Harappa: Before Excavations

Before the first real excavations at Harappa, there were the fragmented impressions of European visitors, strange seals in an unknown language, discussions in journals among mystified amateurs and archaeologists.

One trial excavation in a hundred years. The map above from the 1870s. More puzzles.

This series is the chronological record of the first signs that Harappa was an extraordinary archaeological site, from the original descriptions by Masson in 1825 to Daya Ram Sahni's inkling that something was worth investigating in 1917. In 1921 Sahni led the first excavations at Harappa. Three years later, the discovery of the ancient Indus civilization was announced to the world. What were the original pieces of evidence that put archaeologists on the path to this extraordinary discovery?

Charles Masson, 1829

"A long march preceded our arrival at Haripah, through jangal of the closest description. East of the village was an abundance of luxuriant grass, where, along with many others, I went to allow my nag to graze. When I joined the camp I found it in front of the village and ruinous brick castle."

John F. Fleet, 1912

"The place is now of no importance : but extensive ruins and mounds, one of which rises to the height of sixty feet, indicate that the case was otherwise in ancient times and it has yielded thousands of coins of the ‘‘ Indo-Scythians and their successors."

Daya Ram Sahni, 1917

"The ancient remains of Harappa in the Montgomery District are one of the most ancient and extensive city sites in the Punjab, but unfortunately they continue to be used as a quarry for building materials up till now. I hope to shortly approach the Government with a proposal for declaring these ruins as a protected monument . . ."