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Harappan Period, India

On the Indus civilisations of the Harappan period.

The Harappan period of Indian history is the first to have yielded significant amounts of archaeological remains and marked the first period of large-scale urbanization in the sub-Continent. The Indus river civilization was the biggest of its kind at that time and extended across what are now several provinces in modern India. Some of the larger cities to have been excavated at least in part include Harappa itself, Rupar, Kot Diji, Banawali and Surkotada.

The people living in these cities were part of a civilization that was in contact with people to both east and west by sea and with peoples in modern day Iran and Afghanistan through the various mountain passes. People continued to be motivated to make contact with other cultures for purposes of trade and in the search for precious natural resources, such as mineral ores, metals and precious stones. It is thought that Mesopotamian references to a land known as Meluhha in fact refer to the Indus civilization and it is one known to produce lapis lazuli and gold, wood, carnelian and ivory.

The Harappan period is conventionally divided into three separate eras: the pre-Harappan (or Early Harappan) lasted from c.4000-2600 BCE, the Mature Harappan from 2600-1900 BCE and the Mature Harappan from 1900-c.1750 BCE. This was a period of quite intensive urbanization and growth, since the various goods produced required extensive skilled labour and this was not assembled in a single place without considerable amounts of managerial skill and logistics ability – to cater for the large workforce and to bring in the agricultural surplus to feed the urbanite workers. It is not clear whether, as is often supposed, a single (or dual) imperial system was responsible for organizing this state or whether there was a degree of autonomy for the individual cities concerned.

Monumental buildings were created – granaries and warehouses among the temples and places and places for soldiers. A literate society was fostered and a language, perhaps Dravidian in nature, with somewhere between 250 and 500 characters in use. It is not known what they wrote about or how their imaginations worked but it is not unlikely that their ideas and beliefs were subsequently influential in shaping the great religions that we now know as Buddhism and Hinduism. Perhaps poets and lyricists entertained the courts and delighted the people with their skills.

The culture seemed to thrive for an extended period of time prior to entering a period of decline, possibly due to environmental change or the malign effects of some external force. Societies that fail – or at least that come to the end of a period and undergo a transition into another type of society – do so for a variety of short-term and long-term factors. Often the long-term factors are too long-term to be observed from the present and more emphasis is placed on short-term phenomena such as war and natural disaster than is warranted.


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