Indus Valley Civilization: characteristics and significance, art and architecture- Part I

Indus Valley Civilization: characteristics and significance, art and architecture- Part I

The Harappan People

  • We get some idea of the size of population that lived in any of the Harappan cities from the studies conducted.
    • Scholars believe that the largest Harappan city i.e. Mohenjodaro had a population of about 35,000.
  • What did the Harappan people look like? What sorts of clothes and ornaments did they wear? How did they relax and have fun? Terracotta, stone, and bronze sculptures, skeletal remains help answer such questions.
  • The human terracottas can be divided into female and male figurines, those whose sex is not clear, a few that have both female and male attributes (e.g., a figurine from Harappa which has breasts and a beard), and a few males in feminine dress.
  • Clothes:
    • Women:
      • Going by the figurines, Harappan women wore a short skirt made of cotton or wool.
    • Men:
      • Male figurines are usually bare headed, though some are turbaned. Most of them are nude, so it is difficult to say what sort of clothes men wore.
      • Certain stone sculptures suggest the use of a dhoti-like lower garment and an upper garment consisting of a shawl or cloak worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm.
      • The other dress was a kilt and a shirt worn by both men and women.
    • They used cotton clothes also that in one sculpture the cloth was shown as having trefoil pattern and red colours.
  • Hairstyle:
    • Women:
      • They wore their hair variously in braids, rolled into a bun at the back or side of the head, arranged in separate locks or ringlets, and wrapped around the head like a turban.
      • What looks like a fan-shaped headdress could actually represent hair stretched over a frame made of bamboo or some other material.
      • At Harappa, it is supplemented by flowers or flower-shaped ornaments. Such hairstyles or headdresses could indicate women of distinction or deities.
    • Men:
      • There are various hairstyles—braids, buns, and hair hanging loose.
      • Most of the male figurines have beards, in styles ranging from the ‘goatee’ to the more common combed and spreadout style as in the case of the ‘priest-king’.
    • Men and women alike had long hair.
  • Ornaments:
    • Female figurines wear ornaments such as necklaces, chokers, hair ornaments, bangles, belts, ornaments on their waist. Beautiful jewellery have been found at many Harappan sites.
    • The men used many more ornaments than the modern Indians.
      • They would be wearing ring, bracelets and ornaments round their neck and hands.
      • Growing beard was fashionable but they would shave their moustaches.
    • There is some degree of overlap in male and female hairstyles and ornaments, but also some differences.
      • For instance, men and women both wear bangles and necklaces, but men rarely wear multi-strand necklaces made of graduated beads.

Terracotta toys

  • Terracotta toys of various kinds have been found at Harappan sites. They include balls, rattles, whistles, gamesmen, carts with moveable parts, and animals on wheels. There are spinning tops made of terracotta and shell.
  • Clay marbles have been found in courtyards of houses.
  • Miniature terracotta cooking vessels, beds, and other toy furniture have been found, with which children must have played house.
  • There are figurines of children playing with toys.
  • Lots of terracotta figurines of dogs have been found at Harappan sites, some with collars, suggesting that people kept dogs as pets.
  • Some of the terracotta figurines of people and animals have a comic appearance, reflecting a sense of humour.

Terracotta figurines of women

  • While some of the female figurines found at Harappan sites may represent goddesses, many seem to represent ordinary women.
  • Although such worship of female deities reflects the ability to visualize divinity in feminine form, it does not necessarily translate into power or a high social position for ordinary women.
  • Terracotta figurines of women at work are few.
    • Figurines depicting women grinding or kneading something have been found at Nausharo, Harappa, and Mohenjodaro, suggesting the association of women with food-processing activities.
  • Some of the fat female terracotta figurines may represent pregnant women.
    • Harappa have yielded a burial with a woman and baby, perhaps a case of death in childbirth.
    • Some female figurines found at Harappan sites carry a suckling infant on the left hip; others show women carrying infants close to their breast.
    • An unusual terracotta figurine found at Nausharo shows a male with feminine headdress holding an infant.
    • Tiny terracotta figurines of small children have been found at most sites.

