Discovering Khirsara’s Harappan glory | Frontline


Published: June 12, 2013 13:25 IST | Updated: June 15, 2013 11:19 IST

Discovering Khirsara’s Harappan glory

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Excavations in Khirsara village in western Kutch reveal a "major industrial hub" and trading centre of the mature Harappan phase. By T.S. SUBRAMANIAN in Khirsara. Photographs by D. KRISHNAN, Photo Editor, The Hindu.
AS I stood on the edge of the trench and looked in, my eyes widened with amazement. In one corner stood a tall, slender jar with four perforations, two on either side, just below the rim. There were three beautifully crafted pots, wedged in the soil and, a few feet away, a big, upturned lid. Also on the trench floor lay a massive conch shell that looked like a bird with outstretched wings, as if it had been shot in flight and had fallen to the ground. Outside the trench that April morning, on the baulk, stood Jitendra Nath, who was the director of the excavation. “Will you measure the height and the width of the jar?” he asked Kalyani Vaghela, the young research assistant in archaeology from the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara, Gujarat. She unfurled the tape and rolled it down the height of the jar and announced that it measured 85 centimetres in height. It was 33 cm in diameter. “This is an important find. We have got so much of pottery in a small area within the trench. When we extend our excavation more, we will get an idea of why we are getting so many pots and jars in a small area,” said Jitendra Nath. He is the Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) excavation branch in Vadodara. The excavation, a massive one, is under way at Khirsara, a Harappan site situated about 85 km from Bhuj town in Gujarat’s Kutch district. Thirty-nine trenches, each 10 metres by 10 metres in area, have been laid since December 6, 2012. They have yielded a cornucopia of globular pots, sturdy storage jars, painted ware, perforated parts of broken jars, incense burners, dish-on-stand, goblets, beakers, basins, bowls, ladles, and so on. “There is pottery everywhere. We have to dig carefully. We can use only small pickaxes,” said Jitendra Nath. The excavation team has also unearthed terracotta figurines of bulls, peacocks, ducks, and also an anthropomorphic figurine. A lot of toy-cart frames made of terracotta were found. The excavation, which is into its fourth year, reveals that Khirsara, which lies on the trade route to Sind (now in Pakistan), was once “a major industrial hub” in western Kutch. The 12-acre site, situated on the outer edge of Khirsara village, sits saucer-like, with mounds on all sides and a depression in the middle and is known locally as “Gadh Wali Wadi”. The Khari river flows nearby and in the distance are the hills of Kutch. A Harappan settlement, belonging to the mature Harappan phase, flourished here for 400 years from circa 2600 BCE to circa 2200 BCE. “Mature” evidence The Harappan civilisation can be divided into three phases, early, mature and late. If the early Harappan phase lasted from circa 2800 BCE to circa 2600 BCE, the mature phase was between circa 2600 BCE and circa 1900 BCE. The late phase, including its collapse, lasted from circa 1900 BCE to circa 1500 BCE. Juni Kuran in northern Kutch and Khirsara belong to the mature Harappan phase. And Dholavira, located on the island of Khadir in the Great Rann of Kutch, is an example of a Harappan site that typifies all three phases. Jitendra Nath pointed to the important features that make Khirsara a mature Harappan site. “Pre-Harappan pottery and post-Harappan pottery are absent here. The settlements belonging to the early Harappan and late Harappan phases are also not found here,” he said. Besides, Khirsara has thrown up artefacts and structures that make it a mature Harappan settlement. There are massive structures, fortifications, seals with script and carvings of animals, bricks with the standardised ratio of 1:2:4, and a variety of pottery, including reserved slip ware, which is called so because a slip, that is, a coloured coating is applied over the pot after it is

