Discovery of Happan Civilization

Learn how Harappan Civilization was discovered and named.

It was in 1924 that John Marshall announced to the world, the existence of an ancient civilization in the Indus valley. In retrospect, he was not the first to come across material associated with this civilization. The first person to come across Harappa was Charles Masson who identified it as an ancient city called Sangala, belonging to the time of Alexander. In 1853-1854, Alexander Cunningham visited the ruins and mistakenly concluded that the site was a Buddhist monastery. He also came across seals associated with this civilization but believed them to be of a foreign origin as they depict a bull without a hump, hence not Indian. The true significance of the ruins had to await the excavations in the early 20th century. Harappa was excavated in 1920 by Daya Ram Sahni and Mohenjo-daro by Rakhaldas Banerjee in 1921. The similarities in antiquities discovered from the two sites was recognized by Sir John Marshall, who then in 1924 announced to the world, the discovery of the oldest civilization in the subcontinent.


In the initial years of its discovery, the civilization was known as the Indus Valley civilization. This is because most of sites like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Allahadino, Chanhudaro were discovered in the Indus valley. After 1947, Indian archaeologists discovered several sites on the Indian side: Lothal, Surkotada, and Dholavira in Gujarat, Kalibangan in Rajasthan; and Banawali and Rakhigarhi in Haryana. Some sites like Shortughai were discovered in Afghanistan. The biggest concentration of sites, nearly 174, was discovered in Cholistan area of Pakistan. These were located near the old bed of the river Ghaggar-Hakra. As many of the new sites were found outside the ambit of Indus valley, it was no longer appropriate to call it Indus Valley civilization. Many scholars prefer the term Harappan civilization, following the archaeological convention of naming a culture where it was first discovered.


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