How is Harappa different from the Mesopotamian civilization

archeology : Indus culture - the underrated civilization

It is a mixture of sadness and anger with which the Berlin archaeologist Ute Franke describes the current state of research on the Indus culture in Pakistan. “Not very good,” she says. “It is starving.” The Indus culture, which is also called the Harappa culture after one of its outstanding sites, is only comparable with ancient Egypt and the early advanced cultures in Mesopotamia.

The people built magnificent cities with stately buildings, baths and elaborately designed canals in the more than a thousand kilometers long river valley of the Indus. In addition to Harappa between 2600 BC. BC and 1800 BC BC Mohenjo Daro was one of the centers of the Indus culture. Up to 30,000 people lived in the city. The ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Little support for pre-Islamic heritage research

However, the research situation in no way does justice to the importance of the Bronze Age high culture. Many scientists feel uncomfortable working in Pakistan. In addition to the country's political instability, there are repeated attacks by Islamist terrorists with many deaths. It is therefore not always easy to convey that it is worthwhile to research the politically and religiously neutral, but nevertheless scientifically and culturally relevant pre-Islamic heritage of Pakistan - in Pakistan as well as in Germany.

It is now very complicated to get permits for archaeological projects, says Ute Franke, deputy director at the Museum for Islamic Art of the State Museums in Berlin. Since a few years ago the responsibility of the archaeological agency in the capital Islamabad for the excavation projects was divided among the institutions of the provinces, each province has its own interests. That increases the effort enormously.

In addition, there is a widespread public ignorance about the Indus culture, which makes it difficult to organize international money for archaeological projects in the country. That is why the retired architecture professor and recognized expert on Indus culture, Michael Jansen from the Technical University of Aachen, said at a conference in Mohenjo Daro in February of this year: “Everyone knows Egypt, and hardly anyone knows Mohenjo Daro. That needs to change."

In Germany in particular, the Indus culture is hardly known

Franke also regrets that research into the Indus culture is not a core topic of archeology. Especially in Germany she is unknown to many. The expert in archeology of the Near and Middle East has been researching the region since the early 1980s. Most recently, in 2015, she curated an exhibition with 100 exhibits from several robbery excavations in the western region of Balochistan in the Pakistani metropolis of Karachi on the mouth of the Indus.

The pieces came from a pool of slightly more than 800 objects that the Pakistani police had found in a container in the port of Karachi in 2005: cups, bowls, bowls, pots and jugs in various shapes. They were painted with filigree, sometimes monochrome, sometimes multi-colored geometric patterns, suns and swirl-shaped motifs, as well as depictions of poplar fig leaves, fish, ducks and ibexes, as well as griffins with birds of prey, cat bodies, wings and hooves.

Robbery excavations and research gaps

The context of the finds - i.e. the original position of the objects in the ground from which the archaeologists draw important findings - could no longer be reconstructed. But the objects were in astonishingly good condition. They wanted to get rid of the country through Karachi. With her team, Franke documented, restored and cataloged the finds for a period of two years.

Many of the objects can be assigned to the forerunners of the Indus culture and extended back to the 4th millennium BC. Some, however, clearly came from the Indus culture - for example, elaborately made vases on which bulls with massive necks are depicted. Apparently the animal had a special meaning for humans. Some of the ceramics probably had ritual purposes.

On the one hand, the exhibition in Karachi showed the danger to the archaeological remains from robbery excavations. On the other hand, it revealed that research into the Indus culture still has many gaps. Not only the rituals of the Indus culture are unknown. A central question is what purpose the so typical, a few centimeters large seals made of soapstone, limestone, clay, calcite and marble, but also made of silver, which were found in almost every major settlement of the Indus culture, served. Bulls are also often depicted on them. And what do the characters on the seals mean?

The writing has not yet been deciphered

The writing has not yet been deciphered and the language is unknown, says Franke. In general, apart from mostly short texts on the Indus culture and a few mentions under the name "Meluhha" in Mesopotamian cuneiform texts, there are hardly legible sources. This makes research and deciphering the script extremely difficult.

Another mystery are the large buildings in the cities of the Indus Valley, in which researchers keep digging up jewelry as well as valuable metals and gemstones. Nevertheless, no concrete information can be found as to whether they are magnificent buildings, temples or large graves. Why did people migrate from the 29th century BC? BC down from the plateaus and mountains into the Indus valley at all? Why did the villages develop into large cities and a highly complex society at all? How did they disappear from around 1800 BC? Chr.?

What is pretty well known is that many of the Indus people were rich. Their prosperity was remarkable, among other things, because they found no special raw materials in their immediate vicinity to secure it. There was no gold or other valuable metals or precious stones in the region. The copper so important for the Bronze Age was mined in the distant mountains in the west of today's Pakistan on the border with Iran as well as in Oman and India.

A highly developed export-driven society in the Bronze Age

All that people had at their disposal was the ability to organize and manufacture things efficiently and well. The highly developed sewer systems in the cities are evidence of this. Mohenjo Daro had an extensive sewage system that many scientists describe as more advanced than that in many small villages in today's Pakistan.

The people from the Indus valley produced coveted trade goods. Apparently, this was one of the ways in which they secured their wealth. The culture was known far beyond the borders of its empire, especially for its carnelian jewelry. During their work between 1926 and 1931, British archaeologists even found a carnelian-studded jewel in the grave of a Sumerian queen in Ur, Mesopotamia, which was ascribed to the Indus culture. The archaeologists dated the find to 2400 BC. Chr.

The Indus culture could perhaps be seen as a kind of export-driven society in the thoroughly “globalized” economic cycle of the Bronze Age. At least it was with her that direct sea trade began in the region as far as Mesopotamia, says Franke. The inhabitants of the Indus Valley maintained a network of trade relationships that extended to what is now Iran and Iraq, Central Asia, India and the Arabian Peninsula.

The greatest culture in the third millennium BC

In addition, they founded colonies - for example in Ras al Hadd or Salut in the east of today's Oman. In Dholavira and Lothal in the northwest of today's India, settlements of the Indus culture developed. "In terms of area, the Indus culture is the largest culture in the third millennium BC," says Franke. But how exactly did the communication between the individual parts of the area work, which made the development into a uniform cultural phenomenon possible? The list of questions about Indus culture is long. And the research situation is difficult.

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