Bricks, Beads and Bones The Harappan Civilisation Class 12 History Notes | StudyTution

Sources Available to Understand or Study Harrapan Civilizattion

  • The Harappan seal is possibly the mostdistinctive artefact of the Harappan or Indus valley civilisation.
  • Sealsmade up of a stone called steatite, which contain animal motifs and signs from a script that remains undeciphered.
  • We know a great deal about the lives of the people who lived in the region from what they left behind – their houses, pots, ornaments, tools and seals – in other words, from archaeological evidence.

Why was Indus valley civilization so called Harappan Civilisation

  •  Archaeologists use the term “culture” for a group of objects, distinctive in style, that are usually found together within a specific geographical area and period of time.
  • In the case of the Harappan culture, these distinctive objects include seals, beads, weights, stone blades and even baked bricks.
  • These objects were found from areas as far apart as Afghanistan, Jammu, Baluchistan (Pakistan) and Gujarat
  • Harappa was  the first site where this unique culture was discovered
  • The civilisation is dated between c. 2600 and 1900 BCE.

Similarities and Differences between Early Harrapan and Late Harrapan

  • There were earlier and later cultures, often called Early Harappan and Late Harappan, in the same area.
  • The Harappan civilisation is sometimes called the Mature Harappan culture to distinguish it from these cultures.
  • These cultures were associated with distinctive pottery, evidence of agriculture and pastoralism, and some crafts.
  • Settlements were generally small, and there were virtually no large buildings.
  • It appears that there  was a break between the Early Harappan and the Harappan civilisation, evident from large-scale burning at some sites, as well as the abandonment of certain settlements.

Subsistence Strategies of Harrapan cultures and mature harrapan

  • The Harappans ate a wide range of plant and animal products, including fish.
  • Archaeologists have been able to reconstruct dietary practices from finds of charred grains and seeds.
  • These are studied by archaeo-botanists, who are specialists in ancient plant remains.
  • Grains found at Harappan sites include wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea and sesame.
  • Millets are found from sites in Gujarat.
  • Finds of rice are relatively rare.
  • Animal bones found at Harappan sites include those of cattle, sheep, goat, buffalo and pig.
  • Studies done by archaeo-zoologists or zooarchaeologists indicate that these animals were domesticated.
  • Bones of wild species such as boar, deer and gharial are also found.
  • We do not know whether the Harappans hunted these animals themselves or obtained meat from other hunting communities.
  1. Agricultural technologies
  • Representations on seals and terracotta sculpture indicate that the bull was known, and archaeologists extrapolate from this that oxen were used for ploughing.
  • Terracotta models of the plough have been found at sites in Cholistan and at Banawali (Haryana).
  • The field had two sets of furrows at right angles to each other, suggesting that two different crops were grown together.
  • Harappans use stone blades set in wooden handles or did they use metal tools
  •  Most Harappan sites are located in semi-arid lands, where irrigation was probably required for agriculture.
  • Traces of canals have been found at the Harappan site of Shortughai in Afghanistan, but not in Punjab or Sind.
  • Water reservoirs found in Dholavira (Gujarat) may have been used to store water for agriculture.

The plight of Harappa

  • Although Harappa was the first site to be discovered, it was badly destroyed by brick robbers.
  • As early as 1875, Alexander Cunningham, the first Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), often called the father of Indian archaeology, noted that the amount of brick taken from the ancient site was enough to lay bricks for “about 100 miles” of the railway line between Lahore and Multan.
  • Thus, many of the ancient structures at the site were damaged.
  • In contrast, Mohenjodaro was far better preserved.

