Harappan Street Origin and Peopling


Geography and Environment
Chronology and Terminology
Origin and Peopling
Language and Script
Ideology and Religion
Social Structure
Biology and Burials
Technology and Material Culture
Trade and Economics
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History of Research


Observations on the peopling and development of the Harappan Civilization

My first paper on the Harappan Tradition. I was a bit angry when I wrote this, I get so mad at others abuse of personal feelings and emotion that I wrote a somewhat unfair and biased paper.

It seems that every endeavor undertaken by man is plagued by the dissension inherent to group action. A dissension to which archaeology is not immune. Each area of investigation incurs dispute, and the Harappan Civilization is no exception. Study has been plagued with academic disputes, racism, imperialism, anti-imperialism, nationalism, fear, ignorance, and hatred.

Two of the most volatile areas of investigation are the peopling and the development of the Harappan Civilization. Each is a complex and changing problem which may be split into two primary groups the internalists and the externalists.

The theories and debates between scholars occurring in the last century reflect changes in attitudes, information, and levels of scholarship. The following paragraphs represent a simplistic representation of these discussions and are meant only to contrast the different intellectual camps. Preceding this discussion is an explanation of terminology and a geographical description.

As described previously, the Harappan Civilization encompassed a vast domain in excess of 1,000,000sqkm (PossehI1999). How and when this area was peopled is today a volatile question; one steeped in myth, religion, politics, and more than a little racism. The strife between the modern states of Pakistan and India have spilled over into what should be a question of archaeology and science. The propagandists have chosen intellectual sides based not on studied decision but upon puerile self interest and aggrandizement. Of the area's early history, there is little dissension, excepting the Out of Africa vs. Multi-Regional debate.

Harappa, Mohenjodaro, and the Harappan Civilization itself have become pawns in a game of racial and ethnic superiority. A large and vocal segment of the Indian population ascribes to a somewhat new breed of Aryanism. Adherents ascribe the Harappan Civilization to Vedic-Aryans and have attempted to use the concentration of sites on the dead Sarasvati river system as proof that the Harappans were Indian and therefore unconnected to Pakistan except by what they term the Colonization of the Indus. Admittedly, few professional scholars are participating in this shameful ordeal, but it must be recognized that scholarly contentiousness and past mistakes in interpretation have contributed, however unknowingly, to the strife. The Pakistanis are dealing with an inferiority complex where India is concerned and use the Harappan Civilization like a banner proclaiming their age, superiority, and the validity of their various territorial claims.

Perhaps the worst example of deliberate misinformation came last year when Hindutva propagandist and revisionist historian N.S. Rajaram published the best selling book The Deciphered Indus Script (Witzel 2000). The only problem is that the entirety of the book is an attempt to co-opt the script and thereby the culture of the Harappan Civilization. It is a nothing more than a conglomeration of propaganda, faked data, and idiotic assertions: however, many in India subscribe to the word as written by Rajaram (Witzel 2000).

The subcontinent has produced prodigious examples of early human worked stone artifacts; however, no fossils have been found with relevance to hominid evolution (Fairservis 1975). This lack complicates attribution of said artifacts to any particular people or species. Logical leaps, however, can be made based on the age of the artifact and the association of similar artifacts in other contexts with identifiable remains.

The Indian Early Stone Age began by at least 250,000 B.C.E. in the second glacial phase (Fairservis 1975). The Pre-Soan (Figure 2) dating to this time represents the earliest evidence of human occupation on the subcontinent (Fairservis 1975). Soan was a pebble technology with both fiat-based and rounded-pebble tools and some use of flakes and discoidal cores (Fairservis 1975). The second interglacial phase saw the development of Early Soan and the introduction of the Abbevillo-Acheulian handaxe (Fairservis 1975). An original population of Homo erectus is suggested by the date and recovered tool types. Further development of the Soan technology and the introduction of the Levallosian industry occurred during the third glacial phase (Fairservis 1975). The Levallosian industry has been associated with Archaic Homo sapiens. During the fourth glacial phase, the Soan technology continued to develop and by this point flakes and cores represented much of the Evolved Soan industry (Fairservis 1975).

