By Chris J.D. Kostman, M.A.

Originally published in JAGNES, the Journal of the Association of Graduates in Near Eastern Studies


Since the discovery of the Harappan Civilization in the greater Indus Valley some 100 years ago, there has been considerable discussion as to the cause of its demise in the mid second millennium B.C. This paper investigates all of the major factors suggested to have contributed to the end of the Harappan Civilization and also considers whether it declined or collapsed at all. The paper concludes that although the Harappans did fall prey to several potentially devastating “acts of god,” their legacy continues to this day. The Harappan Civilization never collapsed: it simply transformed over time.

George Dales once stated that “one of the most enigmatic whodunits of antiquity concerns the decline and fall of the Indus Valley (Harappan) Civilization” (Dales 1964: 37). The proposed perpetrators of this great evil have ranged from invading Aryan hordes, to Mother Nature, to the Harappans themselves. Needless to say, the debate has raged since the very discovery of the Harappan culture and the seemingly utopian civilization that it created during the Bronze Age in the greater Indus Valley. A careful review of the literature suggests that although the Harappans did experience great natural disasters and a dramatic shfit in their urban process, they never declined or fell at all: the Harappan legacy continues to this day.

The Indus Valley, or Harappan, Civilization was located primarily in modern-day Pakistan, as well as north-western India and the adjacent areas of Iran and Afghanistan. The geographical extent of this civilization encompassed a triangular area with 1,000 miles on each side, or approximately 425,000 square miles. This is an area larger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. Flourishing from approximately 3000 to 1500 B.C., the Harappan Civilization derives its name from the type site of Harappa, located in the Punjab near Lahore. Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, near Karachi in Sind, are called the “twin capital cities” of the Indus Valley Civilization because of their size, strategic locations, and the appearance of the greatest diversity of materials in their archaeological records.

A consideration of what actually defines the unique character of the Harappan phenomenon during its Mature Preiod (2500 to 1700 B.C.) would be in order at this point. If listed simply, this would include:

* Essentially polar-aligned pre-planned urban settlements, usually divided into a lower town and an incorrectly labeled “citadel.” * Frequent architectural use of mudbrick platforms.
* Fastidious, almost fanatical, attention to water control, including a plethora of hydraulic features such as drains, wells, sump pits, baths, and bathrooms.
* Consistent binary system of weights and measures and its application in architectural features such as brick size.
* Pottery unique in terms of manufacturing technique, decoration, shape, and style. * Distinctive animal and human figurine assemblage.
* Unique and still undeciphered script.
* Essentially a complete lack of any military-related materials, both in terms of weapons and, probably, fortifications. * No palatial architecture or any other types of adminstrative architecture.

The proposed mitigating factors for the apparent decline or “collapse” of the Indus Valley Civilization in the mid-second millennium can be divided into either historical / event causes or cultural causes, in other words uncontrollable versus theoretically controllable factors. Some of these proposed factors include:

* Invading hordes of Aryans / Indo-Europeans (Dales 1964, Fairservis 1971, Srivastava 1984).
* Seasonal flooding of Mohenjo Daro and other sites in Sind (Dales 1966, Raikes 1965, Dales and Raikes 1977).
* Tectonic uplift along the Makran coast which landlocked many heretofore coastal settlements (Dales 1966).
* The “death from natural causes” of Kalibangan and other sites in the Yamuna river channel due to shifts in the river course (Raikes 1968).
* The desertification of Cholistan / Bahawalpur due to shifts in the Hakra River course (Mughal 1982, 1984). * Climatic changes (Misra 1984).
* Ecological degradation, i.e., “wearing out the landscape” (Gupta 1980).
* The sharp decrease in trade with Mesopotamia at the end of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur (Ghosh 1980).
* Cultural process, i.e., societal evolution/devolution (Gupta 1980, Fairservis 1971 and 1979, Schaffer 1982).

The question then is: could any one or a combination of these theories, if correct, have spelled total disaster for the Indus Valley Civilization? They should be examined one at a time to attempt some conclusions.

