Water Supply and History: Harappa and the Beas Regional Survey

Article excerpt


The Indus (or Harappan) culture is one of the world's great riverine civilisations. Its highest density of population settled along two major river systems, the Indus and the Ghaggar-Hakra. The Indus, one of the great rivers of Asia, originates in the Himalayas and flows at present through a vast dry zone before emptying into the Arabian Sea. Its fertile floodplains have sustained populations in this region for millennia. At its upper reaches the Indus system consists of the Indus and five other rivers, the Jhelum, the Chenab, the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej. These drainages converge near the modern city of Multan forming the trunk stream of the Lower Indus. The Ghaggar-Hakra is to the east on the border between Pakistan and India. Though the Ghaggar-Hakra was once dynamic, it ceased to supply water to this region at some time in the past.

The focus of this paper is on the history of the river and its interaction with the local climate and their impacts on agricultural systems in the Upper Indus. Specifically, the study addresses the environmental conditions under which settlement and agriculture developed in the Upper Indus, in the area of the city of Harappa and along the nearby Beas river, where 18 Indus settlements have been discovered (Wright et al. 2002; 2005a; 2005b). We introduce a new, powerful tool for exploring the climatic environment of ancient cultures called Archaeoclimatology, a high-resolution, site-specific climate model applicable almost anywhere.


Background to settlement of the Upper Indus

The earliest evidence for settlement of the Upper Indus dates to 3300 BC when a small village developed at Harappa (the Ravi/Hakra phase). Along the Beas, three of its 18 settlements (Figure 1) were assigned to this early period (sites labelled 4, 8 and one in the settlement complex 15-18). In the following Early Harappan (2800-2600 BC), Harappa grew into a small town while 11 new sites were founded along the Beas. The three Ravi/Hakra sites continued to be occupied. In addition, there are new settlements (labelled 1, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and three at 15-18). By 2600 BC (Mature, Urban Harappan) Harappa had grown to a major city (approximately 150ha) and the Beas settlements numbered 18, one of which was 14ha, four were between 5-10ha and the others were <5ha. Beginning at approximately 1900 BC, there were signs of deterioration in Harappa's infrastructure, although it was not abandoned until possibly as late as 1300 BC. By then, only four Beas sites (2/3, 6, 7 and 8) were sustained, but they were vastly diminished in size and eventually abandoned.

The Harappan economy was based upon agriculture, pastoralism and craft production. Its major crops included cereal grasses, predominantly wheat and barley, as well as millets, peas, lentils, linseed, possibly cotton, dates, jujube and grapes. The diversity of crops present during the earliest occupations at Harappa indicates that the local population developed a multi-cropping system. Wheat and barley were grown in the winter months and millets, a drought resistant crop, and some fruits and cotton in the summer. By 2600 BC an increasing proportion of cultivated plants were made up of the summer crops, although wheat and barley continued to be 'the mainstays of the agricultural system' (Weber 2003: 180; see also Fuller & Madella 2002; Madella & Fuller 2006). The animals exploited were predominantly domesticated sheep, goat and cattle. Signatures on animal bone indicate that zebu cattle were kept for meat as well as for ploughing (Miller 2003). Water buffalo are depicted on seals and are present in small quantities in the faunal assemblages at Harappa, but there is no secure evidence for their domestication there (Patel & Meadow 1998). Beas settlements extended the ecological niche by providing agricultural and pastoral resources. Craft products included objects produced from plant and animal fibres, as well as stone and clay. …