The Indian Middle Stone Age is demonstrated by two flake tool industries: Mousterian and Levallosian (Fairservis 1975). In 1963, Bridget Allchin identified the Levallosian technique characterized by the production of broad flakes and flake blades from minimally prepared pebble cores (Fairservis 1975). In 1951, Mousterian-like flakes and cores were recovered by the Geological Survey of Pakistan and were associated with an extinct sandy beach of the Mashkel Basin in western Baluchistan (Fairservis 1975). The Mousterian industry constituted discoidal flakes which are removed from carefully prepared cores (Fairservis 1975). Such implements are associated with Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (Fairservis 1975). It is impossible to determine whether these implements were used and manufactured by Neanderthals or if the technology was co-opted by modern Homo sapiens sapiens. The continuation of simple Early Stone Age technologies after the introduction of the more complex Mousterian and Levallosian industries suggests that either the new technology was imported and with the same population utilizing it or they were accompanied by a population influx which did not completely supplant they preceding inhabitants.

The Early Food Producing Era (Figure 3) saw the development in the western hilly flanks of domesticated flora/fauna, agriculture, and extensive trade networks. Sites of this era lack coherence and are highly variable with some being occupied for extended periods. The Indus-Ghaggar Plain preceding c. 4000 B.C.E. was sparsely populated with semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers. There is little evidence for population transfer in this period .

The Regionalization Era was a period of great change. Increased specialization occurred in several areas such as agriculture and pastoral activities, craft specialization, social-ritual complexity, and economic interaction between regions (Kenoyer 1991). Technological advances included copper and bronze metalwork, massive architecture, land and water transport vehicles, specialized ceramics, and luxury items (Kenoyer 1991). The first agricultural towns on the flood plain were settled after 4000 B.C.E. Settlement seems to be from the more highly populated western highlands. This is suggested by the speed at which the plains were settled and the manner at which sites of all types were placed and often planned from the beginning to support large populations. Settlements developed or were placed at major agricultural areas, along trade routes, and frontiers. The size of settlements increases both in the highlands and on the plains. Cultural integration of settlements into several regions occurs at this time. Craft specialization and the distribution of natural resources spurred the development of distinct craft and mercantile communities which were located at optimal trade and agricultural centers (Kenoyer 1991).


Figure 3: Chronology

Indian Stone Age


~250,000 to 30,000 B.C.E.


~30,000 to 10,000


~10,000 to 4000

Harappan Age

Early Food Producing Era

~7000 to 4000

Regionalization Era

~4000 to 3200

Integration Era

~3200 to 2600

Localization Era

~2600 to 1900

Post Harappan

Post Urban

~1900 to 1000

Early Iron Age

~1100 to 700

(Adapted from Kenoyer, 1991)

The Integration Era was short in duration but saw the homogenization of regional cultures and the development of large urban centers located along rivers, at strategic crossroads, gateways along the coast, and along the periphery. Internal trade networks were the primary force behind the centralization of the regional cultures. There is no evidence for a major military or the dominance of a specific ritual or ethnic community. Periphery environments were exploited directly or indirectly for resources it is most likely that as today the responses were accompanied by some small population transfer. This transfer would have worked in both directions. Mark Kenoyer (1992)suggests that the transmission of technological traditions bedded in a framework of kin groups and along hereditary lines brought about a uniformity in material culture. If true the hypothesis suggests that integration may have been precipitated by a complex transfer of technological specialists and that they were the reason and means by which the Harappan Civilization developed.

The Localization Era saw the partial abandonment of the large Integration Era urban centers on the flood plain. The disruption of the agricultural base saw the urban population of the Sarasvati river system shifted to the Ganga-Yamuna which resulted in the decline and eventual abandonment of the majority of the urban centers (Kenoyer 1988, 1991). The rural non-mercantile settlements remained much the same before and after the Harappan Civilization.

