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Date(s) - 11/03/2020
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Seminar Hall


The Archaeology of Harappan Craft and Technology with Specific reference to Gujarat, Western India
Ca. 2600 – 1900 BCE
11 March 2020
IIAS, Shimla

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 stoneware 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 Harappan World in the 3rd millennium BCE.
For many years, archeologist and prehistorians studding Harappan Civilization have concentrated on the major features of architecture, pottery, plastic art and enigmatic Harappan Script, giving passing attention to the numerous “minor” artifacts. The main objective of these studies has been to make plausible reconstruction and interpretations regarding the development and structure of the ancient society, which was undoubtedly one of the largest and possibly the most complex urban societies of the ancient world. Many of these interpretations have remained general in nature, relying on tidbits of information obtained from cursory examinations of certain outstanding features. When large scale excavations were conducted at Mohenjo-daro in the 1920’s under the direction of Sir John H. Marshal, the Indian archaeology was in its infancy. The primary objectives of the excavations were to find out what lay under the surface and then relate those to “known” civilizations in the West Asia and Europe. Though systematic excavation and recording were carried out, but only general studies were conducted on these artifacts, leaving Marshall with the impression that as rule “minor” antiquities showed little variation in type (1930:10)
Fortunately, excavation were continued at the same site by E. J. H. Mackay in 1930’s and these were specially designed to answer questions about the extent of the site, intra-site chronology and the nature of the different habitation complexes within the site. Mackay’s interest in technology and the material culture resulted in several valuable studies of specific class artifacts. These studies enabled him to reconstruct and describe many important aspects of the daily life of the ancient inhabitants, and develop certain hypothesis regarding the socio-economic of structure f Harappan Civilization.
During this time M. S. Vats was directing excavations at equally large site of Harappa, where he recovered much important new data regarding the development of this large urban civilization. However, in his report of the finding he relied heavily on Marshal’s and Mackay’s studies of the material culture for comparative and interpretive purpose, without conducting any detail studies of the artifacts themselves. Mackay went on to excavate the site of Chanhu-daro, and his report on the craft activates, particularly bead manufacturing, is extremely valuable for understanding the role of this site in economic sphere (Mackay 1943). Together, these initial studies provided the basis for subsequent scholars for reconstruction other socio-economic features of Harappan Civilization.
Hundreds of sites have been located in the Indus valley and adjoining regions that have been labeled as “Harappan” on the basis of similarities in pottery types, the presence of Harappan script and various other criteria that have accumulated over the years. In describing the material culture of these sites, the excavators continue the tradition set by Vats, relying on the descriptions and interpretation given by early reports, without conducting detailed analyses of their own on new collections. This reliance on earlier studies, which were themselves preliminary and limited in scope, has resulted in a narrow perspective on the internal development of the Haappan culture and its important regional variations.
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.
In this presentation we will discuss following crafts in this new perspective.

I) Shell Working
II) Steatite and based crafts
IIIA) Ceramic
IIIB) Stoneware Bangle Manufacture
IIIC) Faience working
III) Copper – Metal working