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The Indus Civilization – Myth And Reality

C. Gopinath

The Indus Civilization – Myth and Reality
Harvard Outreach Lecture Series
On 14 February 2010, Dr. Richard Meadow, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, spoke on the Indus civilization in the Science Center at Harvard University, Cambridge.
Dr. Meadow’s talk was illustrated by a series of images gathered in the process of archaeological explorations which he had conducted since 1970. He used maps to show that the Indus Civilization extended over an estimated one million square kilometers. It extended to the east near Delhi, to the south in the Kathiawar peninsula and to the west near Iran. Radio carbon dating, combined with archaeological evidence, suggests that it flourished between 2600 B and 1900 BC. The culture was impacted by both exogenous and indigenous forces.
Dr. Meadow pointed out that there has been much less research on the Indus civilization than on other major civilizations and that the surviving texts cannot be read or interpreted. Most of what we know about the civilization dates from the final 200 years or so of its existence, since the evidence available for study has mostly come from the more easily excavated levels close to the surface of the sites.
The speaker focused on a limited number of sites to illustrate his observations. These included: Rakhigarhi, Harappa, Dholavira, Lothal and Kalibangan. A modern town surmounts the ancient layers of civilization at Harappa, while other sites are not inhabited. The way of life at these various sites was partly the same, partly different. Important differences, for instance, can be seen in construction materials and in the sources of water... Harappa used mud bricks and took its water from a lake. Mohen jo daro, by contrast, used baked bricks and relied chiefly on wells. Dholavira used cut stone and harvested rain water, storing it in huge reservoirs. Similarities are evident in such other as geographical orientation, municipal layout, attention to water and drainage. Thus, Dr, Meadow observed, there was unity in diversity and diversity in unity.
The speaker used information gleaned from grave sites, inscriptions, figurines, ceramics, and ornamentation to suggest that the Indus society possessed fairly sophisticated technology, especially in its use of metals. They also had extensive, but little-understood, trading relations with neighboring regions.
The Indus script has yet to be deciphered, since we have no Rosetta stone to help us, and no known individual inscription contains more than 17 distinct characters. Scholars are even debating whether it was a script or a symbolizing system.
Dr. Meadow’s presentation prompted an enthusiastic response and several questions from the audience. When asked, in the following Q&A session, whether the Indus civilization was an egalitarian society, he replied that evidence that people had differential access to materials suggests that there were levels in the society. Asked about changes in burial practices, he pointed to marked changes that are evident towards the end of the Indus period: sites shrank, some were abandoned, and we still do not have a full explanation for these events. Regarding the use of tools and implements, he suggested that Copper hardened with Arsenic was possibly the metal in practice.   It appears that a limited supply of metals was recycled over time.  Most of the digging was possibly done with wooden implements.
Dr. Meadow’s talk was the fourth in the Outreach Lectures of the Harvard Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies for the academic year 2009-2010. In his welcome to the audience, Prof. Bijoy Misra, Convener of the Outreach Committee, recalled that the Outreach lectures, which began in Jan 1995, were established to serve as a bridge between the Sanskrit Department and the larger Harvard and greater Boston community. Over the years the lectures have covered several aspects of Indian studies, including culture, arts, history, religion, architecture, philosophy, languages and literature. Beginning this academic year, a new series of events was focusing on the theme of ‘Indian Society through the Ages.’

The next event in this series will be on:

"Origins, Contents and the Dating of the Vedas"
Dr. Michael Witzel
Professor of Sanskrit, Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies
Harvard University
on 14 March, 3-5 pm, Hall A, Science Center, Harvard University

The four Vedas are the earliest literary evidence from South Asia, following upon the archaeological data of the Indus civilization. As religious texts, they contain the poetry used, and the discussion of actions performed in the solemn rituals. Nevertheless, their language, poetic form and content allow to draw a number of conclusions about the origin and local development of their hieratic language, complex poetics, archaic religion and involved rituals.  The lecture will discuss the recent academic research on these topics.

Speaker bio:
Dr. Witzel is the Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University
and is the eminent scholar of the vedic studies.

URL: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~sanskrit/outreach.html
Tel: 617-495-3295, 617-864-5121

(Feature sponsored by S4, Inc. )

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