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Bricks, Beads & Bones | Class 12 History Notes

The chapter introduces students to one of the ancient civilisations in the history of humans, The Indus Valley Civilisation. The chapter focuses on the detailed analysis of the civilisation: from agriculture to socio-economic practices and trade. It also highlights the part settlements of 'Mohenjodaro' & enlists various historians and their accounts on the settlements.


The Indus Valley Civilisation

What are the sources to understand Harappan Civilisation?

The Harappan seal is possibly the most distinctive artefact of the Indus valley civilization. It contains plants & animal motifs and signs from a script that remains undeciphered.

The Archeological Evidence left by the people of the civilisation such as Pots, ornaments, tools, seals etc. add up to the sources.

Early Harappan & Mature Harappan

  • Early and later Harappan is associated with distinctive pottery, evidence of agriculture and pastoralism and craft.

  • The early Harappan culture settlements were small and there were no large buildings. But the mature Harappan settlements and buildings were large.

Subsistence Strategies

The Harappans ate a wide range of plant products. Archaeo-botanists have also been able to reconstruct the dietary practices from the finds of charred grains, seeds and bones.

Foodgrains found at the Harappan sites were wheat, barley, lentil, rice, chickpea and sesame. Millets are found from sites in Gujarat. The Harappans also ate a wide range of animal products. The charred bones of animals were also found at the Harappan site. (Cattle, sheep, goat, buffalo & pig)

These are studied by Archaeo-zoologists who are specialists in ancient animal remains. Bones of wild species such as boar, deer and gharial are also found.

It is still not elucidated whether Harappans hunted them or obtained meat from other hunting communities.

Prevalence of Agriculture in Harappan Civilisation

  • Representation of seals and terracotta sculpture indicates that the bull was known & oxen were used for Ploughing.

  • Terracotta models of the plough have been found at sites in Cholistan & Banawali (Haryana).

  • Evidence of a ploughed field at sites of Kalibangan (Rajasthan) is found. This field had two sets of furrows at right angles to each other, suggesting that two crops were grown together.

  • Tools for Harvesting were also used by the Harappans. They used stone blades set in wooden handles and other tools made of copper.

  • Traces of canals, water reservoirs and wells have been found at the Harappan sites indicating that agriculture was practised. Irrigation was essential as many of the Harappan sites were located in semi-arid lands.


Divisions in the City

The settlement was divided into two sections, Citadel and the Lower Town. The Citadel was higher but smaller and the former was lower but larger in size.


Citadel was at the height because the buildings were built on a mud-brick platform. It was also walled, physically separated from the lower town.

Evidence of structures are found that were probably used for special public purposes:

  • Warehouse: It was a massive structure of which the lower brick portion remained and the upper portion of wood decayed a long time ago.

  • The Great Bath: A large rectangular tank in a courtyard surrounded by a corridor on all four sides. There were two flights of steps on the north and south leading into the tank, which was made watertight by setting bricks on edge and using a mortar of gypsum.

There were rooms on three sides, in one of which was a large well. Water from the tank flowed into a huge drain. The total number of wells in Mohenjodaro was about 700.

Eight bathrooms were there on a lane to the north. On each side of a corridor, there were four bathrooms, with drains from each bathroom connecting to a drain that ran along the corridor.

Scholars suggested that it was meant for some kind of special ritual bath.

Lower Town

  • The lower town was also walled; several buildings were built on a platform that served as the foundations.

  • The settlement was first planned and then it was built accordingly.

  • Bricks were used whether sun-dried or baked, bricks were of standardised ratio

Drainage system

  • Laying out drains was one of the most distinctive features, it was carefully planned.

  • The roads of the lower town were laid out along an approximate grid pattern, intersecting at right angles.

  • The streets and drains were laid out first and then houses were built along with them.

Domestic Architecture

  • The lower town has residential buildings; many were centred on a courtyard with rooms on all sides.

  • The courtyard was the centre of all the activities such as cooking & weaving.

  • Privacy was the major concern as there were no windows at the ground level. The main entrance does not give a direct view of the inside.

  • Every House has its own bathroom paved with bricks with the drains connected through the walls to the street drains.

  • The remains of Staircase have also been found, which proves multi storey architecture was there. Many houses had wells, often in a room that could be reached from the outside and perhaps used by passers-by.

Social & Economic Differences


  • At the Harappan sites, dead were generally laid in pits, there were differences in the way the burial pit was made. The hollowed-out spaces were lined with bricks.

  • Graves also contain pottery and ornaments which indicates the belief of the afterlife was there. Jewellery has been found in burials of both men and women.

  • A burial contained ornament consisting of three shell rings, a jasper (a kind of semi-precious stone) bead and hundreds of microbeads was found near the skull of a male at the Harappan cemetery.

  • In some instances, the dead were buried with copper mirrors. But on the whole, it appears that the Harappans did not believe in burying precious things with the dead.

  • Another strategy to identify social differences is to study artefacts, which archaeologists broadly classify as utilitarian and luxurious.

  • This includes Objects of daily use made of stones or clay-like querns, pottery, needles etc

  • Archaeologists assume objects were luxuries if they are rare or made from costly, non-local materials or with complicated technologies.

