Dholavira and Its Mysterious Sign Board

Dholavira is a Harappan site located in the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat. This 47 hectares (120 acres) quadrangular city is one of the largest mature Harappan sites. The site was occupied from ca. 2650 BCE, declining slowly after about 2100 BCE. It was briefly abandoned then reoccupied until c.1450 BCE. The site has been systematically recorded over thirteen field excavations between 1990 and 2005 led by by R.S. Bisht. The excavations reveal the significance of this site for the following reasons:

(1) A long cultural sequence, documenting a period of over 1,500 years;
(2) A meticulous and mathematically precise city plan;
(3) Monumental architecture, including a "stadium with terraced stands";
(4) A unique funerary/sepulchral architecture;
(5) The discovery of a sandstone quarry from where sandstone was excavated, converted into huge architectural members and even exported to sites such as Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, several hundred kilometres away, and finally,
(6) Its incredible water management system and hydraulic engineering that contains at least 16 reservoirs and an elaborate systems of drains and sewers. In the citadel area there is an intricate network of storm water drains, all connected to an arterial one and furnished with slopes, steps, cascades, manholes (air ducts / water relief ducts), paved flooring and capstones. The main drains were high enough for a tall man to walk through easily. The rainwater collected through these drains was stored in yet another reservoir that was carved out in the western half of the citadel. Altogether the reservoirs have an area of about 10 hectares, or 10 percent of the area within the walls. This fabulous system made it possible for the Dholavirans to thrive in their desert home.

However, one of the most exciting discoveries at Dholavira is a large wooden "signboard" just outside the north entrance to the citadel. This is actually one of the longest Indus inscriptions known. There are 10 symbols in the panel, each one is about 37 centimetres high and the board on which the letters were inscribed appears to have been about 3 meters long. One of the symbols is repeated 4 times. The symbols are made of white gypsum used like mosaic tiles, attached to a wooden background. At some point the wooden sign fell face down in the dirt, eventually rotting away but leaving the bricks in place in the ground. Bisht has said that this sign was in use in Stage IV, that belongs to the classical Harappan culture. Based on its location near the gate, this large inscription has been called a "sign board," suggesting that ancient Indus gateways, or at last this one, could have had some sort of signs associated with it that visitors to the city saw before or as they entered. However until the Indus script is deciphered, what the sign is saying still remains a mystery.

Sources:
"The rise and fall of a Harappan city" by T. S. Subramanian in Frontline Volume 27 - Issue 12: Jun. 05-18, 2010

"Dholavira and Banawali : Two different paradigms of the Harappan Urbis forma." by R. S. Bisht. Puratattva No. 29, 1998-99.