The external trade of the Harappan Civilization comprises the Harappan and Harappan related objects found in Afghanistan

The external trade of the Harappan Civilization comprises the Harappan and Harappan related objects found in Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Mesopotamia and the Gulf region. In Afghanistan, the most important related discovery is shortughai, approachable from the south side of the Hindukush by the Khowak pass. The came up in response to the Harappan need for Badakhshan lapis, the tin of north Afghnistan and Central Asia, and the horses of Tadjikistan, and it might also represent a traditional geopolitical concern with the region.
The miscellaneous Harappan finds in north Afghanistan, mostly carnelian beads etched with white designs and occasional Harappan seals, come from the looted graves of the Bactria area, of which Mazar – i – Sharif may be considered a central point.It is possible that some of these finds are related to the Mature Harappan context. The two earliest calibrated dates from the site of Dashly 3, which shows trefoil designs and humped bulls as decorations on alabaster plates and kidney – shaped vases of steatite as evidence of its Harappan contacts, fall before the mid – third millennium BC, but a number of dates from the same site show the continuity of the site till the middle of the second millennium BC.
Apart from two etched carnelian beads at Mundigak, there is no evidence of the Harappan contact with any south Afghanistan site.In South Turkmenia, the major sites which have yielded some evidence of Harappan contact are Altyn Tepe, Namazga Tepe and Gonur Tepe.
The important evidence from Altyn Tepe consists of a square soapstone / alasbaster seal with two Harappan pictographs, a tall perforated cylindrical jar, and etched carnelian bead and possibly segmented faience beads. Namazga has yielded an ithyphallic terracotta figure which as a type can be related to the Harappan Civilization. Tepe has yielded Harappan seal.
There are relevant sites in both north and south Iran. In north Iran there are three sites, Hissar, Shah Tepe and Marlik, all yielding primarily etched carnelian beads, although a long barrel – cylinder carnelian bead has also been reported from Marlik. The north Iranian route which passes through the southern side of the Elburz range has Hissar and Shah Tepe on it, but Marlik is located to the north of the Elburz.
Besides, Marlik is dated between the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the first millennium BC. In view of the generally late date of Marlik, the Harappan finds here may be heirlooms ; on the other hand, they may also suggest a direct contact because the Harappan Civilization itself continued in some form till c. 1300 BC.
The relevant south Iranian sites are Shahdad, Tepe Yahya, Jalalbad, Kalleh Nissar, some indeterminate places in Luristan, and Susa. Shahdad is at the edge of the south Iranian desert Dasht -i – Lut, and it yielded a large number of etched carnelian beads. In addition to an etched carnelian bead found on the surface, Tepe Yahya, located to the southeast of Kirman, yielded a sherd having directly above its base a Harappan pictographs, an etched carnelian bead and a ‘terracotta type’ object with a square sealing in the middle.
This square sealing depicts a man seated in the lotus position with a headdress and upraised hands. These examples are all found in Tepe Yahya IVA whorse terminal date, when calibrated, is around 2800 BC. The site of Jalalbad in the Persepolis Plain of Fars yielded 8 long – barrel cylinder carnelian and 3 etched carnelian beads on the surface. Kalleh Nisar in the Luristan region between the Fars plain and southwest Iran yielded an unspecified number of etched carnelian beads.
There are also reports of three Harappan seals in Luristan. There are two Harappan – related seals from Susa, one a cylinder seal with badly done Harappan characters, and the other a circular seal with similar characters. There are also long barrel – cylinder carnelian and etched carnelian beads at Susa. Shahdad, Tepe Yahya, Jalalbad, Kalleh Nisar and Susa all lie on the east to the west southern route of Iran.
Shahr -i – Sokhta at its eastern end in Iranian Seistan has shown fragments of a Xancus pyrum shell, which possibly came from the Gujarat coast. There is also a report of a cylinder seal with Harappan inscription from Iranian Seistan. At Jiroft in the Halil Valley of southeastern Iran, the finds of two Harappan seals have been noted.
The Harappan and Harappan – related objects occur in Bahrain, Failaka, Sharjah and the Oman peninsula in the Gulf area. Ras al – Qala (round seals with Harappan pictographs and Harappan weights in the Akkadian level), Hajjar (a pearshaped seal with Harappan characters) and Hamad (a typical Harappan seal) are there in Bahrain. In the Kassite context of Failaka there are two round seals with Harappan characters. At tell Abraq in Sharjah there are two Harappan weights and an ivory comb, the latter assigned to Bactria on account of a flower decoration on it.