Aryan Invasions

The Rig-Veda is the oldest known book of the Indian subcontinent. It was first composed in an ancient Sanskrit language and passed down orally for several millennia. Considered the fountainhead of Indian civilization, it played a crucial role in the rise of Hinduism, the caste system, and other central components of Indian society. Some also believe that it details the end of the Harappan peoples.

“The story has been repeated for millennia, sung in temples, chanted in halls, told by word and actions of how a warrior people came out of the vastness of inner Asia through the passes of the northwest to fall upon the fortified cities of India and to conquer: riding horse-drawn chariots, driving herds of cattle, sheep, and goats, worshipping cosmic deities like Indra of the thunder and Agni of the fire, sacrificing, quarreling, gambling, drinking, singing, dancing–the Rig-Veda account of the Aryan tribes is one of the oldest epics in the world (Fairservis 1971: 345).”

At one time, many argued for an authorship of the epic as early as 3100 B.C., or during the Early Harappan period. Some have even argued that the Harappans themselves were the Aryans of the Rig-Veda. However, more recent scholarship on the subject has suggested that the writing of the Rig Veda was no earlier than 1200 B.C. Certain scholars are inclined to accept a date of closer to 800 BC, while earlier dates, some up to 1500 BC, are put forth by still other scholars. Either way, several hundred years separate even this earliest estimate from the ending date of the Mature Harappan Period, which lasted from ca. 2500 to 1700 B.C. In line with this dating, as well as the lack of evidence for iron technology, hereditary social elites, not to mention warfare (three of the primary diagnostic traits of the Aryans, according to the Rig-Veda), most of the scholars of today are convinced that the Harappans were neither Aryan, nor ever in contact with the Aryans
(Srivastava 1984). In fact, the archaeological record depicts a utopian world far different from that of the Aryans described in the Rig-Veda. Thus Schaffer notes that “in the Indus Valley, a technically advanced, urban, literate culture was achieved without the usually associated social organization based on hereditary elites, centralized political government (states, empires) and warfare” (Schaffer 1982, 47).

Indeed, while the commonly accepted dating and the disparity between the archaeological record and the accounts of the Rig-Veda would seem to indicate that several hundred years passed between the deurbanization of the major Indus sites and the Aryan invasion, still more evidence is available to deny a correlation between the two incidents. In particular, the “evidence” for an Aryan invasion that was at one time thought to have been supplied by Mortimer Wheeler’s excavations at Mohenjo Daro is now shown to be deeply suspect. Wheeler’s evidence (Wheeler 1947 & 1968), and the contradictions therein, can be summarized as follows:

Thirty-seven skeletons found in a state of unplanned interment at Mohenjo Daro were put forth as evidence of a massacre at the hands of the Aryans (Wheeler 1968). Dales and others have since pointed out that the stratigraphic location of these skeletons in the residential area, rather than in the “citadel,” and in levels of post-site abandonment, indicate that the “victims” were Post Harappan squatters. A full seven feet of debris separated the “victims” and the true Harappan occupation levels (Dales 1964). More conclusively, detailed skeletal analysis has shown that the “victims” were biologically different from true Harappans.

Vedic descriptions of fortresses were assumed to actually describe Harappan cities; however, the Vedic descriptions diverge widely from the shape and format of Harappan cities. The Rig-Veda describes fortresses of three concentric circles, but the Harappan “citadels” were essentially square.

Huge mud brick “defenses enclosing the citadel” area of Harappa were offered as evidence of fortifications. Wheeler, whose background included both military service and the excavation of Roman fortresses, incorrectly interpreted these constructions as a military edifice (Wheeler 1968). Environmental factors, discussed later, were most likely the inspiration for building these mud brick “defenses.”

The evidence cited for armor was “small domed pieces of copper, each perforated with two holes, were sewn on to a garment and used as an equivalent to mail” (Srivastava 1984: 131). This is implausible at best and no other types of armor have been found at any Harappan site. Wheeler interpreted clay nodules as “baked clay missiles” (Wheeler 1968: 76) but clay nodules are nothing but handmade gravel, not weaponry of any kind.