Mohenjodaro A Planned Urban Centre

a) Division of Mohenjodaro City

  • The settlement is divided into two sections, one smaller but higher and the other much larger but lower.
  • Archaeologists designate these as the Citadel and the Lower Town respectively.
  • The Citadel owes its height to the fact that buildings were constructed on mud brick platforms.
  • It was walled, which meant that it was physically separated from the Lower Town.

b) Lower Town

  • The Lower Town was also walled.
  • Several buildings were built on platforms, which served as foundations.
  •  Once the platforms were in place, all building activity within the city was restricted to a fixed area.
  • So it seems that the settlement was first planned and then built accordingly.

c) Drainage System

  • Drainage Systemwas the carefully planned roads and streets were laid out along an approximate “grid” pattern, intersecting at right angles.
  • It seems that streets with drains were laid out first and then houses built along them.
  • If domestic waste water had to flow into the street drains, every house needed to have at least one wall along a street

d) Domestic architecture

  • Residential buildings were centred on a courtyard, with rooms on all sides.
  • The courtyard  was probably the centre of activities such as cooking and weaving, particularly during hot and dry weather.
  • People were concern for privacy as there are no windows in the walls along the ground level.
  • The main entrance does not give a direct view of the interior or the courtyard.
  • Every house had its own bathroom paved with bricks, with drains connected through the wall to the street drains.
  • Some houses have remains of staircases to reach a second storey or the roof.
  • Many houses had wells, often in a room that could be reached from the outside and perhaps used by passers-by.

e) Citadel

  • The Citadel owes its height to the fact that buildings were constructed on mud brick platforms.
  • It was walled, which meant that it was physically separated from the Lower Town.
  • The warehouse was massive structure of which the lower brick portions remain, while the upper portions, probably of wood, decayed long ago – and the Great Bath.
  • The Great Bath was a large rectangular tank in a courtyard surrounded by a corridor on all four sides.
  • There were two flights of steps on the north and south leading into the tank, which was made watertight
    by setting bricks on edge and using a mortar of gypsum.
  • There were rooms on three sides, in one of which was a large well.
  • Water from the tank flowed  into a huge drain.
  • Across a  lane to the north lay a smaller building with eight bathrooms, four on each side of a corridor,
    with drains from each bathroom connecting to a drain that ran along the corridor.
  • The uniqueness of the structure, as well as the context in which it was found that it was meant for some kind of a special ritual bath.

Tracking Social Differences



  • At burials in Harappan sites the dead were generally laid in pits.
  • There were differences in the way the burial pit was made – in some instances, the hollowed-out spaces were lined with bricks.
  • These variations be an indication of social differences
  • Some graves contain pottery and ornaments, perhaps indicating a belief that these could be used in the after life.
  • Jewellery has been found in burials of both men and women.
  • In the cemetery found in Harappa in the mid-1980s, an ornament consisting of three shell rings, a jasper
    (a kind of semi-precious stone) bead and hundreds of micro beads was found near the skull of a male.
  • In some instances the dead were buried with copper mirrors.
  • But Harappans did not believe in burying precious things with the dead.

Looking for “luxuries”

  • Another strategy to identify social differences is to study artefacts, which archaeologists broadly classify as utilitarian and luxuries.
  • The first category includes objects of daily use made fairly easily out of ordinary materials such as stone or clay. such as querns, pottery, needles, flesh-rubbers (body scrubbers), etc., and are usually found distributed
    throughout settlements.
  • Archaeologists assume objects were luxuries if they are rare or made from costly, non-local materials or with complicated technologies.
  • Thus, little pots of faience (a material made of ground sand or silica mixed with colour and a gum and then fired) were probably considered precious because they were difficult to make.
  • Rare objects made of valuable materials are generally concentrated in large settlements like Mohenjodaro and Harappa

Finding Out About Craft Production

  • Mohenjodaro (125 hectares), almost exclusively  devoted to craft production, including bead-making, shell-cutting, metal-working, seal-making and weight-making.
  •  The variety of materials used to make beads is remarkable: stones like carnelian (of a beautiful red colour), jasper, crystal, quartz and steatite; metals like copper, bronze and gold; and shell, faience and terracotta or burnt clay.
  •  The shapes were numerous – discshaped, cylindrical, spherical, barrel-shaped, segmented.
  • Some were decorated by incising or painting, and some had designs etched onto them.
  • Techniques for making beads differed according to the material.
  • Moudling permitted making a variety of shapes, unlike the geometrical forms made out of harder stones
  • The red colour of carnelian was obtained by firing the yellowish raw material and beads at various stages
    of production.
  • Nodules were chipped into rough shapes, and then finely flaked into the final form.
  • Nageshwar and Balakot are near the coast.
  • These were specialised centres for making  shell objects – including bangles, ladles and inlay – which were taken to other settlements.
  • Finished products (such as beads) from Chanhudaro and Lothal were taken to the large urban centres such as Mohenjodaro and Harappa.

