Economic Activities in the Harappan Civilization

The prosperity of the Harappan Civilization, that was discovered in 1920-22 when two of its most important sites were excavated, was based on its flourishing economic activities such as agriculture, arts and crafts, and trade. In fact the whole period of the Harappan Civilazation is divided into three distinct phases:

(i) Early Harappan Phase (3500BC – 1900 BC) – It was distinguished by some town-planning in the form of mud structures, elementary trade, arts and crafts, etc.

(ii) Mature Harappan Phase (2600 BC 1900 BC) – this period was characterized by well developed towns with burnt brick structures, inland and foreign trade, numerous types of crafts, etc; and

(iii) Late Harappan Phase (1900 BC 1400 BC) – this phase marked the decline of the Civilization during which many cities of this great Harappan Civilization were abandoned and the trade disappeared creating the gradual decay of the important urban features.

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Agriculture in the Harappan Civilization

It has been well established by the historian archaeologists that the fertile Indus alluvium contributed not only to the surplus in agricultural production but it also assisted the people of the Harappan Civilization to get involved in exchange, both internal and external, with others and also expand crafts and industries.

That the base of the Harappan Civilization was agriculture and cattle-rearing (pastoralism) became evident by the discovery of the granaries at sites like Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Lothal that served as the storehouse for grains.

Although, there is no evidence of tools which were used for agriculture, in Kalibangan the plough-marks or furrows have been observed indication to plough cultivation. In Banawali in Hisar district of Haryana a terracotta plough has also been found giving strength to the idea of plough cultivation.

The people of the Harappan Civilization carried on irrigation on a small scale by drawing water from wells or by deflecting river water into channels.

Among the chief ford crops the people of the Harappan Civilization grew were: wheat, barley, mustard, peas, sesasum, jejube, etc. However, from Lothal and Rangpur the evidence of rice has come in the form of husks embedded in pottery. The finding of a piece of woven cloth at Mohanjo-Daro suggests that cotton was one among other important crops. As far as the Harappan diet is concerned it has been founded that apart from cereals, fish and animal meat also formed a part of it.

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Industries and Crafts in the Harappan Civilization

The conclusion that except iron the Harappan pople were aware of almost all the metals gets strength from the evidences that suggest they manufactured gold and silver objects. The gold objects they made were beads, armlets, needles and other ornaments. However, the use of silver was more common then gold; a large quantity of silver ornaments, dishes have been discovered.

A number of copper tools and weapons, which commonly included axe, saws, chisels, knives, spearheads and arrowheads, were also discovered. It is imperative to mention here that the Harappans produced weapons that were mostly defensive in nature as there is no evidence of weapons like swords etc. Stone tools, that were commonly used, were also made in large quantities.

Copper was brought mainly from Khetri in Rajasthan. In the case of gold and silver, it has been speculated that gold might have been obtained from the Himalayan river beds and South India, and Silver from Mesopotamia.

The evidence of the use of the bronze, although in limited manner, has also been found. The bronze dancing girl’, figurine, discovered at Mohenzodaro, is the most famous example concerning the bronze metal. This ‘dancing girl’ figurine is ‘a nude female figure, with right arm on the hip and left arm hanging in a dancing pose’, wearing a large number of bangles.

One of the most important crafts in the Harappan Civilization was the bead making. Precious and semi-precious stones such as agate and carnelian were used in making beads. Steatite was used for bead-making. At Chanhudaro and Lothal have been found the evidence of beadmakers’ shops, it has also been found that in beads, bracelets and other decoretions the use of ivory carving and inlaying were also in practice. All this shows the masterly skill that the Harappans possessed in a variety of arts and crafts.

At the site of Mohenjodaro, a well-known piece of art, a stone sculpture of a bearded man, was discovered; the eyes of the sculpture are half closed, indicating perhaps the posture of meditation, and across his left shoulder is an embroidered cloak. According to some scholars it could be the bust of a priest.

A large number of terracotta figurines of male and females, which outnumber those of males and are believed to represent the worship of mother goddess, have been is covered from various Harappan Sites. Apart from these, many varieties of models of birds, monkeys, dogs, sheep, cattle, humped and humpless bulls have also been found.

The most important industries during the period of the Harappan Civilization also included pottery-making. Potteries were mainly wheel- made and were treated with a red coating and had decorations in black. The painted designs include horizontal lines of varied thickness, leaf patterns, palm and papal trees. Depicted on potteries the figures of birds, fishes and animals.

More than two thousand seals of various kinds, which were generally square in shape and were made of steatite, have been discovered from the different sites. It is imperative here to mention that although the seals belonging to the Harappan Civilization depict a number of animals, there is no representation of horse on these.

Apart from various kinds of animals the seals of the Harappan Civilization also enclose some signs in the Harappan script that has not been deciphered so far. Moreover, the most famous of the seals is the one that has a horned male duty represented on it; many scholars have identified the figure with the ancient form of the God Pashupati (Lord of beasts).

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Trade in the Harappan Civilization

During the period of the Harappan Civilization the trading network, both within the country (internal) and foreign (external) was a significant characteristic of the Harappan urban economy. A village- town (urban- rural) interrelationship developed due to the dependency of the urban population for the supply of food and many other necessary products on the surrounding countryside. In the similar fashion, the craftsmen belonging to urban areas required markets to sell their goods in other areas; it necessitated the contact between the towns.

As various kinds of metals and precious stones, which were needed by craftsmen to make goods, were not available locally, they had to be brought from outside. Lapis-lazuli, the precious stones used for making beads, was located in Badakshan mines in North-east Afghanistan. Turquoise and Jade have been brought from Central Asia.

In the field of external trade the people of the Harappan Civilization were engaged with Mesopotamia largely through Oman and Behrain in the Persian Gulf. This has been confirmed by the presence of artefacts, belonging to the Harappan Civilization, such as beads, seals, dice, etc. in these regions; in Mesopotamia cities like Susa, Ur, etc. about two dozens of Harappan seals have been found. Apart from seals, other artifacts belonging to the Harappan Civilization which have been discovered comprise potteries, etched carnelian beads and dices with Harappan features.

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