the harappan civilization -- 12/5/23

Today's selection -- from Indus Valley Civilization: A History from Beginning to End by Hourly History.  The late 1850s to the 1930s brought a series of explorations and analyses confirming the existence of a previously unknown Indus Valley civilization, which became named after the nearby village of Harappa:

“In 1856, workers were constructing what would become the Punjab Railway, one of the first railways in the British colony of India connecting the cities of Lahore and Karachi in present-day Pakistan. The indigenous workers, supervised by British engineers John and William Brunton, were digging out the foundations on the Multan-Lahore section of the track when they discovered thousands of fire-baked mud bricks buried in the dusty earth. The British engineers were delighted--there was a shortage of material in the local area which was suitable to use as ballast for the track bed, and these bricks were ideal. However, the engineers wondered just where these bricks, which were obviously ancient, had originally come from. 

“On another section of track, near the village of Harappa, the new line once again passed what appeared to be ruins, and again the bricks discovered buried in the ground were used as ballast for the track. William Brunton later wrote, ‘A section of the line ran near another ruined city, bricks from which had already been used by villagers in the nearby village of Harappa at the same site. These bricks now provided ballast along 93 miles of the railroad track running from Karachi to Lahore.’ 

“These bricks were not just a useful source of building material; they also indicated the existence of large, unknown ruins in this area. This was not the first time that these remains had been examined by an outsider--in the 1830s, an explorer and soldier of the British East India Company, James Lewis (who wrote under the pseudonym Charles Masson), had discovered several brick mounds and apparent ruins near the city of Sahiwal in Punjab, around 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Lahore. No-one seemed to be sure just who had created the buildings which formed these ruins. Local people spoke of an ancient city called Brahminabad which, they said, had covered more than ‘13 cosses’ (around 40 kilometers or 25 miles), but the only people who were known to have lived in this area in the past were the Maurya, members of a large empire which had dominated this part of India from around 300 BCE to 180 BCE. However, these bricks and other army artifacts which included finely carved pieces of soapstone were clearly much older than this.

“The only known older Indian civilization was one formed by Aryan settlers, nomadic cattle-herders who arrived via the Kush Mountains from Persia and central Asia around 1200 BCE, but these people had established their towns and cities in the Ganges Valley, far from the Punjab. For many years, the bricks and other remains found in the Punjab remained a mystery largely ignored by historians and archaeologists. A British amateur archaeologist and engineer, Sir Alexander Cunningham, visited the site of the railway construction near Harappa and discovered what appeared to be a carved seal buried near the track bed. He published a monograph on this find in 1872, though he mistakenly attributed this to around 400 BCE.

Major sites and extent of the Indus Valley civilisation

“In 1912, another British amateur archaeologist, John Faithful Fleet, a senior member of the Indian Civil Service, visited the site at Harappa and discovered more odd seals. He recognized that these were much older than had previously been thought and, for the first time, archaeologists began to wonder whether the bricks discovered at Harappa provided evidence of an unknown Indian civilization. 

“In 1921, the director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India, Sir John Hubert Marshall, organized an expedition to undertake a major dig at Harappa and appointed one of his assistants, Indian archaeologist Daya Ram Sahni, to supervise. The dig continued into the following year and what was discovered was truly astounding; the site on the banks of the Ravi River was the remains of an enormous city which seemed to have thrived from around 2500 BCE to 1900 BCE. This wasn't just a very large and previously undiscovered city; it was evidence of a much older civilization in the area than anyone had ever suspected. 

“The city became known as Harappa, the name of the nearby village which was constructed on top of parts of the ruins, and the civilization which it belonged to was named the Harappan Civilization because it seemed that this must have been a major or perhaps the capital city of these people. During the next ten years, a series of excavations at Harappa and at another site called Mohenjo-daro on the banks of the Indus River near the town of Larkana uncovered many more ruins. By 1931, it was clear that the ancient history of India was much more complex and stretched back much further than anyone had previously realized.” 



Hourly History


Indus Valley Civilization: A History from Beginning to End


Independently Published


Chapter 1
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