2000-Year-Old Harappan Vanity Case Has These 5 Items You Use Even Today

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One’s first impression of the sculptures yielded in excavations from various Harappan sites across India and Pakistan, is of how prim and proper the Harappans were. Take, for example, the Harappan Priest King who flaunts a gentlemanly, kempt beard with sharp and precise lines around his cheek and jawlines. It showcases the meticulous approach of the Harappans towards grooming and appearance, and the usage of personal care products.

The Harappan script remains undeciphered, leaving us with only tangible archaeological remains to discover and interpret the lives of its inhabitants. Well-planned cities to an advanced ceramic culture speak volumes of the objects and technologies that were used in their day-to-day routine 4,500 years ago. One aspect includes a range of beauty and grooming paraphernalia that were used by the Harappans.

The Indus Valley Civilisation covers an area of over a million square kilometers. It extends from Shortugai (Afghanistan) in the north to Daimabad (Maharashtra, India) in the south and from Sutkagan Dor (Pakistan) in the west to Alamgirpur (Uttar Pradesh, India) in the east. Within this radius lies over thousands of sites, among which some of the most famous are Harappa, Mohenjodaro in Pakistan, and Rakhigarhi (Haryana), Dholavira (Gujarat) and Kalibangan (Rajasthan) in India. Among the grooming tools excavated from the many Harappan sites that have been in use since 2500 BCE (mature Harappan phase), some include:


The Mirror:

Unearthed from various Harappan sites, the mirrors used during the Indus Valley civilisation were quite different from the glass mirrors that we use today. Dating back to 2000 BCE, they were made of copper and bronze wherein one side of the object was polished while the other side was left plain. These mirrors are oval in shape. Among them, two bronze mirrors that were found at the site of Mohenjodaro possess handles with a hole at the end. On two occasions, mirrors were found in burials with other grave goods. At Harappa, for instance, a copper mirror was found in the water jar along with other pottery and in Kalibangan, a bronze mirror was placed in a grave close to the head of a human skeleton. A Harappan mirror is currently housed at the National Museum of India in New Delhi.


While a few Indus Valley Civilisation sites boast of kohl sticks, the others housed caskets with traces of kohl, collyrium and cerussite (a carbonate of lead). Made of copper/bronze, ivory and bone, the sticks are long and round. Procured from the sites of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, they are pointed at one end with a pin, tooth-pick, ear-cleaner or a decorative figure on the other. However, the kohl caskets were made of bronze, silver, faience, alabaster, terracotta and sometimes stone. The narrow-mouthed and long neck vessel found in Chanhudaro suggests that it was made to store kohl. The vessel comprises minute holes that are drilled on either side. Archaeologists suggest that these holes were considered to have once contained some cosmetics, and it was thought necessary to hang them up to protect their contents from mice and ants.

Copper implements:

A toilet kit with a combination of copper implements such as earscoop, piercer and tweezers were found in Harappa. Over 12 such kits were found in sites such as Kish in Iraq and Ur in Mesopotamia. This could be a result of the trading relationship that prevailed between these civilisations, with some phases of them being contemporary to that of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Besides, a large quantity of razors in diverse shapes were found in Mohenjodaro. They were suggestive of the fact that shaving of the face, if not the body, was extensively practiced by the inhabitants.


Sindoor and Lipstick:

Traces of cinnabar — an ore of mercury used to make face paints, sindoor and lipstick among other things — have been found in the Indus Valley Civilisation sites, leading archaeologists to speculate about its possible use by the Harappans. Archaeologists have even unearthed something they suspect to be a lipstick from the site of Chanhudaro. Moreover, figurines at the site of Nausharo (present day Pakistan), dating back to 2800-2600 BCE show traces of a red pigment at the parting of their hair, similar to the sindoor of present-day married women in India.


