A Harappan trading and craft production centre at Gola Dhoro (Bagasra)

Kuldeep K. Bhan, V. H. Sonawane, P. Ajithprasad & S. Pratapchandran

Gola Dhoro lies half a kilometre north-east of the village of Bagasra (N 23° 3' 30": E 70° 37'10") on the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat, India. The archaeological site extends over 1.92 hectares and rises to 7.50m in height above the surrounding area. This small settlement of the Harappan period has been under excavation since 1996 by a team of archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History of the Maharaja Sayajirao, University of Baroda (Figure 1). The work has revealed evidence for trade and manufacture and highlighted the importance of these smaller settlements, far removed from the core area, in the economic development of the Harappan civilisation.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Excavations in progress at Gola Dhoro, Bagasra.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Fortified area of Gola Dhoro, showing the location of the stockpiling area of stone raw material and the shell workshop.
Click to enlarge.

The settlement probably began as a small farming village and subsequently acquired a massive fortification wall measuring 5.20m in width built in three successive stages in the northern half of the site (Figure 2). This wall enclosed an area of approximately 50 x 50m, containing residential houses and craft workshops. However, there are indications that some of the population lived outside the fortified area to the south. Our studies to date have shown that the people of Gola Dhoro manufactured objects of shell, semi-precious stone, faience and copper, besides stockpiling and distribution of various raw materials like variegated jasper and shell to other Harappan workshops.

A rectangular structure measuring 5.60m x 3.20m inside the fortified area (Figure 2) contained a large heap of shell bangles (Figure 3), flanked by two heaps of the raw materials: shells of Turbinella pyrum. The assemblage included large quantities of shell wasters and a grinding stone, confirming the identification of a shell workshop of Harappan times. Sorting of shells on the basis of their quality indicates that the shell-cutters of Bagasra separated out the bad quality shell, implying that, unlike the Harappan shell-working site of Nageshwar on the Gulf Kutch (Bhan 1992, Bhan & Kenoyer 1984: 71), the shell-cutters of Gola Dhoro were not personally involved in the collection of shell. Otherwise they would have discarded bad quality shell near the source area, instead of transporting it for more than 100km to the settlement. Not only the bangles but perhaps also some raw shell and especially Fasciolaria trapezium species were being traded; this material was previously believed to have been obtained from Oman for the manufacture of inlay (Kenoyer 1983: 357).


Figure 3
Figure 3. Detail of the shell workshop, showing thousands of unfinished and finished bangles and raw shell.
Click to enlarge.
Figure 4
Figure 4. The Eastern Gateway.

The manufacture of faience at the site is implied by large chunks of white rock quartz and layers of silica powder associated with intense burning (Figure 4). X-ray diffraction analyses of whitish powder samples from within the fort show it to be quartz powder. The heavy stone querns and pestles found in the same area were perhaps used in the preparation in silica powder. Repeated firing and subsequent crushing of quartz to produce a fine quartz powder for use as an abrasive in the polishing of stone beads can be observed in Khambhat at the present day.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Stone beads: variegated jasper, carnelian, amazonite, lapis lazuli and white faience and shell.

Numerous stone beads (Figure 5) were found in various stages of manufacture and mainly located to the south of the fortification. The assemblage included tapered cylindrical drills made of chert, jasper and chalcedony and constricted cylindrical drills made on a rare form of metamorphic rock that is referred to as 'Ernestite' for drilling soft and hard stones respectively. Another important indication of this industry is the recovery of stockpiles of raw material neatly kept in two clay-lined 'bins' containing large amounts of variegated and molten jasper (Figure 6). Both these bins were recovered from a trench close to the interior eastern periphery of the fortification wall. A preliminary observation of these bins indicated that the materials had been sorted on the basis of size and the type of raw material. One of the bins contained larger chunks of green - red - white variegated jasper, a broken stone dish and a few complete good quality T. pyrum shell, while the other contained small chunks of black and white molten jasper that seems to have been used in the manufacture of beads. The absence of manufacturing waste of the green-red-white - variegated jasper from the site perhaps indicate that this material was not meant to be used at the site but was carefully stockpiled to be shipped to some where else for the manufacture of beads. Preliminary research suggests that this material was brought to the settlement from approximately 70km south-west in Saurashtra.


Figure 6
Figure 6. Stockpiling area of variegated jasper in clay pits or 'bins'.
Click to enlarge.
Figure 7
Figure 7. Copper objects: copper blade with bone handles or protection sheath - unique of its kind.

Figure 8
Figure 8. Steatite seals and a stamped clay sealing.
Click to enlarge.

Compared to the small size of the settlement, a very high number of copper objects were recovered. They included a copper vessel containing eight bangles and an axe perhaps stored for recycling the precious metal (Figure 7). Other important finds from the southern half of the settlement outside the fortification are unique copper knives with bone handles or a protective sheath meant to protect the sharp working edge of the tool. A unique copper battle-axe, a 'parshu', is also a very interesting find from this area, its small size perhaps suggesting a ritual function. The copper knives were recovered in association with large quantities of animal and fish bones and at present we are trying to understand if these knives had any functional relation with butchering and preparation of the fish for drying etc. No evidence of copper smelting has been found from the site, but casting is suggested by a few heavily sand-tempered clay crucibles with copper adhering to them.

Figure 9
Figure 9. A unique steatite inscribed unicorn seal with
a socket perhaps for attaching a lid.
Click to enlarge.

Golo Dhoro being a very small site, we never expected to recover many Indus seals, but to our great surprise the site has revealed six inscribed steatite seals with a one-horned animal - usually referred to as a unicorn - and a standard device engraved in front of it (Figure 8). The back has prominently projecting pierced boss. Seals of this type are common in urban Harappan sites and they were most probably used in trade and exchange transactions. Stamped impressions of such seals on clay/terracotta sealing has also been found in the excavation. One of the steatite seals discovered this season has decorative linear patterns incised on three sides and a deep, scooped out rectangular socket-like cavity on the fourth side; originally it perhaps had a sliding lid (Figure 9) to cover the socket. This appears to be unique.

By combining the results of these craft studies with similar information on subsistence, we are now beginning to better understand Harappan civilisation. The occupation of the site continued in the post-urban period up to 1700 BC. In the last phase there are indications that the trade activities and the production of various craft items, use of the fortification wall, writing and making steatite seals all came to an abrupt end.

The excavations of the settlement concluded on 4 March 2005, study and interim publication of the site is scheduled by July 2005.

References

  • BHAN, K.K. & J.M. KENOYER. 1984. Nageshwar: A Mature Harappan Site on the Gulf of Kutch, Gujarat. Journal of Oriental Institute, Baroda 34:67-80
  • BHAN, K.K. 1992. Shell Industry, in K.T.M. Hegde, K.K. Bhan, V.H. Sonawane, K. Krishnan & D.R. Shah (ed.) Excavation at Nageshwar: A shell working Site on the Gulf of Kutch. Archaeological Series # 18. Baroda: M. S. University.
  • KENOYER, J.M. 1998. Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. American Institute of Pakistan Studies. Karachi: Oxford University Press.
  • KENOYER, J.M. 1983. Shell Working Industries of the Indus Civilization: An Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspective. Ph.D. Dissertation. Berkeley: University of California.

Authors

  • Kuldeep K. Bhan, V. H. Sonawane, P. Ajithprasad & S. Pratapchandran:
    Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts, The Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda - 390002, Gujarat, India.