Further complicating Wheeler’s theory is the curious paucity of remains of Aryan marauders, horses, or weaponry at any Harappan site, or evidence of armed conflict of any kind anywhere in the Harappan realm.

“Where are the burned fortresses, the arrowheads, weapons, pieces of armor, the smashed chariots and bodies of the invaders and defenders? Despite the extensive excavations at the largest Harappan sites, there is not a single bit of evidence that can be brought forth as unconditional proof of an armed conquest and destruction on the supposed scale of the Aryan invasion (Dales 1964: 38).”

Considering the mass of evidence against it, the theory of Aryan invasions spelling doom for the Indus Valley Civilization can be cast off now as purely fanciful thinking. However, one piece of evidence originally put forth to support this antiquated theory is relevant to a later and more plausible theory, and that is the existence of massive mud brick platforms or “defenses.” Wheeler’s conclusion was that the huge constructions were used as defenses against invading peoples (Wheeler 1968), but there are other threats against which they might have defended the Harappan cities and peoples.

The “Flood” Theories

Back in the 1960’s, the hydrologist Robert Raikes and the archaeologist George Dales independently, then jointly, put forth theories for the seasonal flooding, or more precisely the seasonal “ponding,” of Mohenjo Daro and some smaller sites nearby in Sind. Each scholar felt able to hypothesize, from the standpoint of his own separate studies, that a swelling of the ground during the Harappan period produced a type of natural barrier across the Indus River, perhaps some 10 km wide and as much as 45 meters high. The tectonic activity could have been due to faulting or by the intrusion of miocene clays (so-called volcanic muds) under the Indus alluvial sediments (Raikes and Dales 1977: 251). This would have probably taken place near Sehwan, some 145 km downstream from Mohenjo Daro, and would have formed a lake 85 km long, 8 km wide, and 5 meters deep.

The result of such a phenomenon during the Harappan period would have been an annual inundation of sites as the natural reservoir engulfing them grew with run-off from the Himalayas. With the approaching warm season, the reservoir would have dried up or at least shrunk considerably. Associated with such a calamity would have been the problems posed by water-borne diseases and the disposal of wastes. Of course, problems of food supply and trade would have been exacerbated.

The archaeological evidence for such an anomaly includes the existence of five or more layers of silt found between levels of Mature Harappan habitation at Mohenjo Daro. It should be stressed that this archaeologically attested silt is a type of silt laid down in still water conditions, not flood water conditions.

One can easily imagine that such a situation would have given rise to the use of massive mudbrick platforms as the foundation for domestic activities and constructions in an attempt to stay high and dry above the inundation lake. Thus Wheeler was right in terming the massive constructions as defensive constructions; however, they were defenses against intruding water, not intruding people. It is also equally reasonable to suggest that the Harappan fixation with the control of water was somehow linked to this phenomenon.

Tectonic Uplift of the Coastline

Another natural and uncontrollable factor in the demise of at least some of the Indus cities was tectonic uplift on a grand scale. The evidence for this is simple and indisputable: Harappan seaports along the Makran coast, such as Sutkagendor, Sotka Koh, and Bala Kot, are now as far as 50 km inland. “These displaced ports made it evident that the coastline of Pakistan had risen considerably during the past 4,000 years, with the initial rise apparently having occurred during the Harappan period” (Dales 1966: 95). The earthquakes associated with such an uplift would have been tremendous and the disruption of sea and land trade networks would have been devastating. The proximity to Arabian sea trade routes was, after all, the raison d’etre for sites such as Sutkagen Dor and Sutkha Koh. This tectonic uplift, then, would explain the demise of several Harappan coastal sites, as well as imply a hardship for many other Harappan sites which were dependent on these coastal sites for trade and/or marine resources.