Ras al – Junayaz in Oman has shown an Harappan inscribed sherd, a typical Harappan steatite seal and an ivory comb in association with the remains of a wooden boat coated with bitumen. More Harappan pottery and beads have been claimed to have been discovered in Oman but the publication details are seldom clear.
Harappan and Harappan – related objects, mostly beads and seals, come from both south and north Iraq. There are four indisputably Harappan seals : two from Kish and one each from Lagash and Nippur. A typical Harappan seal with the impression of cloth on its back was, according to the dealer who sold it, from Umma. Two specimens of rectangular / square seals with concentric square designs which occur in the Harappan context have been found in Mesopotamia, one each from Tell Asmar and Tepe Gawar.
There are a least six round seals with a bull and Harappan pictographs from Ur but more finds of this type, although without contexts, have been reported from Ur, Lagash and possibly other sites. Three cylinder seals in Mesopotamia – two from Ur and one from Tell Asmar – show Harappan influence in the form of humped bull / elephant / rhinoceros. A rectangular stamp seal of dark steatite from Ur was considered by its excavator L. Woolley to be providing evidence of Harappan contact, because the rectangular shape itself is associated with the Harappan.
This seal was dated by him to the Royal Graves of the site. The Royal Graves of Ur have also yielded Harappan long barrel – cylinder carnelian and etched carnelian beads. The latter occur at Kish, Nippur, Assur and Tell Asmar as well. There are also miscellaneous bits of evidence cited as proof of Harppan – Mesopotamia contact. Mention may be made among them of a fragment of steatite vase from Tell Agrab, which shows a humped bull tethered in front of a building. Ur has also yielded a Harappan weight and dice have been reported from Tepe Gawra and Al Hiba.
Etched carnelian beads have also been reported from Abu Salabikh and Tell Brak (a site in northeast Syria but very much within the north Mesopotamian orbit). There are three ithyphallic terracottas as well from Nippur. The foregoing account is a short summary of the actual Harappan artefacts found in the Gulf, Afghanistan, Iran, and north and south Mesopotamia. The chronological range of these finds is from the period of the Royal Graves of Ur, roughly 2600 BC. To the Kassite levels of about the 14th century BC, with a strong focus on the Sargonid context of c. 2325 BC or a little earlier.
In the internal area of the Harappan Civilization, a Gulf – type round seal was reported from the surface at Lothal. A seal with the whorl motif has been found in the context about 14th century BC, at Bet dwaraka. A few cylinder seals showing motifs of the Harappan Civilization occur at Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi and Mohenjodaro. Along with these finds, one has to consider the occurrence of steatite/chlorite vessel fragments bearing hut motif at Mohenjodaro and Dholavira.
There is also an area of the study of various motifs and designs, such as the presence of a hero – a ‘Gilgamesh’ – like figure – between two lions/tigers – on a number of seals from Mohenjodaro. This shows that there were other elements of cross – cultural interactions between Mesopotamia on the one hand and the Harappan area on the other. The number of Harappan related artefacts is much more in west and central Asia and the Gulf than vice versa.
Secondly, the Mesopotamian term Meluhha means perhaps the general area to the east of Mesopotamia and not necessarily the Harappan area alone. The point to make here is that there was a network of traditional trade covering jthe entire region between the Harappan and Mesopotamia right up to the nineteenth century, and it would historically be correct to view the external trade of this civilization from this perspective. Among the Indian exports we can consider, apart from textiles, the most important staple of Indian trade through the centuries, such luxury items as ivory combs, specific types of carnelian beads, dice, polished stone weights, objects made of shells of a particular variety etc.
In the nineteenth century, Oman sent to India pearls, mother – of – pearl, dried limes, fresh fruit and salt fish, i.e. items which would not easily be identified in archaeology. The Harappan finds in the Ras – al – Had peninsula of Oman, which happens to be the landfall of the ships sailing with the help of the monsoon winds from Gujarat to Oman, strongly suggest that the use of the monsoon winds was known to the Harappan traders.
The issue of routes is fairly straightforward. The Hindukush was crossed and the Harappan traders must have been familiar with its high passes. Once in the Oxus Valley, the Harappan traders had no difficulty of movement in that region including Turkmenia. They were also familiar with the routes in north and south Iran. Mesopotamia was approached both through Iran and the Gulf, the latter accessed through navigation based on the knowledge of the monsoon.

Structural Analysis Of The Trade

Trade between India and Mesopotamia attracted the attention of scholars with a great zeal the day Mesopotamian clay tablets containing references to Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha were studied in depth and the suggestion was made that Meluhha is to be identified with the Indus valley. Two kinds of researches followed – one concerned itself with the location study of the three areas and the other with the items of trade system underlying the trade – mechanism. While the former falls primarily in the domain of paleo – geographers, historians and linguists, the latter moved into the fray several archaeologists. However, both these researches have largely been complementing each other and therefore remained valid for the structural analysis of the operative system underlying the Indus – Mesopotamian trade.
