Recent Indus Discoveries and Highlights from Excavations at Harappa 1998-2000

Recent Indus Discoveries and Highlights from Excavations at Harappa 1998-2000

The Harappa Archaeological Research Project's excavations at Harappa have yielded new troves of information about ancient Indus life, craft production, and preceding cultures like the Ravi Phase.


1 Introduction
2 Ravi Phase and Kot Diji Phase Occupations
3 Harappa Phase Occupation: Chronology and Fortification Wall
4 Harappa Phase Occupation: Granary or Great Hall
5 Harappa Phase Occupation: Circular Working Platforms and Mound E, Southwest
6 Late Harappa Phase, Conclusion, and References


The greater Indus Valley of Pakistan and western India was the setting for one of the world's earliest urban societies. Although the ancient script of this culture has not been deciphered, archaeological research is gradually exposing the unique character of this society through detailed studies of its cities and architecture, the organization of technology and trade, its subsistence economy and a wide range of symbolic arts and ornaments.

The site of Harappa, Pakistan is one of the largest and most important cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. This is one of the only sites where an entire sequence has been recovered that spans the history of Indus cities. Unlike the equally important site of Mohenjo-daro to the south, where baked bricks buildings provide an impressive vista of urban architecture, drains and wells, the ancient mounds of Harappa are characterized by imposing erosion gullies, piles of brick rubble and fragmentary walls. Excavations in the 1920's and 1930's exposed large areas of the urban occupation, but found only more extensive evidence of the intensive brick robbing. The architecture and city planning of Harappa was similar to that of Mohenjo-daro and the varieties of artifacts recovered from the excavations confirmed that these two sites represented the same cultural tradition which has come to be known as the Harappa Phase of the Indus Valley Civilization. Recent excavations by the Harappa Archaeological Research Project have been able to build on these earlier studies to define at least five major periods of development (Table 1). These five periods represent a continuous process of cultural development where new aspects of culture are balanced with long term continuities and linkages in many crafts and artifact styles.

Table 1 Harappa Chronology
Period Era Years
Period 1 Ravi aspect of the Hakra Phase 3300 BCE - c. 2800 BC
Period 2 Kot Diji (Early Harappa) Phase c. 2800 BCE - c. 2600 BC
Period 3A Harappa Phase A c. 2600 BC - c. 2450 BCE
Period 3B Harappa Phase B c. 2450 BC - c. 2200 BC
Period 3C Harappa Phase C 2200 BC - c. 1900 BC
Period 4 Harappa/Late Harappa Transitional c. 1900 BC - c. 1800 BCE(?)
Period 5 Late Harappa Phase c. 1800 BC (?) - < 1300 BC

The Ravi or Hakra Phase represents the initial occupation of the site (Period 1 : >3500 BC -2800 BCE). Over time, the economic and political importance of this small community resulted in its growth and expansion during the Kot Diji (Early Harappan) Phase (Period 2 : 2,800 BCE - 2,600 BCE). Excavations of the early Ravi and Kot Diji levels from different parts of the ancient city have focused on aspects of settlement organization, craft technologies, subsistence activities and various forms of social and political organization. A special emphasis has been placed on defining the contexts for the use of writing and technological changes in writing as it evolved along with other new technologies during the critical period of transition between 2800 and 2600 BCE.

The initial urban character of Harappa begins during the Kot Diji Phase, but it is in the following Harappa Phase (Period 3 : 2,600 BCE - 1900 BCE) that the settlement became a major urban center with links to other equally large centers, towns and rural settlements throughout the greater Indus Valley. With the rise of the Indus cities, technology and crafts appear to have become an essential mechanism for creating unique wealth objects to distinguish socio-economic classes and reinforce the hierarchy of these classes in an urban context. The use of inscribed seals, along with various forms of writing on a wide range of artifacts appears to be directly associated with the need to communicate social or ritual status and for economic control. Much of the most recent excavations at Harappa have focused on understanding the details of social, economic and political developments during Period 3. Initial results reveal a dynamic period of urban expansion, growth, decay and reorganization.

Aside from the earlier excavations in the Cemetery H area, only limited preserved occupation areas have been identified dating to the Late Harappa Phases (Period 4 and 5: 1900-1300 BCE). However, these small areas have provided invaluable information on the nature of the Late Harappan subsistence, architecture and every day life. In contrast to earlier interpretations of decline and abandonment, the city was in fact thriving and at the center of important cultural, economic, and ideological transformations.

During the last five years excavations have focused on all of the major phases represented at the site. The year 2000 season was the 14th season of research at Harappa, currently under the auspices of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project, directed by Dr. Richard H. Meadow (Harvard University) and Dr. J. Mark Kenoyer (University of Wisconsin-Madison) with the assistance of Dr. Rita P. Wright (New York University). Excavations by HARP are conducted in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan, which was represented in 2000 by Mr. Saeed-ur-Rehman (Director-General), Mr. Farzand Massih (Curator, Harappa Museum and Dept. Representative) and Asim Dogar (Assistant Curator).

{Reprinted by permission from: Meadow, R.H. and J.M. Kenoyer (2001) Recent discoveries and highlights from excavations at Harappa: 1998-2000. INDO-KOKO-KENKYU [Indian Archaeological Studies] 22: 19-36.}