Harappan workshops unearthed in NW India
As far as Harappan sites go, it is the odd one out. The settlement had no fortification walls, no streets cutting at right angles, no citadel where the ruling elite lived, no middle town which housed the residences of traders and craftsmen and no warehouse—features that characterise Harappan settlements. Instead, it had all the trappings of a small, rural industrial production centre.
Why Harappans abandoned the site at the peak of the Mature Harappan phase is not clear. Experts believe it could either be because of floods or because the land became arid. The site was situated between the two channels of the Ghaggar river.
|Platforms made of mud bricks, at varying levels [Credit: V. Vedachalam]|
One of the furnaces stood out for the ingenuity of its design. It had a platform for the smith to sit and blow the fire burning in a pit a short distance away. A tuyere (a tube or pipe through which air is blown into a furnace) ran through the earth from a scooped out depression, in which one end of the blower rested, to the firepit. Artisans sat here to smelt gold and copper from the ore and cast them into ingots. An anvil lay in another trench.
|Circular and yoni-shaped (foreground) hearths in a trench. In the furnaces, Harappan artisans made beads, |
copper products and gold ornaments [Credit: V. Vedachalam/ASI]
Beads in different shapes and designs made out of semi-precious stones such as carnelian, lapis lazuli, jasper, agate, steatite and amazonite were also produced in these workshops. Bangles and rings were made out of seashells and terracotta too. The assemblage of ceramic ware—S-shaped jars, perforated jars, storage pots, goblets, beakers, and black and redware—at 4MSR shows that the potters of the Early Harappan period were a creative lot.
|Platforms made of mud bricks, and oval- and circular-shaped hearths |
[Credit: V. Vedachalam/ASI]
“The usual plan of a Harappan settlement, which had a citadel, a middle town, a lower town and fortifications, is not traced here. This was a rural settlement,” said Sanjay Manjul, the director of the excavation at 4MSR. Manjul is the Director of the Institute of Archaeology, New Delhi, ASI’s academic wing, which offers a two-year postgraduate diploma in archaeology. It has been conducting the excavations at 4MSR jointly with the Excavation Branch-II of the ASI at Purana Qila, New Delhi. Students of Santiniketan, Kolkata; and Kumaon University, Uttarakhand; and the staff of the archaeology departments of Telangana and Assam also formed part of the excavation team.
‘A unique site’
R.S. Bisht, former Joint Director General, ASI, called it “a unique site” which “exclusively had a cluster of workshops for industrial activity right at the beginning of the pre-Harappan [also known as Early Harappan] period”. Bisht, who led 13 seasons of excavation of Harappan sites at Dholavira in Gujarat from 1990 to 2005, visited 4MSR both last year and this year.
|Terracotta cakes of different shapes found in the trenches. While the disc-shaped cakes were used to maintain the |
temperature in hearths, the triangular- and the rectangular-shaped ones were used for decoration and flooring
[Credit: V. Vedachalam]
One other thing that fascinated Bisht was the discovery of a cluster of eight weights made out of banded chert stone, seashells (three) and sandstone. They weighed 0.25 grams, 0.46 g, 0.76 g, 2.26 g, 6.95 g, 13.68 g, 27.5 g and 52.10 g. The general ratio of the weights was 1:2. “So far, Dholavira is the only site which has yielded so many shell weights. It has not been reported from any other site that the Harappans were also using shell weights. But Binjor now has three shell weights,” he said.
|Hundreds of disc-shaped terracotta cakes have been found at 4 MSR during the excavations |
in 2015 and 2016 [Credit: V. Vedachalam]
The ASI team also discovered a large quantity of terracotta and shell bangles with ornamentation from the site. Some of them were of the conjoined variety, that is, twin bangles. “They were all made in hearths. In the bigger hearths, we found a lot of disc-shaped or triangular terracotta cakes,” Manjul said. Among the artefacts found at 4MSR, three stand out: a seal-cum-pendant made out of steatite with engravings of animals on both sides; a terracotta seal with three Harappan signs; and a terracotta figurine with a beak-like nose, hairdo, banded ornaments, and holes around the neck, which might have been for the inlay of semi-precious stones.
|Four of a series of circular hearths.? The hearths, the furnaces and the artefacts confirm that 4MSR |
was a Harappan industrial site [Credit: V. Vedachalam]
Bisht said the discovery of this kind of steatite pendant from the pre-Harappan level was interesting. “It does not appear to be a seal. It appears to be a token, a kind of pendant. I doubt whether such a pendant has been reported from any site so far,” he said. It has a knob-like projection and a hole for a cord to pass through, which is unusual. “What is also unique is the depiction of five animals,” Bisht said.
