Harappan Civilization: Discovery and Naming

1. In 1826 an English man Charles Masson visited a village named Harappa in Western Punjab (now in Pakistan). He noted the remarkably high walls, and towers of a very old settlement. He believed that this city belonged to the times of Alexander the Great.

Harappan craft

2. In 1872, a famous archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham came to this place. The people of the surrounding areas told him that the high mounds of Harappa were parts of a thousand year old city. It had been ruined because of the wickedness of its king. Cunningham collected some archaeological objects from this site but he could not determine to which period of history they really belonged. He simply believed that these objects were probably from outside India, Thus, he concurred with the opinion of the people of the village that the city was about a thousand years old.

3. In 1886 AD, M. L. Dames also published a report about the Harappan seals. In 1912 AD, J.F. Fleet published a report about the findings from Harappa and its surroundings in the journal of Royal Asiatic Society. But Cunningham and Fleet failed to perceive the true antiquity of the material remains. They believed that the remains belonged to some historical period.

4. Under the guidance of Sir John Marshal, the Director General of Archaeology excavations was carried out at various places during the second decade of 20th century.

5. In 1922 AD, Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni discovered some seals, painted pottery and terracotta figurines from Harappa.

6. In 1923 AD, R.D. Banerjee also discovered one seal from Mohanjodaro. On further digging he discovered some more seals. Till now such kind of seals had been discovered only at Harappa.

7. However, in 1924, when another archaeologist John Marshall reported about Harappa he talked about the discovery of a long forgotten civilization. This civilization was as old as the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Then an archaeologist came and informed us that the city was about five thousand, years old.

8. In 1946 AD, R.E. Mortimer Wheeler carried extensive excavations at Harappa and discovered various articles.

9. G.F. Dales bored 11.70 meter deep hole at Mohenjodaro in 1966 AD and brought to light seven successive layers of habitation. This explained that this was destroyed no less than seven times and rebuild at the same site.

10. Amla Nand Ghosh discovered Sothi culture in Bikaner region of Rajasthan in 1953


1. Beginning with the discovery of Harappa, nearly thousand settlements having similar traits, have been discovered. Scholars named it the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’ because initially most of the settlements were discovered in the plains of the river Indus and its tributaries. Archaeologists however prefer, to call it the ‘Harappan Civilization’.

2. This is because in archaeology there is a convention that when an ancient culture is described, it is named after the modem name of the site which first revealed the existence of this culture. We do not know what those people called themselves because we have not been able to read their writing.

3. Thus, we call them Harappans after the modern place Harappa where the evidence of this forgotten civilization was first unearthed in our times.

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