As opposed to the plastic and wooden combs used today, the combs used by the Harappans were made of ivory. They were found in a variety of shapes and sizes, from numerous Indus Valley sites namely Mohenjodaro, Kalibangan, Chanhudaro, Harappa, Banawali and Rakhigarhi, among others. Some were typically designed to brush long hanks of hair while a few were deliberated to remove lice. Additionally, Indus-style combs together with a plethora of other Harappan objects were unearthed from the sites of Ras-al-Jinz and Tell Abraq in the Oman Peninsula, suggesting vigorous trade between these regions.

Harappan sculptures, as well as the excavated materials, speak volumes about how grooming and primping was as important for them as it is for people today.

Sources: Kenoyer, Mark and George F. Dales, Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Oxford University Press, 1998; Possehl, Gregory, The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. AltaMira Press, 2002; Ghosh, Amalananda, An Encyclopaedia of Indian Archaeology. Brill, 1990; Jain, Kailash Chand, Prehistory and Protohistory of India. Agam, 1978; Sinha, SK, Synthesis of Cultures in Ancient India. Hyderabad Paper Backs, 2006; Mackay, EJH, ‘Further Excavations at Mohenjodaro’; Frenez, Dennys, ‘The Indus Civilization Trade with the Oman Peninsula.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Late Harappan-era artefacts found at virgin site in Jalgaon

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Mumbai, July 11

A Maharashtra archaeologist may have hit a jackpot by discovering several potteries and artefacts, dating back to the later era of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), at Yawal in Jalgaon district.

The finds are mainly big and small pieces of pottery and vessels, depicting Harappan-style pictographic scripts that excited the discovery team led by Bhujang R. Bobade, Director, Heritage Foundation.

“We found the pottery pieces in the white mounds near the entrance of the Nimbalkar Fortress, around 20 km from Bhusaval… It’s a virgin territory, hitherto unexplored by any archaeologist,” an enthusiastic Bobade told IANS from the site.

Scores of pottery pieces, which was the major industry during the IVC with its unique potteries like glazed, incised, perforated or knobbed, have been found in barely 500 sq ft area after the first dig at Yawal.

Bobade said that while most potteries of that era were plain, the others were uniquely painted with scales, chequers, images of trees, birds, animals or fish, mostly with plain bases and some with ringed bottoms.

The pottery pieces discovered here are mainly wheel-made wares, both plain (red clay, with or without a fine slip) and painted (in red and black colours), as was common in the flourishing IVC era over 3,000 years ago.

“Another unique thing here is that besides the ancient Harappan-style artefacts, we also found some pieces dating much later, to the medieval era, or 15th-16th AD. This is probably unprecedented anywhere in India,” Bobade said.

He said the “twin discoveries” indicate that this particular region of north Maharashtra was inhabited for an extended period, very long after the IVC faded away into the pages of history.

The Director of the Directorate of Archaeology, Tejas Garge, said that it could also date back to the Satavahana period, or roughly the time when the famous paintings were said to have been made in the Ajanta Caves, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Incidentally, the 76m long, 68m wide and 45m tall Nimbalkar Fortress, which stands near the site, was built by the local ruler, Rao Dhar Nimbalkar, in 1788 and at one time it was in the possession of the royal family of Gwalior, the Scindias.

However, several discoveries of bronze artefacts during excavations in 1958, 1974 and 1978 in Daimabad and Ahmednagar suggest that the late Harappan culture may have extended to this region of modern-day Maharashtra, said Bobade.

Nevertheless, the potters’ wheels, which were made of wood, have not survived the ravages of time, but the remnants of their creations are found scattered here, over 1,000 km away from the heart of the Harappan Civilization.

The team members, including Bobade, Samadhan Mahajan, a government official, and his son Parth Mahajan, consider this as ’truly astonishing’ and said this will need massive further excavations, study and research.

“Yet, it’s still a mystery as to how such a large geographical area exhibited a uniform pottery tradition in forms, paintings and pottery designs similar to Harappa,” Bobade said.

The IVC was at one point the largest ancient human civilisation in terms of its geographical spread, with a core area of over 1,500 km, along with the 3,200 km-long Indus River system of north and north-west India before it drains into the Arabian Sea near Karachi, Pakistan.