In the early days of investigation, the Harappan Civilization was arbitrarily considered to be mono-ethnic and mono-linguistic (Kenoyer 1991). This view was held despite obvious and overwhelming evidence that other similar civilizations such as Mesopotamia supported multiple ethnicities (Kramer, Lloyd, and Oppenheim) and numerous languages (Parpola and Yottee) (Kenoyer 1991 ). The multi-ethnicity of the Harappan Civilization was demonstrated by the work of Shatter and Lichtenstein, Mughal, and Possehl (Kenoyer 1991). The multi-linguistic nature of the Harappan Civilization was first suggested by Fairservis and Southworth in 1989 (Kenoyer 1991). Early models of migration and replacement were supplanted with models of indigenousdevelopment coupled with regional interaction proposed by Jarrige and Meadow, Chakrabarti, and Durrani (Kenoyer 1991).

The development of civilization in particular reference to the Harappan Civilization cannot be viewed in terms of individual hypotheses developed and propounded by individual scholars. Rather, the development must be seen in terms of general trends in research and understanding, i.e. paradigms. It must be realized that time is the death of paradigms for later archaeologists have access to information undeveloped in their predecessor's time and therefore have a more complete picture of the past. In these broad terms, the development of the Harappan Civilization may be divided into two broad groups, those who propose an outside influence as the prime motivator and those who see an indigenous development.

Sir John Marshall and many of the other initial investigators termed the Harappan Civilization as "lndo-Sumerian" (Possehl 1999). Early views held that the Indus script could be understood in terms of Sumerian or Akkadian. In 1942, T.G. Aravamuthan was able to derive the name Harappa from that of an Assyrian town called Arrapha (Arsvamuthan 1942). One of the earliest dissenting voices came from D.H. Gordon who in 1940 made an attempt to debunk some of the more pernicious fantasies, including that of a Sumerian origin for the Harappan Civilization proffered by the archaeologists and scholars of his day.

Scholars such as Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Sir John Marshall felt that the development of the Harappan Civilization resulted from an interaction with the already civilized Mesopotamia (Kenoyer 1991 ). Wheeler (1953) was one of the most strong and influential proponents of this hypothesis. His primary reasons for this belief are that Mesopotamian civilization predates that in the Sind or Punjab and the quickness of its development (Wheeler 1953). The obvious and significant differentiation in script, metal-working, and pottery suggests a transfer of ideas, rather than a direct transfer of culture by colonization or empire (Wheeler 1953). Wheeler and Marshall felt that a significant increase in rainfall made the development of civilization in the Indus possible (Wheeler 1953, Marshall 1931 ). Most scholars saw the Harappan Civilization ending in flames and death with a fantastic invasion of Aryan horse warriors from the Russian steppes (Gordon and Gordon 1940, Vats 1940, Wheeler 1953).

In the 1970's, scholars such as Fairservis, Mughal, and the Allchins began to see the development of civilization as a gradual indigenous process (Kenoyer 1991 ). Hypotheses, proposed by Lamberg-Karlovsky, Tosi, and Meadow abandoned invasion, diffusion, and colonization models in favor of ones that emphasized independent development and overlapping interaction spheres (Kenoyer 1991 ). Concepts of overlapping interaction spheres allowed for primarily indigenous development with some distribution of the concepts involved in civilization.

Whatever man undertakes is plagued by the dissension inherent to group action. Archaeology is not immune to such dissension. Each area of investigation incurs dispute, and the Harappan Civilization is no exception. Study has been plagued with academic disputes, racism, imperialism, anti-imperialism, nationalism, fear, ignorance, and hatred.

Two of the most volatile areas of investigation are the peopling and the development of the Harappan Civilization. Each is a complex and changing problem which may be split into two primary groups the internalists and the externalists. The development of the Harappan Civilization may be divided into two broad groups, those who propose an outside influence as the prime motivator and those who see an indigenous development. Early models of migration and replacement were supplanted with models of indigenous development coupled with regional interaction (Kenoyer 1991).



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