Any Given Sunday
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Any Given Sunday

The Real Truth About The Discovery Of The Indus Valley Civilization

An article conceptualized & written by my 9-year-old daughter on her journey of uncovering the real story.

Indus Valley Civilization
Image Credit — QASIM REHMANI from Pixabay

It all started when I was preparing for my school history exam with my father. I had to revise my chapters about the Indus Valley Civilization.

Over the last few months, I had read about it quite a bit in my school textbooks and whatever my teachers had taught me. To be honest, while I don’t find the overall subject of history to be that interesting, I do find certain aspects of ancient history to be intriguing.

Sometimes I worry as to why I don’t enjoy history as much as compared to other subjects. And I also wonder (you see it's funny, I wonder and worry at the same time) whether it’s because of the way it is taught, or due to my lack of curiosity in understanding about our glorious past.

But to my relief, when my father shared that he also felt the same way while learning history in school, I felt more normal. I stopped wondering and worrying. When he was a kid, even he never found history to be an interesting subject, since his teachers were only focused on making the children memorize complicated CE & BCE dates and major events.

But later on, as he traveled more, he picked a very deep interest in History, and now reads voraciously about Ancient History, World History, World War 1 and 2.

I guess it was then only natural for me to be also intrigued to dig deeper into the Indus Valley Civilization. You can say that the genes have been successfully passed on.

Embarking On A Journey of Discovery

While revising some of the chapters, I shared with my dad about a couple of individuals — R. D. Banerji and Dayaram Sahini who had discovered the Indus Valley Civilization in the early 1920s.

Knowing my dad’s curious and research-oriented nature (and a newfound interest in history in recent years), my dad immediately looked up on the Internet to get some more facts about the discovery. What he found was actually quite surprising and puzzling.

The Indus Valley Civilization was not discovered by Indians, as has been printed in the school textbooks and taught by the teachers. That information was not totally accurate. Though both these individuals did play a major role in the excavation of the sites, it was discovered by someone else.

What was even more intriguing was that the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization were discovered almost 90 years before the dates that were provided in the books.

So, we both decided to research it a little bit more. And together we embarked on a discovery of our own.

I have captured some of the key discovery facts of the Indus Valley Civilization, which I hope will offer a more accurate version of the discovery. And maybe help all of us to become better historians and question what our past really looked like, not from the lens of any textbook but through our own eyes and curious minds.

Old Books on a shelf
Image Credit — Gerhard G. from Pixabay

The Real Story

The Indus River Valley Civilization, 3300–1300 BCE, also known as the Harappan Civilization, extended from modern-day northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India.

Contrary to what most of the Indian textbooks mention and lead to believe that the Indus Valley Civilization was discovered by two Indians (Dayaram Sahni and R.D. Banerji), the real story is altogether different. Yes, there were certain important contributions made by both these individuals in the process of major discoveries made during 1921–22, but the early discoveries were made almost 90 years before.

The first modern mention of the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization is those by Charles Masson, from the East India Company’s army. In 1829, Masson was traveling through the princely state of Punjab, gathering useful intelligence for the Company.

Masson, who had versed himself in the classics, especially in the military campaigns of Alexander the Great, chose for his wanderings some of the same towns that had featured in Alexander’s campaigns.

Masson’s major archaeological discovery in Punjab was Harappa, a metropolis of the Indus civilization in the valley of Indus’s tributary, the Ravi river. Masson made copious notes and illustrations of Harappa’s rich historical artifacts, many lying half-buried.

In 1842, Masson included his observations of Harappa in the book “Narrative of Various Journeys in Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and the Punjab”. Masson was impressed by the site’s extraordinary size and by several large mounds formed from long-existing erosion.

Two years later, the East India Company contracted Alexander Burnes to sail up the Indus river to assess the feasibility of water travel for its army. Burnes, who also stopped in Harappa, noted the baked bricks employed in the site’s ancient masonry but noted also the haphazard plundering of these bricks by the local population.