Kalibangan’s “Death from Natural Causes”

The urban site of Kalibangan is located in the Indian Punjab and was, like Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, abandoned in approximately the 18th century B.C. Here Raikes found the soil a “coarse greyish sand very similar in mineral content to that found in the bed of the present day Yamuna,” the main river of the area (Raikes 1968: 286). Raikes’ hydrological and archaeological investigations indicate an “alternating capture of the Yamuna by the Indus and Ganges systems respectively” (Raikes 1968: 286) due to coriolis force for the western migration and reactive geological controls causing a bank avulsion and flooding for the eastern migration. Put simply, the Yamuna (or Ghaggar) river switched back and forth between two primary river channels, causing abandoment or development of settlements, depending on the location of the all-important river. This can be summarized as follows:

* Westward diversion to Indus 2500-1750 B.C.=750 years (coinciding with the Harappan period occupation).
* Eastward diversion to Ganga 1750-1100 B.C.=650 years (coinciding with the abandonment of Harappan sites).
* Westward diversion to Indus 1100-500 B.C.=600 years (coinciding with Painted Grey Ware sites).
* Eastward diversion to Ganga 500-100 B.C.=400 years (coinciding with a period of abandonment).
* Westward diversion to Indus 100 BC-500 A.D.=600 years (coinciding with the Early Historic period).
* Eastward diversion to Ganga in about 500 A.D. (coinciding with a period of abandonment).

Thus Kalibangan and many other sites along the Ghaggar river plain have been consistently left in a dry zone. In a way, this is the opposite effect that Raikes and Dales found at Mohenjo Daro, but in the long run the implications would have been the same for the inhabitants: devastation of a significant portion of the Harappan homeland.

As in Sind, this natural phenomena does not seem to have caused an immediate and complete abandonment of Kalibangan and the sites along the same alluvial plain route, but rather a decrease in settlement size followed by a total abandonment after the water table eventually dropped so low that water could not be reached through well drilling. The quick rebirth of the sites after the return of the Ghaggar is evidenced by the almost total lack of fired brick at the sites in their first century of redevelopment. This is due to the fact that the tamerisk forests, necessary for the firing of brick and themselves dependent on a local river for their growth, would have taken 100 years to be restored after the return of the river.

As for the potential implication of this occurrence for the rest of the Indus Valley civilization, Raikes notes that “in Sind it would merely have been one more nail in a coffin already well closed” (Raikes 1968: 286). Again the Harappans found themselves at the mercy of water.

The Desertification of Cholistan

Pakistani archaeologist Rafique Mughal has mapped 414 sites along 300 miles of the Hakra River bed in what is today the Cholistan desert. This, along with geological surveys, provides incontrovertible evidence for a riverine course change which decimated hundreds of Harappan sites and brought about the desert conditions which exist to this day. In contrast to the Ghaggar, however, the Hakra changed its course once and for all.

“Archaeological evidence…overwhelmingly affirms that the Hakra was a perennial river through all its course in Bahawalpur during the fourth millennium B.C. (Hakra Period) and the early third millennium B.C. (Early Harappan Period). About the end of the second, or not later than the beginning of the first millennium BC, the entire course of the Hakra seems to have dried up and a physical environment similar to the present day in Cholistan set in. This forced the people to abandon most of the Hakra flood plain (Mughal 1982: 94).”

Thus the Harappans again found themselves unable to control water resources and a significant portion of their homeland was laid bare by uncontrollable natural phenomena.

Climatic Change

Generally speaking, theories connected with a notable degree of climatic change in a geologically short time frame are rarely given much credence. In the Harappan case, the theory that climatic change was a factor in the demise of the Indus Valley Civilization is supported by palynological and not archaeological evidence and it encompasses the entire Holocene period and not just the Harappan period. Not surprisingly, there is no archaeological evidence to support a theory that climatic change was an important factor in the Indus Valley Civilization. To quote Misra:

“In sum, the enormous volume of archaeological evidence now available from northwest India completely fails to sustain the overall hypothesis proposed by Gurdip Singh that fluctuations in rainfall played a decisive role in the emergence, diffusion, prosperity and decline of farming-based cultures in the region. The only role the increased rainfall played was to arrest the hyperaridity of the Upper Pleistocene, stabilize the sand dunes, accelerate the growth of vegetation and help in the emergence and spread of a nomadic hunting-gathering-pastoral economy. This pattern of life has persisted in the semi-arid and arid environments to this day (Misra 1984: 484).”