  • Thus, little pots of faience (a material made of ground sand or silica mixed with colour and gum and then fired) were probably considered precious because they were difficult to make.

Craft Production Indus valley

  • Mohenjodaro was exclusively devoted to craft production, like bead-making, shell-cutting, metalworking, bead making and weight-making.

  • A variety of raw materials were used to make crafts such as stones like Carnelian- red stone, Jasper- yellowstone, crystal, quartz etc. Metals like copper, bronze and gold and shell & clay were used.

  • Numerous shapes of crafts were there e.g. disk-shaped, cylindrical, spherical, barrel-shaped, segmented. Some were decorated by incising or painting, and some had designs etched onto them.

  • Some stones were decorated with gold caps.

  • There were techniques used for making different beds according to the material, like moulding, chipping, grinding, polishing and drilling.

  • Chanudaro, Lothal, Dholavira, Nageshwar and Balakot are some of the crafts centres.

How did Archeologists Identify centres of craft production?

  • Archeologists look for raw materials such as stone nodules, whole shells and copper ore etc. They also look for the tools used for making crafts.

  • Archaeologists look for unfinished objects, rejects and waste material. As waste is one of the best indicators of craftwork.

  • These traces suggest that apart from small specialised centres, craft production was also undertaken in large cities such as Mohenjodaro and Harappa.

Strategies for Procuring Raw Material within the Sub- Continent


  • Terracotta toy models of bullock carts suggest that this was one important means of transporting goods and people across land routes.

  • Depiction of ships and boats on seals suggest that riverine routes along the Indus and its tributaries, as well as coastal routes, we're also probably used for transporting goods and people.


Materials for craft production were procured by Harappans in different ways. Settlements were established where raw material was available. (Nageshwar & Balakot- shell, Shortughai lapis lazuli, a blue stone, Lothal- carnelian, Strait and Metal- Rajasthan & Gujrat.)

Another strategy for procuring raw materials may have been to send expeditions to areas such as the Khetri region of Rajasthan (for copper) and south India (for gold). These expeditions established communication with local communities.

Occasional finds of Harappan artefacts such as steatite microbeads in these areas are indications of such contact. There is evidence in the Khetri area for what archaeologists call the Ganeshwar Jodhpur Culture.

What is Ganeshwar- jodhpura Culture?

Archaeologists found a new culture in the khetri area, here they found distinctive Non- Harappan pottery & a usual wealth of copper objects. It is possible that inhabitants of this region supplied copper to the Harappans.

Procuring Metals from Distant Lands

  • Copper was probably brought from Oman, on the south Asian trip to the Arabian Peninsula. According to the chemical traces, Omani copper and Harappan copper have traces of nickel.

  • A distinctive type of vessel, a large Harappan jar coated with a thick layer of black clay has been found at Omani sites. It is possible that the Harappans exchanged the contents of these vessels for Omani copper.

  • Mesopotamian texts datable to the third millennium BCE refer to copper coming from a region called Magan (Oman).

  • Mesopotamian texts mention contact with regions named Dilmun (Bahrain), Magan and Meluhha, possibly the Harappan region. The products imported from Meluhha: carnelian, lapis lazuli, copper, gold, and varieties of wood.

  • A Mesopotamian myth says of Meluhha: “May your bird be the Baja-bird, may its call be heard in the royal palace.” Some archaeologists think the Baja-bird was the peacock.

  • Depictions of ships and boats on the Harappan seals were also there.

Harappan Seals

  • They were used to facilitate long-distance communication. As the bags of goods were tied with the wet clay and leaving an impression on it.

  • If the bag reached with the sealing intact, it meant it had not been tampered with. The sealing also conveys the identity of the sender.

  • It usually has a line of writing and animal motifs. Scholars suggested that the motifs conveyed a meaning to those who could not read.

Harappan Script

  • Most inscriptions are short, the longest containing about 26 signs. Although the script remains undeciphered to date, it was evidently not alphabetical but syllable as it has just too many signs – somewhere between 375 and 400.

  • The script was written from left to right as some seals show a wider spacing on the right and cramping on the left.

  • A variety of objects has been found on which writing was there, like seals, copper tools, rims of jars, copper and terracotta tablets, Jewellery, bone rods and an ancient sign board.

  • They have been writing on perishable goods like cloth, animal skin etc.

Harappan weights

  • Exchanges were regulated by a precise system of weights, usually made of a stone called chert and generally cubical, with no markings.

  • The lower denominations of weights were binary (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. up to 12,800), while the higher denominations followed the decimal system.

  • The smaller weights were generally used for weighing Jewellery and beads and bigger weights were used for food grains. Metal scale pans have also been found.

Ruling Authority In Indus Valley Civilisation

  • The extraordinary uniformity of Harappan artefacts is evident in pottery, seals, weights and bricks.

  • Bricks were not produced at any single centre, and were of a uniform ratio throughout the region, from Jammu to Gujarat.

  • The settlements were strategically set up in specific locations for various reasons. Labour was also mobilised for making bricks and for the construction of massive walls and platforms.

  • These activities were mostly organised by the king.

