Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lothal - Port town of late Harappan Civilization

Lothal's mound
The word 'Lothal' means 'place of the death' in Gujarati language. The word is said to have been formed by combining words 'Loth' and 'thal'(sthal).  It was interesting for me to find that the word 'Mohen-Jodaro' in Sindhi also have the same sense, namely, 'the mound of the dead'After the partition of 1947 most sites of Harappan/Indus Valley Civilization were transferred to the Pakistan. It became necessary for the Archaeological Survey of India to trace for Harappan sites in the regions south and east of Indus river within the borders of India. During 1953-1954 A.S.I. teams re-excavated Rangpur in Limdi Taluk of Ahmedabad district and the findings in those excavations confirmed that Rangpur represented later phases of Harappan culture. Later on in search for more prosperous sites A.S.I. teams surveyed the Sabarmati valley and it resulted in the discovery of Lothal in November, 1954. Lothal was originally excavated from February 1955 to May 1960 and was re-excavated in 1961-1962. During excavations a cemetery, township, dockyard and a nullah connecting the dock with river were exposed.
It has been found that there was a local custom of worshiping the sea godess known as Vanuvati Sikotarimata at Lothal. Boats used to sail upto Lothal mound as recently as 1850 AD.

Cultural Timeline
In A.S.I. museum's artifacts one can find all variants of Harappan culture. Following two sub-periods of Harappan culture are distinguished here:
  1. Period A (2400 - 1900 BC):  It represents the mature Harappan culture.
  2. Period B (1900 - 1600 BC) : It represents late Harappan culture that led to decline in the prosperity of town.
"We shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot

Basic Information :

Name of destination : Lothal
Lothal's site plan ©

Places to visit :
  • Excavation Site
  • Archaeological Survey of India's museum.
Latitude : 20° 31' 25'' N
Longitude : 70° 14' 25'' E
Village : Saragwala, Dholka Taluk
District : Ahmedabad
State : Gujarat
Country : India
Languages spoken : Gujarati, Hindi and English

How to arrive ?

Nearest Railway Station : 
Lothal-Bhurkhi [Station Code : LHBK]  (6 kms away.), but this is not a major station. The nearest major station is Ahmedabad [Station Code : ADI].

Lodging facilities : Lothal Rest House of Gujarat State Public Works Department where accommodation can be reserved on application to the Assistant Engineer, P.W.D., Dholka or the Manager, Lothal Rest House, P.W.D., Post Office Gwndi. 

Restaurants: Not available nearby.

Parking Facility : You can park your 2/3/4 wheeler vehicles outside the A.S.I. museum's entrance gate.   

Visiting hours : Following are the visiting hours for excavated site and museum :
  • The excavated site is open for visitors from sunrise to sunset except on Fridays.
  • The Archaeological Museum is open for visitors from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm except on Fridays.
Entry charges:  There are no entry charges for visiting excavation site but you will be charged INR 5.00 for entry tickets at ASI museum. 

Photography restrictions : There are no restrictions at excavation site but photography is not allowed inside museum premises.

Things to carry:  
  • As you cannot carry camera inside the museum premises hence, in order to get more information about the artifacts on display there you should carry a diary and pen to note down important facts.    
  • Carry water bottles with a capacity of 2 liters for each person of your crew  as it will take around 6 hours to thoroughly explore the entire excavation site and museum.
Things to buy :
  • Do buy the guide books regarding Lothal available at the book stall in the A.S.I. museum as it will help you to understand the overall map of excavation site. Unfortunately no A.S.I. official or guide is available at the site.
  • You can also buy guide books and printed postcards about other famous A.S.I. sites in India. 

I knew that a State Road Transport bus plies regularly between Ahmedabad and Lothal, but I decided to choose a private vehicle for the trip. I began my trip to Lothal at around 7:00 am from Jodhpur village, Ahmedabad on a scooter with my elder brother and it took us around 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach our destination. 

After parking our scooter we decided to explore the museum first. On having a cursory glance I found a large number of artifacts like sealings, tools, weapons, ornaments. pottery etc. placed inside the museum. Lothal is perhaps the richest Harappan site excavated in India after independence. 