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painted with exquisite designs. Pottery. computer science. set in mud mortar. linguistics. an industrialcum-residential complex. says. “We are getting sand and silt in a continuous band. of disc-shaped gold beads. in a small pot. There are rectangular seals depicting the unicorn and the bison and the Harappan characters. and hence the name. verandahs in front. After the first slip (a coloured coating involving a solution of red ochre. fish hooks. “We are getting seals from the lowermost level to the uppermost. the Harappan (or Indus Valley) civilisation “has fascinated not just historians and archaeologists and anthropologists but also experts from such diverse fields such as urban planning. There are rectangular bar-type seals with the Harappan script alone and circular seals.N. While the unicorn seal is made of soapstone. a comb. Kumaran.. all of which show that Khirsara is a mature Harappan site. outer fortification wall still stands in many places.5 metres a beautiful staircase leading upstairs and a rock-cut well. statistics. All the structures are built of dressed sandstone blocks. “We have found good evidence of bead-making here. architecture. “Seals found in this site belong from the early stage to the late stage of the mature Harappan phase. making a pattern on the pot. the bison seal is made out of steatite. mathematics. The massive. Nandakumar [a site supervisor] found the gold hoard. As the booklet Indus Civilisation brought out in 2010 by the Indus Research Centre. with a width of 2. This removes the second coating that comes under the comb’s teeth. “Gold beads are not found in big quantities in the Harappan sites. Some of them are carved with unicorn and bison images. including circular seals. The NPBW was mostly tableware and the elite used it. Chennai. It was located on a trade route from other parts of Gujarat to Sind in Pakistan.” 2 of 4 6/25/2013 9:18 PM .” Jitendra Nath said.frontline. or polished ware. Assistant Archaeologist. About 25. copper bangles and rings were also found in plenty. The structural remains of a fortified settlement revealed a citadel with residential quarters. Magnificent artefacts The artefacts that have been discovered here reinforced the “industrial” nature of the settlement. chalcedony and jasper. all pointing to systematic town planning. Roja Muthiah Research Library. Jitendra Nath said: “The kind of antiquities we are getting from this site indicates that Khirsara was a major industrial hub in western Kutch. micro gold beads and their tubular counterparts. It measures 310 metres by 210 metres and is built of partly dressed sandstone blocks set in mud mortar. Among copper implements were chisels. The citadel complex was where the ruling elite lived. geology.34 metres.” A protection wall. astrophysics etc. Of course. The bedrock below the wall was levelled with clay. white kaolin or purple or yellow colour) has dried. a Harappan site in Gujarat. manufacturing industrial goods for export to distant lands and to other Harappan sites in the vicinity and farther away. both engraved with the Harappan script only and remarkably intact. “It was in this trench that your friend S. he pointed to the levelled earth below and said.” said Kumaran. There were also bone tools. the factory-cum-residential complex. manufacturing.Discovering Khirsara’s Harappan glory | Frontline http://www. habitation annexes and a potters’ kiln. The warehouse. A rare discovery was that of two bar seals. These are being better understood with every new archaeological find. is run over it to form different patterns. 28 metres long and 12 metres wide.” Fortification Khirsara is unique among Indus Valley settlements in having a general fortification wall around the settlement and also separate fortification walls around every complex inside the settlement.” said Jitendra Nath. The outer fortification too has salients at regular intervals for giving strength to the wall and for mounting watch. running parallel to the outer fortification wall.” The ASI team found 11 seals. Floods led to the termination of each phase and evidence of flood deposits was available in the citadel area. the Harappans who lived here were basically traders. and even the potters’ kiln have their own protective walls.. a second slip is applied over the first coating. and one of the labourers digging the trench came up with a pot that had 26 gold beads inside. The wall’s width is 3. etc. chocolate-coloured slip ware.” he reasoned. which are more than 10 metres long and about 1.4 metres but additional reinforcements in later phases have increased its width considerably. has a series of 14 massive parallel walls. and grey ware. We also found stone weights of various denominations. say. commerce. Shell bangles. an instrument. ASI.” It was a trench allotted to Nandakumar. knives. in the form of wavy or straight lines or even checks. this one also slopes upwards to give it strength and life. The citadel complex. needles. buff ware. bone points and beads made out of bones. lime and thoroughly rammed in to bear the load of the superstructure. said R.” said Jitendra Nath.000 steatite beads were found in one trench alone. While the smallest weighs five grams. Some disc-shaped gold beads were found at Lothal. There are a variety of beads made of shell and steatite and of semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli. its trade links to other regions and its great achievements in the fields of architecture. Specialists in the study of pottery say that such pottery was reserved for the elite. The team encountered five structural phases in the mature Harappan stage itself at Khirsara. The quarry from which the stones were brought to the habitational-cum-industrial site has not been identified yet. agate. When the second slip is wet. seals and structures are the major hallmarks by which this site could be said to belong to the mature Harappan phase. He argued that seals were the “main characteristic” by which Khirsara could be classified as a mature Harappan site. ‘Kankar’ stones were also available. carnelian. a variety of red ware. 4. grit. Among them is a gold hoard. Like fortification walls in other Harappan sites. fine arts. “We found a lot of drill-bits used for drilling holes in the beads…. the warehouse. shell inlays. points. finished and dried. sand. a warehouse. arrow-heads and weights. Northern polished black ware (NPBW) is reserved slip ware because it has a silvery or golden coating over it.” What fascinated them was “the greatness of this ancient civilisation. The trenches have yielded a vast amount of reserved slip ware. Said Jitendra Nath: “We found three salients on the northern fortification wall of the warehouse. was built on the northern and eastern sides to protect the site when the overflowing Khari river caused flooding. chert. and have the Harappan script engraved on them. the heaviest is about five kilograms. its vast extent.600 years after it was built. It had square and rectangular rooms. As Jitendra Nath and this reporter stood on a trench that had been filled up. which is about 100 km away.

