Early Developments of Art, Symbol, Technology in the Indus Valley Tradition

Early Developments of Art, Symbol, Technology in the Indus Valley Tradition

Regionalization Era: Art and Symbol

The virtual explosion in material culture during this Era makes it impossible to discuss all of the relevant data and it is only possible to focus on a few of the major types of artifacts in the core areas of the Indus Valley. During the Regionalization Era, or Early Harappan period (ca. 5500 to 2600 BCE), scattered agro-pastoral settlements became established on the alluvial plains of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys. As these settlements grew from small villages to large towns and market areas, they developed a higher degree of regional and internal social differentiation (Kenoyer 1991b). This can be seen in the construction of walled settlements with segregated domestic and public structures (Kenoyer 1991a) and is also reflected in the greater varieties of material culture.

At Mehrgarh, there is a dramatic increase in the amount of finished objects and manufacturing debris from all types of stone, shell, bone and pottery objects during the Chalcolithic period (Periods II and III, from around 5500 to 3300 BCE). In contrast, the number of burial goods interred with the dead decreases over time such that the later Chalcolithic burials have very few ornaments or utensils (Samzun and Sellier 1985). The types of ornaments found in the burials include steatite bead necklaces and bracelets, along with pendants of lapis lazuli, carnelian and other semiprecious stones. The varieties of stone beads increase, with new shapes and many different varieties of rock being used to produce attractive ornaments. Female burials have almost twice as many ornaments as male burials, while juveniles have even less than the adult males. This pattern is quite the opposite of what was noted for the Neolithic period burials. It is interesting to note that there are no shell bangles found in the later burials and over time, the numbers of shell bangles found at the site do not show a marked increase as is the case at Harappa (see below).

A new technological development seen during this period at Mehrgarh and Nausharo is the production of blue-green glazed faience beads. The production of such ornaments required fairly high firing temperatures as well as a specialized technology of frit and glaze preparation (Barthélémy de Saizieu and Bouquillon 1997). In addition to many new styles and shapes of pottery, one of the most important forms of symbolic objects are terra-cotta figurines. It is interesting to note that compared to the figurines of the Neolithic period, the later Chalcolithic figurines have many ornaments and decorative features. The decorative techniques include appliqué , modeling, and incising as well as painting with red, black or yellow pigments (Jarrige 1988). The diversity of hair styles and ornaments on the figurines undoubtedly reflects the changing patterns of personal ornamentation by the peoples living at the site of Mehrgarh and may indicate increasing status differentiation and ethnic diversity.

Another important type of object that was being produced at Mehrgarh are button seals with geometric designs made of terra cotta and bone (Jarrige et al. 1995). The designs include stepped cross, concentric circle and cross motifs, as well as various combinations of complicated punctated or incised motifs. These designs are often repeated in the painted pottery motifs or in shapes of stone inlay that have been found in various parts of the site. The implications of these repeated patterns is the emergence of a repertoire of graphic symbols that have local meaning and were used to reinforce social status or possibly ritual ideology.

While the site of Mehrgarh represents the early phase of the Regionalization Era along the periphery of the Indus Valley, the recent excavations at Harappa provide a unique opportunity to follow the same sort of development in the core area of the Indus region. At Harappa, no cemetery from the Early Harappan period has been recovered, but it is possible to see the types of craft developments from debris and finished objects found in domestic areas.

Ravi and Kot Diji Phase Beads

Figure 2. Harappa: Ravi and Kot Diji Phase Beads

The earliest levels of the site, dating to the Ravi Phase, circa 3500 BCE, reveal the local production of numerous types of finely crafted objects such as beads, pendants, bangles, button seals, painted pottery and figurines. The versatility of the early craftsmen/women is reflected in both the styles of objects created as well as the technologies developed to make unique objects (Kenoyer and Meadow 2001 in press). Beginning with the earliest occupation at the site there is a wide range of bead shapes (Figure 2) and manufacturing techniques. Some of the soft steatite beads were unfired, leaving the natural tan or grey-black color. Other beads were bleached and fired to a white color. Finally some beads were glazed with a blue green glaze that was applied to a roughened exterior. In addition to the steatite beads, they produced short and long biconical beads of harder stones, such as carnelian, banded agate, multicolored jaspers, lapis lazuli, and amazonite. The color combinations resulting from these beads would have been quite striking. Terracotta was also used to produce beads in many of the same shapes as the stone beads as well as unique forms that were only possible with clay. For example some of the small terracotta lenticular beads were impressed with fabric on both sides to create a patterned surface. Other terracotta beads were pinched with the fingers or palms of the hands, leaving the patterned lines of the maker's hands on the surface of the bead. Since many of the beads were also carefully smoothed to remove fingerprints, we can assume that the patterned surfaces were left intentionally.

During the Kot Diji phase there is evidence for faience bead production to create microbeads as well as larger lenticular and biconical shapes. The faience beads in the later part of the Kot Diji phase are made from finely ground and refired frit that appears to be similar to the compact faience documented from the following Harappan Phase (Kenoyer 1994). This form of high quality faience is found only in the Indus Valley and not in other contemporaneous cultures, such as Mesopotamia or Egypt.