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THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILISATION AT LOTHAL [TEXT]|
By Anil Mulchandani
Around a dozen are along the
Gulf of Cambay, where there is evidence that agate was mined
during the Indus period. This shows
how the Harappans depended on water sources for their survival
and navigated rivers and sea water for trade and communication.
Lothal, however, is one of the few known ports on an ocean.
Lothal was originally the site for the lustrous Red Ware culture,
named for its micaceous pottery. Bn 2400 BC Harappans
arrived here from the Indus Valley, perhaps in search of more fertile
lands and potential ports. Gradually they colonised many areas
along the Gulf of Cambay, forming citadels that include the
southernmost outposts of the Indus Valley civilisation.
Lothal developed as the most important port and a center of the bead industry until 1900 BC, when a great flood apparently resulted in 300 years of decline. However, the Indus civilisation survived here in the 1600s and 1500s, after which it disappeared from the northern provinces.
The result is a high maturity in town planning. The vitality of the Indus civilisation at Lothal can be judged by the 3 floods that resulted in large scale destruction, but did not dampen the ambitions of the inhabitants. Instead they breached the gaps and rebuilt the important structures on higher platforms. After the 2200 BC floods, the northwest section beyond the bazaar was enlarged further and additions were made to the ruler's palace and the merchant houses.
The first sight, that meets a visitor's eye at Lothal is the massive dockyard, which has made Lothal prominent on the international archaelogical map. Spanning an area 37 meters from east to west and nearly 22 meters from north to south, the dock was perhaps the greatest work of maritime architecture before the birth of Christ. Not all archaeologists are convinced that the structure was used as a dock and some prefer to refer to it as a large tank that may have been a reservoir.
It was excavated besides the river Sabarmati, which has since changed course. The structure shows a thorough study of tides, hydraulics and the effect of sea water on bricks. Ships could enter into the northern end of the dock through an inlet channel connected to an estuary of the Sabramati during high tide. The lock gates were then closed so the water level would rise sufficiently for them to float.
An inlet channel 1.7 meters above the bottom level of the 4.26 meter deep tank allowed excess water to escape. Other inlets prevented siltation of the tanks and erosion of the banks. After a ship had unloaded its cargo, the gates would have opened and allowed it to return to the Arabian sea waters in the Gulf of Combay.
Archaeological finds from the excavations testify to trade with ancient Egypt and Mespotamia. The hydraulic knowledge of the ancient Harappans can be judged by the fact that boats could dock at Lothal in the 1850's. In 1942 timber was brought from Baruch to nearby Sagarwala. It is said that then the dockyard could hold 30 ships of 60 tons each or 60 ships of 30 tons each. This would be comparable to the modern docks at Vishakapatnam.
A long wharf connected the dockyard to the main warehouse, which was located on a plinth some 3.5 meters above the ground. The first concern of the Harappan engineers might have been to ensure against floods and tides (which may have been their undoing at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa).
The whole town was situated on a patch of high ground. Rising from the flat alluvial plains of Bhal a wall was erected to encircle the town, and a platform was built where goods were checked and stored. The warehouse was divided into 64 rooms of around 3.5 square meters each, connected by 1.2 meter wide passages. Twelve of these cubical blocks are visible today.
Seals were used to label imports and exports passing through the dock. Some of these labels or tags have been found during excavations. Kiln fired bricks, which the Harappans had learned were unaffected by tidal waters, were used in making the passages to protect the cargo.
Near the warehouse, also on a high plinth, is the upper town or acropolis which spans 128 by 61 meters and has extensive drainage systems. The rulers home is no longer a grand palace, but the foundations show signs of it having been a 2 or 3 storeyed mansion.
The rooms of the upper town were obviously built for upper classes. They had private pathed brick baths and a remarkable network of drains and cesspools. The proximity of the seat of power to the warehouse, ensured that the ruler and his entourage could inspect stocks easily. An ivory workshop at the acropolis suggests that elephants may have been domesticated to produce the raw material.
From the plinth of the acropolis, it is a short distance to the lower town. The lower town contains a commercial and residential area. The arterial streets running from north to south were flanked by shops, merchant dwellings and artisan''s workshops. Streets running from east to west led to the residential areas with lanes allowing access to individual dwellings.
