Harappa (Pakistan) - Capital City of the Ancient Indus Civilization

Capital of the Indus Civilization

Harappa, Pakistan of the Indus Valley civilization
Harappa, Pakistan of the Indus Valley civilizations: View of brick and rammed earth homes and streets. Atif Gulzar

Harappa is a large capital of the Indus Civilization, and one of the best-known sites in Pakistan, located on the bank of the Ravi River in central Punjab Province. At the height of the Indus civilization, between 2600-1900 BC, Harappa was one of a handful of central places for thousands of cities and towns covering a million square kilometers (about 385,000 square miles) of territory in South Asia.

Other central places include Mohenjo-daro, Rakhigarhi, and Dholavira, all over 100 hectares (250 acres) at their height.

Harappa was occupied between about 3800 and 1500 BC: and, in fact, the modern city of Harappa is built atop some of its ruins. At its height, it covered an area of at least 100 ha (250 ac) and may have been about twice that, given that much of the site has been buried by the alluvial floods of the Ravi river. Intact structural remains include those of a citadel, a massive monumental building once called the granary, and at least three cemeteries. Much of the adobe bricks of significant architectural remains were robbed in antiquity.


  • Period 5: Late Harappa Phase, "Localization phase", 1900-1300 BC
  • Period 4: Transitional to Late Harappa, 1900-1800 BC
  • Period 3: Harappa Phase ("Mature" Harappa or "Integration era", major urban center of 150 ha and between 60,000-80,000 people), 2600-1900 BC
  • Period 3C: Harappa Phase C, 2200-1900 BC
  • Period 3B: Harappa Phase B, 2450-2200 BC
  • Period 3A: Harappa Phase A, 2600-2450 BC
  • Period 2: Kot Diji Phase (Early Harappan, incipient urbanization, ca 25 hectares), 2800-2600 BC
  • Period 1: Ravi aspect of the Hakra phase, 3800-2800 BC

The earliest Indus phase occupation at Harappa is called the Ravi phase, now recognized as having begun at least as early as 3800 BC.

In its earliest phases, Harappa was a small settlement characterized by a collection of workshops, where craft specialists made agate beads.

During the Kot Diji phase (2800-2500 BC), the Harappans used standardized sun-baked bricks to build city walls and domestic architecture. The settlement was laid out along gridded streets tracing the cardinal directions and wheeled bullock carts were used for transport of heavy commodities into Harappa. The first evidence for social, economic and political ranking is also in evidence in the cemeteries.

Also during the Kot Diji phase is the first evidence for writing in the region (a piece of pottery with a possible early Indus script); and commerce (a cubical limestone weight that conforms to the later Harappan weight system). Square stamp seals were used to stamp clay sealings on bundles of goods. These technologies likely reflect some sort of interaction with Mesopotamia. Long carnelian beads found at the Mesopotamian capital city of Ur were made either in the Indus region or craftsmen living in Mesopotamia using Indus raw materials and technology.

Mature Harappan Phase

During the Mature Harappan phase (or Integration Era) [2600-1900 BC], Harappa may have directly controlled the communities surrounding their city walls, but unlike in Mesopotamia, there is no evidence for hereditary monarchies.

The city was ruled by influential elites, who were likely merchants, landowners, and religious leaders.

Four major mounds (AB, E, ET and F) used during the Integration period represent combined sun-dried mudbrick and baked brick buildings. Baked brick is first used in quantity during this phase, especially in walls and floors exposed to water. Architecture from this period includes multiple walled sectors, gateways, drains, wells, and fired brick buildings.

Also during the Harappa phase, a faience and steatite bead production workshop blossomed, identified by several layers of 'faience slag', chert blades, lumps of sawn steatite, bone tools, terracotta cakes and large masses of vitrified faience slag. Also discovered in the workshop were abundant broken and complete tablets and beads, many with incised scripts.