Identifying centres of production

  • In order to identify centres  of craft production, archaeologists usually look for raw material such as stone
    nodules, whole shells, copper ore; tools; unfinished objects; rejects and waste material.
  • Waste is one of the best indicators of craft work.
  • For instance, if shell or stone is cut to make objects, then pieces of these materials will be discarded as waste at the place of production.
  • Sometimes, larger waste pieces were used up to make smaller objects, but minuscule bits were usually left in the work area.
  • These traces suggest that apart from small, specialised centres, craft production was also undertaken in large cities such as Mohenjodaro and Harappa.


  • Hoards are objects kept carefully by people, often inside containers such as pots.
  • Such hoards can be of jewellery or metal objects saved for reuse by metalworkers.
  • If for some reason the original owners do not retrieve them, they remain where they are left till some
    archaeologist finds them.



  • Terracotta toy models of bullock carts suggest that it was one of the important means of transporting goods and people across land routes.
  • Depictions of ships and boats on seals suggest that river routes along the Indus and its tributaries, as well as coastal routes were used for transporting goods and people.

Strategies for procurring Raw Material

  • The Harappans procured materials for craft production by establishing settlements where raw material was available
  • Nageshwar and Balakot- shell, Shortughai- lapis lazuli, a blue stone, Lothal- carnelian, steatite and metal-Rajasthan and Gujarat
  • Another strategy for procuring raw materials may have been to send expeditions to areas such as the Khetri region of Rajasthan (for copper) and south India (for gold).
  •  Occasional finds of Harappan artefacts such as steatite micro beads in the Khetri area indicates that the inhabitants of Ganeshwar-Jodhpura culture supplied copper to the Harappans.


  •  In the Khetri area archaeologists found a new culture and call it as the Ganeshwar-Jodhpura culture.
  • Here they found distinctive non-Harappan pottery and an unusual wealth of copper objects.
  • It is possible that the inhabitants of this region supplied copper to the Harappans).


  • Recent archaeological finds suggest that copper was also probably brought from Oman, on the south eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Chemical analyses have shown that both the Omani copper and Harappan copper artifacts have traces of nickel.
  •  A distinctive type of vessel, a large Harappan jar coated with a thick layer of black clay has been found at Omani sites.
  • It is possible that the Harappans exchanged the contents of these vessels for Omani copper.
  • Mesopotamian texts datable to the third millennium BCE refer to copper coming from a region called Magan, (Oman), and interestingly enough copper found Mesopotamian sites also contains traces of nickel.
  • It is worth noting that Mesopotamian texts mention contact with regions named Dilmun (Bahrain), Magan and Meluhha (the Harappan region).
  • They mention the products from Meluhha: carnelian, lapis lazuli, copper, gold, and varieties of wood were imported.
  •  A Mesopotamian myth says that: “May your bird be the haja-bird, may its call be heard in the royal palace.” Some archaeologists think the haja-bird was the peacock.
  • Mesopotamian texts refer to Meluhha (the Harappan region) as a land of seafarers. Besides, we find depictions of ships and boats on seals.



  •  Seals and sealing were used to facilitate long distance communication.
  • Imagine a bag of goods being sent from one place to another.
  • Its mouth was tied with rope and on the knot was affixed some wet clay on which one or more seals were pressed, leaving an impression.
  • If the bag reached with its sealing intact, it meant that it had not been tampered with.
  • The sealing also conveyed the identity of the sender.
  • Harappan seals usually have a line of writing and animal motifs.
  • Scholars have also suggested that the motif (generally an animal) conveyed a meaning to those who could not read.


