Harappan harbours of big business

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Dholavira and Lothal two of the best known Harappan sites in Gujarat were perhaps the only major ports of the ancient civilization. This assumption is made in a paper by Y S Rawat, former director of Gujarat State Archaeology Department and currently officer on special duty (OSD) in the department.

Harappan harbours of big business
3D reconstruction of the city of Dholavira
[Credit: ASI]

The assumption is based on the fact that excavations conducted in the state so far have not shown signs of any major port along the Saurashtra coastline dating back to the Harappan period (3000 BC). The smaller ports found along this coastline were, most probably, sites for refueling or were used for local sea trade.

Rawat’s paper titled, ‘Coastal Sites: Possible Port Towns of Harappan Time’, is contained in recently-published book, ‘Port Towns of Gujarat’. In ancient times, Lothal was a port in the Gulf of Kutch while Dholavira was a port in Little Rann which, geological investigations have revealed, had 4-meter-deep water till 2000 BC. Further, the Rann area and whole Gulf of Kutch were perhaps navigable by ships.

Rawat argues in his paper that the two towns not only exchanged goods by the land and sea route but also had a flourishing sea trade with foreign shores. This is borne out by the discovery of a large number of standard Harappan objects at many places in ancient Mesopotamia, Sumer and Elam (modern-day Iran).

Harappan harbours of big business
One of the water reservoirs, with steps, at Dholavira 
[Credit: WikiCommons]

Experts have found fragments of greenish-grey stone (chlorite-schist) vessel engraved with geometric patterns in Dholavira while a mummy-like figure made of terracotta had been found in Lothal, establishing both as centers with overseas trade.

Rawat said that about 44 Harappan or Harappa-related sites had been located so far along the Gujarat coast. Thirty of these belonged to the urban and the rest to the late or post-urban period of Harappan civilization, he said.

“In terms of coastal locations, 19 are in Kutch (including the Rann) and 25 in Saurashtra and the mainland. Only nine fortified settlements have been recorded so far,” said Rawat.

Harappan harbours of big business
Ancient Lothal [Credit: Harappa.com]

He added that Lothal, excavated between 1955 and 1962, was the first Harappan site thought to be associated with maritime activities due to the presence of a dock-like structure.

“Apart from Lothal, only Kuntasi and Saran (3.5 km from Dholavira) in Kutch are the two other sites that suggest ports. Other sites may have been too small for bigger cargo. They perhaps served as transit points,” said Rawat.

Out of 2,000-odd Harappan sites in India, 550 are located in Gujarat.

Harappan harbours of big business
Dockyard at Lothal [Credit: Harappa.com]

Samller ports along the Saurashtra coastline Kuntasi, Bagasara, Sevakiya, Shikarpur, Surkotda, Kanmer, Ner, Juni Kuran and Nagwada have similarities in town planning, environmental settings and subsistence systems that suggest they were part of the same civilization.

Since they were too small to handle big cargo, they were perhaps used for local sea trade or as transit points for larger ships sailing to foreign shores from Dholavira or Lothal.

Rivers linked two of these small ports to the sea. Kuntasi in Kutch has remains of a ramp for offloading of cargo at River Phulki and also a structure on the river’s banks that has been identified as a watchtower or some sort of lighthouse. Experts say that while Kuntasi was connected to the Gulf of Kutch by River Phulki, Lothal was connected to the Gulf of Khambhat by Bhogavo and Sabarmati rivers.

Harappan harbours of big business

Rawat’s paper says that geological investigations in the Rann of Kutch revealed that the Little Rann had 4-meter-deep water till 2000 BC and it is possible that the Rann area and whole Gulf of Kutch were navigable by ships. Coastal settlements on both sides of the Gulf of Kutch support the assumption. Even the contours of the state’s coast have seen several changes over the millennia, the paper says.

Rawat said that the overall picture that emerges from the studies so far is that the sites in Gujarat and those in Great Rann worked as partners in economy-based exchanges and exploitation of natural resources of the Arabian Sea and ancient forested regions of the state. “Dholavira, on the shoreline of the Great Rann in the extreme north and Lothal on the Arabian Sea in the south were two major centres of this economy,” said Rawat.

Author: Parth Shastri | Source: The Times of India [July 09, 2015]

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