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Ancient Artefacts

See weapons, implements etc. made by fire-workers of Sarasvati-Sindhu

Dawn of the bronze age

Contacts with Mesopotamia (Hairstyle, helmet and seals)

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Mesopotamian: substrate language and links with Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization (Assyriology: Sumer and Akkad, an introduction)

Trade contacts among India, Mesopotamia, Persia (Fire workers, bronze metallurgy)

Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization


The decipherment of the Sarasvati-Sindhu script will establish what the Harappans gave in exchange for the materials such as tin and lapis lazuli/turquoise imported from Sumer and Persia-- weapons or tools of copper and bronze and possibly movable goods such as cotton textiles and  various types of beads.

The script, which was written from right to left, is known from the 2,000-odd short inscriptions so far recovered, ranging from single characters to inscriptions of around 20 characters. There are more than 500 signs, many appearing to be compounds of two or more other signs, but it is not yet clear whether these signs are ideographic, logographic, or other. Numerous studies of the inscriptions have been made during the past decades, including those by a Russian team under Yuri Knorozov and a Scandinavian group led by Asko Parpola. Despite various claims to have read the script, there is still no general agreement... See: Iravatham Mahadevan: An Interview

The Harappans also employed regular systems of weights and measures. An early analysis of a fair number of the well-formed chert cuboid weights suggested that they followed a binary system for the lower denominations--1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64--and a decimal system for the larger weights--160, 200, 320, 640, 1,600, 3,200, 6,400, 8,000, and 12,800--with the unit of weight being calculated as 0.8565 grams. However, a more recent analysis, which included additional weights from Lothal, suggests a rather different system, with weights belonging to two series. In both series the underlying principle was decimal, with each decimal number multiplied and divided by two, giving for the main series ratios of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500(?). [1994-1998 Encyclopaedia Britannica]

For the trade with Mesopotamia there is both literary and archaeological evidence. The Harappan seals were evidently used to seal bundles of merchandise, as clay seal impressions with cord or sack marks on the reverse side testify. The presence of a number of Indus seals at Ur and other Mesopotamian cities and the discovery of a "Persian Gulf" type of seal at Lothal--otherwise known from the Persian Gulf ports of Bahrain (ancient Dilmun, or Telmun) and Faylahkah, as well as from Mesopotamia-- provide convincing corroboration of the sea trade suggested by the Lothal dock. Timber and precious woods, ivory, lapis lazuli, gold, and luxury goods such as carnelian beads, pearls, and shell and bone inlays, including the distinctly Indian kidney shape, were among the goods sent to Mesopotamia in exchange for silver, tin, woolen textiles, and grains and other foods. Copper ingots appear to have been imported to Lothal from Magan (possibly Oman, the Mahran region, or southeastern Iran). Other possible trade items include products originating exclusively in each respective region, such as bitumen, occurring naturally in Mesopotamia; and cotton textiles and chickens, major products of the Indus region not native to Mesopotamia.

Mesopotamian trade documents, lists of goods, and official inscriptions mentioning Meluhha (the ancient Akkadian name for the Indus region) supplement Harappan seals and archaeological finds. Literary references to Meluhhan trade date from the Akkadian, Ur III, and Isin- Larsa Periods (i.e., c. 2350-1800 BC), but as texts and archaeological data indicate, the trade probably started in the Early Dynastic Period (c. 2600 BC). During the Akkadian Period, Meluhhan vessels sailed directly to Mesopotamian ports, but by the Isin-Larsa Period, Dilmun (modern Bahrain) was the entrepôt for Meluhhan and Mesopotamian traders. By the subsequent Old Babylonian period, trade between the two cultures evidently had ceased entirely. (see also Index: 3rd Dynasty of Ur)

Bronze weapons

Metal crafts

Almost identical bronze carts discovered at Chanhu-daro and Harappa, seem to indicate a common manufacturing origin.

Gold was almost certainly imported from the group of settlements that sprang up in the vicinity of the goldfields of northern Karnataka, because the composition indicates electrum (gold-silver compound, called soma) and copper could have come principally from Rajasthan. Lead may have come from Rajasthan.