To begin with, in the context of Indus – Mesopotamian economic interaction, we visualize a multi – tired structure as against simple two – tired structure of pre – urban societies. This multi – tired has two major components – the Productive Unit and the Distributive Unit, each further divisible in a number of sub – units. In this whole structure one element which has been fundamental to the operative system is ‘agent’ but it has not attracted sufficient attention of scholars. The contemporary literary evidence of ‘agents’ and ‘agency system’ is ample. It gives us a clear idea that the ”traders, Akkadian, Iranian, Indian … behaved in much the same way as merchants do the world over today”.
Today, except for very localized transactions, we can hardly visualize ‘producer – consumer’ trade – system. Between the producers and the consumers, now a chain of expertise, including that of the transporters, look after the interests of the two parties, but the expertise of the authorized agents, who look after the profit and loss aspect of the transactions or who share the profits and also bear a part of the losses, is always vital. It is to this organ of trade – operation that we will focus the attention of scholars. Since no proper appreciation of this organ of trade is possible in isolation, we will present briefly an overall picture of the third millennium trade and the operative structure within it.
In recent years, our knowledge about the extent of the Harappa cultural has increased considerably which has a direct bearing on the long distance Harappan trade as well as the highland – lowland interaction for economic needs. Thus, beyond the Indus Valley, we have now a cluster of seven sites at Shoturgi, near Ai – Khanum, northern Afghanistan on the Oxus – Kokcha confluence. Its location is so strategic that it must have controlled the import of lapis lazuli, turquoise, silver and other minerals and metals from Afghanistan and Soviet Central Asia and northern Iran required for the highly industrialized economic pursuits of the Harappans.
Similarly the discovery of Manda – a site in the Himalayan foot – hills on the Chenab in District Jammu, near the modern town of Akhnoor should be taken as a highland site controlling the inflow of Himalayan timber for the Harappans.Sites like Bhagatray on the western coast must have provided semi – precious stones like agate, carnelian and chalcedony for Harappan bead – making factories, Metals, minerals and timber of northern Baluchistan must have come to the lowland through a number of sites including Gumla and Rahman Dheri in the Gomal valley.
From southern Baluchistan men and material must have come directly to several places in Sind – Allahdino and Balakot both have yielded enough evidence for it. Significantly enough, a site, Kulhade – ka – Johad, near Ganeshwar in the Khetri copper mine are a in Rajasthan has yielded typical Harappan inverted ‘V’ shaped arrowheads. Obviously, Harappans had specific economic interests in several regions peripheral to their culture – area.
The fertile land between the Euphrates and Tigers was also surrounded by several neighbouring areas rich in mineral wealth with which it interacted and gave birth to a civilization whose boundaries have, however, not been defined as clearly as that of the Harappa Civilization.
Mesopotamia, like the Indus Valley, was also, by and large, devoid of basic raw materials for industrial diversification. However, the valley of twin rivers could evolve a magnificent civilization mainly because of its nearness to the hilly regions of Iran and Anotolia which were very rich in mineral resources and its ability to mobilize them. As shown above, the same situation existed in the context of the rise and growth of the Indus Civilization : the Indus valley is located near the Baluchi and Afghan hills on the west, the Gujarat and Kathiawar hills in the south, Khetri mines in the east and forest areas in the north, regions which are equally rich in metal, mineral and forest resources.
The Indus Civilization was able to evolve a trading structure by which she was able to mobilize all this wealth for its own use. Like the Indus Valley proper, Mesopotamia was mainly a land of agriculture and cattle and sheep breeding, which is clear from the list of exports: cloth, garments, wool, leather and perfumed oil : these were mainly the products of agricultural and pastoral activities.
Coming back to the question of long distance trade, the highest achievement of the south Mesopotamian cities were, as the cuneiform records and a few models and engraved depiction of boats attest, the effective use of the ‘Persian Gulf – cum – Makran’ sea – route during the second half of the 3rd millennium B.C, since it is doubtful if the behavioural pattern of the monsoons was known to the world before the early centuries of the Christian Era.
Similarly may have been the situation in regard to the Indus Civilization, although we have no depichered written records to substantiate it in the way it has been possible in the context of Mesopotamia. Hewever, the presence of a number of Indus seals in Mesopotamia somewhat compensates this limitation since the presence of the seals does indicate the existence of the trade. Still, it may be noted that texts are the only real basis for the history of this trade.
