Blog posts relating to the evolution of the ancient Indus Valley civilization society and practices.

The Evolution of Indus Script

Many sherds inscribed after firing have single geometric signs. This collection of Early Harappan sherds from Periods 1 and 2 (c. 3300-2800 BC) show a range of geometric signs that are roughly similar to later signs in the Indus script.
This sign was carved onto the pottery vessel after it was fired and may indicate the type of goods being stored in the vessel or the owner of the vessel itself. Another possible explanation is that this symbol represents a deity or spirit to which the contents of the vessel were sacrificed. This symbol becomes very common in the later Indus script.
On some sherds, two signs of the Early Indus script (Kot Dijian Phase) appear together. The complete shapes of these signs can be seen on later seals carved with the Indus script (see next image). The sign on the left eventually becomes one of the most common signs of the Indus script (only part of which is preserved).
A steatite unicorn seal from Harappa with Indus script. This seal was found in the central area of Mound E and dates to Period 3B or early 3C, around 2450-2200 BC. When pressed into clay the impression will be reversed. Since the Indus script may have been read from right to left, the last two signs visible at the top right hand edge of the seal would in fact be the last two signs of the inscription. They thus would be positioned in the same order as seen on the Early Harappan sherd (previous image) that da

The origins of Indus writing can now be traced as far back as the Ravi Phase (c. 3300-2800 BCE) at Harappa. Some inscriptions were made on the bottom of the pottery before firing. Other inscriptions such as this one were made after firing. This inscription (c. 3300 BCE) appears to be three plant symbols arranged to appear almost anthropomorphic. The trident looking projections on these symbols seem to set the foundation for later symbols.

See also Dr. Parpola's Deciphering the Indus Script and Iravatham Mahadevan's The Indus Script.

Boating: Now and Then

A molded tablet from Mohenjo-daro ca. 2300 BCE, below while above, flat bottomed ferry boats are still used today to help travelers cross the Indus River near Mohenjo-daro. The boat on the seal is part of "a three-sided molded tablet, with boat, gharial and script. One side is a flat-bottomed boat with a central hut that has leafy fronds at the top of two poles. Two birds sit on the deck, and a large double rudder extends from the rear of the boat." (Kenoyer, Ancient Cities, p. 192)

See also An Indus Boat Seal and Indus-style Boat.

The Mounds of Harappa by Indus Time Period

The earliest settlement, during Period 1 (c. 3300-2800 BC), was on the west side of Mound AB and NW corner of Mound E. During Period 2 (c. 2800-2600 BC) all of Mounds AB and E came to be occupied, and by the end of Period 3 (c. 2600-1900 BC), the Harappan Period, most of the area covered by the plan was in use. During Periods 4 and 5 (c. 1900-1300 BC) there was a retraction of settlement to the areas of Mound AB, modern Harappa Town, and the NW corner of Mound E. This plan also shows the location of the 2000/2001 excavation areas.

First Street, Mohenjo-daro

Looking north along First Street, Mohenjo-daro. "Only the facades of the eastern side of the street have been cleared, this being the limits decided upon for our excavations in this direction. Beyond this line, two-thirds of the mound, still remains untouched and will undoubtedly provide many buildings of interest for future excavations." (Mohenjo-daro, 1938, I, p. 25). The area to the left has been fully excavated and the area to the right is un-excavated. Later street levels are seen in the background.
"That portion of First Street that runs alongside Blocks 3,5 and 6 has been excavated down to the foundation level of the Intermediate III occupation, at which level the width of the street varies from 32ft at the southern end to 30ft 3 ins at the north end of the section cleared... None the less, First Street was wide enough to take several of the vehicles of those days abreast. The scene in Plate XXIV, a, was arranged and photographed expressly to demonstrate this fact,"(MackKay, Mohenjo-daro,1938,I,p25)
"In the Intermediate III Phase, FIrst Street was drained along the western side by a channel which may have been an open one. This drain, which averages 10 ins. wide by 1 ft. 11 ins. deep though well made was not very well aligned. It makes a bend where Block 6 enroaches on the street, and near the southern end of the section cleared it crossed the street and proceeded douthward on the opposite side." (Mohenjo-daro, 1938, I, p. 26).
Looking down is going back in time, what you see on top are later sections now gone. On the LEFT side: First Street, Intermediate Levels I-III,From North. RIGHT side: First Street, Intermediate Levels I-III, From South.