Quarters of the lower city in Mohenjodaro seem to have housed artisans specializing in different crafts indicating the possibility of occupational specialization among the fire- and metal-workers.  Copper and bronze were  used for making tools and implements. These included flat oblong axes, chisels, knives, spears, arrowheads , small saws, and razors. All these could be made by simple casting, chiseling, and hammering.Four main varieties of metal have been found: crude copper lumps in the state in which they left the smelting furnace; refined copper, containing trace elements of arsenic and antimony; an alloy of copper with 2 to 5 percent of arsenic; and bronze with a tin alloy, often of as much as 11 to 13 percent. The copper and bronze vessels of the Harappans are among their finest products, formed by hammering sheets of metal. Casting of copper and bronze was understood, and figurines of men and animals were made by the cire-perdue (lost-wax) technique.

Other metals used were gold, silver, and lead. Lead was employed occasionally for making small vases and such objects as plumb bobs. Silver is relatively more common than gold, and more than a few vessels are known, generally in forms similar to copper and bronze examples. Two examples of silver seals have been found. Gold  was generally reserved for such small objects as beads, pendants, and brooches.

Other crafts

Lapis lazuli was probably imported from Iran rather than directly from the mines at Badakhshan. Turquoise probably came from Iran; fuchsite from Karnataka; alabaster from Iran; amethyst from Maharashtra; and jade from Central Asia.

Other special crafts include the manufacture of faience (earthenware decorated with coloured glazes)--for making beads, amulets, sealings, and small vessels--and the working of stone for bead manufacture and for seals. The seals were generally cut from steatite and were carved in intaglio or incised with a copper burin (cutting tool). Beads were made from a variety of substances, but the carnelians are particularly noteworthy. They include several varieties of etched carnelian and long barrel beads made with extraordinary skill and accuracy. Shell and ivory were also worked and were used for beads, inlays, combs, bracelets, and the like.

Ffragments of cotton textiles recovered at Mohenjodaro provide the earliest evidence of a crop and industry for which India has long been famous. Perhaps, raw cotton was brought in bales to the cities to be spun, woven, and perhaps dyed, as the presence of dyers' vats would seem to indicate.


In the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the bronze sword of King Adad-nirari I, a unique example from the palace of one of the early kings of the period (14th-13th century BC) during which Assyria first began to play a prominent part in Mesopotamian history.

The Persian bronze industry was also influenced by Mesopotamia. Luristan, near the western border of Persia (Iran), is the source of many bronzes that have been dated from 1500 to 500 BC and include chariot or harness fittings, rein rings, elaborate horse bits, and various decorative rings, as well as weapons, personal ornaments, different types of cult objects, and a number of household vessels.

A sword, found in the palace of Mallia and dated to the Middle Minoan period (2000-1600 BC), is an example of the extraordinary skill of the Cretan metalworker in casting bronze. The hilt of the sword is of gold-plated ivory and crystal. A dagger blade found in the Lasithi plain, dating about 1800 BC (Metropolitan Museum of Art), is the earliest known predecessor of ornamented dagger blades from Mycenae. It is engraved with two spirited scenes: a fight between two bulls and a man spearing a boar. Somewhat later (c. 1400 BC) are a series of splendid blades from mainland Greece, which must be attributed to Cretan craftsmen, with ornament in relief, incised, or inlaid with varicoloured metals, gold, silver, and niello. The most elaborate inlays--pictures of men hunting lions and of cats hunting birds--are on daggers from the shaft graves of Mycenae, Nilotic scenes showing Egyptian influence. The bronze was oxidized to a blackish-brown tint; the gold inlays were hammered in and polished and the details then engraved on them. The gold was in two colours, a deeper red being obtained by an admixture of copper; and there was a sparing use of neillo.

Weapons and implements

1. Spear and lance heads and arrow heads. These weapons occurred at all levels at Harappa, Lothal, Kalibangan and Chanhudaro. Chanhudaro arrowheads are made from sheets of .02 to .05 in. thickness and have backward projecting barbs. The Lothal arrowheads are thin and without a barb.

2. Knives. Knives occur in a variety of shapes: triangular with leaf-shaped blades with curved ends, plain, narrow, straight; some have curved edges and some have rectangular sections.

3. Swords and Dirks. These have a pronounced mid-rib and thick tang with holes located at the base of blade or on the tang itself.

