The Archaeology of Harappan Craft and Technology with Specific Reference to Gujarat, Western India

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Date(s) - 20/06/2019
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Seminar Hall


The Archaeology of Harappan Craft and Technology with Specific reference to Gujarat, Western India

Ca. 2600 – 1900 BCE

20th June 2019

IIAS, Shimla


The Harappan Tradition represents a distinctive and dynamical form of cultural adaptation between the Neolithic and Late Bronze Age, developed independently in the Indus Plain and in some adjacent regions distinguished by an extreme ecological diversity, such as mountains of Hindu-Kush at north and north-west, the Aravalli mountains, the great Thar desert and the upper basin of the Jamuna at the east, Kutch and Gujarat at the south-east, the valleys of Baluchistan at the west, the fringes of Afghanistan at the north west. The Indus civilization or Harappan Phase of the Harappan tradition (ca. 2600-1900BCE) represents a major phase in this adaptation process, approximately paralleling the sequence leading Mesopotamia from Early Dynastic III to the Isin-Larsa period. The chronological frame of reference in describing the evolution of craft and technology in the present study would be adopted from the one that was proposed by about by J. Shaffer & and J. M. Kenoyer.

By 2600-1900 BCE, the proto-urban communities of the Indus and surrounding regions appear to have attained some sort of political unification and now we observe the growth of first urban centers in South Asia. The development of large cities and towns affected parallel and impressive development of industrial sector. An important aspect of this process of integration was the invention of specific styles in material culture, namely, in public and domestic architecture, ceramics (including pottery and refined personal ornaments such as faience and stone ware bangles), metallurgy, steatite, agate and shell. I hope that my present research will contribute to better understanding of the role played by the makers of these craft in shaping and transformation of the Indus World in the 3rd millennium BCE.

Studies of craft technologies, is a growing field of investigation in the archaeology and ancient history of South Asia .Although numerous evidence of craft have been collected but unfortunately publications do little more than list the craft objects with miscellaneous small finds, however, most of the scholars agree they provide a unique perspective on ancient trade networks, technological and economic organization, wealth and social hierarchy, ritual symbols, as well as chronological change. This situation is surprising when one considers that craft are traditionally used as an outward symbol of person’s age, social status and cultural identity, therefore such studies can also provide a unique perspective on patterns of ancient ethnic diversity and even religious affiliation. While earlier excavators were definitely interested in understanding these aspects of ancient Harappan society, their immediate goals and methodologies overlooked the type of information that a contextual study of crafts could provide.

Gujarat Harappan: Craft Production

State of Gujarat and the surrounding regions of Rajasthan are rich in various raw-materials and minerals like marine shell, various varieties of agate, amazonite, jaspers, quartz, steatite, copper etc.. The archaeological excavations and explorations in the regions rich in these raw-materials have indicated that many of these materials seems to have extensively been exploited by the Gujarat Harappans for the manufacture of various crafts. Excavations carried out on the Harappan sites of Gujarat since last 4 decades by the department of Archaeology and Ancient History of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda have revealed many industrial Harappan towns / villages developed near raw – resource rich areas such as Nageshwar – a shell working site on the southern bank of Gulf of Kutch, Nagwada a small industrial center for reworking of the shell and agate bead making, Datrana, an industrial center of blade manufacture and stone bead making and Gola Dhoro (Bagasra)and Shikarpur small fortified industrial towns involved in shell working, stone bead making, faience and copper working and stone raw material piling station.

The industrial debris left by the artisans is a reliable marker of one of the most important dimension of social differentiation. In Harappan studies, archaeologists have been more successful in identifying and reconstructing major aspects of production than for example, religious or administrative practices. Presently from strictly archaeological view-point, the

most direct method for understanding social stratification and segregation in Harappan society is through ancient craft organization. The division of labor in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent is a key variable for the interpretation of society since it is closely related to the ritual organization of the society, as well as the socio-political structure.

With the adoption of more rigorous excavations and recovery methods, a wide range of crafts have been recovered from well dated context, along with evidence of manufacturing process, such as microscopic remains of craft debris, unfinished and finished objects etc. Although we still have much to learn about ancient crafts, we, however, have now begin to see distinctive patterns of continuity of change that provide a more comprehensive understanding of the role played by the various crafts in the early stages of human development and emergence of urbanism. However, a holistic approach and more detail studies need to be carried out on the various craft items and its debris thus such analysis will finally form the basis of the present research.

These excavations have highlighted the dependence of large Harappan cities on smaller towns and village settlements for procuring raw material and finished goods from outlying resource rich areas. Excavations at the above mentioned sites have also provides us with new opportunities to allow us to carry out a careful assessment of the technology and raw material, as well as the archaeological context in which these crafts are found. Through careful recording of excavations of these settlements, it is now possible to determine specific ways in which certain crafts were constructed. By correlating ethnoarchaeological data with archaeologically discernible patterns can be attributed to different types of workshops, by correlating the archaeological patterning of manufacturing waste and finished objects with other features such as architecture and settlement layout it is possible to identify levels of organization and control of production. Luckily, during the last four decades ethnoarchaeological and ethnoexperimental research on various crafts has made significant advances especially in order to develop interpretive models that can now be further tested in the context of Harappan craft studies.

Methodology: Analytical Studies of Geological, Archaeological and Ethnoarchaeological and ethnoexperimental Data

At present, the archaeologists with interest in Harappan craft are burdened with major responsibility of extending research into every facet of material culture production and interpretation the new data into more complex interpretive models. This requires the refinement of data recovery and also development of problem oriented studies and new theoretical models that go beyond evolutionary linearity and multilinearity, center-periphery, diffusion, simple hierarchies or stratification, and limited nature of dichotomy. This entails the reconstruction of the academic process of model building and testing to allow non-western (or, realistically, less-western) approaches to the difficult epistemological and ideological problems of craft studies.

An enormous amount of ethnoarchaeological and archeological data generated over the years on various crafts that need to be analyzed and I intend to undertake a detail recording and analysis of industrial debris left by various craft activities in order to identify discernible patterns that would be finally correlated with ethnoarchaeological data in order try to establish and identify levels of craft organization and control of production. However, we also intend to take additional ethnoarchaeological studies on copper/ bronze smelting and working, and steatite working in Gujarat and Rajasthan in order to fill the existing gaps in our knowledge.

Significance and Relevance

It is hoped that the present research would help us to better understand the craft organization and production; trade networks and the dynamics of the Harappan trade in Gujarat. It will also help us to develop new methodologies for recoding and studying of the various crafts from archaeological sites.