Family Matters in Harappan Gujarat

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. In offering this analysis, Chase moves us beyond colonial models of, say, Harappans from elsewhere moving in and "occupying" distinct stone wall Gujarati settlements like Dholavira, Lothal, Shikarpur and Bagasra (so-called ‘Sindhi’) and the unwalled, dispersed rural settlements where classic Harappan artifacts are less plentiful (‘Sorath’). “Kinship,” writes the author, “has been central to Mark Kenoyer’s interpretive approach to the archaeology of the Indus Civilization (2600-1900 BCE) throughout his career” (p. 104). He uses this principle – specifically, craft traditions like pottery or shell manufacture – seem to be based in families that pass skills down through generations to pry open an interesting take on how the Gujarati Indus culture may have developed.

The arguments are made on many levels, and would seem to support the conclusion that “the salience of kin networks in the fabric of Indus civilization” (p. 108) would have been critical. It can help explain the great variations in material cultures left behind in Gujarat. The role of a centralized state or other bureaucratic apparatus would have been restricted and not determinative, even in larger centers. He quotes Kenoyer: “These cities may have been ruled by corporate groups of competing elites, such as landowners, merchants and ritual specialists, rather than by monarchial elites. This pattern of governance would fit well with the overall layout of the cities, in multiple walled sectors and the lack of centralized palaces” (p. 108, quoting Kenoyer 2011:8).

In short, and while the author is careful not to stretch his argument too far and offer ways of gathering better evidence in the future to support his developing thesis, Family Matters in Harappan Gujarat offers is another fine example of how the richness of new methods of scientific analysis from more recent discoveries in Gujarat can lead to solid approaches to old unanswered questions about what held the ancient Indus civilization together.

Above: A map of Harappan Gujarat showing the settlements mentioned in the text along with schematic representations of the walled settlements to scale and orientation (map by the author).