Regarding the long distance trade between India and Mesopotamia, two recently proposed theories have been taken into consideration since they provide a rough framework for the working process underlying the trade. The first is that of Lamberg – Karlovsky, who observes that the evidences for import and export are very fragmentary. Consequently, he states, they cannot be taken as proof of direct commercial contacts between India and Mesopotamia. He employs an extension of the ‘Central Place’ theory in which he visualizes a place located centrally between the Indus and the Euphrates where commercial negotiations, transactions, etc., took place.
A site likely Tepe Yahya in south – eastern Iran may have played this role, according to him. He, therefore, visualizes a situation in which the Mesopotamia and Indus merchants met and exchanged their goods in the central place marke:s, and avoided going to each others’ country personally. Such a situation was visualized by Bibby also in the context of Persian Gulf sites, which, according to him, also served the role of ‘clearance house’.
The second theory is of During Caspers who promotes the idea of direct contacts by giving a number of evidences, particularly, the evidence of etched carnelian beads, stone seals and a number of small antiquities. She firmly believes that the goods were taken directly to the terminal markets. Intermediary stations were not important in her scheme of things although she also accepts the role of Persian Gulf States as entrepots.
On the face of it, the two models mentioned above appear to have over – simplified the situation, or, one may say, each one presented a lop – sided picture. Our contention is that the Harappan trade was partly direct and partly indirect because we feel that the Indo – Mesopotamian trade was mixed, it was neither completely state – controlled nor completely privately owned and it used not only the sea route but also land routes.
Further, there is ample proof, literary as well as archaeological, that Indus – Mesopotamian trade was grossly imbalanced, export from Indus was much more than imports, qualitaltively.Harappan trade, according to us, by and large, appears to have been the joint – ventured of Merchants, agents, expert sailors, port authorities and others, since overseas trade was a very complex affair even in Mesopotamia. Mesopotamian texts clearly refer to three different designations for above mentioned individuals – Tamkarum (merchant).
Samallum (agent or helper of merchant) and Mari sipri (messenger employed in the trade for the transport of letters and merchandise) (cf. inter alia the detailed record of the Old Assyrian trade with Anatolia). Obviously, ventures of the kind which involves these categories of people have always two major working unit : (i) Production Unit, and (ii) Distribution Unit. The Production Unit is further divided into two sub – units :
The unit looking after the availability of raw materials, and
The unit looking after the manufacture of goods.
During the Harappa period, we visualize that the wealthy merchants were arranging the raw material from neighbouring regions, and organizing the industry roughly on the ‘factory system’ (Lothal and Chanhundaro are known for their bead factories) i.e., employing several craftsmen under a single roof. The head – merchant was looking after the production since this was the basis of all trade in the locally produced goods.
Here one may legitimately argue that this head (merchant) may have been the ruler of the city himself and not a private wealthy merchant of the town. If so, it was the state owned unit. We would, however, beg to differ from this proposition on a very important ground : none of the seal types with a single standard inscription has ever been found in sufficiently large numbers to justify the hypothesis that there was an ‘overlord’ merchant.
The second is the Distribution Unit which has also two sub – units : (i) the unit looking after the sale of goods and (ii) the unit looking after the transportation of goods.
During the Harappan period, in all probability, on the Sumerian analogy agents of the manufactures were looking after the first sub – unit of the major unit ‘Distribution’. Possibly, these agents, had travelled to the intermediate stations for the promotion of the sale of goods. They carried only the samples or small consignments of precious items, such as the etched carnelian beads, along with them. In these entrepots they negotiated the trade with the agents from other countries and secured firm orders from them. It was absolutely essential because the trade was based on barter system and exchange items were to be negotiated on the basis of the requirements of the home market.
The second sub – unit was the joint venture of the agents and the expert sailors. After coming back to the production centre, they could have shipped the consignments directly from some Harappan port with the help of the ship – captain and the crew after packing the goods carefully with full identification – the name of the consigner, and also the trade mark.
The crew were to carry goods from one port to the other. In all likelihood, in a few selected Mesopotamian towns authorized Indian agents were permanently stationed. This can be inferred from the evidence of seals, which is of two kinds : (a) the so – called entrepots have rarely yielded any true Harappan seal, while (b) the big Mesopotamian cities have yielded them, albeit in restricted numbers. The presence of seals (not sealings and impressions), implies the presence of its owner who used it repeatedly.
Recently Parpola have reviewed the evidence of seals in the light of some of the hitherto unpublished tablets of Ur III period and also drawn our attention to the observations made by Hunter on three round seals with Harappan characters found in Mesopotamia whose language must have been non – Harappan because of the marked differences in the sequence of the letters : the recently published Concordance of Harappan inscriptions has not a single inscription comparable to those on the above mentioned three seals.