  • Harappan seals usually have a line of writing.
  • Most inscriptions are short, the longest containing about 26 signs.
  •  Although the script remains un deciphered to date, it was evidently not alphabetical but syllable.
  •  It has just too many signs –somewhere between 375 and 400.
  • It is apparent that the script was written from right to left as some seals show a wider spacing on the right and cramping on the left, as if the engraver began working from the right and then ran out of space.
  • A variety of objects on which writing has been found: seals, copper tools, rims of jars, copper and terracotta tablets, jewellery, bone rods, even an ancient signboard.
  • Remember, there may have been writing on perishable materials too such as cloth, animal skin etc.


  • Exchanges were regulated by a precise system of weights, usually made of a stone called chert and generally cubical with no markings.
  • The lower denominations of weights were binary (1, 2, 4,8, 16, 32, etc). While the higher denominations used the decimal system.
  • The smaller weights were probably used for weighing jewellery and beads and bigger weights were used for weighing food grains.
  • Metal scale-pans have also been found.
  • These were probably used for measuring cloth and other materials.


  • The extraordinary uniformity of Harappan artefacts as evident in pottery, seals and weights.
  • Bricks, though obviously not produced in any single centre, but they were of a uniform ratio throughout the region, from Jammu to Gujarat.
  • We have also seen that settlements were strategically set up in specific locations for various reasons.
  • Large labour recourse was mobilised for making bricks and for the construction of massive walls and platforms.
  • Long distance trade with other countries also probably regulated by the ruling authority.


  • A large building found at Mohenjodaro was labelled as a palace by archaeologists but no spectacular finds were associated with it.
  • A stone statue was labelled and continues to be known as the “priest-king”.
  • This is because archaeologists were familiar with Mesopotamian history and its “priest-kings”system.
  • Some archaeologists are of the opinion that Harappan society had no rulers, and that everybody enjoyed equal status ( Democracy)
  • Other archaeologists feel that there was no single ruler but several, that Mohenjodaro had a separate ruler, Harappa another, and so forth.
  • Yet other archaeologists argue that there was a single state and single ruler because of the similarity in artefacts, the evidence for planned settlements, the standardized ratio of brick size, and the establishment of settlements near sources of raw material.


  •  By c. 1800 BCE most of the Mature Harappan sites had been abandoned. Simultaneously, there was an expansion of population into new settlements in Gujarat, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
  •  Distinctive artefacts of the civilisation- weights, seals, special beads, writing, long-distance trade, and craft specialization disappeared after 1800 BCE.
  • House construction techniques deteriorated and large public structures were no longer produced.
  • Overall disappearance of artefacts and settlements indicates a rural way of life in what is called Vedic culture or Vedic civilisation began.
  • Several explanations have been put forward.
  • These range from climatic change, deforestation, excessive floods, the shifting and/or drying up of rivers, overuse of the landscape.
  • Some of these “causes” may hold for certain settlements, but they do not explain the collapse of the entire civilisation.
  • It appears that a strong unifying element, perhaps the Harappan state, came to an end.


a. Cunningham’s confusion

  • Cunningham was the first Director-General of the ASI and called as father of Indian archaeology.
  • Cunningham’s main interest was in the archaeology of the Early Historic periods.
  • He used the accounts left by Chinese Buddhist pilgrims who had visited India between the 4th and 7th centuries CE .
  • Harappan artefacts were found fairly often during the nineteenth century and some of these reached Cunningham, he did not realise how old these were.
  • A Harappan seal was given to Cunningham by an Englishman.
  • He noted the object, but unsuccessfully tried to place it within the time-frame of c. sixth century BCE-fourth century CE.
  • It is not surprising that he missed the significance of Harappa.

