Excavations at Dholavira

Excavations at Dholavira, Gujarat (1984-85 and 1987-2004)

Dholavira (23°53'N; 70°13'E) is a small village located at a corner of the isolated island of Khadir in the Great Rann of Kachchh in Bhachau taluka of Kachchh district, Gujarat. The ancient site, known as Kotada (large fort), spans an area of about 100 hectares, nearly half of it is appropriated by the fortified settlement of the Harappans. The site is surrounded by two seasonal nallahs, Mansar in the north and Manhar in the south.

As a result of extensive excavations, Dholavira has emerged as a major Harappan city, remarkable for its exquisite town planning, monumental structures, aesthetic architecture and amazing water management and storage system. The excavations have revealed seven significant cultural stages documenting the rise and fall of the first urbanization in South Asia. It has a unique distinction of yielding an inscription of ten large sized signs in the Harappan script, indeed the oldest signboard of the world.

Stage I starts right from the virgin ground. The first settlers came with an advanced knowledge of ceramic technique, copper working, lithic industry, bead making, stone dressing and with certain understanding of planning and architecture. They constructed a formidable fortification (11m thick at the base) around the settlement. The houses were made of moulded mud bricks of standard sizes.

Stage II is marked by widening of the fortification, increase in ceramic forms, decorations and an increase of minor antiquities. A residential area was added to the north of the walled settlements.

Stage III is a very creative period at Dholavira. The small settlement grew into a large town having two major fortified divisions in addition to annexes and water reservoirs, all within a peripheral wall.

The existing fortified settlement was in fact transformed into a Citadel and another fortified division was added to it on the west. These two sub divisions have been designated as Castle and Bailey respectively.

Towards the closing decades of Stage III the entire settlement witnessed a natural catastrophe caused by an earthquake of severe magnitude as the tell-tale marks have clearly indicated. Consequently, large scale repairs were executed and significant changes were made in the planning. The city wall was also extended eastwards. During this stage, at least the gateways along with their front terraces had been introduced. Now, the entire settlement reached its fullest growth. The city-scape possessed three principle divisions, a ceremonial ground and a series of water reservoirs all around.

Stage IV belongs to the classical Harappan culture. The city of Stage II was thoroughly maintained along with the monumental structures such as gateways, fortification walls and the drainage system.

The famous inscription of ten large-sized signs of the Harappan script found in a chamber of North Gate also pertains to this stage. All the classical Harappan elements such as pottery, seals, lithic tools, beads, weights and other items of gold, copper, stone, shell and clay were recovered in abundance. Among the most impressive items are parts of functional pillars and free standing columns hewn out of locally available limestone.

Stage V is characterized by the general decline particularly in the maintenance of the city as vividly reflected in the Citadel. However, other items such as pottery, seals etc. continued in their developed forms and styles. This stage was followed by a temporary desertion of the site.

Stage VI presents an entirely different form of the Harappan culture. The one time city relapsed into a much smaller settlement with a different inner lay out. Having lived there for about a century, the Late Harappans abandoned the settlement.

Stage VII witnessed the arrival new comers appeared to be closely related to their predecessors as the ceramic assemblages remained the same. Strangely enough, the new people constructed their houses in an entirely new form that is circular huts without any planning and reused the materials of the early phase. All urban attributes are conspicuous by their absence.

The site was never occupied thereafter.