Heterogeneity of Harappan people

  • Early studies of Harappan skeletons focused on classifying the Harappans into racial types.
    • More recent studies have abandoned the old, rather arbitrary racial classifications.
  • Kenneth A. R. Kennedy’s study of skeletons found at Harappan sites shows biological heterogeneity between the different regions, and similarity with the people who live in these areas today.
    • This means that the Harappans of Punjab resembled the present-day Punjabis in appearance, while the Harappans of Sindh resembled the modern inhabitants of Sindh.
    • Kennedy also identified the incidence of malaria among the Harappans.

Structure of Harappan society

  • The absence of deciphered written evidence is a major handicap, and inferences have to be made very carefully on the basis of archaeological data.
  • The people who lived within the Harappan culture zone comprised villagers and city folk.
  • Harappan society included occupational groups such as farmers, herders, hunter-gatherers, craftspeople, fisherfolk, merchants, sailors, rulers, administrative officials, ritual specialists, architects, carpenters, brick masons, well diggers, boat makers, sailors, sculptors, shopkeepers, sweepers, garbage collectors, and so on.
  • Some farmers may have lived in the cities and tilled their fields nearby.
  • Terracotta net sinkers and arrow points found at Mohenjodaro and Harappa suggest that the city population included hunters and fisher-folk.
  • The level of social differentiation may not have been as great as in Mesopotamia and Egypt, but differences in house sizes and the hoards of jewellery do indicate a concentration of wealth and differences in social and economic status.
    • The affluent social groups would have comprised rulers, land owners, and merchants.
    • Class and rank differences based on occupation, wealth, and status must have existed.
    • However, claims that the caste system existed in Harappan society are highly speculative.

Food Habits

  • Harappans of Sind and Punjab ate wheat and barley as their staple food. Those who stayed in towns of Rajasthan had to be content with barley only.
  • The Harappans of Gujarat in places like Rangpur and Surkotdla preferred rice and millet.
  • They got their supply of fat and oil from sesame seeds, mustard and possibly Ghee.
  • They might have used honey to sweeten their food.
  • Seeds of jujube and dates bund in the Harappan sites indicate their preference for these fruits.
  • It is likely that they also ate bananas, pomegranates, melons, lemons, figs and of course mangoes.
  • They  seem to have consumed a whole range of wild nuts and fruits. They were eating peas too.
  • Apart from this the Harappans seem to have relished non-vegetarian food. Bones of deer, bears, sheep and goats have been frequently found in the Harappan settlements.
  • Fish, milk and curd too would be known to them.
  • However, they had neither tea nor potato-chips.


  • Did they play and did they fight? We know that they played dice. But beyond that we again draw a blank. They did fight-and there is enough evidence for it-possibly because the archeologists who were digging up various Harappan sites were looking for evidences of war and not of sport.
  • One important indicator of course is that at the time of the emergence of the Harappan Civilization many ‘Early Harappan’ sites like Kot Diji and Kalibangan were burnt down.
    • However an accidental fire could destroy large towns, but it is more likely that some of the settlements were burnt down by victorious human groups.
  • Then there is the evidence of some skeletons lying scattered in the streets of Mohenjodaro.
    • Human societies from times immemorial have disposed off the bodies of their dead in some ordered fashion.
    • It is natural that the Harappans would not leave their dead to rot in the streets.
    • So obviously some extraordinary conflict is indicated when the Harappans did not get an opportunity to bury their dead.
  • The presence of citadels and fortification around many Harappan towns also indicates a need for protection against outsiders.
  • Some of the protection walls might have been bunds for protection against floods. But given the opulence of the Harappan townships in contrast to the surrounding rural communities it is likely that the Harappans wanted to protect their wealth and life by fortifying their settlements.
  • Some copper and bronze weapons have also been reported.