What is puzzling is that no copper figurines of animals. and a dome sat on the fire chamber. when Mohenjardo and Harappa fell in Pakistan. the team excavated the residential complex in the citadel. There were interconnected rooms. As we went around the trenches that had exposed the industrial-cum-residential complex. The entrance was in the south. “So we were searching for a Harappan site in western Kutch.” said Jitendra Nath. Akin to other Harappan sites. the warehouse came into view when they excavated the north-east corner of the site last year. which is sticky clay. It was through the passage that the burning logs were pushed inside the fire chamber. The cause of the sudden fall of the civilisation —renowned for its urban planning. Kanmer. You build such structures for storing goods for export or goods that have been imported. pointed to the perfect manner in which the fortification wall around the citadel was built and how it had withstood the ravages of time. There is evidence of copper-working and ash. The ASI team exposed the inner and outer sides of the fortification and found residential structures along the inner side of the fortification. Bipin Negi. Desalpur was the only site excavated there. The pathways between the parallel walls were air ducts to keep the goods fresh. The ASI has not located the reservoirs which would have supplied water to the Harappan settlement at Khirsara. Surkotada and Shikarpur in Gujarat. Negi pointed out that its fire chamber had been cut out of both bedrock and earth. Excavation of the warehouse. So Jitendra Nath and his team did a survey of Khirsara in 2009 and began excavation in December that year.” The parallel walls supported a superstructure made of wood and daub and goods were stored in the superstructure. has revealed it to be a massive structure with 14 parallel walls. Jitendra Nath said. Potters’ kiln Situated on the outer side of the general fortification wall. The ASI found grains in the warehouse and samples of these grains have been sent to Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany.. “Then we looked at the site and found it almost intact. Desalpur was the only other Harappan site in western Kutch. containing charred bones and ash kept inside a circular hearth. door sills. From all this evidence. shell debitage and grits. Lothal. Afghanistan and Iran. we have identified it as a fortified factory site. A variety of beads made of copper. The citadel was strategically located adjacent to the warehouse and the factory site in such a manner that the elite class might exercise full control over the manufacturing and trading activities. and so on. It is set in mud mortar. Rakhigarhi. The houses had bathrooms with an outlet for water to flow. bones. It extended from Sutkagendor in the Makran coast of Balochistan to Alamgirpur in the east in Uttar Pradesh and from Mandu in Jammu to Daimabad in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra.” He led us to the entrance of the fortification wall of the industrial-cum-residential complex. ASI. backed by his years of excavation at Taradih in Bodh Gaya. Copper In the third year. There was tell-tale evidence of bead-making. came into play. was found inside a room. Indus enigma However. The burning logs generated heat of about 500 Celsius and the pots were baked. Lucknow. Bhirrana. In the second year (season) of excavation. The Gujarat State Archaeology Department had explored Khirsara in the 1970s. Sanauli and Hulas in Uttar Pradesh. The outlets led into the drains in the street. too. but only a brief report was available on it. After Partition in 1947. “This citadel wall is much broader than the general fortification wall. water management and carefully designed drainage systems—is still not fully understood. It is a tall. shell and terracotta. including shell-working. Jitendra Nath’s keen eye. Assistant Archaeologist. Haryana. the Indus script continues to remain undeciphered despite attempts by scholars and researchers. The ASI is yet to excavate a large area of the residential complex. were found here. high-quality construction. knives. “When we came here. for investigation and identification. “The Indus civilisation remains an enigma in some ways. The circular wall of the fire chamber had holes for air circulation and oxygenation. several metres in height. 