Lothal: "Dear Oscar, the Harappan!"


State of Gujarat



March 9, 2007

Dr. Oscar White Muscarella

(Cc: Family and Friends)
Ancient Near East Department
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York, New York

Dear Dr. Muscarella,

Oscar, my friend. One of us slipped up!

Was it you? Did you cut the Indus Valley Civilization from the curriculum of your Ancient History course at The City College?

Was it me? Did I cut your class? Or did I fall asleep?

I know I was awake for your lectures on the Sumerians (3500-2340 BCE), the Hittites (1700-1200 BCE), and the Phrygians (1200-133 BCE). But absent from my notes is the ancient Indus Valley and the Harappan civilization. (2500-1500 BCE).

To fill in that gap in my otherwise superior City College liberal arts education, I visited the recently excavated Indus Valley site of Lothal near the Subarmati River and the Bhogavo River in Gujarat.

I know that you are an excellent map reader, Oscar, so does it seem odd to you that Lothal is a major site of the Indus Valley? After all, the Indus River delta is 360 miles from here. And between Lothal and the Indus sits a vast marshland and an equally vast desert.

Is it conceivable that the Harappans could have navigated down the Subarmati River (in India) to the Gulf of Cambay, and then sail northwest to the mouth of the Indus? (Modern Pakistan)

Is it also conceivable that this ancient Indus Valley Civilization sailed west across The Arabian Sea to the Red Sea to trade with Egypt, and to the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf to trade with Persia and Mesopotamia?

It was astonishing to learn that the Indus Valley merchants sailed southwest across the Indian Ocean to East Africa to buy raw metals that they brought home to process into delicate jewelry that was then shipped back across the seas. Is this what is meant by Globalization? Four thousand years ago?!

The modern Lothal site seems bleak and almost barren. But the excavation reveals the foundations of a well-planned city with blocks of houses, markets, paved drains, channels and wells, twelve public baths and an inland dock. The exposed brick work is unique and creative.

I toured the site and then the museum. Here are the key words I found at the exhibits and in subsequent reading:

"Prominent city, the world's earliest dock, vital and thriving trade center, realism in art and sculpture, pioneering in the study of the stars and advanced navigation 2000 years before The Greeks, metallurgy, micaceous rock, autochthonous tools, engineering feats of the highest order, and irrigation, drainage and sewage systems." *

And this summary:

"The people of Lothal made significant and often unique contributions to human civilization in the Indus era, in the fields of city planning, art, architecture, science, engineering and religion. Their work in metallurgy, seals, beads and jewelry was the basis of their prosperity." *

Archeologists have found copper beads, gilt jewelry, decorated pottery, adult and children's games, and seals with (undeciphered) pictographic writing. There is also evidence that an orderly system of weights and measures was invented here and used with trading partners across the oceans. And a shell compass! Four thousand years ago! These artifacts are on display in Lothal. I was amazed.

Now, Oscar, can anything top Lothal?

I am sure you heard the news:

"In 2001, Indian oceanographers, carrying out water pollution tests in the Gulf of Cambay, made an astonishing discovery. They found the foundations of two cities under the sea, complete with streets, houses, staircases and temples. Objects recovered from the seabed, such as a stone slab covered with mysterious markings (which could be the earliest form of writing yet discovered) and carved wooden logs, have been carbon dated to 7500 BCE.

The discovery of the underwater site, "Asia's Atlantis," has excited historians and archeologists all over the world as it suggests that civilization may have started 5,000 years earlier than previously believed." **

As an archeologist, Oscar, I know you must be excited. And as a native New Yorker, as I am, you must also be a little worried, as I am.

The final note of the article reads:

"Scientists surmise that the undersea city may have been submerged as sea levels rose at the end of the Ice Age in about 8000 BCE."

Yes, I am worried. Will future under seas archeologists "discover" the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, and the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City and the Hilton Fontainbleu on Miami Beach? All submerged?

I am not worried about The City College campus buildings. Our Alma Mater is high up on a hill in Harlem. And I am hopeful that the engineering students there will devise new strategies for dealing with our modern meltdown. The ancient Harappans were overwhelmed by ancient flooding they could not forecast.

In retrospect, my old friend, I owe you a "Thank you." Thank you for introducing me to many of the "ancients." And now, by virtue of my trip to ancient Lothal in modern Gujarat, I have a little better understanding of our "global" culture.

Finally, I pray that the powerful and influential among us will not "slip up." I don't want to wear body armor or a snorkeling mask to visit other ancient sites.

Cheers from your "ancient" student,

Jan Polatschek

P.S. I got an A in Ancient History 101. Thank you.


* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lothal

** "India." Dorling Kindersley. 2005


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