During the Localization period, all of the major cities including Harappa began to lose their power. This was likely a result of shifting river patterns that made the abandonment of many cities necessary. People migrated out of the cities on the river banks and up into the higher reaches of the Indus, Gujarat and Ganga-Yamuna valleys.

Society and Economy

Harappan food economy was based on a combination of agriculture, pastoralism and fishing and hunting. Harappans farmed domesticated wheat and barley, pulses and millets, sesame, peas and other vegetables. Animal husbandry included humped (Bos indicus) and non-humped (Bos bubalis) cattle and, to a lesser degree, sheep and goats. The people hunted elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo, elk, deer, antelope and wild ass.

Trade for raw materials began as early as the Ravi phase, including marine resources, wood, stone and metal from the coastal regions, as well as neighboring regions in Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the Himalayas. Trade networks and migration of people into and out of Harappa were established by then as well, but the city truly became cosmopolitan during the Integration era.

Unlike Mespotamia's royal burials there are no huge monuments or obvious rulers in any of the burials, although there is some evidence for some differential elite access to luxury goods. Evidence for violent injury also appears to have been a fact of life for some of the city's residents, but not all: Robbins Schrug et al. ascribe this to exclusion, that there was a specific faction in the city that had less access to elite goods and a higher risk for violence.

Archaeology at Harappa

Harappa was discovered in 1826 and first excavated in 1920 and 1921 by the Archaeological Survey of India, led by Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, as described later by M.S. Vats. Over 25 field seasons have occurred since the first excavations. Other archaeologists associated with Harappa include Mortimer Wheeler, George Dales, Richard Meadow, and J. Mark Kenoyer.


An excellent source for information about Harappa (with lots of photographs) comes from the highly recommended Harappa.com website.

Clark SR. 2009. Material Matters: Representation and Materiality of the Harappan Body. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 16:231–261.

Cork E. 2005. Peaceful Harappans? Reviewing the evidence for the absence of warfare in the Indus Civilisation of north-west India and Pakistan (c. 2500-1900 BC). Antiquity 79(304):411-423.

Dar RS. 2003. Nari: The first Early Indus Valley Site discovered between the Salt Range and the River Jhelum. Journal of Asian Civilization 26(2):1-65.

Kenoyer JM. 2001. Bead Technologies At Harappa, 3300-1900 BC: A comparative summary. In: Jarrige C, and Lefevre V, editors. South Asian Archaeology. Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations.

Kenoyer JM. 2008. ASIA, SOUTH-- Indus Civilization. In: Pearsall DM, editor. Encyclopedia of Archaeology. New York: Academic Press. p 715-733.

Kenoyer JM, Price TD, and Burton JH. 2013. A new approach to tracking connections between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia: initial results of strontium isotope analyses from Harappa and Ur. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(5):2286-2297.

Khan A, and Lemmen C. 2013. Bricks and urbanism in the Indus Valley rise and decline. History and Philosophy of Physics (physicshist-ph) arXiv:1303.1426v1.

Lovell NC. 2014. Additional data on trauma at Harappa. International Journal of Paleopathology 6:1-4.

Meadow RH, and Kenoyer JM. 2005. Excavations At Harappa 2000-2001: New Insights On Chronology and City Organization. In: Jarrige C, and Lefebre V, editors. South Asian Archaeology. Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations. p 207-225.

Possehl GL. 1997. The transformation of the Indus civilization. Journal of World Prehistory 11(4):425-472.

Reddy SN. 1997. If the threshing floor could talk: Integration of agriculture and pastorlism during the Late Harappan in Gujarat, India. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 16:162-187.

Robbins Schug G, Gray K, Mushrif-Tripathy V, and Sankhyan AR. 2012. A peaceful realm? Trauma and social differentiation at Harappa. International Journal of Paleopathology 2(2–3):136-147.

Wright RP, Bryson RA, and Schuldenrein J. 2008. Water supply and history: Harappa and the Beas regional survey. Antiquity 82:37–48.