It is really nice in a paper to be able to speak to both what is happening now, at the cutting-edge of bead, shell and faience making Indus craftsmanship and discoveries, and be able to relate traditions back to their earliest appearance. This is exactly what Kuldeep Bhan's lucid article achieves. In the cases of bead and shell-making, each can be traced back to the 7th millennium (6000-5000 BCE) activity along the coasts of the Gulf (Oman), Makran (Balochistan and SIndh) and Kutch (Gujarat), where the crafts were integrated into a larger trade, manufacture and raw material eco-system. To the reader today, it is quite surprising at how sophisticated and specialized that system actually was. Bhan, a leading Indus archaeologist and excavator of Gujarat sites whose focus here is on Indus exemplars, manages to show how these very traditions were built upon thousands of years of innovation and optimization that we are just beginning to appreciate.
The 20 page paper draws of many strands of the author's work, done both before and together with him, of analysis and excavations by Massimo Vidale and Jonathan Mark Kenoyer. He parses the intricate specialization in raw material gathering, stockpiling, preparation and production that seems to have been done in separate locations during ancient Indus times, implying a vigorous transportation network. For example, with respect to Gola Dhoro (Bagasra, Gujarat), he writes that "the presence of a few good quality shells of Turbinella pyrum and a broken stone dish perhaps also suggest that this area belonged to merchants dealing primarily with the supply of stone raw material to the bead makers of the settlement as well as other Harappan bead making workshops. We already have started mapping the resource areas of these stones, it appears the stone material especially (red-green-white) jasper was brought to the site approximately 70km south of the site in Saurashatra" (p. 53). Another small fortified site in Gujara, Shikarpur, reveals evidence of drills made of exceptionally strong "Ernestite" stone unique to Indus craftsmen possibly on a larger scale than anywhere else, even the urban centers. At the same time, Chanhu-daro seems to be the only place where the most exquisite long carnelian beads also found in ancient Mesopotamia were made.
Bhan says "Shell working is the industry we have the clearest picture of urban segregation and about the sequential stages of manufacture of various types of objects during Harappan times. The study of shell, which is one of the most durable materials in the archaeological context, has helped us to reconstruct the trade networks within the Indus Valley and adjoining regions" (p. 59). Again, regional specializations and tailoring of manufacture seem to have been prevalent as well as extensive supply networks; there is also discussion of particular manufacturing techniques and practices, some of which still prevail, particularly in Gujarat. Nageshwar in the Gulf of Kutch seems offer a rich set of finds, and everywhere one is impressed by how Indus craftsmen used every part of raw shell material for different kinds of goods.
The author concludes "The study of various crafts is a growing field investigation in the archaeology of South Asia. Though some archaeologists still prefer to refer to them as ‘miscellaneous small finds’, most of the scholars agree that they provide a unique perspective on ancient trade, networks, technological and economic organization, wealth and social hierarchy, ritual symbols, as well as chronological changes. With the adaptation of rigorous excavation and recovery methods along with ethnoarchaeological studies a lot of useful information has been forthcoming from many recently excavated sites, though we still need to learn much more about the ancient crafts to see distinct patterns of continuity and change that provides a more comprehensive understanding of the role played by these crafts in human history" (p. 65).
Image: Gola Dhoro (Bagasra). Beads, bead blanks and tapered cylindrical drills (photograph by K. K. Bhan).