Indeed, if climatic change played any role in determining the future of the peoples of the Indus Valley, it was to solidify the means of subsistence and lifestyle for centuries to come.

Environmental Degradation by the Population

George Dales aptly noted that “wearing out a landscape is basically impossible to prove. And no alluvial plain wears out, anyway” (personal communication, 1987). Also, “if environmental factors had been decisive in the downfall of civilizations, Mesopotamia would have been deserted long ago” (Gupta 1980: 52). In other words, although Mother Nature wreaked havoc on several significant portions of the Harappan region, as discussed above, the Harappans themselves could not have been able to change their environmental setting to such an extent as to have any bearing on their ability to sustain themselves.

Decrease in Trade

Some time around the end of the Third Dynasty of Ur, trade between Mesopotamia and Meluhha (the Indus Valley, it is assumed) dropped off, supposedly because the Sumerians turned to Egypt and Arabia for the majority of their imported goods. Ghosh postulates that “the cessation of trade at about 1900 B.C. must have had an adverse effect on the prosperity of the Harappan Civilization and must therefore have been one of the factors leading to the decay of the cities, to the deurbanization of the civilization and to the dispersal of the population” (Ghosh 1980: 322). Ghosh then states that due to the plethora of natural disasters which befell the Harappans, “the people were evidently so overwhelmed by their own troubles that they could no longer pursue the luxury of foreign trade” (Ghosh 1980: 322). But if trade is a luxury, and if luxuries are for only a tiny segment of any given society (hence their role as luxuries), than surely a civilization is not
dependent on luxuries for its entire existence. Also, if we can now, finally, accept that the phenomenon of the Indus Valley Civilization was an essentially indigenous development (not spawned by traveling Mesopotamians, after all), why must we once again turn to the west for the reasons for its fall? Simply put, the Mesopotamians had no direct role in the rise or the fall of the Harappan Civilization. In fact, scholars may have been reading this situation entirely backwards. Instead, Mesopotamia was forced to seek other sources for its imported goods after the Indus peoples, for their own indigenous reasons, ceased export to Mesopotamia and elsewhere. This approach would imply that the Sumerians were the ones losing an important trade connection, rather than the other way around.

Urban Process in the Late Harappan Period

Mark Kenoyer reminds us that “in studying the earliest urban settlement of South Asia, we do not have written documents that describe the structural and social organization of a city. Consequently, our understanding of the urban process is sketchy” (Kenoyer 1991: 29). As any discussion of civilizational collapse theories essentially and necessarily concerns itself with the aspect of urban process that includes the abandonment of urban centers, it is this Indus urban tradition which necessarily comes into study here.

Although acts of the supernatural are beyond the control of mankind, our response to them is controllable. Thus, in the case of the Indus Valley, the Harappans should have been, and were, able to formulate a response to the natural disasters which befell them. This reaction is fundamentally intertwined with the Indus urban process. The mudbrick platforms are one physical testimony to the Harappan response to the invading waters of the Indus during the Mature Harappan period (2500 to 1700 B.C.), but finding evidence for the Late Harappan (1700 to 1200 B.C.?) response to the plethora of attacks on the Harappan lifestyle is more difficult to present at this point.

Did the Harappans develop a response to the many, unrelated natural disasters, described above, that befell them? There must be no doubt that they did, for a civilization as advanced and widespread as that of the Bronze Age Indus Valley could not have just “thrown in the towel” on several millennia of achievement and utopian lifestyle. The question really, then, is what form did the Harappan response take?

The problem in answering this question is that there is a surprising lack of investigation into the later phases of the Harappan period. Nearly every excavation held at true Harappan sites has all but ignored the latest occupation levels, and at many sites still to be excavated, the Late Harappan levels are buried beneath later, historical period levels, further confusing and hiding their role.

