119 Years of Trust


Saturday, September 18, 1999

This above all

regional vignettes

Did the Harappan empire extend to Delhi?
By Saikot Neogi

THIS year is proving to be a heritage year for India in the literal sense of the term. After Khajuraho and Hampi, the scene is now shifting to the northern state of Haryana. Some of the recent excavations at the village of Rakhigarhi, around 150 km from Delhi, have provided interesting findings on the Harappan civilisation.

Excavations at the Rakhigarhi siteThe Rakhigarhi excavations, in line with those in Dholavira in Gujarat, have been conducted by Amarendra Nath, Director of the Institute of Archaeology, and the findings are expected to give a treasure trove of information on the all-important Harappa and Mohenjodaro empire, dating between 2800 BC and 3500 BC.

Ironically, the Rakhigarhi site was first discovered in 1963 but nothing concrete could be achieved because of bureaucratic roadblocks. It was only in 1997 that actual excavation work started. But in the interim there have been new settlements which have partially destroyed and plundered important artifacts of the civilisation.

It was with great difficulty that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) acquired the 224 hectares where the remains have been found. And now, after two years of land acquisition, excavations have started throwing new light on the 5000-year-old civilisation.

The actual size of the archaeological remains was not known till the ASI did an overall survey of the area and established that they covered an area of 224 hectares.

Shell bangles and other jewellery....Important historical linksThe Rakhigarhi relics were first recovered here by archaeologist Acharya Bhagwan Dev and subsequently in 1963 another noted Indian archaeologist, Suraj Bhan, confirmed that the origins were Harappan.

Over three decades later, in 1995, two British archaeologists Raymond and Bridget Allchin conducted a survey and came to the conclusion that the archaeological remains at Rakhigarhi covered an area of 24 hectares.

Later, US archaeologist J.M. Kenoyev established the site in an area of 80 hectares. However, both were way off the mark and the final expanse has now been established in 224 hectares.

"The Rakhigarhi excavations will establish a number of unknown facts and unearth important connections with ancient Indian history," says Amarendra Nath, who is working under the guidance of ASI Director-General Ajai Shankar.

Some of the findings at Rakhigarhi are startling. Copper fishing hooks found at the site confirm the presence of a river. Fossil existence indicates that the people of the Harappan civilisation reared cattle and other livestock. The drainage also throws light on the advanced sewage disposal system.

Almost intact earthenware found at RakhigarhiOver the Harappan mounds — two of them on which excavation work is being carried out — thickly populated villages have come up over the last three decades, causing irreparable damage to the site. But due to the timely action of the Archaeological Survey of India, a fairly large and open area of the site could be saved and protected from further damage and encroachment. In the eighties, a team of excavators from the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Haryana, noticed some Harappan elements in Rakhigarhi which were later endorsed by the ASI.

Other notable substances found include a large quantity of Indus seals and inscriptions. Amarendra Nath explains that in recent years two similar terracotta cylindrical seals were found which were very significant to the excavation study. Besides the seal, a large number of beads and other jewellery items — all belonging to the early Harappan period — have been discovered.

The site is in three layers namely — early, mature and late phases of the Indus Valley civilisation. Nath and his team have found thick layers of ‘Hakra ware’— Harappan bricks — and other construction material.

In fact, the presence of the Hakra ware could be a pointer to the fact that the Harappan civilisation existed some 500-600 years earlier than the period actually perceived. When Carbon-14 dating is done on the Hakra ware, the actual period of the civilisation will be established.

Major excavations have been undertaken at Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Dholavira — all important centres of the Indus Valley Civilisation. However, only a small proportion of each site has been excavated.

Based on the density of houses in the excavated areas at Rakhigarhi, it was earlier estimated that the population here was just under 50,000. But since the area now covers an expanse of 224 hectares, there could have been considerably more people than calculated by earlier archaeologists.

However, it is unlikely that the entire city was continuously occupied to its maximum capacity, and the population probably fluctuated when people from the surrounding countryside and distant villages came to the city for special festivals or during trading seasons.

Each city was surrounded by vast agricultural lands, rivers and forests that were inhabited by scattered farming and pastoral communities, fishermen and bands of hunters and gatherers. The city may not have had direct control over all of these different communities, but it certainly controlled the movement of trade goods passing through it.

However, apart from these revelations, there are numerous other questions exercising the mind of archaeologists. And even as extensive excavations are being carried out many missing links are being discovered virtually by the day. — Newsmen Featuresback

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