Ernest Mackay writes (1938) "As far as we can tell at present, this street appears to be the second most important thoroughfare of the city; for although it is longer than the street that crosses it at right angles, coming presumably from the east gate of the city, the latter [First Street] is undoubtedly wider-along it, the grass-covered road to the camp now runs between the HR and VS Areas."

The fourth image shows the layers of excavation on this street, looking into the past.

Interaction Networks of the Ravi Phase

Sir Mortimer Wheeler noted that "Harappa has produced a hint of an antecedent culture... " The so-called Ravi Phase, an early phase of Indus culture (c. 3300-2800 BCE), elaborated by discoveries in the late 1990's by HARP (the Harappa Archaeological Research Project led by Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, Richard H. Meadow and Rita P. Wright) suggests that even before the the full ancient Indus civilization phase at Harappa, raw materials such as agate, lapis lazuli, steatite, marine shell and copper were transformed into ornaments and tools for local trade.

For more see Around the Indus in 90 Slides 2.

Indus City Layers

How old are ancient Indus cities? Excavations at Harappa show activity going back to approximately 3500 BCE, as do excavations at Mohenjo-daro. Neither site has been fully excavated, however. Attempts to go deep at Mohenjo-daro failed. As Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote, "The lower level of excavations at Mohenjo-daro have never been reached by excavation due to difficulties of a high water-table. The two photographs illustrate an attempt made with pumps in 1950 to reach the lower levels and the subsequent flooding which happened overnight." (Civilizations of the Indus Valley and Beyond, p. 73).

Mohenjo-daro Stupa Mound: Before and After Excavations

The color photograph is a slightly expanded view of the same area from the same angle. The stupa is to the right outside the frame of John Marshall’s original photograph from the 1920's. The new photograph was taken by Mark Kenoyer on Dec. 8, 2013, when Sindh had a Culture Day celebration, and thousands of people were visiting Mohenjo-daro to express their cultural pride in their Sindhi heritage. They were carrying flags and wearing Sindhi ajraks and dancing and singing all over the campus, the museum and the site.

Harappa Mounds Today #2

Looking over Vats area with Mound F on the left, this view shows how excavations literally cut into the landscape.
Un-excavated areas of Mound AB with the initials of visitors cut into a tree. Like Mohenjo-daro, most of Harappa remains untouched by archaeologists.

A collection of photographs of the Harappan Mounds in March 2013.

Image A: A circular grey limestone slab found at Harappa and possibly dated to the post Harappan period. It has been identified by local communities as the gem from the finger ring of Baba Noor Shah who is buried in the nearby tomb. It is said to have turned to stone and became very large when someone tried to rob it from his tomb. Visitors toss coins and currency notes as well as rice grains as offerings to the saint. More than 15,000 people live in the modern town of Harappa which is situated on part of the ancient mound.

Carts: Then and Now

Early morning mist at Mohenjo-daro with the Buddhist stupa perched on top of the "citadel" mound.

The modern road winds through the low-lying area between the "citadel" and "lower town." On the left is an ox or water buffalo-drawn cart and driver from Harappa, possibly a toy, but clearly representative of what was used many thousands of years ago. Several styles of carts as well as wheels made of terracotta have been found at Indus sites. These were probably originally held together by wooden components that have not preserved. These terracotta carts are very similar to carts in South Asia today.

See also Jonathan Mark Kenoyer's article Wheeled Vehicles of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Interaction Networks of the Harappan Phase

Major Sites and Interaction Networks of the Indus Tradition, Harappan Phase, 2600-1900 BCE, courtesy of J. M. Kenoyer. Six large Indus cities have been discovered. In Pakistan, Harappa was excavated extensively in the 1920-30s', 1960's, and from 1986-2010. Mohenjo Daro was excavated extensively in the 1920-30's, with smaller projects in the 1940's and 1960's. Ganweriwala was discovered in the 1970's and has not been excavated. Lakhanjo Daro was discovered in 1986 but only recent excavations in 2009-2014 have shown that it is probably as big as Mohenjo Daro.


Subscribe to Evolution