The earliest imprints
of human activities in India go back to the Paleolithic
Age, roughly between 400,000 and 200,000 B.C. Stone
implements and cave paintings from this period have been
discovered in many parts of the South Asia (see fig. 1).
Evidence of domestication of animals, the adoption of
agriculture, permanent village settlements, and
wheel-turned pottery dating from the middle of the sixth
millennium B.C. has been found in the foothills of Sindh
and Baluchistan (or Balochistan in current Pakistani
usage), both in present-day Pakistan. One of the first
great civilizations--with a writing system, urban
centers, and a diversified social and economic
system--appeared around 3,000 B.C. along the Indus River
valley in Punjab (see Glossary) and Sindh. It covered
more than 800,000 square kilometers, from the borders of
Baluchistan to the deserts of Rajasthan, from the
Himalayan foothills to the southern tip of Gujarat (see
fig. 2). The remnants of two major cities--Mohenjo-daro
and Harappa--reveal remarkable engineering feats of
uniform urban planning and carefully executed layout,
water supply, and drainage. Excavations at these sites
and later archaeological digs at about seventy other
locations in India and Pakistan provide a composite
picture of what is now generally known as Harappan
culture (2500-1600 B.C.).
The major cities
contained a few large buildings including a citadel, a
large bath--perhaps for personal and communal
ablution--differentiated living quarters, flat-roofed
brick houses, and fortified administrative or religious
centers enclosing meeting halls and granaries.
Essentially a city culture, Harappan life was supported
by extensive agricultural production and by commerce,
which included trade with Sumer in southern Mesopotamia
(modern Iraq). The people made tools and weapons from
copper and bronze but not iron. Cotton was woven and
dyed for clothing; wheat, rice, and a variety of
vegetables and fruits were cultivated; and a number of
animals, including the humped bull, were domesticated.
Harappan culture was conservative and remained
relatively unchanged for centuries; whenever cities were
rebuilt after periodic flooding, the new level of
construction closely followed the previous pattern.
Although stability, regularity, and conservatism seem to
have been the hallmarks of this people, it is unclear
who wielded authority, whether an aristocratic,
priestly, or commercial minority.
By far the most
exquisite but most obscure Harappan artifacts unearthed
to date are steatite seals found in abundance at
Mohenjo-daro. These small, flat, and mostly square
objects with human or animal motifs provide the most
accurate picture there is of Harappan life. They also
have inscriptions generally thought to be in the
Harappan script, which has eluded scholarly attempts at
deciphering it. Debate abounds as to whether the script
represents numbers or an alphabet, and, if an alphabet,
whether it is proto-Dravidian or proto-Sanskrit.
The possible reasons
for the decline of Harappan civilization have long
troubled scholars. Invaders from central and western
Asia are considered by some historians to have been the
"destroyers" of Harappan cities, but this view
is open to reinterpretation. More plausible explanations
are recurrent floods caused by tectonic earth movement,
soil salinity, and desertification.
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