Archaeo-metallurgy of Indus civilisation

This is an anthology of 21 articles by professional archaeologists engaged in Harappan studies and allied sciences. The articles include long-term critical surveys of archaeological discoveries; literature on metal use; specialised archaeo-metallurgical analyses of copper smelting, bronze crafts and copper-bronze alloying technology; and the metal and mineral transactions of Harappans. 

Dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro c. 2500 BC [Credit: Web]
A couple of them deal with explanatory challenges like the absence of weapons in the Indus Civilisation, the prominence of the Great Bath, the emphasis on sanitary architecture, irrigation engineering, the key-hole on the skull suggestive of trepanation, and so on. 

In the key article, J.M. Kenoyer and R.H. Meadow present a chronological summary of discoveries and interpretations of the Harappan archaeological finds over the past 70 years, highlighting major shifts in the framework of comprehension. It lays emphasis on the contributions made by American scholars and U.S.-trained Pakistani archaeologists. The extensive citations the authors provide will be quite useful for researchers. 

An archaeo-material study by A.K. Biswas highlights ancient Indian knowledge about metals such as copper, gold, silver, lead, tin, iron, and zinc, and minerals such as diamond. It establishes that the special fibre-reinforced refractory crucible used for making wootz in ancient India is a technology valid even today. 

Nayanjot Lahiri musters archaeological data with scientific results of metallurgical tests on samples of proto-historic and early historic times, and appraises the extent of the use of copper and its alloys, and the standard of metal technology in ancient India. Many Harappan copper implements were made by the casting method and vessels were made out of a single sheet of bronze by hammering. 

With bronze-making relics at early Harappan sites, indicating provenance of alloy metallurgy around 3000 B.C., as a point of reference, D.K. Chakraborti argues that the metallurgy of tin was well developed in the Indus civilisation. His article surveys copper-archaeo-metallurgy in various kinds of literature — both religious and secular — and traces references to metals in various contexts. 

An article by Kenoyer and Miller about the use of metals by Harappans during their mature phase (2700-1900 BC) shows the level of ancient Indian metallurgy on the basis of the technical analysis of metal artefacts picked up from Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Lothal, and Rangpur. It covers discussions of the potential sources of metals and their processing techniques from smelting to casting. 

D.P Agrawal and R. Seshadri substantiate, on the basis of a variety of metallic objects of arts and crafts, the archaeo-metallurgical tradition of Harappans, marked by highly sophisticated and advanced production technology. 

N. Taher's piece on ‘Harappan Copper Metallurgy' supports it with illustrations. Sarada Srinivasan's study of sophisticated high-tin bronze-crafts points to the existence of a developed copper bronze alloying technology in the ancient Indian metallurgical tradition. D.P. Sharma's article discussing new Harappan excavation in the Saraswati region and Bronze Age Civilisation of Asia is notable for national sentiments rather than archaeo-metallurgy. 

Trade in metals and minerals 

In any advanced civilisation, metals and minerals figured prominently in trade, and the Harappan civilisation was no exception, as demonstrated by Shashi Asthana. Harappans were involved in an extensive and complex system of mutual relations and trading network, facilitating transactions of a variety of metals and minerals including semi-precious stones. 

While M.V.N Krishna Rao discusses the Harappan weights and measures in the context of ancient long distance trade, M.K. Dhavalikar, in his article ‘Meluha: the land of Copper Trade', shows how significant was the Harappan trade in metals and minerals. Quite a few writers encounter some of the famous explanatory challenges in ancient Indian archaeology. 

E. Cork argues that the assumed absence of evidence for warfare in the Indus civilisation is flawed, resting as it is on untested and antiquated hypotheses. He calls for further studies before the issue could be settled one way or the other. 


The advanced level of hydraulic engineering of Harappans at Dholavira is discussed by R.S. Bisht, keeping in mind the context of the Great Bath, the wells, the bathrooms and the elaborate sanitary drainage system in Mohenjodaro. Blanch Barthelemy de Saizieu and Anne Bouquillon write about glazed materials from the early Chalcolithic to the mature phase of the Harappan civilisation at Mehrgarh and Nausharo in the Indian subcontinent. 

A.R. Sankhyan and G.H Weber draw our attention to a multi-trephines skull from the Neolithic pit-dwellers of Burzahom in the Kashmir valley, probably suggestive of the practice of trepanation in prehistoric India, and push the archaeology of surgery into a hoary past. The revivalist sentiments precluding social theoretical explanation apart, the volume is a scholarly compilation useful for all segments of readership.  

Author: Rajan Gurukkal | Source: The Hindu [February 20, 2012]

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