An interesting series of reflections on how we have viewed the ancient Indus through the prism of whatever archaeological priorities or worldviews were in fashion then, and how the evidence, slowly, can push against these preconceptions.
So much attention has been focused on seals, that we sometimes forget that sealings was their most prosaic and basic function: making impressions on clay or other humble materials to perform some sort of basic administrative functions.
What did ancient Indus people eat? What kind of crops did they grow? What did they cook? How might these things differ by city, town and region? To even get close to answering these questions, one needs a "a systematic collation of all primary published macrobotanical data, regardless of their designation as ‘crop’, ‘fully domesticated’ or ‘wild/weedy’ species," writes author Jennifer Bates.
An excellent recent (2019) summary of what we know about ancient Indus foods that were, likely and speculatively, derived from plant resources, and what implications these diverse discoveries over the years have for our understanding of ancient Indus society.
There are at least 18 examples of a "human and tiger" motif in Indus glyptic art. This short paper by one of the most prolific writers on ancient Indus themes, the late Dr. Gregory Possehl, wonders how we might read this visual artifact.
A judicious review of the evidence for trade between the ancient Indus and Mesopotamia, with a focus on prestige objects like carnelian beads and shell bangles and the implications and questions we may draw from them about the nature of the connections between both civilizations.
"When we speak of Harappan material style, we need to include the whole package of raw material, technological know-how as well as shape and pattern," writes Dr. Heidi J. Miller, who goes on to present "a preliminary study of what defines a Harappan phase ceramic assemblage by comparing the assemblages from the sites of Harappa in the Punjab, Mohenjo-daro and the smaller site of Chanhu-daro, both in Sindh, and illustrating what is shared amongst these contemporary occupations."
Rita P. Wright, an archaeologist with long experience understanding the Indus areas around Harappa (see the Beas Settlement and Land Survey) looks at the complex evidence surrounding the decline of Indus civilization at the end of the third and beginning of the second millennium (around 2000 BCE and afterwards).
It has really only been since the 1980s that a more comprehensive picture of the wide and deep roots of Indus civilization in the larger Sindh and Balochistan region have become apparent. Mehrgarh did not spring out of nowhere but was embedded in a region where fishing, shell collecting, flint mining and other crafts were present and flourishing at different times.
A detailed review of the carnelian beads found in Dholavira, among the most striking of all ancient Indus manufactured goods.
The authors take on the complex question of how Harappan or Indus culture made its presence felt in Gujarat from about the middle of the third millennium through the decline of Indus civilization six or seven hundred years later. How did Indus traditions as expressed in material culture and the manufacture of these objects relate to what we see in Indus cities like Mohenjo-daro and Harappa?
Another look at the "Mother Goddess" interpretation of female figurines from the ancient Indus Valley, in this case those remarkable ones with various elaborate headdresses. Once again, an author, this time in Australia, comes away unimpressed by this simplistic equation.
A convincing if speculative attempt to bring together a variety of insights from kinship theory and the peculiar nature of recently discovered material remains in Gujarat to offer a theory of how these so-called ‘Sorath’ and ‘Sindhi’ Harappan settlements were peopled.
The authors write that "the discovery of a knapped stone assemblage with microlithic backed tools and geometrics represents a groundbreaking point for the prehistory of Punjab. It opens new research perspectives in a promising territory that had never been explored before, where surveys are undoubtedly to be continued in the future because of its great potential."
"Lazurite - the constituent of lapis lazuli that gives the rock its blue color - is a rare mineral in nature," writes Randall Law, and there is likely to have been only one source in the region during ancient times, the Badakhshan mines in Afghanistan.
The relationship between ancient Indus centers - which we know best and consider a hallmark of the civilization - and the vast rural "hinterland" that surrounded them is the subject of this lucid paper.
"Recent discoveries of Indus and Indus related materials at sites in the interior, and a general reassessment of comparable materials throughout Oman, suggest a more complex model of
interaction. . . these artefacts probably reflect the presence of small groups of Indus merchants and craftspeople integrated into local communities and directly involved with important socioeconomic activities."
A must-read paper. Dennys Frenez classifies and nicely illustrates recent finds in the Oman Peninsula connecting it to the Indus civilization in multiple ways.
"The recognition of variation and diversity [in the ancient Indus civilization] has encouraged a gradual, though not universally accepted, shift toward the interpretation that certain categories of Indus material acted as ‘a veneer… overlying diverse local and regional cultural expressions'," write the authors.
It is really nice in a paper to be able to speak both of what is happening now, at the cutting-edge of bead and shell-making Indus craftsmanship and continuing discoveries, and be able to relate each tradition back to its earliest appearance in the subcontinent and elsewhere.
This paper reviews the work done since the early 1970s east of Karachi along the Makran coast, containing what were once extensive mangrove areas (where salt and fresh water meet to create unique habitats).
This deeply investigative article published in Walking with the Unicorn (2018) takes on some of the most unusual facts about ancient Indus seals to surmise about their function in the Indus polity as a whole.
"For archaeologists," write the authors, "pottery is one of the most significant sources of data, not only for the durability and abundance of ceramic artefacts in the archaeological record, but also for the vast range of information on ancient societies that can be inferred from its study."
"Urban society is a highly complex system in terms of its institutions, hierarchy, integration, etc." writes the author. "A vast region is incorporated into one social system which is based on cities."
An interesting article in which the author discusses the existence of Indus-type seals in the Gulf and Mesopotamian regions, their relationship to trade and other civilizations in the area, including the Central Asian Bronze Age civilization now better known as the BMAC (Bactrio-Margiana Archaeological Complex). After carefully reviewing the evidence for Indus settlers in ancient Mesopotamia, and their use Indus-type seals whose signs are ordered in ways not found within the Indus region proper, she discusses the relationships they may still have had with Indus peoples back home and the role of different kinds of writing in this relationship.
The second article of a pair with Mapping Archaeology While Mapping an Empire: Using Historical Maps to Reconstruct Ancient Settlement Landscapes in Modern India and Pakistan. This uses the theoretical techniques developed there with a real world example, the devastating Indus flood of 1909 that led
Science is slowly transforming ancient Indus studies, from DNA analysis of skeletons that point to migration and disease, to isotope analysis that reveals the distant origins of raw materials. One of the cleverest – and potentially rewarding i terms of increasing the number of ancient sites to investigate – must be the use of old maps.