Undoubtedly, Harappan agents stationed themselves at places like Lagash for generations together, so much so that in Ur III times, some 300 years after the Sargon of Addad, their village was called ‘Meluhha’ and some of their personal names included ‘Meluhha’. All this reminds us of the situation in which Indian place – names find their way in Indian colonies of Africa and south – east Asia.
In the ultimate analysis, however, the mechanism adopted by the Distribution Unit for the sale of goods was partly indirect and partly direct.
1. Indirect securing orders for goods on Intermediate sations from middlemen or agents.
2. Direct securing orders for goods directly from using agencies.
The working process of the sub – unit I of the Distribution Unit can be agrued more strongly on conceptual and literary grounds than on archaeological grounds. Long distance trade invariably implies the existence of entrepots, particularly if the entrepots themselves have also to offer some goods, for ultimate destination. Between Meluhha and Ur there were at least two places – Magan and Dilmun – which must have served as most viable areas for entrepots.
1. Mesopotamian texts are full with their description : Dilmun in the Persian Gulf and Magan on Makran. We suggest that the port – town of sutkagen – dor certainly played the role of most – briskly – used – entrepot’. The location of these entrepots was favourable to the merchants as these were situated at very convenient points between Mesopotamia and India and the merchant or the chief of the State, in items State was controlling the trade, could have saved time, labour and hazards of journey by deputing its agents to transact business without losing any substantial gains.
2. Navigation between Sutkagen -dor and the Persian Gulf islands must have been rather difficult because the coastal region along the Persian Makran was an extremely dry and desolate area absolutely inhospitable for people to settle down permanently. The hinterland sites, like Tepe Yahya, does not seem to have participated in sea – trade. May be there were a few temporary stations on the coast but we have no knowledge about them as yet.
3. The entrepots must have been attracting a number of agents from all directions. Here they were getting the opportunity to negotiate the trade amongst themselves. Some of the entrepots may have also worked as ‘clearing houses’ for small consignments for places in the neighbouring regions, such as those on the eastern coast of Arabia, say in Abu Dhabi.
The Archaeological Evidence
1. Objects of unmistakably Indian origin are discovered in Bahrain island but they are not in such a large quantity as to be certain that this was the storehouse of substantial amount of goods from India or Mesopotamia. We have no Begram here.
2. Cuneiform records of the 3rd millennium B.C. refer to Sumerian merchants setting out for Dilmun (from ED III time, 2600 B.C.). Some later texts mention Megan (Ur III Period, 2100 – 2000 B.C.). But never Meluhha, which is extremely surprising. They may have been the authorized agents with political sanction.
3. A few circular seals (discussed later), typical of Persian Gulf seals, bearing the Indus characters have been found in Mesopotamia. They are the witnesses of the Persian Gulf role in Indo – Mesopotamian trade. They possibly belonged to the local (as said earlier, their language was not Harappan at all) authorized agents who could negotiate trade transactions on behalf of the Indus merchants. A Persian Gulf seal found at Lothal may, however, indicate the presence of a Persian Gulf agent at Lothal who could transact business on behalf of the Persian Gulf merchants.
Important Interpretation
In all likelihood the State was actively engaged on behalf of the Mesopotamian traders, but whether the same situation existed in the context of Indian traders or not we do not know, mainly because the script is undeciphered. However, facts may be noted :
1. The Meluhha trade was first metioned by Sargon of Akkad (2370 B.C.) who boasted that boats from Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha came to the quay of Akkad.
2. Indus finds in Mesopotamia and at Susa are meager, their presence further down the Gulf is also limited : one lapis pendant, some stone weights from Bahrein one etched carnelian bead from Umma – a – Nar, some Indian ‘style’ seals from Bahrein, a plain pot – sherd, with a seal impression having. Indus signs from Tepe Yahya IV B almost complete the list of important known objects.
3. Some Indus sealings found at Mesopotamian sites are undoubtedly to be treated as direct imports from the Indus Valley. They found their way into Mesopotamia along with the cargo shipped from the Indus harbours.
4. The seals found in Mesopotamia were certainly used by the Indus merchants or their agents as identification marks on the goods they collected in the local markets and then sent to Indus ports.
5. A seal impression from Umma is likely to have been originally attached to a package containing some kind of merchandise, probably, cotton. It was possibly sent to Mesopotamia by some Indus merchant.
Now let us examine some of the important items exported from Meluhha as we have come to know from the Cuneiform records, and also determine up to what extent they were the Indian products. Gudea of Lagash gives a detailed list of objects coming from different countries. Various kinds of woods, copper, gold, silver, carnelian, cotton, etc.. were the important items which found their way into Mesopotamia from Meluhha. Most of the articles of these items are typically Indian.