In what ways are this year’s excavation different from the one last year which yielded a vast assemblage of painted ceramic ware from the Early Harappan period? A Harappan seal, thousands of beads made from semi-precious stones, a gold ornament, hundreds of disc- and triangular-shaped terracotta cakes, a fire altar and the skeleton of a woman were found in the excavation at 4MSR in 2015 (“Harappan surprise”, Frontline, April 17, 2015).
The excavation last year, though limited in scale, prompted the ASI staff to assume that 4MSR was a factory site with several workshops. “This year’s excavation confirmed that 4MSR was indeed a factory site and the horizontal excavation revealed the plan of these multipurpose workshops with their furnaces, a series of hearths of different shapes and sizes and an anvil,” Manjul said.
|A copper stylus with a gold foil at one end, and gold ornaments [Credit: V. Vedachalam]|
The multipurpose workshop complex had within it a small square tank ingeniously designed with wedge-shaped bricks to store water. In many Harappan sites, while structures such as platforms and residential houses were built with rectangular mud bricks (bricks made of clay and dried in the sun), the well was built with wedge-shaped burnt bricks.
|A terracotta seal with three Harappan signs showing two human figures on both sides of a jar |
with a double handle. It belongs to the Mature Harappan period [Credit: V. Vedachalam]
“Water is sprinkled on the beads which get heated up when craftsmen drill holes in them. Besides, water is used for kneading the clay for the terracotta products and while bending products,” Shubha Mazumdar said.
|A hammer, chisel and spearhead made out of copper found in the trenches |
[Credit: V. Vedachalam]
The rubble dumped on the mound by the Army after Partition in 1947 and later by villagers helped preserve the Harappan exotica for many years. But farmers have cut the sloping sides of the mound to reclaim more area for wheat cultivation. Worse, a concrete tank used for irrigation now stands close to the mound.
|Several gold bits found in the workshops [Credit: V. Vedachalam]|
The trenches dug in the mound have seven layers, each layer revealing the history of a particular period. The top two layers form the rubble heap. Layers three and four, below them, are associated with the Mature Harappan period. “Layer four signifies the peak period of the Mature Harappan phase. Layer three depicts the end of the Mature Harappan phase.
There is no Late Harappan phase here,” said Mazumdar. Layer five forms the transitional phase between the Early Harappan phase and the Mature Harappan phase. Vestiges of the Early Harappan period are found in layers six and seven.
|A terracotta animal figure [Credit: V. Vedachalam]|
The layers belonging to the Early Harappan phase yielded dish-on-stand, a variety of goblets, beakers, pottery with bichrome paintings and some shards with polychrome designs. Toy carts and animal figures, especially those of bulls, were recovered from here. “The total cultural deposits of the site would be more than five metres,” said Manjul.
|A rare human figurine with a beak-like nose and holes around the neck. |
The holes may have been for the inlay of semi-precious stones
[Credit: V. Vedachalam]
The ASI team dug this trench up to 11 layers. The villagers and the Army had disturbed the top six layers. So the top 80 cm did not yield any cultural deposit. The sixth layer yielded Early Harappan pottery. The rim of Early Harappan pottery was thin or featureless. That is, it did not turn inwards or outwards. The rim carried paintings.
There were indications in the 10th and 11th layers that a flood had occurred. “This is river sand from the Ghaggar,” said Yathees Kumar, scooping out sand from the 11th level.
The botanical remains from the trench will be sent to the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleobotany, Lucknow, to find out what forced the Harappans to abandon the site after its Mature Harappan phase.
|A furnace containing ash in an industrial shed. The ash looked fresh in the furnace that was perhaps|
last used 4,500 years ago [Credit: V. Vedachalam/ASI]
“As a whole, the site shows the various stages of the Early Harappan and Mature Harappan periods. Mud-brick structures to house multipurpose workshops-cum-residential quarters were found there,” Manjul said.
Author: T.S.Subramanian | Source: Frontline [July 08, 2016]