Indeed, determing what is a “true Harappan site” may be the biggest curse in Harappan archaeology, though this need not be the case. For some reason, despite agreement as to the above noted diagnostic traits of the culture, many archaeologists seem bent on labeling sites as Harappan which often exhibit not one of these basic traits.

Interestingly, S.R. Rao notes that “to deserve the term ‘Late Harappan’ it is essential that the inhabitants of the deurbanized phase must have retained the core of Harappan achievements such as writing, use of the Harappan standard of weights and Harappan religious beliefs including the method of the disposal of the dead” (Rao 1980: 354). Unfortunately, few scholars seem able to follow this guideline. In fact, Rao himself goes on to rationalize away the absence of these diagnostic traits in many Indian sites which are cited as Late Harappan. Curiously, he even claims that “writing not only survived but was also improved upon” during the Late Harappan Period in India (Rao 1980: 358), yet gives no evidence for it. His lack of evidence is not surprising, though, for none could exist: the Late Harappans did not write. That is one of the defining characteristics of the Late Harappans, after all.

Most scholars today, however, refuse to subscribe to the belief that the Harappans simply pulled up stakes around 1700 B.C. and moved east to regions immediately adjacent to the Gangetic Valley. The fact that these supposed Harappans seem to have forgotten their writing, their system of weights and measures, and all of their other diagnostic traits in the process of moving makes it impossible for us to believe that most of these “North Indian Harappans” were even Harappans at all. However there is no doubt that during this timeframe there was a decrease in population size in the greater Indus Valley and an increase in population in the greater Gangetic Valley. So far no correlation can be deduced, nor even inferred, between the two phenomena.

The one undeniably Late Harappan phase at a true Harappan site, the Cemetery H Culture originally found at Harappa, offers the best insight into this enigmatic period in Indus prehistory. This occupation level at Harappa was excavated by Vats and Wheeler, during 1929-1931 and 1946, respectively (Vats 1940, Wheeler 1947). Two different strata of burials were uncovered in the latest levels of occupation at Harappa. The lower stratum burials are of a type similar to standard Harappan burials: extended, with typical pottery assemblages. The upper stratum contains fractional urn burials. Both strata contain pottery types widely divergent from the Harappan norm. Considering the unique pottery, the unique burials, and the thick deposit between the Late Harappan Cemetery H and Mature Harappan Cemetery R37 at the same site, this no doubt indicates a culture far different from the Mature Harappan culture. Sankalia suggests the paintings on the Cemetery H pottery
depicting mythological tales and somehow discerns that the potters were male and the painters were female. Sankalia also concludes that the H people “culturally and racially do not seem to be far different from the Harappans,” yet he has no evidence to support or even deduce this (Sankalia 1979: 326). His conclusions in this instance seem to be closer to imaginative musings than to fact-based scholarship.

Indeed, recent research does refute Sankalia’s wishful thinking: based on cranial measurements, Hemphill, Lukacs, and Kennedy (1991) postulated a continuity between Mature Harappans and the earth-buried Cemetery H Late Harappans, but, importantly, not between the earth-buried and urn-buried Cemetary H Late Harappans. Thus the inhumation practices indicate different biological groups, a conclusion most archaeologists would have immediately inferred from the archaeological record. Thus those Late Harappans buried extended in the earth deserve their Harappan appellation, while those buried in urns do not.

Further studies of the widest possible skeletal material base (not just Cemetery H, but Indus-wide) indicate “a biological discontinuity in the history of the Indus Valley at some point after the end of the Harappan Civilization (1750 B.C.), but before the Early Iron Age at Sarai Khola (200 B.C.)” (Hemphill et al 1991: 173). Who were these biologically variant intruders and what was their role, if any, in the deurbanization phase of the Harappan period?