Bobade is confident that after the latest discoveries in Jalgaon, the Archaeological Survey of India and other experts will carry out further excavations and investigations to reveal more of the ancient era to the modern world. –IANS

Aryans or Harappans—Who drove the creation of caste system? DNA holds a clue

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Harappan seals, pottery, figurines and animal bones reveal many real and mythical animals—dog, tiger, birds, wild ass, ‘unicorn, humped bull, elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo, short-horned humpless bull, goat, antelope, crocodile and hare’—but not horse, one-humped camel or donkey. The horse appears in the subcontinent after the collapse of the Harappan Civilization. It likely arrived in numbers along with the Aryans from Central Asia, a horse-riding nomadic–pastoralist people with perhaps some knowledge of crops. What also accompanied them was their language and religion: proto-Sanskrit, proto-Vedas and Vedic gods—mostly male gods, such as Indra, Agni, Mitra, Varuna, Rudra and Surya, and a few female gods, such as Usha and Prithvi. They used iron, revered fire and the cow (though they also slaughtered it and ate beef), and preferred cremating the dead. By the time these Aryan herders entered the subcontinent—in the middle centuries of the second millennium BCE—urban Harappans had largely dissolved into rural life.

Notably, the Vedic lore of the Aryans mentions defensive armour, weapons, chariots and warfare against dark-skinned foes named Dasas. But the Dasas were not Harappans, who no longer lived in fortified cities by the time the Aryans reached the Indus Valley. Based on the styles of Dasa forts described in the Rig Veda, Parpola and others have argued that the Dasas were proto-Sakas, a pastoralist group of the Central Asian steppes, and ‘the major fights between the Aryans and the Dasas probably took place not in the Indus Valley but in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, en route to the Indus Valley’. Nor does the description of the Saraswati River in the Rig Veda fit the Ghaggar-Hakra River that dried up c. 2000 BCE, and instead maps on to the river called ‘Haraxvaiti (in Avestan) or Harahuvati (in Old Persian)’, which is very likely the Arghandab River, or less likely the Helmand River, both in modern Afghanistan.

After the arrival of the Aryans to the Indus Valley, the locals (rural descendants of the Harappans) probably saw them as an aggressive bunch and their encounters were likely not all peaceful. One indicator of this is the very skewed genetic footprint of the Aryan male in later populations, despite the fact that, like all migrating groups, they had come with entire families. According to a scientific study in 2017, ‘Genetic influx from Central Asia in the Bronze Age was strongly male-driven, consistent with the patriarchal, patrilocal and patrilineal social structure attributed to the inferred pastoralist early Indo-European society.’ Further, while archaeologists haven’t found any telltale signs of war or invasion, it’s reasonable to expect that the locals would have initially resisted the imposition of the Aryan language, religion and culture, since that’s how such encounters usually play out.

Also read: India’s native horses disappeared by 8000 BC. But Rig Veda mentions them more than the cow

The Aryans also brought with them a form of social hierarchy with priests at the top—a proto-varna system without endogamy (i.e., marrying only within a specific social group). They had no linguistic script and the need for it was reduced due to the lack of an urban civilization. The priests may also have impeded the rise of a script that might have democratized their oral chants and deflated their esoteric powers. Notably, such instincts seem alien to the Harappan ethos, given the ubiquity of the artefacts with their script on them. For instance, their script often appears as graffiti-like scribbles on stone blocks in non-elite parts of Dholavira, and as messages stamped on pottery items used by ordinary people (possibly brand or ownership details?).

After a millennium of mixing and migration in the subcontinent, numerous sites arose in the Gangetic Plain, whose settlers had learnt ‘to fire a more durable and sophisticated series of ceramics known as painted gray ware (PGW)’, writes historian Sudipta Sen. They evolved social formations ‘in which clans, lineages, and tribes began to yield to new ruling councils and kings’. From this came new urban life, hybrid cultures, languages, pantheons and religio-spiritual ideas that we now associate with mid-first millennium BCE India. These developments had strong contributions from both the Aryan and the Harappan substrates. New political and social conflicts en route also seem to have inspired many of the stories in the great epic Mahabharata.