Arts and Crafts

  • In pre-modern societies it is difficult to separate arts and crafts.
  • Groups of potters, copper and bronze workers, stone workers, builders of houses, brick makers and seal-cutters must have lived in Harappan towns.
  • Earlier writings tended to contrast the plainness of Harappan artefacts with the opulence of their Egyptian and Mesopotamian counterparts.
    • Nowadays, the technological sophistication and beauty of some of the Harappan artefacts are recognized.
  • There is a great variety of standardized, mass produced craft items at Harappan sites.
    • While some sites specialized in the production of a single or a few items, others such as Harappa manufactured a wide range of goods.
    • Craft activity was often localized in a certain part of the settlement.
  • Various sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry, and anatomically detailed figurines in terracotta, bronze, and steatite have been found at excavation sites.
  • What is striking about the wide distribution of craft production is that, in a number of cases, manufacture depended on raw materials that were not locally available.
    • At Mohenjodaro, shell artifacts were manufactured from the marine mollusc found along the Sind and Baluchistan coast.
    • Similarly, there is evidence of manufacture of copper based craft items at Harappa ranging from furnaces to slag and unfinished objects, even though the city was located in a minerally poor area.
  • Other striking features of the Indus craft traditions is that they are not region-specific.
    • Shell objects were manufactured at Nagwada and Nageshwar in Gujarat and at Chanhundaro and Mohenjodaro in Sind.
    • Similarly, metal artefacts were produced at Lothal in Gujarat, at Harappa in the Bari doab of Punjab and at Allahadino and Mohenjodaro in Sind.
  • Some of the crafted objects are quintessentially Indus, in the sense that they are neither found prior to the advent of the urban civilization nor after its collapse. Indus seals for example, are rarely found in the late Harappan and post-Harappan contexts.
  • While craft objects were manufactured at many places, the manufacturing technology could be surprisingly standardized.
    • In the case of shell bangles, at practically all sites they had a uniform width and they were almost everywhere sawn by a saw that had a blade thickness of between 0.4 mm and 0.6 mm.
    • The Harappan crafts display an impressive level of standardization.
      • Kenoyer has suggested that state control may have been responsible for the high level of standardization in crafts that were considered to have a value in maintaining the socioeconomic or ritual order and which used non-local raw materials and highly complex technologies (e.g., the making of seals, stoneware bangles, and stone weights).
    • Leaving aside pottery and bricks, crafts using local materials and simple technologies tend to show greater variation.
    • What is the explanation of the high level of standardization in crafts such as pottery-making and brick making? Does it imply centralized control by merchants or rulers?
      • Some element of central direction is suggested, but its nature and degree are far from certain.
        • If not direct, it may have taken the indirect form of facilitating or controlling the flow of at least some of the raw materials and finished goods.
      • On the other hand, the level of standardization could also indicate the fanning out of hereditary craft specialists over large areas, or a well-developed network of internal trade.
      • It is possible that craftsmen and traders may have been organized in corporate groups similar to guilds, but there is no proof of this.

Tools and Implements:

  • The tools and implements used by the Harappans also show uniformity in designs and in technique of production.
  • They were using tools made of copper, bronze and stone.
  • The basic tools types were flat axe, chisels, knives, spear heads and arrowheads for the copper and bronze implements.
  • In the later stages of the Civilization they were also using daggers, knives and flat tangs.
  • They were familiar with the techniques of casting bronze and copper.
  • Stone tools were also in common use.
    • They were produced on a large scale in factory sites like Sukkur in Sind and then sent to various urban centres. Only this could explain the uniformity in the tool types.
    • Unlike the ‘Early Harappan’ period when there were various tool making traditions the ‘Mature Harappans’ concentrated on making long regular blades. They indicate a high level of competence and specialisation with little or no concern for beauty and innovation.


