with the assistance of staff from Pakistan, USA and other countries.|
The results of these excavations, particularly in the last few years, are rewriting our understanding of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Harappa is the first ancient Indus city where it has been possible to document the transformation from a small village (founded c. 3500 B.C.) to a great urban center and to follow that transformation through a continuous sequence of archaeological deposits. Within the six century long urban period, it has been possible to show how the city kept renewing itself in a dynamic fashion.
Simultaneously, with the excavations at Harappa, greater knowledge of raw material resources, manufacturing techniques and trade routes in the rest of the Greater Indus Valley is enabling archaeologists to understand Harappa's role in a far larger regional network. The movement of goods and resources in the 4th and 3rd millenium BC was no less important than it is today.
One of the most significant discoveries from 1996-1998 has been of a newly identified earlier phase of Indus culture. This Ravi Phase, named after the nearby Ravi River, lasted from approximately 3300 BC (or even 3500 BC) to 2800 BC. This phase is related to the Hakra Phase, identified in the Ghaggar-Hakra river valley to the west, and predates the Kot Diji Phase (2800 -2600 BC), named after a site in northern Sindh near Mohenjo-daro. Increasing knowledge of the Ravi and Kot Diji Phase occupations at Harappa and of contemporary settlements throughout northwestern South Asia permits glimpses of the indigenous origin of various hallmarks of later Indus Civilization, from pottery to bead manufacture, from writing to building construction.
This elegant small gold disc with steatite inlay may give us some idea of what the ornament in the center of the so-called "Priest King" found at Mohenjo-daro may have looked like.
Some of the most exciting discoveries in Ravi Phase levels have been of early writing. Dating from c. 3300-2800 BC, they have pushed back the origins of the Indus script-like signs by almost 500 years. This would make the origins of writing in South Asia approximately contemporary with the development of writing in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
The important point here is not a race to find the earliest writing. We will never know what remains undiscovered or lost to posterity. Rather, writing seems to have developed in these three civilizations at about the same time. Its use appears linked to the development of increasingly complex societies in which individual or limited group ownership of trade and subsistence goods was becoming institutionalized and in which long-distance trade and local exchange were becoming increasingly significant. In spite of similarity of dating, however, the specific evolution and trajectory of writing in each civilization differs greatly, underlining the uniqueness of developments in each of the three great river valleys (Nile, Tigris-Euphrates and Indus-Ghaggar/Hakra).
Steatite tablets bearing signs of the still undeciphered Indus script have been found primarily at Harappa. This set of three-sided tablets with identical Indus inscriptions was discovered together in dump deposits outside the city wall. Scanning electron microscope analysis of the details of the sign carving indicates that the tablets were inscribed by three different scribes. A seal found nearby bearing two of the same signs as on the tablets suggests that all these devices belonged to the same person. Information on writing styles, use and discard of inscribed objects are providing a new dimension to our understanding of writing in the Harappan context and may assist in the eventual decipherment of the Indus script.
Continuing work since 1997 is focusing on some of the more mysterious structural remains at Harappa. The so-called "Great Granary" in Mound F was first identified as such by archaeologists in the 1920s. A similarly designated building has been discovered in Mohenjo-daro. Current excavations are testing this hypothesis as well as the function of the so-called "working platforms" to the south of the "Great Granary."
The "Cemetery H" culture followed the Harappan phase at Harappa. Excavations suggest far greater continuity between the two periods than previously believed. The end of the ancient Indus civilization was not a quick, sharp event and the legacy of this civilization survives today many thousands of years later in different parts of South Asia.
A wonderful collection of 133 beads was unearthed in a small earthenware pot in 1996. A unique find, it was probably assembled by a single individual - an ancient bead collector. The beads themselves reveal the wide variety and high value associated with tiny manufactured objects in ancient Indus times. Other contemporary ancient civilizations expressed themselves in monumental architecture - palaces, temples and gravesites. The Indus people seem to have put their creative energies into tiny portable objects whose production required complex processes and a high degree of artisanship.
Part I (Slides 1-90) of Around the Indus in 90 Slides, elsewhere on this site, is a comprehensive general introduction to the ancient Indus Valley. These 90 slides focus only on the latest discoveries.
Other sections on this site that provide background include A Walk Through Harappa, Ancient Harappa in 3-D, The Indus Script and A Unicorn Seal.
An easily printed list of all slide captions on one page is also available.