Wood : Ur was a ship – building centre and for that hard wood was needed in huge quantity which was obtained from Magan and Meluhha. Lexical texts list three types of woods – Mes, ha – lu – ub and a – ab – ba. Probably, hill – forests of Gujarat were providing these kinds of wood, although the Himalayan sources may have provided them easily through the Indus water – course. There may have been other such forests also. Gudea sent expeditions in 2200 B.C. to Makkan and to Meluhha in search of these kinds of hard wood (teak) Indian teak wood was in great demand till recently since it was most suitable in sea – water laden with salts.
Chank – shell : The shell objects have been found at Ur Brak, Kish and Susa. Probably, they were exported from Lothal and other Indus cities as evidenced from the workshops producing bangles, wristlets, beads, gamesmen and diamond – shaped inlay pieces, etc. at several Indus sites, including Mohenjodaro. According to Rao, Kathiawar coast was no less rich in this material.
Ivory : It was the main product of Kathiawar and the Indus basin. Lothal Mohenjodaro and other contemporary sites, like Surkotada are likely to have been exporting worked pieces of ivory rods, combs, inlay pieces and gamesmen to the Persian Gulf ports – Mesopotamia and, possibly, the North Syrian Coast where their occurrence has bee reported in several excavations, Barabar temple at ‘Qala’ at al Bahrian and in the Bahrain burial tumuli, Tepe Yahya, Kish, Ubaid , Mari.
Carnelian beads : Etched carnelian beads have been found almost on all Indus sites Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Gumla, Amri III, Kalibangan, Surkotada IC, Lothal , Chanhudaro as also on some Persian, Gulf and, Iranian sites, such as Shahdad Susa, and Mesopotamian sites such as Ur, Kish, Al Hiba, and Tell Asmar. According to During Caspers, (1971), Rao (1973) and Gupta (1977), Lothal and Chanhudaro were the main production – centres, as the workshops with bead – making kilns and many unfinished carnelian beads and waste have been discovered at these sites. From the Indus region, they were exported to Mesopotamia and Susa since except India etched carnelian beads, according to available information, were not made anywhere in the contemporary world.
Cotton : The discovery of a terracotta sealing with the impression of wove fabric from Lothal the actual cotton cloth piece sticking to the base of a silver vase from Mohenjodaro a number of accessories of cotton weavers found at Lothal and other Indus cities and the seal impression with the cotton cloth from Umma indicate that cotton may have been one of the major items on the list of export items.
Cubical dice : Another object which is commercially significant is a small number of cubical dice made of terracotta, clay and bone, discovered from Ur, Tell Asmar and Tepe Gawra. Dales suggest that the origin of this type of dice possibly lies in the Indus cities. The dice from Ur is comparable with an agate dice from Mohenjodaro.
Overseas trade to be economical has necessarily to follow the system of exchange – in – full. The Mesopotamian texts present ample evidence not only for imports but also exports, although none of the known texts appears to have given the exhaustive list of these items. It has been admirably discussed by Crawford (1973) in which she draws our attention to the Mesopotamian’s invisible exports in the third millennium B.C. Fish, textiles, leather, cereals, perfumed fats and ointments have been the major items exported by Addadian merchants, though largely between one city state and the other.
As may be seen, these are all perishable items and hardly leave behind evidence to be caught by archaeologists easily, unless luck favours him or unless extremely dry or extremely cold conditions prevailed, which was hardly the case in the present context of Indus – Mesopotamian trade.The items really required by the Harappans for their industrial needs were tin, lead and silver. It is our hunch that the Harappans got in return these items, although some luxury items, organic and inorganic both, may also have jbeen imported. But let it be clearly stated that we do not as yet have any textual evidence for it.
In fact, Meluhha is referred to in cuneiform texts in the context of imports in Mesopotamia rather than exports. Dilmun and Magan are the only two places which are repeatedly mentioned at commercial centres. It is extremely significant to mention that Meluhha’s economic role, as we get the impression from the Mesopotamian texts, was important but not very important in in comparison to Dilmun and Magan. It clearly shows that the role of the Meluhhans may have been of a kind grossly different from those of the Dilmunites and Maganians. And herein lies the germs of our hunch, that agency system played a greater role thatn direct – negotiation system. Rocovery of only stray Harappan seals with Harappan and non – Harappan languages also favours only this kind of mechanism.