  • The Harappan pottery reflects efficient mass-production.
    • Pottery kilns were found at Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Nausharo, and Chanhudaro.
    • The pots were fired in funnel-shaped up-draft closed kilns, although open-firing kilns may also have been used.
  • Pottery represents the blending of the ceramic traditions of Baluchistan and the cultures east of the Indus system.
  • There is a great variety of pottery, including black-on-red, grey, buff, and black-and-red wares.
  • Most pots were wheel turned.
  • Both fine and coarse fabrics occur and their thickness varies.
  • At the earliest levels of Mohenjodaro, a burnished grey ware with a dark purplish slip and vitreous glaze may represent one of the earliest examples of glazing in the world.
  • Most of Harappan pottery is plain, but a substantial part is also painted, treated with a bright red slip and black painted decoration.
    • The red colour for the slip was made from red ochre (iron oxide, known as geru), while black was made by combining dark reddish-brown iron oxide with black manganese.
    • Polychrome Pottery:
      • Polychrome pottery is rare and mainly comprised small vases decorated with geometric patterns mostly in red, black and green and less frequently in white and yellow.
      • Examples of multicoloured pottery found in Mehrharh.
        • The pottery is decorated with geometric patterns, fish, birds, cows, antelopes, scorpions, fantastic beasts, griffins, etc.
        • However, instead of a whole pipal tree only as a single leaves are depicted.
  • Decorations:
    • The painted decorations consist of horizontal lines of varied thickness, leaf patterns, scales, chequers, lattice work, palm and pipal trees.
    • The decorative patterns range from simple horizontal lines to geometric patterns and pictorial motifs.
      • Geometrical patterns, circles, squares and triangles and figures of animals, birds, snakes or fish are frequent motifs found in Harappan pottery.
      • Animals depicted are humped bulls, pumas, birds, etc. Bulls and pumas symbolized abundance, fecundity and power.
        • Sometimes they are also depicted facing a tree in a scene that may be interpreted as receiving life from a sacred tree of life.
      • Another favourite motive was tree pattern. Plants, trees and pipal leaves are found on pottery.
      • A jar found at Lothal depicts a scene in which two birds are seen perched on a tree each holding a fish in its beak.
      • Human figures are rare and crude.
    • Some of the designs such as fish scales, palm and pipal leaves, and intersecting circles have their roots in the early Harappan phase.
  • In areas like Gujarat and Rajasthan a variety of other kinds of potteries continued to be produced along with the Harappan pottery. Some of the pottery has shown marks of stamp which might indicate that a few varieties of vessels were traded also.
  • Distinctive shapes:
    • Thee dish-on-stand,
    • vase with s-profile,
    • small vessel with knobbed decoration,
    • large slender-footed bowl,
    • cylindrical perforated jar, and
    • goblet with pointed foot.
    • Incised ware is rare and the incised decoration was confined to the bases of the pans.
  • Although there is a certain level of uniformity in pottery styles and techniques across the Harappan culture zone, there are also differences between regions.
  • The functions of the Harappan pots:
    • The large jars may have been used to store grain or water.
    • The more elaborately painted pots may have had a ceremonial use or may have belonged to rich people.
    • Small vessels may have been used as glasses to drink water or other beverages.
    • The function of the perforated jars:
      • One suggestion is that they may have been wrapped in cloth and used for brewing fermented alcoholic beverages.
      • Another possibility is that they may have had a ceremonial or ritualistic use.
    • Shallow bowls probably held cooked food; flattish dishes were used as plates.
    • Cooking pots of various sizes have been found.
      • Most of them have a red- or black-slipped rim and a rounded bottom.
      • The rims of the cooking pots are strong and project outwards to help pick them up or move them around.
  • Some of the forms and features of the pots used by the Harappans can be seen in traditional kitchens even today.
  • Apart from ceramic vessels, the Harappans also made and used metal ones.
Some pots were found with holes punched in the sides. Pots like this may have been used to create fermented drinks like beer



Chanhudaro. Fragment of Large Deep Vessel, circa 2500 B.C.E. Red pottery with red and black slip-painted decoration
Harappan burnished and painted clay ovoid Vase, with round carnelian beads


  • Harappan sites have yielded a profusion of terracottas.
  • There are toy carts with solid wheels.
  • The Harappan craftspersons also made terracotta bangles.
    • Making of hard, high-fired bangles known as stone ware bangles.
    • These were highly burnished red or grey-black and usually had tiny letters written on them.
  • Terracotta masks have been found at Mohenjodaro and Harappa.
  • Terracotta figurines have been found in large numbers from the Harappan settlements.
    • They were used as toys or cult figures.
    • A variety of birds and monkeys, dogs, sheep and cattle are represented in these forms along with humped and humpless bulls.
    • Human figurines include male figurines and more numerous female figurines of various types.