"A museum has to renew its collection to be alive, but that does not mean we give on important old works" - David Rockefeller

Archaeological Museum at Lothal :

The Archaeological museum at Lothal was set up in 1976 by Archaeological Survey of India to display artifacts recovered during the excavation of site. As photography is not allowed inside the premises so you can carry a pen and notepad to capture information, but believe me there are several artifacts that will help you in understanding the glorious past of Harappan civilization. The museum is divided into five sections:
  1. Front gallery.
  2. Left section gallery.
  3. Right section gallery.
  4. Library.
  5. Publication counter.
Front gallery :
The front gallery consists of a conjectural site plan of Lothal town. There are also introductory write-ups and maps to convey significance of Lothal's excavation to visitors.

Left section gallery :
The left gallery showcases following items -
  • Copper and bronze objects.
  • Replicas of seals and sealings.
  • Beads.
  • Terracotta ornaments.
  • Shell and ivory objects.
  • Tools and large pottery. 
Right section gallery :
The right gallery showcases following items - 
  • Bricks.
  • Replica of joint burial.
  • Game objects.
  • Animal and human figurines.
  • Painted pottery.
  • Weights.
Library :
It consists of reference books related to history of Indus Valley / Harappan Civilization.  

Publication counter :
It is for display and sale of important A.S.I. guidebooks, World Heritage Series books, picture postcards etc.

Excavation Site :
Lothal town is oval in shape measuring 284.6m in north to south and 228m in east to west directions. Mainly because of frequent floods in the region, the superstructures of almost majority of public and private buildings have disappeared. All I was able to see were some dwarfed walls and platforms besides some wells, drains and paved floors of baked bricks. In order to protect several parts of excavated site from rain and harmful effects of salt-charged subsoil water A.S.I. has covered them with soil. Even, I was not able to find the remains of nullah, inlet channel and the river that provided access to the dock as they are now filled up to prevent stagnation of water around township.

The Dockyard :
The remains of dockyard at Lothal's excavation site
The dock at Lothal is undoubtedly a masterpiece of maritime engineering. When I gave a cursory glance to its architecture from the top of mound the only word that came out of my mouth was "WOW!!!". It clearly demonstrates how Harappans used their practical knowledge of tides and currents by constructing a scientifically designed dock. The dock at Lothal is a tidal dock and has been built up of kiln-fired bricks. It was built in order to increase of foreign trade and lock ships from the Gulf of Cambay so that they could be safely berthed. The volume of foreign trade that Harappans had in those time can be imagined by the seals found in the warehouse and the terracotta figures of an African gorilla, a bearded Sumerian and an Egyptian mummy. Harappans built it away from the main current to avoid silt to enter the dock during spring tides. This structure is the earliest and probably the only one of its kind in the world so far discovered. 
Water inlet at dockyard

The dock is trapezoidal in structure. The average length of its north-south arms is 21.8 meters and that of east-west arms is 37 meters. The original height of embankment walls was 4.26 meters, but now it is 3.35 meters. The width of the walls at the foundation level is 1.8 meters which is reduced to 1.1 meters at the top. An important constructional feature of the dock is the provision of a large inlet, 12.8 meters wide, in the eastern arm and an outlet in the opposite side.

Followings are the facts which show that the structure was not used for storing potable water :
  •  Seawater entered the basin.
  • Engineers would not have wasted millions of expensive kiln-fired bricks on a tank where earthen bunds had served the purpose.
  • Absence of steps or ramps.

The Warehouse : 
Remains of warehouse on top of Lothal's mound 
The warehouse is situated on top of the mound. This building acted as a clearing house in the economy of Lothal. Originally as many as 64 cubical blocks each 3.6 meter squares, and interlaced by 1.2 meter wide passages existed on a 3.5 meter high podium of mud-bricks covering an area of 48.7 m X 39.6 m. Most of the blocks were destroyed in floods. Only 12 continued to be used for stacking and examining cargo. It was in this part of the town that imported and exported goods were sealed and checked for quality.    

The Acropolis :
Drainage system at Acropolis.
Acropolis was the place where the ruler and his entourage lived. It was provided with a remarkable system of underground drains, silting chambers and cesspools.The four sides of the rectangular platform on which houses were built are formed by mud-brick structures of 24.4 mm thickness and 2.1 to 3.6 meters high.

Remains of Acropolis
Remains of Acropolis
My personal excavation:

The best thing about visiting an excavation site during monsoons is that several artefacts come out of ground. At Lothal luckily I found a small pot made of baked clay near the lower town area.

Eureka Eureka!!! I found something...

References :

  • "Lothal by S.R. Rao", Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India. 

1 comment:

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