Despite these reports, Harappa was raided even more perilously for its bricks after the British took control of Punjab in 1848–49. A considerable number of bricks were carted away as track ballast for the railway lines being laid in Punjab. Nearly 160 km of railway track between Multan and Lahore, laid in the mid-1850s, was supported by Harappan bricks.

In 1861, three years after the East India Company was dissolved, and the establishment of Crown rule in India, archaeology on the subcontinent became more formally organized with the founding of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Alexander Cunningham, the Survey’s first Director-General, who had visited Harappa in 1853 and had noted the imposing brick walls, visited again to carry out a survey, but this time of a site whose entire upper layer had been stripped in the interim.

Excavation site of Indus Valley
Image Credit — Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

Although his original goal of demonstrating Harappa to be a lost Buddhist city mentioned in the seventh century CE travels of the Chinese visitor, Xuanzang, proved difficult to prove, Cunningham did publish his findings in 1875. For the first time, he interpreted a Harappan stamp seal, with its unknown script, which he concluded to be of an origin foreign to India.

Archaeological work in Harappa thereafter stalled until a new viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, pushed through the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904, and appointed John Marshall to lead the ASI.

Several years later, Hiranand Sastri, who had been assigned by Marshall to survey Harappa, reported it to be of non-Buddhist origin, and by implication more ancient. After taking the excavation project of Harappa for the ASI under the Act, Marshall directed ASI archaeologist Daya Ram Sahni to excavate the site’s two mounds.

Sir John Hubert Marshall led an excavation campaign in 1921–1922, during which he discovered the ruins of the city of Harappa.

Farther south, along the main stem of the Indus in Sind province, the largely undisturbed site of Mohenjo-daro had also attracted notice. Marshall deputed a couple of ASI officers to survey the site. These included D. R. Bhandarkar (1911), R. D. Banerji (1919, 1922–1923), and M.S. Vats (1924).

In 1923, on his second visit to Mohenjo-daro, Banerji wrote to Marshall about the site, suggesting an origin in “remote antiquity,” and noting a match of some of its artifacts with those of Harappa. By 1931, the Mohenjo-daro site had been mostly excavated by Marshall and Sir Mortimer Wheeler.

By 1999, over 1,056 cities and settlements of the Indus Civilization were located.

About Dayaram Sahni

Sahni worked as a curator of Lucknow Museum from 1911 to 1912, when he was transferred to the Archaeology Department of Kashmir state. Sahni returned to Lahore in 1917 and was made in-charge of United Provinces and Punjab.

While working as Assistant Superintendent, Sahni excavated the Indus Valley site at Harappa, the first of the Indus Valley sites to be excavated.

About R.D. Banerji

He is popular for unearthing pre-Buddhist artifacts at the ruins at Mohenjo-Daro; for noting similarities between the site at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Those specific discoveries lead to excavations at the two sites that established the existence of the then-unknown Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilization.

Final Thoughts

While we may be taught a lot of interesting things and topics in our school and teachers are indeed well-read, but not all of them might have the time or the inclination to research every topic for its authenticity. In that process, they may unintentionally end up teaching inaccurate facts, which could distort the understanding of our past.

Hence, I think it’s important that, before believing any findings or facts, that come our way, we should tingle our curious minds to dig deeper in order to learn more thoroughly.

Like this incidence that happened while preparing for the exams, I read inaccurate and half-baked information about the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilization. Only after reading further and researching more, I came to know the truth.

Bottom line, when you have a doubt or are intrigued by a topic of your interest, just put on your thinking hat and embark on your own journey of discovery.

I would like to express my heartfelt Thanks to my History Teacher for introducing me to the topic of Indus Valley Civilization and igniting my curiosity about our ancient past. I hope this article, will help me to further collaborate with my teacher to take up more such wonderful journeys.

Many thanks for reading — Aksha R. Bhambwani

Sources of Facts & Information — Wikipedia, Khan Academy & Lumen Learning

Inspired by the Al Pacino movie, Any Given Sunday is a unique publication that brings to its readers well-curated personal experiences and captivating stories on motivation, positivity, mental strength, deep thinking and winning. After all, life is a contact sport.

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Rupesh N. Bhambwani

Rupesh N. Bhambwani

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