  • Faience is a paste made out of crushed quartz and coloured with various minerals.
  • The Harappans made faience bangles, rings, pendants, miniature vessels, and figurines (including those of monkeys and squirrels).

Stone work:

  • It was another important craft.
  • Stone masonry and fine polished pillars were found at Dholavira.
  • More visible at all Harappan sites were the mass-produced chert blades made by the crested guided ridge technique.
    • Some of these may have been used as knives for domestic use, others as sickles.
  • Harappan stone quarries have been identified in the Rohri hills of Sindh.
    • Some of the stone blades may have been obtained from contemporary hunter-gatherer communities.
  • The fact that stone flakes and cores occur in many houses at Mohenjodaro suggests that at least some of the tools were made by people in their homes.

Copper and bronze objects:

  • Harappans evolved some new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin.
  • The Harappan civilization is marked by a large number of copper objects.
    • Apart from making artefacts out of pure copper, Harappan craftspersons alloyed copper with arsenic, tin, or nickel.
  • Copper and bronze artefacts included vessels, spears, knives, short swords, arrowheads, axes, fishhooks, needles, mirrors, rings, and bangles.
  • The number of pure copper artefacts was far greater than alloyed bronze ones.
    • Usually, tools like knives, axes, and chisels, which needed hardened edges, were alloyed.
    • Alloys increased over time—for instance, at Mohenjodaro, bronze tools increased from the lower to the higher levels.
  • The small proportion of alloyed objects compared to those of pure copper may suggest cultural preference rather than technological backwardness.
  • Sixteen copper furnaces were found at Harappa, and copper workshops were found at Lothal.
    • A large amount of copper oxide was discovered in a brick-lined pit at Mohenjodaro.
  • That metal objects were considered precious is clear from the fact that they were buried in hoards for safekeeping by their owners.
    • One hoard found at Harappa consisted of a large cooking pot with a bronze cover. Inside were several types of copper tools and weapons, including various types of axes, daggers, spearheads, arrowheads, chisels, and a bowl. Some of the objects were unused, others used and worn.
  • Jewellery:
    • Beautifully worked gold and silver jewellery including necklaces, bracelets, brooches, pendants, and earrings have been found at Harappan sites.
    • A hoard of jewellery made of gold, silver, and semi-precious stones was found at the small village site of Allahdino.
    • In Mohenjodaro was also discovered a hoard of jewellery consisting of gold beads, fillets and other ornaments. Small dishes of silver too, have been found.
    • A touchstone bearing gold streaks was found in Banawali, which was probably used for testing the purity of gold.
  • Other metal objects:
    • The Harappans used silver to emboss conch shells and to make vessels.
    • Lead was used to make plumb bobs and in copper casting.
    • It may be noted that two metal objects found at Lothal contain 39.1 per cent and 66.1 per cent iron.
      • The latter can be called an iron object. What this suggests is that the Harappans (at least those of Gujarat) may have had some familiarity with iron smelting.

Sculpture in stone and metal:

  • Apart from utilitarian items made of stone and metal, a few pieces of stone and metal sculpture have been found at Harappan sites. Most of them are small, but they display fine artistic skills and sensibilities.
  • The stone bust (17.78 cm high) of a male figure found at Mohenjodaro, which has been labelled the ‘priest-king’.
    • The face is bearded with the upper lip shaved.
    • The half closed eyes might indicate a state of meditation.
    • Across the left shoulder is a cloak carved in relief with trefoil pattern. Some scholars believe that it is the bust of a priest.
    • Mohenjo-daro_Priesterkönig
      So called “Priest-King” in Mohenjodaro made of soapstone
  • Two fine stone torsos of a male figure (about 10 cm high) were found at Harappa
    • The refined and wonderfully realistic modelling of the fleshy parts is extraordinary.
  • A seated stone ibex or ram (49 × 27 × 21 cm) at Mohenjodaro
  • A stone lizard at Dholavira.
  • The only large piece of sculpture is that of a broken, seated male figure from Dholavira.
  • Two bronze female figurines were found at Mohenjodaro.
    • One of them has become famous as the ‘dancing girl’.
      • The figure is 10.8 cm high and was made by the lost-wax method which is still used in certain parts of India.
      • With head drawn backwards, drooping eyes and the right arm on the hip and the left arm hanging down the figure is in a dancing stance.
      • She is wearing a large number of bangles, and her hair is plaited in an elaborate fashion.
      • It is considered a masterpiece of the Harappan art.
      • 6Dancing_girl
        A bronze statuette dating around 2500 BC “dancing girl of Mohenjo Daro
  • The bronze figurines of a buffalo and a ram have beautifully caught the stance of the animals.
  • The two little toy carts of bronze are also fairly well known objects.
    • Although, one was discovered in Harappa and the other at Chanhudaro, they are identical in design.
  • However, the Harappans do not seem to have used stone or bronze for their artistic creations on a large scale. The findings of such works are rare.