b. John Marshall`s Ignorance

  • John Marshall , the Director-General of ASI and he made a major change in Indian archaeology.
  • He was the first professional archaeologist to work in India, and brought his experience of working in Greece and Crete to India.
  • He was interested in spectacular finds and patterns of everyday life.
  • Marshall tended to excavate along regular horizontal units, measured uniformly throughout the mound, ignoring the stratigraphy of the site.
  • This meant that all the artefacts recovered from the same unit were grouped together, even if they were found at different stratigraphic layers.
  • As a result, valuable information about Harappan civilisation was irretrievably lost.

c. R.E.M. Wheeler`s problems

  • R.E.M. Wheeler, took over as Director-General of the ASI in 1944, who rectified many problems.
  • Wheeler recognised that it was necessary to follow the stratigraphy of the mound rather than dig mechanically along uniform horizontal lines.
  • Moreover, as an ex-army brigadier, he brought with him a military precision to the practice of archaeology.
  • However, with the partition of the subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan, the major sites are now in Pakistani territory.
  • This has spurred Indian archaeologists to try and locate sites in India.

d. Daya Ram Sahni

  • Daya Ram Sahni discovered Seals at Harappa in the early decades of the twentieth century, in layers that were definitely much older than Early Historic levels and their significance began to be realised.

e. Rakhal Das Banerji

  • Another archaeologist, Rakhal Das Banerji found similar seals at Mohenjodaro, leading to the
    Conjecture that these sites were part of a single archaeological culture.
  • Based on these finds, in 1924,John Marshall, Director-General of the ASI, announced the discovery of a new civilisation in the Indus valley to the world.

f. S.N. Roy

  • As S.N. Roy wrote The Story of Indian Archaeology and mentioned that “Marshall left India three thousand years older than he had found her.”
  • This was because similar, till-then-unidentified seals were found at excavations at Mesopotamian sites.
  • It was then that the world knew not only of a new civilisation, but also of one contemporaneous with Mesopotamia.

Recent developments in archaeological survey in Harappa

  • Since the 1980s, there has been growing international interest in Harappan archaeology.
  • Specialists from the subcontinent and abroad have been jointly working at both Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
  • They are using modern scientific techniques including surface exploration to recover traces of clay, stone, metal and plant and animal remains as well as to minutely analyse every scrap of available evidence.
  • These explorations promise to yield interesting results in the future.

What were the problems in finding material evidence or archaeological evidences?

  • Archaeologists do not get biodegradable materials because they were already decomposed.
  • The major wastes were either reused or recycled by the people so they do not get them.
  • Archaeologists could not understand the meaning/ use of some of the objects which are simply classified as objects associated with religious practice.

How do archaeologists classify the finds or evidences?

  • Recovering artefacts is just the beginning of the archaeological enterprise. Archaeologists then classify their finds.
  • One simple principle of classification is in terms of material, such as stone, clay, metal, bone, ivory, etc.
  • The second, and more complicated, is in terms of function: archaeologists have to decide whether an artefact is a tool or an ornament, or both, or something meant for ritual use.
  • An understanding of the function of an artefact is often shaped by its resemblance with present-day things – beads, querns, stone blades and pots are obvious examples.
  • Archaeologists also try to identify the function of an artefact by investigating the context in which it was found: was it found in a house, in a drain, in a grave, in a kiln?
  • Sometimes, archaeologists have to take indirect evidence.
  • For instance, though there are traces of cotton at some Harappan sites but to find out about clothing we have to depend on indirect evidence including depictions of cloth on the sculptures.

What were the religious practices of the Harappans?

  • Terracotta figurine of a woman, heavily jewelled with elaborate head-dresses was regarded as mother goddesses.
  • Rare stone statuary of men in an almost standardised posture, seated with one hand on the knee – such as the “priest-king” – was identified.
  • In other structures have been assigned ritual significance.
  • These include the Great Bath and fire altars, kamandalu, shiv linga, swastika etc found at indicate a form of Hinduism.
  • Attempts have also been made to reconstruct religious beliefs and practices by examining seals with plant motifs indicate nature worship.
  • Some animals – such as the one-horned animal, often called the “unicorn” – depicted on seals seem to be mythical, composite creatures refers to animal worship
    In some seals, a figure shown seated cross-legged in a “yogic “posture, sometimes surrounded by animals, has been regarded as a depiction of “proto-Shiva”, that is, an early form of one of the major deities of Hinduism.


