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Harappan burial practices - By Krishnapriya

Harappan civilization: Burials sites and practices
---- Written by Krishna priya
                         The Harappan civilization was one of the earliest civilizations in the Indus valley area. It’s time period roughly extends from around 2500-1900 BC. The civilization owes its name to the city of Harappa, where the burial sites were found. The funerary practices of the Harappan people help us in forming and shaping ideas about their culture and conceptions of the natural, super-natural, life and death.

                      There are over fifty-five burial sites in the Indus valley were found Harappa. The principal sites are Harappa Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Lothal, Rojdi, and Ropar. The burials are interpreted primarily as reflections of social structure and hierarchy. This interpretation tends to be in sync with the Tainter school of thought. The strongest evidence for this interpretation would be burial sites in Harappa, cemetery R-37 and 

                      R-37 is the smaller site compared to cemetery H, and has about 200 burials. Archaeologists believe it was a restricted cemetery that was used by a particular group or family that lived in Harappa. The “strong genetic affinities among female population (n=84)” (ii, 263,264) in the R-37 cemetery prove that the cemetery was only used by the members of a closely related family or group. These genetic affinities that are exhibited in the female population show that the Harappan people practiced natural locality, a system in which the newlywed couple moved to live with the woman’s side of the family. Therefore clearly the R-37 cemetery proves that individuals of high class and status in a society were treated very differently and had a separate burial site.

                       In general, the burials in the Harappan period were all in brick or stone lined rectangular or oval pits. The body was usually interred clothed shrouded or in a wooden coffin in the north south direction in a straight direction. It was important that the body did not come into contact with the ground. The only evidence of wooden coffins is the presence of a wooden stain in the body of the corpse. The bodies of the individuals were usually buried with their jewelry which usually consisted of bangles made from shell, steatite beads, etc, and the men usually wore earrings. Copper mirrors have been found only amongst the bodies of the females which show a specificity of grave goods by gender. 

                         The burials at Kalibangan, the other large burial site are of three types. Type 1 – the bodies were buried in a supine position similar to R-37 with skeletal remains. Type 2 – pot burials in circular pits. Type 3 – Large pots which were found interred in rectangular or circular pits with no skeletal remains. Type- 1 burials are very similar to the ones at R-37, and have skeletal remains in the supine position. The pot burials are an interesting and rare type of burial in which the bodies of the individual are crammed into pots and buried. This type of burial is quite unique and quite violent comparatively. The Type 3 burials at Kalibangan don’t have any skeletal remains in them but there are a few areas where the earth is charred which could possibly be because of cremation. 

                           “The most important individual in the cemetery is an older male. He was interred in a old brick chamber with 70 pottery vessels” (Wright 216). The man was also decked in jewelry of expensive nature which includes jade and gold beads and other fine stones. Clearly this individual is of high importance in the society we can tell by the energy expenditure associated with this funeral. On average an individual has 0 to 40 pottery vessels interred as grave goods, but the individual who had 70 pots was clearly outranked others in the cemetery proving that the Harappan civilization was a society which gave a lot of importance to hierarchy and status.

                           A few unique burials were found in the grave sites of Lothal, Ropar, and Rojdi. In Ropar a man was found buried with a dog. In Rodji two infants were found buried beneath the floor of a house. In Lothal three multiple burials have been found. This could possibly be the practice of sati but it is doubtful. The unique burials in this site show that not all burials were solely centered on social hierarchy and status.

                           Mohenjo daro is one of the biggest cities excavated in this civilization but it has no cemeteries. But there were a few bodies that were found scattered throughout the city in disarray. They are referred to as the “tragedy sites”. There are 5 tragedy sites found all over Mohenjo daro with a total of 42 skeletons. The first, HR tragedy area has a total of 13 skeletons consisting of adults and 1 child. The skeletons seem to be in a state of trauma and it was as if they had been buried in a state of action with weapons in their hand. Another site is dead man’s lane where only one skeleton was found. Then there is the VS area tragedy which had 6 skeletons of adults and 2 children. Another had 9 and the well-room tragedy had 2 skeletons found on the stairs leading to a well. The burials that have occurred in Mohenjo daro are unlike any other. They are the only ones in which the skeletons are arranged in scattered disarray and show signs of trauma. The causes of these burials have been hypothesized due to loss of civic rules and order in the city or an invasion of some kind. But these clearly do not tie into the energy expenditure model.

                           So from the various different burials in the Harappan civilization area there are a lot of unique burials but most normal burials are based on social class and hierarchy. Like the R-37, Cemetery H at Harappa and the Kalibangan cemetery. Therefore the Harappan civilization was a civilization that gave a lot of importance to social class structure and hierarchy.