  • Seal making was another important Harappan craft.
    • More than 2000 seals have been found from the Harappan settlements.
  • Most of the seals are square or rectangular.
    • The average size of the square seals is about 2.54 cm, but there are larger ones, a little over 6.35 cm.
  • Some have a perforated boss at the back for handling and suspension.
  • A few cylindrical and round seals have also been found.
  • Most of the seals are made of steatite, but there are a few silver, faience, and calcite ones as well.
    • Two fine silver seals with the unicorn motif were discovered at Mohenjodaro, and some copper and soapstone ones were found at Lothal.
  • To make the stone seals, the stone was sawed and shaped with knives, and then carved, using fine chisels and drills.
    • The seal was coated with an alkali and heated, giving it a white lustrous surface.
  • The designs on the seals include a wide range of animals associated with groups of signs in a semi-pictographic script.
    • Motifs include the elephant, tiger, antelope, crocodile, hare, humped bull, buffalo, rhinoceros, and the one-horned mythical animal referred to as a unicorn.
    • There is often a small feeding trough or stand in front of the animal.
    • There are also composite animals and plants.
    • One recurrent representation of composite animal is that of a face of a man with trunk and tusks of an elephant, the horns of bull, the fore-part of a ram and the hind-quarters of a tiger.
      • These kinds of seals might have been used for religious purpose.
    • Some seals have only scripts carved on them and some others bear human and semi-human forms.
    • The seal of a horned deity sitting in a yoga posture and surrounded by animals has been identified with the god Pashupati.
    • Some seals show the use of various kinds of geometric patterns.
  • Most of the seals have a short inscription. Some rectangular seals have writing, but no motif.
  • Seals could have also been used for exchange of goods between distant cities.
Indus Unicorn Seal
Swastika seals of Indus Valley Civilisation 
humped bul
Humped Bull, Harappa

Bead making:

  • The Harappans used remarkably beautiful beads made of such precious and semi-precious stones such as agate, turquoise, carnelian and steatite.
  • In settlements like Mohenjodaro, Chanhudaro and Lothal a fairly large number of Harappans were engaged in this work.
    • Bead making factories with tools, furnaces, and beads in various stages of preparation have been found at Chanhudaro and Lothal.
    • At Bagasra in Gujarat, there is evidence of the production of artefacts of shell, faience, and beads of semi-precious stones. Clay-lined silos were used to store semi-precious stones.
    • The bead-making tradition in Gujarat today gives us clues on how the Harappan craftspeople may have made their beads.
  • The Harappan craftspeople made beads out of steatite, agate, carnelian, lapis lazuli, shell, terracotta, gold, silver, and copper.
    • The commonest material used for making beads was steatiteCarnelian beads are also quite common.
    • It is likely that there were specialised bead makers for each type of stone.
  • Bead making was a craft known in earlier cultures, but in the Harappan civilization new materials, styles, and techniques came into vogue.
    • A new type of cylindrical stone drill was devised and used to perforate beads of semi-precious stones. Such drills have been found at sites such as Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Chanhudaro, and Dholavira.
  • The Harappan long barrel cylinder beads made out of carnelian were so beautiful and valued that they found their way into royal burials in Mesopotamia.
  • The barrel shaped beads with trefoil pattern are typically associated with the Harappan culture.
  • Tiny micro-beads were made of steatite paste and hardened by heating. Beads were also made of faience.
5 inches long Carnelian Beads in Chanhudaro (one of the longest)