4. Blade axes and celts. Long, short, narrow, broad. Some are flat copper celts with a lenticular cross-section, broken butt, slightly concave sides and sometimes concentric working edge. A shouldered celt and a sleeved copper which is perhaps a precursor to the anthropomorphic copper hoard were also found.

5. Socketed axes. Mohenjodaro and Chanhudaro. The axe from Chanhudaro is made of bronze and perhaps belongs to the Zhukar period.

6. Maces. Pear-shaped copper maces.

7. Razors. Of several shapes.

8. Chisels. Of several shapes and in relatively large numbers. Sizes vary from short to long, sections vary from rectangular, round to square. The edges are doubly sloped, abrupt and occasionally displayed. Typical ones are with broad, rectacular sectioned tangs and narrow blades.

9. Saws. Bronze. With very regular, small teeth. Was proably fixed with a wooden handle with 2 or 3 rivets placed wide apart. Circular saw was found at Lothal and was perhaps used to cut grooves in cylindrical objects.

10. Sickle blade. Infrequent occurrence.

11. Tubular drills. Coghlan refers to these as the earliest examples in the world. The drills are the tapered tubes of thin copper and bronze. The groove left between the core and the wall varies in width indicating variance in the circumferences of the tools. A twisted drill, the fore-runner of the modern drill was found at Lothal.

12. Fish hooks. Made of sheet copper with an eye on the top and a barb at the pointed end. A few unbarbed fish hooks have also been found. Metallic fish-hooks are the earliest examples found anywhere in the world.

13. Others: awls and reamers, mid-ribbed swords, mirror, gouges, net sinker, needles, crapers, daggers and shovel.

Techniques. Annealing entails heating of cold worked brittle metal to regain its malleability. The Harappans seem to be acquainted with this technique (See Chanhudaro wire TF-C48; ASI, No. 49 and Chanhudaro Celt TF-C4-3; ASI No. 252 252988). Smelting (See furnace at Pl. VI, Figs. 33-35). Smelting oxide and carbonate ores involved placing the ore in wood or charcoal fire over a clay-lined pit. The metal regulus was kept and the slag portion thrown away. Melting of native copper was done by putting the regulus over furnace or fire in a crucible and then casting it. Smelting of sulphide ores to obtain refined copper involved the following stages (Agrawala, op. cit., p. 157):

a. the ore was roasted to remove the bulk of sulphur.

b. the roasted ore was smelted which removed slag from copper matte (copper and iron).

c. the copper matte was roasted. This process yielded blue material rich in copper and slag rich in copper and iron.

d. further roasting of blue material.

e. the roasted blue material was smelted with charcoal which resulted in 3 gradients: 1. black copper; 2. rich copper matte; 3. slag rich in copper.

f. the black copper was melted which separated refined copper from slag rich in copper.

g. the pure copper thus obtained was cast and used in making a variety of vessels, tools, implements and jewellery.

The native and oxide ores were in common use as shown in Mohenjodaro and Rangpur artefacts. Use of sulphide ores is suggested by Chanhudaro adze (TF-C4-1, ASI N.2593 P; M 43, Pl. LXIV, 10).

Casting. Open cast method used for flat axes. Closed moulds were used for the heads of staves.

Cire Perdue or Lost Wax process (See Pl. VI, Fig. 31). The toy cart, the figure of a dancing girl and fine toy animals and birds found at Lothal and other sites indicate use of this method. Wax model is made on a clay core. The thickness of the wax depends upon the thickness of the required metal. Then a single outer mould of clay is bilt up with a sprue-cup. The whole unit is then heated up so that wax melts and runs out. Core chaplets are inserted to prevent shift of clay. Molten metal is poured into the cavity. Then the outer clay mould is broken. The object which comes out with a rough surface is smoothed by polishing and rubbing down with horn.

Furnaces. Sixteen furnaces of three shapes were found at Harappa. One of them was a pottery jar embedded into earth. The technique is used even today by gold- and silver-smiths in India. Two other furnaces, one 3ft. 4 in. dia and cylindrical and the other 3ft. 5 in.dia. and pear-shaped are lined with bricks with their walls having mud-plastered vitrified slags. A window allows the placement of crucible with metal. The find of molten metal and thick terracotta bowl-like crucible near a circular furnace at Lothal confirms that copper ingots were melted in it. Another rectangular furnace was found in copper-smith's workshop at the same site. A few furnaces were also found at Kalibangan.

