The Indus or Harappan culture arose in the North-Western part of the Indian subcontinent.
It is called the ‘Harappan Civilisation’ because this was discovered first in 1921 at the modern site of Harappa, situated in the province of west Punjab in Pakistan.
It is also called as the ‘Indus Civilisation’ because it refers to precisely the same cultural, chronological and geographic entity confined to the geographic bounds of the Indus valley.
The civilisation belongs to the Chalcolithic or Bronze Age since the objects of copper and stone were found at the various sites of this civilisation.
Nearly, 1,400 Harappan sites are known so far in the sub-continent. They belong to the early, mature and late phases of the Harappan culture. But the number of sites belonging to the mature phase is limited, and of them only half a dozen can be regarded as cities.
Origin and Evolution
The discovery of India’s first and earliest civilisation posed a historical puzzle, as it seemed to have suddenly appeared on the stage of history, full grown and fully equipped.
The Harappan civilisation had shown no definite signs of birth and growth.
The puzzle could largely be solved after extensive excavation work was carried out, at Mehrgarh near the Bolan Pass between 1973 and 1980 by two French archaeologists, Richard H. Meadow and Jean Francoise Jarrige.
Mehrgarh gives us an archaeological record with a sequence of occupations. Archaeological research over the past decades has established a continuous sequence of strata, showing the gradual development to the high standard of the full-fledged Indus civilisation. These strata have been named pre-Harappan, early Harappan, mature Harappan and late Harappan phases or stages. By reviewing the main elements of the rural cultures of the Indian sub-continent the origin of the Indus civilisation can be traced. Any Pre-Harappan culture claiming ancestry to the Indus civilisation must satisfy two conditions.
The first condition is that it must not only precede but also overlap the Indus culture. The second is that the essential elements of the Indus culture must have been anticipated by the Proto-Harappan (Indus) culture in its material aspects, viz, the rudiments of town planning, provision of minimum sanitary facilities, knowledge of pictographic writing, the introduction of trade mechanisms, the knowledge of metallurgy and the prevalence of ceramic traditions.
The different stages of the indigenous evolution of the Indus can be documented by an analysis of the four sites, which reflect the sequence of the four important stages or phases in the pre-history and proto-history of the Indus valley region.
The sequence begins with the transition of nomadic herdsmen to settled agricultural communities as per the evidence found at the first site i.e. Mehrgarh near the Bolan Pass.
It continues with the growth of large villages and the rise of towns in the second stage exemplified at Amri. The Amri people did not possess any knowledge of town-planning or of writing.
The third stage in the sequence leads to the emergence of the great cities as in Kalibangan and finally ends with their decline, which is the fourth stage and exemplified by Lothal. Amri, Kot-Dijian and Kalibangan cultures are stratigraphically found to be pre-Harappan.
The four Baluchi cultures, viz, Zhob, Quetta, Nal and Kulli, undoubtedly pre-Harappan, also have some minor common features with the Indus civilisation, and cannot be considered as full-fledged proto-Harappan cultures.
The culture of Northern Baluchistan is termed as the ‘Zhob’ culture after the sites in the Zhob valley, the chief among them being Rana Ghundai. This culture is characterised by black and red ware and terracotta female figurines. Nal culture is characterised by the use of white-clipped ware with attractive polychrome paintings and the observance of fractional burial.
In the ‘early Indus period’, the use of similar kinds of pottery, terracotta Mother Goddess, representation of the horned deity in many sites show the way to the emergence of a homogenous tradition in the entire area.
The available evidence suggests that the Harappan culture had its origin in the Indus valley. And even within the Indus valley, several cultures seem to have contributed to evolve the urban civilisation. There is no evidence to suggest that the Indus people borrowed anything substantial from the Sumerians. It is thus difficult to accept Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s assumption that “the idea of civilization came to the Indus valley from Mesopotamia”.