The bead factories, situated where the 8th street of the commercial area and the 5th street of the residential area meet, comprised the main industry of the Harappans. They probably settled (or their culture came) to the Gulf of Cambay region because of its agate and precious stone resources.
The factory comprised 11 rooms, which included worker's quarters, warheouses and guard rooms, surrounding a courtyard. The main bead making machine was a twisted chambered kiln, made from mud plastered bricks, which was used for heating the stones used to make beads. Bellows helped raise the temperatures within.
Lothal was especially famous for its micro-beads. These were made by grinding materials, rolling them on to a string, baking it solid. Finally the baked roll was sawed into required shapes and sizes.
Unique necklaces were made with microbeads of gold. Some were as little as 0.25mm in diameter. They are testimony to the science of beadmaking perfected by the Indus Valley civilization, and has not been surpassed by artisans in the Gulf of Cambay today.
The middle classes who could not afford gold contented themselves with gilded copper wires. Low income groups must have worn ornaments from shells and clay. Coppersmithing and pottery reached high standards of development in the lower town.
Next to the Bead lapideries is a coppersmith's workshops, identified by its furnace. It was lined with bricks and well-equiped with required tools such as anvils, copper chisels and clay crusibles. Niches in the workshop walls were probably where the coppersmith kept lamps to illuminate the workshop. At Lothal, metal smiths used nearly 100% pure copper imported from the Middle East. It was alloyed with tin to make arrow heads, spears, fish hooks, tools and ornaments. They also knew how to make bronzes of birds and dancing girls. A possible fire altar indicates that the Harrapans may have worshipped a fire God.
The industry of special interest in Lothal was pottery, which included beautiful jars painted with stags, bulls, cows, horses, sitting birds and more, terra-cotta toys and figurines. Two styles of pottery have been discovered in Lothal - the stud-handled convex bowl and the small flaring rimmed jar. While painting utensils, the Harappans started with horizontal and verticle patterns, on which they added geometric and non- geometric patterns. Peacocks and floral designs in black-on-red or brown-on-buff surfaces were popular motifs. Toy bullock carts show remarkable similarity to our own in terms of ratios and proportions. Other toys included animals that could move on wheels.
Seals were another important part of the Harrapan life style, and besides those with copper rings used as lables at the warehouse to authenciate contents or certify payment of taxes, there were others of religious and commercial importance. Writing and graffitti on seals and terra cotta combined pictographs, specially faunal figures, with phonemes. The artists of Lothal developed a style based on realism, and showed animals in their natural habitat.
The he most unique aspect of planning during the Indus Valley civilization was the system of underground drainage. The main sewer, 1.5 meters deep and 91 cm across, connected to many north-south and east-west sewers. It was made from bricks smoothened and joined together seamlessly. The expert masonry kept the sewer watertight. Drops at regular intervals acted like an automatic cleaning device.
A wooden screen at the end of the drains held back solid wastes. Liquids entered a cess poll made of radial bricks. Tunnels carried the waste liquids to the main channel connecting the dockyard with the river estuary. Commoner houses had baths and drains that emptied into underground soakage jars.
Lothal lies 82 kms from Ahmedabad, which receives flights from New York and other international destinations, and 7 kms from the Ahmedabad-Bhavnagar highway. The Palace Utelia, a renovated turn-of-the- century castle is located six miles from the archaeological zone.
In the absence of proper guides to show the visitor around Lothal, it is a good idea to first spend some time at the Lothal Museum, studying the plans made by archaelogists in an attempt to reconstruct what Lothal must have been like 4000 years ago. The glass cases in the Lothal Museum contain mirrors of bronze and copper, and a variety of objects made from stone, chert, shell and bone. But perhaps the most unique feature of the Indus Valley civilisation in general and Lothal in particular, was the uniformity of weights and measures, despite the vast area under the Harrapan culture. Bricks were in a perfect ratio of 100x50x25, and the decimal system was used. Weights were based on units of .05, 0.1, 1.2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500, with each unit weighing approximately 28 gms, similar to the English ounce or Greek uncia, and smaller objects were wieghed in similar ratios with the units of 0.871. The museum also displays imports like seals from Bahrain, terra cotta figures from Sumeria and objects from Egypt. Principal exports were beads, ivory and shells.
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