The recovery of sixty – five terracotta sealings, some of them bearing the impressions of packing material on the other side, from the warehouse of Lothal leaves no doubt in accepting the suggestion that the Indus seals were the commercial tools used for sealing the cargo. After packing the goods properly, the consigner’s seals were affixed on the labels of wet clay at the knot. On the basis of two to three impressions of different seals on a few clay sealings recovered from the Lothal warehouse , Rao proposes the theory of ‘profit sharing partnership’, i.e., the parties in trade and the warehouse authorities stamped the cargo jointly with their own marks for purposes of authority ad identification.
We feel that the Indus seals Indus seals in India belonged to merchants, pot – authorities and ship – captains, although in the absence of the deciphered scripi it cannot conclusively be proved. At the present state of our knowledge we are unable to visualize if these people were sharing the profit of trade or not. The seals found at the hinterland sites also seem to have belonged to merchants and not to political authorities. The belief is based on the fact, as said earlier, that no single standard type of seal bearing a single motif and single inscription has been found repeatedly at one or several sites.
Square Seals : at Tello, Umma and Kish a small group of square steatite seals have been found which are identical in shape and character to the Indus seals. They consist of the button boss at the back and the figure of unicorn standing in front of an object typical of Indus motifs and the Harappan legend on the front. The sequence of characters tally with those found on Indus seals in India.
An alabaster seal comes from Tell Asmar which shows concentric squares with a bead pattern in between and a cylindrical knob at the back. Tepe gawra has also yilded a terracotta stamp seal with concentric squares but without a bead pattern ; Mohenjodaro and Harappa have produced similar stamp – seals. Recently, a stone rectangular seal imported from some Harappan site with bull and an inscription has been found at Nippur.
A small square seal with a swastika design has been found at Kish in Mesopotamia and Altin Depe in south Turkmenia. The swastiks was commonly depicted by the Harappans and appears to be a typical Harappan motif. A plain seal with Harappan characters has also been found at Altin Depe.
Round seals : Gadd has listed 18 seals of the so – called Indus type found at Ur and in Babylon. Among them five seals are round with the button boss at the back giving the look of Persian Gulf seals with typical Indus characters. Identical seals have been acquired from Mohenjodaro and Chanhudaro. Rao (1970) feels that these seals belong to the Indus merchants living in Bahrein.
According to Mackay these seals were imported into Sumer from some Indus site, other than Mohenjodaro and Harappa. We agree with During Caspers(1972) when she says that their shape might have been influenced by some commercial consideration, such as the adoption of the style of the region where the parties negotiated the trade.
A few seals share Indian as well as Mesopotamian characteristics. For example Seal No.I of Gadd’s list (1932) is squarish with a perforated button on the ridged back and the Indus bull with the archaic Cuneiform legend on the front. Gadd (1932) and Rao are of the opinion that this seal appears to be the product of a place which was under both Indian and Sumerian influences, and was, perhaps commissioned by an Indian merchant settled at Ur. To us, it appears that it belongs to some ship – captain working at both the ends for merchants, possibly as an authorized agent.
The same caqn be applied to two cylinder seals with Indus motifs from Ur : the No. 7 cylinder seal with typical Sumerian shape and Indus motif of poor workmanship has some characteristics (foot – print ) of the Dilmun glyptic art. We think that these examples of cross – breeding go a long way to substantiate our hypothesis of operative system of trade based on an agency system.
A glazed steatite cylinder seal, showing the procession of an elephant, a rhinoceros and a crocodile, has been discovered at Tell Asmar in the cluster of Indian objects. Though the fauna is typically Indian, yet the inferior treatment of the animals indicates the non – Harappan (local) origin of the seal. During Caspers (1972) believes that it was copied in Elam. Be that as it may, the crucial point is to understand the underlying factors which were responsible for such products. Here also we see the same factor : the prevalence of the agency system.
Parpola (1975) have argued in favour of the process of acculturation of the Meluhhans in Mesopotamia. It is an all – pervading process in which all aspects of culture of a people pass through several stages of change. In time, the old features get either lost or transformed into the new ones. The determining factors remain those which belong to the higher culture or culture in which the smaller group of people find itself in hopeless minority.
Thus, although in the Addadian times ‘Meluhha’ and ‘Meluhhans’ referred to a foreign land and foreign people, requiring even interpreters to translate the Meluhhan language, in Ur III times, while Meluhhans still remained as a distinct ethnic group, they became completely natives and participated in all cultural and commercial activities in that capacity. Parsis in India present the closest modern analogy. The above details fall in the framework we are visualizing here ; stationing of a small number of Indus agents in Mesopotamian towns.
Mesopotamian Seals in Indus valley : The discovery of a few seals in India showing Mesopotamian influence clearly demonstrates the two – way traffic of the trade. The cylinger seals found at the Indus sites may therefore also be interpreted as the proof of the stationing of the Mesopotamian agents in India.