Running on method of joining. The parts to be joined are cleaned and molten bronze is poured over the parts to be joned. A tanged sword was joined to its hilt by this method.

Soldering method involved the use of an alloy which has a lower melting point. The soft solder is applied by a heated metal rod. Sanahullah notes that Harappans could perform gold and silver soldering.

Rivetting method involved the hammering down of simple metal rods at both ends to constitute a rivet. Rivet holes have been noticed in knives, bracelets and lances.

Lapping was the method used to join tubular handles to the vessel. Teal welding was also known to the Harappans.

Alloying. Ten, lead and arsenic were alloyed with copper. The criteron of determining whether the alloying is deliberate is accidental is the presence of more than one percent of tin. Out of 100 artefacts examined, 30 had tin content ranging from 8 to 12 percent. Arsenic alloying was used in 8 percent of the artefacts. Nickle alloying was used in 4 percent of the artefacts and lead alloying in six percent of the artefacts.

Higher percentage tin was used in alloys used for bangles and pins.

Spear 2.27%; engraver 3.96%; mirror 5.47%; chisel 9.62%; bangle 11.82%; pin 13.83%.

The Harappans were metal forgers, smiths and craftspersons capable of producing weapons, tools, instruments, pots, toys, jewellery and decorative pieces of metal.


Arthas'a_stra states: pure and impure silver may be heated four times with copper sulphate, mixed with powdered bone (asthituttha) again four times with an equal quantity of lead and again four times with dry copper sulphate (sushkatuttha), again three times in skull and lastly twice in cow dung. (Stanza 88). The use of the skull which is calcium phosphate is a cupellation process for purification of silver. Galena was first smelted to crude lead and silver concentrated by a process called Pattinson Process. The proess is based on the fact that i fused argentiferous lead is cooled, a point is reached when nearly pure lead separates in crystals. If crystals of lead were withdrawn by perforated ladles the remaining liquid alloy would become increasingly rich in silver. About 7/8ths of the original lead is removed by this process and the rest of the lead is reoved by cupellation process. Separation of silver and other impurities from gold (electrum) was invented before Amarna age, possibly during or shortly after Ur III period (ca. 2200-2000 B.C.)


D.P. Agrawal, The copper and bronze age in India, pp. 191,239;

Marshall, MIC, Pl. CXXXV and CXXXVI; Vol. II-III, 501-2, Pl. CXXXVI, Pl. CXXXV; Pl. CXXXVIII, 6-7; Pl. CXXXVIII, 4,8; Pl. CXLIII, 24-25; Pl. CXLII, No.14; CXLIII, 31,33,37; Pl. CXLII, 20-21, 36

M.S.Vats, Excavations at Harappa, VOl. I-II, 387-88, Pl. CXXV, 15-18 and 22-64; Pl. CXXV, 52, 62-64; Pl. CXXXIV, No.29; Pl. CXXV, 38 and 58.

E.Mackay, FEM, Vol. 1-2, Pl. XXI, 105; Pl. CXIX; Pl. CXIII,3; Pl. CXIII,2; Pl. CXXI, 25 to 32 aqnd 36, Pl. CXVIII, No.7; Pl. CXXV, No.39, CXIX, No.1; Pl. CXIV, No. 235; Pl. CXIV, 6; Pl. CXIII, No.3

E.Mackay, 'Arts and Crafts of Mohenjodaro', Art and Letters, No. XIII, p. 18.

S.R.Rao, Lothal and the Indus Civilization, 1972, p. 28; fig. 20, no. 21; p. 84

E.Mackay, Chanhudaro Excavations, Pls. LXXII, 11; LXIII,16; LXXX, 21-25; LXXVI, 8, 25-27; Pl. LXXII, 25 and LXXVI, 137; Pl. LXXIII, No.32; Pl. XXXIII, No.31; Pl. LXII, 7; LXXX,9; lXXXI, 15; Pl. LXXX; Pls. LXVIII, 13,15; LXXV, 9; LXXVI, 38; Pl. LXXIV, 13.

S.R.Rao, Ancient India, Nos. 18-19, No. 663, p. 30, fig.417, Pl. XXXVa, 3 and 4; fig. 442, p. 150;

Coghlan in C.Singer, History of Technology, Vol. I

IAR, 1956-57, Pl. XVI.

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