May 31, 2023


An article on how agriculture emerged in the Harappan Region

The emergence of agricultural communities and settled villages can be traced back to the 5th millennium B.C. in Mehrgarh, located near the Bolan Pass in Baluchistan province, Pakistan. Mehrgarh is situated at the convergence of the alluvial plains of the Indus and the uneven hilly plateau of the Indo-Iranian border land. The people of Mehrgarh lived in mud houses that had multiple rooms. In the 3rd millennium B.C., several small and large villages sprouted up in the Indus, Baluchistan, and Afghanistan area, with Kili Ghul Muhammad in Baluchistan and Mundigak in Afghanistan being the most notable among them.

The agriculturists of the Indus flood plains, such as Jalilpur near Harappa, gradually learned to exploit the highly fertile flood plains of the Indus and control its flooding. This led to an increase in the size and number of settlements in Sindh, Rajasthan, Baluchistan, and other areas, which resulted in the development of small towns. This period of new development is called the “Early Harappan” period due to certain uniformities found all over the Indus.

Many scholars refer to this period as the formative epoch of the Harappan civilization when certain trends of cultural unification are evident. The Early Harappan period saw the emergence of many significant places with unique features. For instance, Mundigak in Southern Afghanistan was located on a trade route with evidence of defense wall, and Anjira, Togau, Nindowari, and Balakot in Central and Southern Baluchistan were using similar pottery with motifs like peepal and humped bull found in the mature Harappan phase.

The Indus Valley also saw several important places such as Amri (Sind), Kot Diji, Mehrgarh, Rehman Dheri, and Tarkai Qila. Mehrgarh was a prosperous township with various kinds of beads of stone, seals, and sealings indicating authority, which suggests they must have been used by merchants. Similarities in copper, pottery, and female terracotta figurines indicate contact with Iran, but pottery was most similar to that of Dumb Saadat of Quetta valley. The Early Harappan period saw the emergence of several other significant places with unique features, such as Rahmnan Dheri, Tarqai Qila, Bannu Area, Harappa, and Kalibangan in Punjab and Bahawalpur.

Southern Afghanistan and Central and Southern Baluchistan

Mundigak, situated in Southern Afghanistan along a trade route, was home to a community during the early Indus period. Artifacts found there show similarities with Iranian and Baluchistan towns. The site includes a defensive wall with square bastions, a palace, a temple, and various pottery items with naturalistic decorations. Bronze shafthole axes and adzes were also used, as well as semi-precious stones such as lapis-lazuli and steatite, which suggest contact with Iran and Central Asia.

In the Quetta Valley, southeast of Mundigak, the site of Damb Sadaat has revealed large brick-walled houses dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C. The discovery of such prosperous communities suggests that they had established trading contacts with distant regions. In Rana Ghundai, finely made painted pottery with friezes of humped bulls in black was found, which showed parallels with the pottery found in the Quetta Valley. At Periano Ghundai, female figurines of a distinctive type were found.

Further south in Central and Southern Baluchistan, sites like Anjira, Togau, Nindowari, and Balakot offer insights into early Harappan societies. Balakot has yielded remains of large buildings, and the sites in this area show evidence of contact with the Persian Gulf. Pottery items in Balakot and other contemporary villages in Baluchistan were similar at first but later showed similarities with those found in the Indus alluvial plain. The pottery motifs used by the people in the entire Baluchistan province, such as the humped bull and Pipal, showed influences from both the Persian Gulf and the Indus Valley and continued into the Mature Harappan phase.

The Indus Area

During the 4th millennium B.C., the Indus alluvial plains saw significant changes as many small and large settlements emerged on the banks of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra. This area became the core region of the Harappan civilization, with several sites showing interesting developments in the pre-urban and urban phases.

The Sind province showed promising development at the site of Amri, where habitations showed people living in houses made of stone and mud brick. They painted animal motifs on their pottery, including the humped Indian bulls, which became very popular during the ‘Mature Harappan’ phase. Wheel-made pottery was also used, and similar finds were reported in places like Tharro and Kohtras Buthi.

Opposite MohanJoDaro on the left bank of the river Indus is the site of Kot Diji, where people in the ‘Early Harappan’ period had a massive defensive wall built around their settlement. The most interesting finds were their wheel-thrown pottery decorated with plain bands of dark brownish paint, which has been reported from pre-Harappan habitations in places like Kalibangan and Mehrgarh. The Kot-Diji pottery has been found along the entire stretch of the river Indus where settlements belonging to the pre-urban and urban phases of the Harappan civilization have been reported, indicating greater communication among the people of the Indus plains and a convergence of cultures.