Could the Harappan social hierarchy have included endogamy based on occupation, i.e., a proto-caste system? Did a hereditary group of manual scavengers clean the sullage jars of Dholavira homes? Current archaeology and genetics consider this unlikely (more ancient DNA analysis of Harappans may provide conclusive evidence). Scientists trace the earliest instances of endogamy to the first millennium BCE, probably more than a millennium after the Aryan migration into the subcontinent; mixing of populations was the norm until then. Thereafter, mixing coexisted with a few groups practicing endogamy, which eventually led to a more widely endogamous caste system.

But can we say which cultural substrate—the Aryan or the Harappan—drove the creation of the caste system? A strong clue comes from the fact that Aryan genes register far more strongly in the higher castes, who are also lighter skinned on average. Further, DNA evidence has shown that endogamy first appeared and became the norm ‘among upper castes and Indo-European speakers’. Indeed, as many scholars have long argued, the roots of the Indian caste system almost certainly trace back to the Aryan substrate.

Also read: Was Harappa wet or arid? Rhinos hold a clue

Further, patriarchal practices like Sati, too, appear to be a legacy of the Aryan substrate. Sati’s earliest noted occurrence in India dates to the fourth century BCE, as recorded by two first-century-BCE writers, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. Though now mostly associated with India, sati also occurred back then in the Near East and Europe, among descendants of earlier migrants of the root proto-Indo-European culture, the Yamnaya—also the parent culture of the Indo-Aryans. In the fifth century BCE, Greek historian Herodotus wrote about a Thracian tribe where the ‘most beloved wife’ of a dead husband—deemed so by family and friends, and intended to be a coveted honour—was sacrificed and buried with him.

A century later, the Thracian wife of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, was burned on her husband’s funeral pyre, as per the custom of her people. In the first century CE, Roman historian Tacitus observed that in a Germanic tribe (descended from the Yamnaya), ‘the wife refused to survive her husband, but killed herself in order to be burnt on the same funeral pyre as him’. He noted that many other tribes disliked widow remarriage. In the tenth century CE, Arab historian Al Masudi noted sati among Slavic and Russian tribes (also descended from the Yamnaya) in the Caucasus region and in India. Such funerary customs have a distinctly patriarchal script. They’re qualitatively different from those of ancient Egyptians, where servants were sometimes sacrificed and buried with an important man. Sati was likely alien to the Harappans, but in the mixed culture that arose later, it gained a foothold among the warrior elites and became part of the Indo- Aryan cultural legacy in the subcontinent.

In the last decades of the twentieth century, however, cultural chauvinism reared its ugly head in the scholarship of Indian prehistory. A host of Hindu nationalists and ‘motivated scholars’ (almost entirely brown or white Hindu men) began championing an alternative view of the Aryan migration, arguing that there was no Aryan migration at all! That the Aryans and the Harappans were one people, both ‘fully indigenous’. They claimed that the proto-Indo-European language family, of which Sanskrit is a part, was created by these indigenous folks and taken to the west—the Out of India Theory (OIT). This also implied that the Harappans spoke proto-Sanskrit and codified it in their as-yet-undeciphered script, that they composed the Rig Veda, which describes their own fortified cities like Dholavira. Such bogus ‘scholarship’, as is now amply clear, has fed hordes of middlebrow Hindutva ideologues since the 1980s. Armed with little knowledge and misplaced pride, well-heeled urban Hindus began to confidently assert that the Aryan Migration Theory was ‘discredited’. Countless websites carry this fake news.

In fact, the ‘controversy’ about Aryan migration was never an honest disagreement among scholars. Parpola, for instance, has long considered it ‘impossible’ that ‘the Vedic Aryans were indigenous to South Asia’. The massive weight of evidence from linguistics, philology, and archaeology—though it had gaps that its rivals tried to exploit— has long favoured what’s now being proven or refined by population archaeogenetics, a field whose impact on ancient history may end up being as significant as radiocarbon dating (1949).

The OIT was motivated by bad politics rather than by good scholarship.

This excerpt from ‘Indians: A Brief History Of A Civilization’ by Namit Arora has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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