Periodisation of the Indus Valley Civilisation
Several periodisations are employed for the periodisation of the Indus Valley Civilisation. While the Indus Valley Civilisation was divided into Early, Mature and Late Harappan by archaeologists like Mortimer Wheeler, newer periodisations include the Neolithic early farming settlements, and use a Stage-Phase model, often combining terminology from various systems.
Near East (c. 3300–1200 BC)
Indian subcontinent (c. 3300–1200 BC)
Europe (c. 3200–600 BC)
East Asia (c. 3100–300 BC)
The most commonly used nomenclature classifies the Indus Valley Civilisation into Early, Mature and Late Harappan Phase. The Indus Civilisation was preceded by local agricultural villages, from where the river plains were populated when water-management became available, creating an integrated civilisation. This broader time range has also been called the Indus Age and the Indus Valley Tradition.
Early, Mature and Late Harappan
The Early, Mature and Late Harappan periodisation was introduced by archaeologists like Mortimer Wheeler, who "brought with them existing systems from elsewhere, such as the Three Age System," and further developed by Mughal, who "proposed the term Early Harappan to characterize the pre- or protourban phase." This classification is primarily based on Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, assuming an evolutionary sequence. According to Manuel, this division "places the Indus Valley within a tripartite evolutionary framework, of the birth, fluorescence, and death of a society in a fashion familiar to the social evolutionary concepts of Elmond Service (1971)."
According to Coningham and Young, it was "cemented [...] in common use" due to "the highly influential British archaeologists Raymond and Bridget Allchin [who] used similar subdivisions in their work." According to Coningham and Young, this approach is "limited" and "restricted," putting too much emphasis on the mature phase.
Shaffer: Indus Valley Tradition and Eras
Shaffer divided the broader Indus Valley Tradition into four eras, the pre-Harappan "Early Food Producing Era," and the Regionalisation, Integration, and Localisation eras, which correspond roughly with the Early Harappan, Mature Harappan, and Late Harappan phases. Each era can be divided into various phases. A phase is an archaeological unit possessing traits sufficiently characteristic to distinguish it from all other units similarly conceived. According to Shaffer, there was considerable regional variation, as well as differences in cultural sequences, and these eras and phases are not evolutionary sequences, and cannot uniformly be applied to every site.
According to Coningham and Young,
A critical feature of Shaffer's developmental framework was replacing the traditional Mesolithic/Neolithic, 'Chalcolithic'/Early Harappan, Mature Harappan and Late Harappan terminology with Eras which were intended to reflect the longer-term changes or processes which provided the platform for eventual complexity and urbanisation [...] Notably, Shaffer's categorisation also allowed scholars to frame sites such as Mehrgarh, accepted by all as partly ancestral to the Indus cities within a distinctly pervasive Indus tradition rather than lying outside a Pre-Urban or incipient urban phase.
Coningham & Young raise theoretical concerns with Shaffer's periodisation, noting that
The Early Food Producing Era corresponds to ca. 7000-5500 BCE. It is also called the Neolithic period. The economy of this era was based on food production, and agriculture developed in the Indus Valley. Mehrgarh Period I belongs to this era. The Regionalisation Era corresponds to ca. 4000-2500/2300 BCE (Shaffer) or ca. 5000-2600 BCE (Coningham & Young). The Early Harappan phase belongs to this Era. According to Manuel, "the most significant development of this period was the shift in population from the uplands of Baluchistan to the floodplains of the Indus Valley." This era was very productive in arts, and new crafts were invented. The Regionalisation Era includes the Balakot, Amri, Hakra and Kot Diji Phases.
The Integration Era refers to the period of the "Indus Valley Civilisation". It is a period of integration of various smaller cultures. The Localisation Era (1900-1300 BCE) is the fourth and final period of the Indus Valley Tradition. It refers to the fragmentation of the culture of the Integration Era. The Localisation Era comprises several phases:
- Punjab Phase (Cemetery H, Late Harappan). The Punjab Phase includes the Cemetery H and other cultures. Punjab Phase sites are found in Harappa and in other places.
- Jhukar Phase (Jhukar and Pirak) The Jhukar Phase refers to Mohenjo-daro and sites in Sindh.
- Rangpur Phase (Late Harappan and Lustrous Red Ware). Rangpur Phase sites are in Kachchh, Saurashtra and mainland Gujarat.
- The Pirak Phase is a phase of the Localisation Era of both the Indus Valley Tradition and the Baluchistan Tradition.
Possehl: Indus Age
- Beginnings of Village Farming Communities and Pastoral camps
- Developed Village Farming Communities and Pastoral camps
- Early Harappan
- Transition from Early Harappan to Mature Harappan
- Mature Harappan
- Posturban Harappan
- Early Iron Age of Northern India and Pakistan
According to Coningham & Young,
Possehl's mixture of older periodisation (Mature Harappan), artefact-based descriptive classifications (Early Iron Age) and socio-economic processes (Developed Village Farming Communities) is not unique and others, such as Singh (2008), have presented similar categories which treat the Indus Valley and the Early Historic Traditions in very different ways and thus reinforce established divisions which prevent easy comparative discussion.
