The Indus Civilization since the excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro in the early 20s of the 20th century was considered as one of the most ancient civilizations at par with the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. The regional dynamics of this culture were further brought out to light and its distribution was found in a larger area with more sites explored on the banks of dried river Saraswati, now known as Ghaggar/ Hakra and its tributaries. In the post-partition period, a large number of sites were explored and some of them excavated on both sides of the border. Harappa was again put to excavations by Mortimer Wheeler in 1946-47 where a painted red ware pottery was found from the pre-defence level and was compared to other pre-Harappan cultures in Pakistan. It may be added that the excavations at Kot-diji in 1958 entirely changed the stratigraphical position of Harappan culture by the discovery of a pre-Harappan level known as Kot-dijian where a ceramic different from the Harappan repertoire was noticed. In 1960-61 in India, Kalibangan, a site in the ‘lost’ Saraswati plain was excavated which confirmed the Kot-dijian sequence.
An International Conference was held in Chandigarh from 27th to 29th October, 2012 which was inaugurated by HE The Governor of Punjab Shri Shivraj V. Patil and participated by eminent archaeologists like B.B. Lal, M.K. Dhawalikar, R.S. Bisht and others. Some of the foreign scholars like M.R. Mughal and Michael Jansen who could not come, also submitted their papers.
In a recent study jointly made by the author and Shri K.N. Dikshit, a former Jt. DG of ASI declared in the conference the preliminary results of their investigation of data from early sites of Indo-Pak sub-continent such as Mehrgarh in Baluchistan, Rehman Dheri in Gomal plains, Jalilpur and Harappa in Punjab whereas Bhirrana, Baror, Sothi, Nohar, Siswal, Banawali, Kalibangan, Girawad and Rakhigarhi in India besides many others which suggest that Indian Civilization emerged in the 8th millennium BC in Ghaggar-Hakra and Baluchistan area. These pre-Harappan cultures were thoroughly studied and M. R. Mughal proposed that instead or calling them pre-Harappan, these cultures should be called as Early Harappan. He further outlined that the brick sizes of 1:2:4 were also present in pre-Harappan levels and a few of the ceramics of these levels where also responsible for the makeup of the mature Harappan civilization.
Excavations were carried out at Mehrgarh and Harappa in Pakistan and Bhirrana, Kunal, Rakhigarhi and Baror in India which changed the entire scenario by getting entirely a separate horizon below the early Harappan levels. Mughal has called this pottery complex as Hakra ware culture, but could not ascertain their stratigraphical position from any site especially in the Hakra valley or other adjoining sites in the Cholistan region.
The chronological position of Hakra ware in relation to radiometric dates recently received, are compelling to revise the whole issue in a stratigraphical framework. To go further, Dikshit and Mani took up a detailed examination of these sites also from the angle of study of their material culture including pottery, clay figurines, household objects, living patterns etc.
In northern Pakistan except at Mehrgarh, the cultural stages are not so demarcated and neolithic way of life continued amidst a cluster of smaller settlements till the early/mature Harappans did not completely occupy the scene by constructing monumental buildings, grid pattern planning, granaries, script, various crafts and ritual.
Indo-Pak sub-continent has other sites belonging to the next period such as Rakhigarhi, Siswal, Banawali, Balu, Girawad, Kunal, Kalibangan or Baror in India and Harappa Jalilpur, Gumla, Nausharo, Rehmandheri or Kotdiji in Pakistan which show the continuity of traditions with regional variations till we reach to the stage of mature Harappan Culture.
From the survey of the excavated data it is noticed that these pre-Early Harappan sites in Sindh-Baluchistan region are identified by a culture complex present at Mehrgarh in the first half of 4th millennium BCE (Period III), whereas in northern Punjab by a neolithic-chalcolithic assemblage in Gomal plains (Gumla period II, Rehman Dheri period I) and at Harappa and Jalilpur by Ravi culture. In Cholistan and Saraswati valley, it is Hakra ware which dominates the pre-Harappan horizon.
The C14 dates from excavations at Bhirrana (district Hissar, Haryana) readily agree with the accepted known chronology of the Harappan Civilization starting from Early Harappan to Late Harappan. But for the first time, on the basis of radio-metric dates from Bhirrana the cultural remains of pre-Early Harappan horizon go back to the time bracket of 7380 BC to 6201 BC representing the Hakra Ware Culture. However, the significance of this early dating cannot be denied keeping in view a consistency which was not noticed earlier from any other excavated Harappan site from this region/ or elsewhere.
The archaeological material of such an early date noticed from Bhirrana appears to be an adaptation of the Neolithic tradition from the region which are still not satisfactorily explored or interpreted because Haryana, Rajasthan and adjoining Gujarat in India and Cholistan in Pakistan continued for a longer time in hunter-gatherer stage of Mesolithic period and evolved in the later period with food production. It has been found by Mani that the clay ‘Mother Godess’ figurines from the levels dating back to c.6000 BC from both Mehrgarh and Bhirrana have marked similarity.
It has been noticed that except in Hakra/Saraswati valley where settled life started from subterranean dwellings providing structural stages of development, all other regions have their own cultural traits which could not produce any such evidence whose origins are obscure till they reached to the point of urbanization in their own region. The radio-metric dates from Bhirrana, Rakhigarhi and Kalibangan show the clear developmental stages of Harappa culture in Indo-Pak sub-continent, thereby suggesting Haryana and Rajasthan as the epi-centre of pre-Harappan cultures. Thus the ‘Lost’ Saraswati/Hakra valley laid a new foundation for urban life and set in motion one way or another, the status of Indus-Saraswati region as the cradle of South Asian civilization.
When the site of Mehrgarh was excavated by a joint team of Pak and French archaeologists in Baluchistan from 1974 to 1985 and the C14 dates of 8th-7th century BC were found, the archaeologists were taken aback as civilization of the sub-continent was pushed back to almost 3000 years earlier than what was considered then. But later from 2004 to 2006, excavations conducted by the Nagpur Excavation Branch of the ASI brought amazing results and scientific dates contemporary to Mehrgarh. The study conducted now suggests that while the earliest levels at Mehrgarh were of Neolithic age and separate from the subsequent levels, the earliest levels at Bhirrana yielded ceramics having some of the types continuing in the later periods and thus suggesting a continuity in culture, right from the middle of the 8th millennium BC onwards which continued at the site till about 1800 BC. This is well attested by radiocarbon dates.
More archaeological excavations are required in Haryana, Cholistan and other regions of Baluchistan, Sindh and Punjab for clear understanding of the beginning of civilization in this region. Study of climatic conditions may also be essential in understanding erosions of habitational deposits of Hakra ware culture in Rajasthan and area around as per palynological data from lakes which suggest that around 7500 BCE the rainfall was too much. The evidence from Mehrgarh, Cholistan and Saraswati valley clearly suggest that the region was under the neolithic-chalcolithic cultural activities between the 7th – 4th millennium BCE, with a limited use of copper. The Hakra river basin in Cholistan, which is a continuation of ‘Lost’ Saraswati valley has yielded a set of pottery in exploration known as ‘Hakra ware’ whose stratigraphic position has now been assigned at Bhirrana in excavation, thereby confirming that the cultural level achieved in the valley of ‘Lost’ Saraswati river is the cradle of Indian civilization. This factual position could be further confirmed from the excavations at Ganweriwala near Derawar Fort or some other suitable site in Cholistan area of Bahawalpur State in Pakistan so that the antiquity of Hakra ware including settlement pattern could be placed in a wider context.