Fire Altar at Kalibangan Excavation. Credit.
Today, we start exploring specific excavations in the Indus Valley to better understand the progression of cultures leading up to the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) and its transformation into the Vedic Culture (1750-500 BC). We’ll focus upon representative excavations that take us from pre-pottery Neolithic through Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Early Bronze Age, and Middle Bronze Age until the dissolution of the mature IVC around 1750 BC.
Map with Mehrgarh. Credit
An excellent place to start is the Mehrgarh excavation, spread over six mounds, which had been continuously occupied over 6,500 years, from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) 7000 BC to the Iron Age in 500 BC. These excavations produced 32,000 artifacts spanning that period, and are important because the evidence strengthens the theory that the IVC was home-grown in the Indus Valley environment.
The Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) age is represented by the mound in the northeast corner of the Mehrgarh excavation. Here we find a farm village dating from 7000 to 5500 BC, populated by semi-nomadic farmers, which shouldn’t surprise us since this was the beginning of the Holocene Boreal stage i.e. melting glaciers and a newly abundant rain cycle was stimulating Ice Age nomads to settle and farm the land.
In Mehrgarh the early farmers cultivated einkorn and emmer wheat, 6-row barley, jujubes, and dates, while raising sheep, goats, and cattle. They lived in four-room mud homes, stored grain in granaries, and probably brought the livestock inside for the night in the early days. Some burials were accompanied by grave goods. Simple ornaments and female figurines speak to the increase in free time as farming grew more productive, and to what would be commonly recognized as evidence of “mother goddess” worship worldwide. A number of drilled molars in seven burials indicate that the beginnings of dentistry emerged here between 7000 and 5500 BC.
Pottery artifacts showed up in layers dating between 5500 and 4800 BC. Faience artifacts indicate kilns were reaching at least 1,000°C . Reaching 1,100°C was high enough to melt copper out of ore. Smelting copper was developed over the period 4800–3500 BC as evidenced by copper drills, updraft kilns, large pit kilns, and copper melting crucibles, as it had in the Levant (En Gedi temple Nahal Mishmar horde). Here are pictures of the excavation and some artifacts.
Cooking pot artifacts from Nausharo. Credit.
Mehrgarh was largely abandoned between 2600-2000 BC. An hypothesis is that the population moved to a new, nearby town of Nausharo, which itself went vacant by 1800 BC. A more insightful hypothesis might be that the earthquake in 2600 BC which destroyed Kalibangan (see below) might have damaged Mehrgarh and stimulated the move to Nausharo. Perhaps not coincidentally, Nausharo was abandoned at about the same time as the earthquake of 1800 BC.
Map with Kalibangan, Lothal, and Major IVC sites. Credit
Now, we’ll look at Kalibangan, another IVC city, which thrived from the Early IVC 3300 BC through an earthquake in 2900 BC up to the beginning of the Mature IVC 2600 BC, when it was destroyed by a second earthquake. It was rebuilt and thrived through the Mature Harappan IVC culture from 2500 to a third earthquake in 1800 BC, then faded away by 1750 BC. The excavations at Kalibangan give us further insight into the IVC culture during its early and mature stages. But Kalibangan was quite different from Mehrgarh and gives us insight into a fundamentally different culture emerging within the IVC. Here are pictures of Kalibangan excavations and artifacts.
The first fire altars discovered in the IVC were found at Kalibangan. There were many, some with sacrificial animal and cattle remains. Here are pictures of some of its fire altars. A horned fire god worshiped with animal sacrifices was also found hundreds of miles south at Lothal where the god was depicted on seals. Here are Lothal pictures. These artifactual aberrations were a sharp departure from the Earth or Mother Goddess which was worshiped elsewhere in the Harappan civilization. Some attribute the existence of these parallel IVC religions to “diversity in worship,” which is a transparent anachronism from today’s book of political correctness. Contrasting “chief gods” were not a norm within unified primitive societies, whereas the uniformity of script (undecipherable), architecture, city planning, sewage management, etc. lead us to believe the IVC was a large, common culture.
Of course, schisms, wars, and revolutions fragment cultures. But the IVC is mainly defined by the uniformity of excavated artifacts across a broad geography. Since the IVC has no written history and an undecipherable script, we don’t know anything about its history or politics except by circumstantial (artifactual) evidence. Hypotheses about this culture are speculations based upon archaeological artifacts, or by trying to extrapolate backwards from the Rig and other Vedas and later Vedic culture. So this divergence of something so fundamental as worship at the height of the Harappan IVC is a very important issue that challenges the key premise of uniformity–or at least the expectation that homogeneity continued throughout the Mature Harappan period. Perhaps these divergent religions are portents of its coming dissolution.
Seal with horned fire god “Shiva Pashupati” found at Mohenjodaro excavation.
It is notable that there is little evidence of worship of the mother goddess at Kalibangan and Lothal, nor of the horned fire god at the other Harappan sites worshiping the mother goddess. Since animal sacrifice is central in Vedic religion, I suggest we consider the likelihood that some of the displaced people from Kalibangan (several hundred miles from Lothal) after the 2600 BC earthquake restarted the city in 2500 BC while others went elsewhere, some taking their fire worship culture to distant Lothal, which was settled near the seacoast by “Harappans” no later than 2400 BC. These two cities might presage the early arrival of some Indo-Aryans, carriers of the proto-Vedic religion. Such a scenario would lay groundwork for the later Vedic wars being between these similarly armed early-arrival Indo-Aryans, who might be allies-of-convenience with their Harappan neighbors, and more belligerent Indo-Aryans arriving after 1750 BC. This would certainly tie up loose ends, but, it’s merely a speculation at this point.
Because both Kalibangan and Lothal now loom large as forerunners of the Late Harappan, Vedic generation of the IVC culture, we will study the two as they existed in the Mature Harappan IVC in the next post, before proceeding to the predominant, impressive, apparently peaceful, and doomed Mature Harappan IVC sites.
Thanks for visiting. Please feel encouraged to post comments on these blog posts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the page.