Based on the evidence at hand, the major urban centers of the Harappan period drastically decreased in size at the time of their purported abandonment. Mohenjo Daro, for example, seems to have dropped from about thirty-four to little more than one acre. This is certainly noteworthy and seems to imply a significant alteration of the Harappan lifestyle and livelihood. Interestingly, Gupta (1980: 51) points out that some contemporary sites outside the Harappan sphere also experienced similar transformations. Altin Depe (114 to 3 acres), Namazga Depe (170 to 3.5 acres), and Shahr-i Sokhta (32 to 2 acres), are interesting cases that indicate that this apparent deurbanization was not an isolated Indus phenomena, but also took place to the west. The shrinkage, rather than total abandonment, of the Harappan sites implies that “the Harappan Civilization can thus be said to have ‘faded away’ rather than to have been extinguished completely” (Fairservis 1971: 310).

Compounding the difficulty in understanding this deurbanization process is the fact that dating of the Harappan sites is difficult because only seventeen radiocarbon dates from some six Late Harappan occupations are available, fewer than the current number of dates from many single Mature Harappan sites alone (Schaffer 1988). Of these dates, two clusters are found: 2000-1600 B.C. in the eastern Punjab and 1600-1300 B.C. in the Swat Valley. Schaffer concludes that “the two urban periods belong to a single cultural tradition, given the stratigraphic and chronological continuities” (Schaffer 1988). So while deurbanization seems to have been in action, there was still cultural continuity.

Conclusions: The Harappan Legacy

Nature probably played the greatest role in deciding the fate of the Indus Valley Civilization. There can be no doubt that course changes of the Hakra and Yamuna left literally hundreds of Harappan sites high and dry. Nor would most dispute that Mohenjo Daro and its environs were engulfed in an annual lake, forcing the Harappans residing there to live like the Venetians and eventually abandon their homes. Likewise, we know that tectonic uplift along the Makran coast landlocked several coastal sites and disrupted maritime trade. These are major, lasting events, not just isolated disasters without long distance and long term ramifications.

While there also was a gradual abandonment of the major urban centers of some parts of the Indus Valley, and a dramatic increase in the peopling of the the areas east of the Indus Valley, it is impossible at this time to evaluate any possible connection between these phenomena. In fact, “while urban centers may have ceased to exist in Sind, it is impossible to assert that this was the situation for the entire area covered by the Harappan Culture during this phase. Certainly, until some of the large Medieval and Early Historic sites which also have associated Late Harappan ceramics are excavated, and the extent of the Late Harappan settlement determined, it is inappropriate to conclude that urban centers were absent during the Late Harappan period” (Schaffer 1982: 49). Schaffer also correctly notes that “such subjective evaluations as ‘decline’ and ‘degenerate’ are unwarranted until a fuller archaeological record is available for examination. Cultural
changes distinguish the Late from the Mature Harappan Phase, but the exact nature of these changes and the processes responsible for them are at present unknown” (1982: 49).

The cultural process of the Late Harappan period remains as enigmatic as many other aspects of the Indus civilization, yet a few clues do imply that the Harappan peoples did not simply vanish, nor just relocate to India to be swept into a huge gene and culture pool encompassing the subcontinent. For example, in the region today there is continuing usage of many Harappan motifs on pottery, bullock carts identical to those depicted by Harappan ‘toy carts’, and mud brick platforms in domestic locations.

Beyond these physical clues, many, including myself, believe that “in economic and social relations, in religious beliefs and ideology, an important part of the Harappan legacy is likely to be most strongly evident in later Indian culture.” (Allchin and Allchin 1982: 329). In other words, physical evidence of the Harappan legacy is difficult to pinpoint, but the more intangible aspects of the Harappan culture are more than likely to be with us today.

Fairservis (1979: 302) put it best when he said that “the answer to the question as to why the Harappan Civilization fell is that it didn’t fall at all! It simply stood at the beginning of the mainstream of Indian culture and faded into that current, having brought to it acts of faith, class morality, aspects of technology, and perhaps a cosmology which heralded the eventual supreme achievement that was medieval India” (and modern India and Pakistan, I’d add).

“If you seek a legacy, look about you,” the Allchins rightly noted (Allchin and Allchin 1982: 333).

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