3 of 4 6/25/2013 9:18 PM . Since the 1920s. These sites include Dholavira. which has continued this year.5 million square kilometres. Residences inside the industrial complex. Athirampakkam near Chennai. A warehouse is a rare type of structure found in a few Harappan sites. Jammu and Kashmir. the Harappan civilisation covered an area of 1. it encountered evidence of a five-metre-deep structure. The freshly made pots were arranged inside the dome and a passage led to the fire chamber. not much was known about the Indus civilisation in western Kutch. the potters’ kiln is a bit of an engineering marvel. Juni Kuran. as found in other sites. Rajasthan.frontline. Discovery of Khirsara How did the ASI’s excavation branch at Vadodara discover Khirsara? Since most Harappan sites were situated in northern or eastern Kutch. going back to 2600 BCE. with sloping slabs used on the floor for water to flow into covered outlets. “It must have been a multipurpose warehouse for storing goods meant for export and grains. It indicates a state of surplus economy and is a sign of prosperity. Pakistan. Ummichipoyil in Kerala. the ASI has discovered many sites in Gujarat. Banawali and Farmana in Haryana. several hundred Harappan sites have been discovered. Alamgirpur. To the sheer delight of the ASI team. sloping wall. and Kalibangan in Rajasthan. including needles. This earliest structure was made of stones with mud bricks used in between. At its peak. the team unearthed the citadel and went on to locate the factory area where it found evidence of a lot of industrial activity. a minor excavation in the early 1960s. hearths. fish hooks. “We have found furnaces and a tandoor. and Maharashtra. Narappa. A five-metre-broad pathway led from the citadel to the industrial complex. The entrance had a series of guard rooms adjacent to it. A pot burial. as the booklet says. The wall has been standing for 4. There were bathrooms.” Besides. and in other places. we saw so much of Harappan pottery.” said Negi. Uttar Pradesh. had stone slabs at the entrance. Kumaran explained how it had been identified as a factory site.Discovering Khirsara’s Harappan glory | Frontline http://www.. Desalpur. Streets inside the citadel were rammed with clay and household waste such as potsherds. arrowheads and weights were found. When the ASI team dug up a mound.600 years. the slabs obviously served as doormats. there were large limestone slabs at the entrance. but it may do so in the next season.” he said. There were a couple of small guard rooms adjacent to the entrance. We have found huge quantities of steatite beads and some seals made of steatite. and semi-precious stones were found in abundance. along with artefacts such as shell bangles and stone-beads scattered over the surface.” But Desalpur was excavated for only one season and not much was known about it. The citadel complex was 90 metres by 90 metres and about a hundred people could have lived there. across India. Jitendra Nath said. We did not have such a big site in western Kutch before.

5 metres and paved stone flooring. “Maybe. It was not for carrying sullage.Discovering Khirsara’s Harappan glory | Frontline http://www. The western half of the site has not been excavated yet. 2013 9:15:18 PM | http://www. we will find water bodies. when we excavate more. We may dig the western half next” There was also a rock-cut well in the residential quarters within the citadel.ece © Frontline 4 of 4 6/25/2013 9:18 PM . We have been concentrating mostly on the eastern half. There were chances of encountering a reservoir if the excavation continued for two or three years.frontline.frontline. Jitendra Nath was confident that “a complete picture of the site will emerge only when we excavate more and more”.. Printable version | Jun 25.” Kumaran was hopeful about the “possibility” of the existence of a reservoir because “we have found drains at a depth of 1.

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