The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 10, 2013

Some Indus Gossip

Psst, have you heard? The Indus Valley Civilisation, contrary to popular wisdom, may not have been quite the haven of nonviolence it is famed for. Other contemporary cultures were belligerent, went popular wisdom, but the Indus types were a calm, graceful lot, only interested in bearded men and sewage systems.

Well, it turns out that there may have been some amount of brutality in the Indus cities too. Skulls were caved in, noses were broken. One can't be entirely surprised - a purely non-violent society on such a large scale sounds like a pipe-dream. According to [1], out of eighteen skulls studied from the later Harappan period (1900-1700 BC), nearly half had suffered heavy trauma. More interestingly, they report that the prevalence and patterning of cranial injuries, combined with striking differences in mortuary treatment and demography among the three burial areas indicate interpersonal violence in Harappan society was structured along lines of gender and community membership. To wit, the farther you lived from the city centre (or, possibly if your remains were found outside the city sewers), the likelier you were to have had a more violent death. Furthermore, the Harappan culture appears to have become more violent over time, with women being more affected in the later periods.

The Indus people were also remarkably mobile. Another examination of remains [2], this time of teeth, reveals that many of the men found buried with Harappan women were not locals. In other words, immigrant men were forming relationships with local women (quite different to much of South Asia today where a married woman leaves her native place to live with her husband), suggesting, perhaps, that women were powerful. Also, Harappans have been found in Mesopotamia, where before only Indus Valley products had been found. Clearly, they were a people with at least a bit of a travel-bug.

  1. G.R. Schug, K. Gray, V. Mushrif-Tripathy, A.R. Sankhyan, (2012). 'A peaceful realm? Trauma and social differentiation at Harappa', International Journal of Paleopathology (2), Issues 2-3.
  2. J.M. Kenoyer, T.D. Price, J.H. Burton, (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), Issue 5.


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