In the period preceding the Harappan urbanization, the people of Mehrgarh had established a prosperous township where they made various kinds of stone beads, including Lapiz Luzli from the Badakshan region of central Asia. Many seals and sealings have been reported, which were probably used by merchants for guaranteeing the quality of goods that were being sent to faraway lands. The people of Mehrgarh were in close contact with neighbouring towns of Iran and the pottery used by them was similar to the ones used in the neighbouring settlements of Damb Sadaat and the Quetta Valley.

Further north along the river Indus, at Rahman Dheri, an ‘Early Indus’ township has been excavated, with houses, streets, and lanes laid out in a planned fashion and protected by a massive wall. Beads of turquoise and lapis lazuli have been found, indicating their contact with Central Asia, and a large number of graffiti found on the pot sherds could be the forerunners of the Harappan script.

In the Bannu area, the site of Tarkai Qila has also yielded evidence of fortification, and a large factory site for making stone tools was discovered at a site called Levan. The people in Levant were making good ground stone axes, hammers, querns, and more, importing suitable rocks from surrounding areas too. The presence of lapiz luzli and terracotta figurines indicate links with central Asia. Another ‘Early Harappan settlement has been discovered at the site of Sarai Khola, where people were using the Kot Dijian type pottery.

Punjab and Bahawalpur

Harappa, located in western Punjab, is well-known for its archaeological discoveries. During excavations, pre-urban habitation sites were uncovered, believed to be part of the ‘Early Harappan’ phase. However, these sites have not yet been fully excavated. Pottery found at these sites is similar to the Kot Dijian ware, leading scholars to conclude that these sites represent the ‘Early Harappan’ phase in Harappa.

Around 40 ‘Early Harappan’ period sites have been discovered in the Bahawalpur area, located in the dry bed of the Hakra river. Like the Harappa sites, these locations also feature the Kot Dijian type of pottery. Analysis of the settlement pattern at these sites reveals that a variety of habitation types existed during the ‘Early Harappan’ period. While most sites were simple villages, some sites were focused on specialized industrial activities. The average size of the sites was about five to six hectares, while Gamanwala covered an area of 27.3 hectares, making it larger than the Harappan township of Kalibangan. This suggests that larger townships like Gamanwala likely carried out administrative and industrial activities in addition to agricultural activities.


The site of Kalibangan in northern Rajasthan has revealed evidence of the ‘Early Harappan’ period, where people lived in houses made of mud bricks with standard sizes and surrounded by a rampart. The pottery used in the region was unique in shape and design, but some were similar to the Kot Diji ware. Additionally, a ploughed field surface was discovered, indicating that the cultivators already knew about the plough, an advanced tool for cultivation that could increase food production. In the dry bed of Ghaggar, several ‘Early Harappan’ settlements have been discovered on the Indian site, lining the now extinct waterways of the region. Sites like Sothi Bara and Siswal have reported similar ceramic styles to those of Kalibangan.

The exploitation of Khetri copper mines in Rajasthan may have begun during the ‘Early Harappan’ period. During this period, there were cultural traditions found in diverse agricultural communities living in and around the Indus region, with similar pottery types, representations of a horned deity, and finds of terracotta mother goddesses, showing the emergence of a unifying tradition. The people of Baluchistan had already established trading relations with the towns of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, anticipating many of the achievements of the Harappan civilization.

Over a period of nearly three thousand years, cultivators colonized the alluvial plains of the Indus, using tools of copper, bronze, and stone, and implementing ploughs and wheeled transport for greater productivity. Additionally, unlike Iran where sheep and goat rearing was prevalent, the Indus people reared cattle, giving them better possibilities for harnessing animal power for transportation and cultivation. Gradual unification took place in the pottery tradition, with a particular kind of pottery first identified in Kot Diji spreading over almost the entire area of Baluchistan, Punjab, and Rajasthan. Terracotta mother goddesses or the motif of the horned deity could be seen in Kot Diji or Kalibangan, while some communities surrounded themselves with defensive walls, although the purpose of these walls remains unknown. These developments were occurring within a much larger network of relationships with the contemporary sites of the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia.

Emergence of the Harappan Civilisation

The emergence of the Harappan Civilization was a result of technological and ideological unification that had been taking place for some time. As technology improved, the exploitation of fertile plains led to an increase in grain production, which created larger surpluses and led to population growth.

With the surplus, non-farming specializations were able to develop, such as the clan of priests spread throughout the region. However, with many agricultural and pastoral nomadic communities in close proximity to each other, conflicts often arose. Prosperous agriculturalists attracted other groups, including pastoral nomads who engaged in trading and looting. Agricultural communities also fought amongst themselves for control of fertile land, leading some communities to build defensive walls.

The emergence of the Mature Harappan period was marked by the establishment of power by one set of people over others, which likely caused the destruction of many sites like Kot Diji and Kalibangan by fire. The Mature Harappan period did not have a specific start date, but the emergence of the city as a center of evolution dominated the entire northwest for the next seven to eight hundred years.

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