Datings and alternative proposals
Early Food Producing Era
Rao, who excavated Bhirrana and claims to have found Hakra Ware in its oldest layers, proposes older datings for the general framework, yet sticks to the Harappan terminology; this proposal is supported by Sarkar et al. (2016), who also refer to a proposal by Possehl, and various radiocarbon dates from other sites:
|Date||Phase||Conventional date (HP)||Harappan Phase||Conventional date (Era)||Era|
|7500-6000 BCE||Pre-Harappan Hakra Period (Neolithic)||7000-3300 BCE||Pre-Harappan||c.7000-c.4500 BCE||Early Food Producing Era|
|6000-4500 BCE||Transitional Period|
|4500-3000 BCE||Early Harappan Period||c.4500-2600 BCE||Regionalisation Era|
|3300-2600 BCE||Early Harappan|
|3000-1800 BCE||Mature Harappan Period|
|2600-1900 BCE||Mature Harappan||2600-1900 BCE||Integration Era|
|1800-1600 BCE||Late Harappan Period||1900-1300 BCE||Late Harappan||1900-1300||Localisation Era|
S. P. Gupta, taking into account new discoveries, periodised the Harappan Civilisation in a chronological framework that includes the Early, Mature and Late Harappan Phase, and starts with the same date as the Regionalisation Era:
|Date||Main phase||Subphase||Harappan Phase||Era|
|ca. 4000 - 3500 BCE||Formative Phase||e.g., Mehrgarh-IV-V||Pre-Harappan||Regionalisation Era|
|ca. 3500 - 2800 BCE||Early Phase||e.g., Kalibangan-I||Early Harappan|
|ca. 2800 - 2600 BCE||Period of Transition||e.g., Dholavira-III|
|ca. 2600 - 1900 BCE||Mature Phase||e.g., Harappa-III, Kalibangan-II||Mature Harappan||Integration Era|
|ca. 1900 - 1500 BCE||Late Phase||e.g., Cemetery H, Jhukar||Late Harappan||Localisation Era|
|ca. 1500 - 1400 BCE||Final Phase||e.g., Dholavira|
Durée longue: Harappan Civilisation and Early Historic Period
Kenoyer, and Coningham & Young, provide an overview of developmental phases of India in which the Indus Valley Civilisation and the Early Historic Period are combined. The Post-Harappan Phase shows renewed regionalisation, culminating in the integration of the Second Urbanisation of the Early Historic Period, starting ca. 600 BC, c.q. the Mauryan Empire, ca. 300 BC.
Coningham & Young note that most works on urbanisation in early Indian history focus on either the Indus Vally Civilisation or the Early Historic Period, "thus continuing the long-standing division between the Indus and Early Historic." According to Coningham & Young, this division was introduced in colonial times, with scholars who claimed that "a distinct cultural, linguistic and social transformation lay between the Indus Civilisation and the Early Historic," and perpetuated by "a number of post-Independence South Asian scholars." Coningham & Young adopt Shaffer's terminology "to better understand and explore the processes which led to the two main urban-focused developments in South Asia," and
...replace the traditional terminologies of 'Chalcolithic', Iron Age, Proto-Historic, Early Historic and Mauryan with those of a 'Localisation Era' followed by an Era of 'Regionalisation' and an Era of 'Integration'. We argue that Kenoyer’s (1998) suggestion that the Era of Integration was only reached with the Mauryan period (c. 317 BC) was overcautious and that such a cultural and economic stage became evident in the archaeological record as early as 600 BC [...] This task is likely to be controversial and we acknowledge that not all scholars will be receptive.
They also note that the term "Integration Era" may not be applicable to the whole of South Asia for the period of the Mature Harappan Civilisation, because "large swathes of northern and southern South Asia were unaffected by what was, on a subcontinental scale, a regional feature."
Concordance of periodisations
|Dates||Main Phase||Mehrgarh phases||Harappan phases||Other phases||Era|
|7000–5500 BCE||Pre-Harappan||Mehrgarh I
|Early Food Producing Era|
|5500–3300 BCE||Pre-Harappan/Early Harappan||Mehrgarh II-VI
c.4000-2500/2300 BCE (Shaffer)
c.5000-3200 BCE (Coningham & Young)
|3300–2800 BCE||Early Harappan
c.5000-2800 BCE (Kenoyer)
(Ravi Phase; Hakra Ware)
|2800–2600 BCE||Mehrgarh VII||Harappan 2
(Kot Diji Phase,
|2600–2450 BCE||Mature Harappan (Indus Valley Civilisation)||Harappan 3A (Nausharo II)||Integration Era|
|2450–2200 BCE||Harappan 3B|
|2200–1900 BCE||Harappan 3C|
|1900–1700 BCE||Late Harappan||Harappan 4||Cemetery H
Ochre Coloured Pottery
|1700–1300 BCE||Harappan 5|
Iron Age India
|Painted Grey Ware (1200-600 BCE)
Vedic period (c.1500-500 BCE)
c.1200-300 BCE (Kenoyer)
c.1500-600 BCE (Coningham & Young)
|600-300 BCE||Northern Black Polished Ware (Iron Age)(700-200 BCE)
Second urbanisation (c.500-200 BCE)
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