Shell work:

  • Beads, bracelets, and decorative inlay work of shell show the existence of craftspersons skilled in shell working.
  • Bangles were often made from conch shell.
  • Chanhudaro and Balakot were important centres of shell work.
  • Further evidence of site specialization comes from Gujarat.
    • Excavations at Nageshwar (in Jamnagar district) have shown that this site was exclusively devoted to shell-working and specialized in making bangles.
  • Evidence of shell working also comes from Kuntasi, Dholavira, Rangpur, Lothal, Nagwada, and Bagasra.
  • This craft was clearly very important in the Gujarat region of the Harappan culture zone.

Bone working:

  • Bone working was another specialized craft. Beads, awls, and pins were made out of bone.
  • There are a few examples of ivory carving in the form of combs, carved cylinders, small sticks, pins, gamesmen, and a carved plaque.


  • Harappans made cotton and woollen textiles.
  • The terracotta figurines wearing clothes (shawls, skirts, etc.) reflect the kinds of clothes people wore.
  • Mesopotamian texts mention cotton as one of the imports from Meluhha (an area which included the Indus valley).
  • Traces of cotton cloth were found at Mohenjodaro, preserved over the centuries due to their being in contact with a corroding silver jar.
  • Several examples of cotton thread and cloth were identified on copper tools.
    • At Harappa, cotton threads were found wrapped around the handle of a small copper mirror in a burial and also around the handle of a curved copper razor.
  • Recent excavations at Harappa have given evidence of woven textile impressions on the inside of faience vessels.
  • The uniform thickness and uniformity of the weave suggest the use of spinning wheels. Various kinds of spindle whorls for spinning thread have been found at Harappan sites.
  • Weaving may have been a cottage industry practised in villages, and also to some extent in the cities.

Weights and measure:

  • Standardization extended to units of weights and measure.
  • The people of the Indus Civilization achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time.
  • They were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures.
  • Harappans used weights and measures for commercial as well as building purposes.
  • Numerous articles used as weights have been discovered.
    • Cubical weights made of chert, chalcedony, black stone, etc. have been found at all excavated sites.
    • The system is binary in the smaller weights (1:2:8:16:32:64) and decimal in the higher weights (with a ratio of 160, 200, 320, and 640). The largest weight found at Mohenjodaro weighs 10.865 g.
  • Several sticks inscribed with measure marks have been discovered.
    • A shell scale was found at Mohenjodaro and an ivory scale at Lothal; a shell object found in Saurashtra was probably used to measure angles.
    • Their smallest division, which is marked on an ivory scale found in Lothal, was approximately 1.704 mm.
  • These chert weights were in a ratio of 5:2:1 with weights of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 units, with each unit weighing approximately 28 grams, and smaller objects were weighed in similar ratios with the units of 0.871. 


  • Impressions on clay floors and fired clay lumps suggest traditions of making baskets and mats out of reeds and grasses.
  • A number of gold, terracotta and stone figurines of girls in dancing poses reveal the presence of some dance form.
  • Some make-up and toiletry items (a special kind of combs, the use of collyrium and a special three-in-one toiletry gadget) that were found in Harappan contexts still have similar counterparts in modern India.
  • A harp-like instrument depicted on an Indus seal and two shell objects found at Lothal indicate the use of stringed musical instruments.
  • The Harappans also made various toys and games, among them cubical dice (with one to six holes on the faces), which were found in sites like Mohenjo-Daro.
  • The people of the Indus Valley Civilization, from the early Harappan periods, had knowledge of proto-dentistry. Evidence for the drilling of human teeth in vivo (i.e., in a living person) was found in Mehrgarh.

Criticism of Harappan artworks:

  • The artworks of the Harappans leave us a little disappointed on two counts:
      • The finds are very limited in number and
      • they do not seem to have the variety of expression seen in the contemporary Civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia.
    • Stone sculptures was rare and undeveloped compared to those fashioned by the Egyptians.
    • The terracotta pieces also cannot compare with those of Mesopotamia in quality.
    • It is possible that the Harappans were using less durable medium like textile designs and paintings for their artistic expression, which have not survived.

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