Centre of Power

  • A large building found at Mohenjodaro was labelled as a palace by archaeologists but no spectacular finds were associated with it.

  • A stone statue was labelled and continues to be known as the “priest-king”. This is because archaeologists were familiar with the Mesopotamian history and its “priest-kings”.

  • Some archaeologists said that Harappan society had no rulers & democracy was there. Many thought that there were no single rulers but many.

The End of the Civilisation

There is evidence that by c. 1800 BCE most of the Mature Harappan sites in regions such as Cholistan had been abandoned. There was an expansion of population into new settlements in Gujarat, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

Distinctive artefacts of the civilisation – weights, seals, special beads. Writing, long-distance trade, and craft specialisation also disappeared after 1800 BCE.

House construction techniques deteriorated and large public structures were no longer produced

overall disappearance of artefacts and settlements indicate a rural way of life in what is called Vedic Culture or Vedic civilisation began.

Climatic change, deforestation, excessive floods, the shifting and/or drying up of rivers, and overuse of the landscape were also the major factors.

What is the evidence that proves the significance of an Invasion in Civilization?

At a depth of 4 ft 2 in, part of an adult's skull, thoracic bones, and upper arm were discovered, all in very fragile condition. The body was lying diagonally across the lane on its back. A few fragments of a tiny skull were fifteen inches to the west. The name of the lane comes from these ruins.

In 1925, sixteen skeletons with the ornaments they were wearing when they died were discovered in the same area of Mohenjodaro. The director-general of ASI, R.E.M Wheeler, attempted to link this archaeological evidence to the Rigveda, the earliest known text in the subcontinent.

There is no evidence of extensive burning, no bodies of warriors clad in armour and surrounded by war weapons, and no destruction level covering the city's most recent period.

The citadel, the city's only fortified area, yielded no proof of the final defence.

Discovering the Harappan Civilisation

Cunningham’s confusion

Cunningham was the first director-general of ASI, he began archaeological excavations in the mid-nineteenth century, archaeologists preferred to use the written word (texts and inscriptions) as a guide to investigations.

He used the accounts left by Chinese Buddhist pilgrims who had visited the subcontinent between the fourth and seventh centuries CE to locate early settlements.

Harappan artefacts were found fairly often during the nineteenth century and some of these reached Cunningham, he did not realise how old these were.

A Harappan seal was given to Cunningham by an Englishman. He noted the object but unsuccessfully tried to place it within the time frame with which he was familiar. It is not surprising that he missed the significance of Harappa.

John Marshall’s ignorance

John Marshall marked the major change in Indian archaeology. He was the first professional archaeologist to work in India and brought his experience of working in Greece. He was interested in spectacular finds and patterns of everyday life. He tended to excavate along with regular units, measured uniformly throughout the mound, ignoring the stratigraphy of the sites.

All the artefacts recovered from the same units were grouped together even if they were found at different stratigraphic layers.

As a result, valuable information about the Harappan civilisation was irretrievably lost.

R.E.M Wheeler’s problems

  • He took over as the Director-General of ASI in 1944 also rectified many problems.

  • He said it is important to follow stratigraphy for the mound rather than dig it mechanically.

  • He was also an Ex-army Brigadier.

  • Due to the partition, the major sites are now in Pakistani territory. This spurred Indian archaeologists to try and locate sites in India.

Daya Ram Sahni

  • He discovered the seals at the Harappa in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Rakhal Das Banerji

  • Rakhal Das Banerji found similar seals at Mohenjodaro, leading to the conjecture that these sites were part of a single archaeological culture.

  • Based on these finds, in 1924, John Marshall, Director-General of the ASI, announced the discovery of a new civilisation in the Indus valley to the world.

How does material allow the archaeologist to reconstruct Harappan life better?

Recovering artefacts is just the beginning of the archaeological enterprise.

1. Classification: One simple principle of classification is in terms of material, such as stone, clay, metal, bone, ivory etc.

2. Functions of artefacts: It is to classify whether the artefact is a tool or an ornament or both or maybe something for ritual use.

3. An understanding of the function of an artefact is often shaped by its resemblance with present-day things- beads, stone, blades etc.

4. Identification: They also try to identify the functions of an artefact by investigating the context in which it was found: House, Drain, grave or in a kiln. Recourse to indirect evidence is also done.

Problems to Archeological Interpretation to Reconstruct Religious Practices

  • Early archaeologists thought that certain objects which seemed unusual or unfamiliar may have had a religious significance.

  • These included terracotta figurines of women, heavily jewelled, some with elaborate headdresses. These were regarded as mother goddesses.

  • Attempts have also been made to reconstruct religious beliefs and practices by examining seals, some of which seem to depict ritual scenes.

  • In some seals, a figure shown seated cross-legged in a “yogic” posture, sometimes surrounded by animals, has been regarded as a depiction of “proto-Shiva”, that is, an early form of one of the major deities of Hinduism. Besides, conical stone objects have been classified as lingas

  • Many reconstructions of the Harappan religion are made on the assumption that later traditions provide parallels with earlier ones.

  • This is because archaeologists often move from the known to the unknown, that is, from the present to the past.


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