  •  Dead man Lane is a narrow valley where part of a skull, the bones of the thorax and upper arm of an adult were discovered.
  • All were in very friable condition at a depth of4 ft 2 inch.
  • The body lay on its back diagonally across the lane. Fifteen inches to the west were a few fragments of a tiny skull.
  • It is to these remains that the lane owes its name.
  •  Sixteen skeletons of people with the ornaments were found from the same part of Mohenjodaro in 1925.
    d. R.E.M. Wheeler, then Director-General of the ASI, tried to correlate this archaeological evidence with that of the Rig Veda, the earliest known text in the subcontinent.
  • There is no destruction level covering the latest period of the city Mohenjodaro, no sign of extensive burning, no bodies of warriors clad in armour and surrounded by the weapons of war.
  • The citadel, the only fortified part of the city yielded no evidence of a final defence.

Sites, mounds, layers

  • Archaeological sites are formed through the production, use and discarding of materials
    and structures.
  • When people continue to live in the same place, their constant use and reuse of the landscape results
    in the build up of occupational debris, called a mound.
  • Brief or permanent abandonment results in alteration of the landscape by wind or water activity and erosion.
  • Occupations are detected by traces of ancient materials found in layers, which differ from one another in colour, texture and the artefacts that are found in them.
  • Abandonment or desertions, what are called “sterile layers”, can be identified by the absence of such traces.
  • Generally, the lowest layers are the oldest and the highest are the most recent.
  • The study of these layers is called stratigraphy.
  • Artefacts found in layers can be assigned to specific cultural periods and can thus provide the cultural
    sequence for a site

Problems of Piecing Together the Past

Classifing Finds

  • Recovering artefacts is just the beginning of the archaeological enterprise.
  • One simple principle of classification is in terms of material, such as stone, clay, metal, bone, ivory, etc.
  • The second, and more complicated, is in terms of function: archaeologists have to decide whether, for instance, an artefact is a tool or an ornament, or both, or something meant for ritual use.
  • An understanding of the function of an artefact is  often shaped by its resemblance with present-day
    things – beads, querns, stone blades etc
  • Archaeologists also try to identify the function of an artefact by investigating the context in which it was found: was it found

Problems of interpretation

  • Archaeological interpretation are perhaps most evident in attempts to reconstruct religious practices.
  • Each archaeologists thought that certain objects which seemed unusual or unfamiliar
    may have had a religious significance.
  • These included terracotta figurines of women, heavily jewelled, some with elaborate head-dresses.
  • These were regarded as mother goddesses.
  • Rare stone statuary of men in an almost standardised posture, seated with one hand on the knee – such as the “priest-king” – was also similarly classified
  • Attempts have also been made to reconstruct religious beliefs and practices by examining seals, some of which seem to depict ritual scenes.
  • Animals – such as the one-horned animal, often called the “unicorn” – depicted on seals seem to be mythical, composite creatures.
  • In some seals, a figure shown seated cross-legged in a “yogic” posture, sometimes surrounded by animals, has
    been regarded as a depiction of “proto-Shiva”, that is, an early form of one of the major deities of Hinduism. Besides, conical stone objects have been classified as lingas.
  • The “proto-Shiva” seals. The earliest religious text, the Rigveda (compiled c. 1500-1000 BCE) mentions a god named Rudra, which is a name used for Shiva in later Puranic traditions
  • Shiva, Rudra in the Rigveda is neither depicted as Pashupati (lord of animals in general and cattle in particular), nor as a yogi.
  • In other words, this depiction does not match the description of Rudra in the Rigveda.


  • A linga is a polished stone that is worshipped as a symbol of Shiva.


  • Shamans are men and women who claim magical and healing powers, as well as an ability to communicate
    with the other world.
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