Two seals from Mohenjodaro depict animals, probably, antelopes. Since antelopes occur frequently on the Sumerian and Elamite seals, it can easily be inferred that it was the adaptation of a popular West Asian motif. Five cubical seals of sandy yellow paste have been discovered at Mohenjdaro and four of them bear parallel lines, crossing on eanother on two opposite sides. This design was quite popular in Mohenjodaro (Marshall, 1931) and Susa.
It is equally significant to note that eight seals of the Indus Valley depict buffalo heads in typical Sumerian style, showing both the rugged horns well developed. A number of Mohenjodaro seals depict a man struggling between two animals presumably tigers. Undoubtedly this scene reflects the Sumerian influence or Elamite influence.
The second important tool of the Indus trade was the stone weight which is distinct from the West Asian weights in shape, standard and material. The Harappans used hexahedron, popularly known as cubical, weights of chert and agate adhering to a predetermined standard. These were adopted throughout the Indus culture – area. On the other hand, Egyptians and Sumerians used barrel or duck shaped weights of alabaster. Cubical chert weights, discovered at Kish, recall their parapllels from Harappans sites. According to Rao (1973) the Lothal merchants may have used the Indus standard for trade ‘within the Empire’ and an additional standard for international trade. At a later date we find similar standard being used by the Assyrians ; of course, only indirectly.
Due to the hostile behavior of Elam towards Mesopotamia, occasionally, as evidenced from the cuneiform record the sea – route was discovered and put into traffic in spite of difficult and risky navigation ; Lothal dockyard with five stone – anchors ; terracotta models of boat from Lothal ; engraving of a boat on a seal from Mohenjodaro ; representations of sailing ships and boats on some Mohenjodaro seals and on Lothal potsherds, as also on a terracotta amulet from Mohenjodaro all attest the existence of the sea – journey. The evidence also attests the types of ancient sea – crafts of which three types are distinguishable from the Lothal models – two types of sharp – keeled boats with provision for the mast must have sailed on the high seas, whereas the type resembling canoes was used in the estuary only.
It is, therefore, more than probable that the Mesopotamians and Harappans established a maritime power with a strong commercial fleet of ships and with a number of trading stations at selected points along the coast to enable the ships to prepare for the onward journey. Sargon of Addad clearly mentions the arrival of Meluhhan ships loaded bay at Addad. And he feels proud of it.
Obviously, some ships loaded with goods sailed directly up to the coast of Mesopotamia. It is our hunch that these ships carried very heavy items, such as the teak wood required for ship – building by the Mesopotamians. The situation continued throughout hthe 3rd, 2nd and 1st millennium B.C. Gudea also got wood and other raw materials for his temples from Meluhha. Later on also Indian timber was required. The ships containing smaller items may have travelled only as far as Magan or Dilmun, that is at ports between Sutkagendor and Bahrein or failaka islands.
Sutkagendor on the river Dasht, Sotkaq – Koh near Pashni, in the Shadi Kaur Valley, and Balakot near Sonmiani were built on the strategic points to control the communication. In this context, it is extremely significant to note that the small site of Allahdino, within the metropolitan city of Karachi, has yielded an unusually large number of copper implements, more than a hundred, and also earthen pots while no evidence of factories and kilns have as yet been found in or near the habitation. Undoubtedly the site was meant for redistributional activities.
It is possible that the ports, located as far west as Sutkagendor, were controlled and manned exclusively by the Indus people while more westerly ports were looked after by the Persian gulf people and also the Mesopotamians with some understanding on the distribution of ports between themselves, of which, of course, we have as yet no definite proof. However, there is one very interesting reference. The king Rimush of third millennium B.C. is said to have conquered Meluhha. What could be the underlying reasons for this military expedition beyond Magan? Not for territorial gains is obvious from the circumstances particularly space. Undoubtedly, for giving protection to commercial interests of the Mesopotamians. Fortification of the port – town like sutkagendor is, therefore, meaningful : some kind of apprehension of military attack may have been there.
Lothal, surkotada, Allahdino, Mohenjodaro, Chanhudaro, Balakot and Harappan were some of the main commercial towns of the Indus people during the third millennium B.C. The sea – route through which their goods went to Mesopotamia seems to have started from the Gulf of Cambay and then passed along the coast of the Arabian Sea, entered into the Persian Gulf and finally reached the mouth of the Euphrates near Ur.
As said earlier, Akkadian documents refer to the lands called Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha, sometimes separately, sometimes together. They were situated eastward and were the source of raw – materials and also finished goods.