Periodisation of the Indus Valley Civilisation

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Bronze Age

Near East (c. 3300–1200 BC)

Anatolia, Caucasus, Elam, Egypt, Levant, Mesopotamia, Sistan, Canaan
Bronze Age collapse

South Asia (c. 3000–1200 BC)

Ochre Coloured Pottery
Cemetery H

Europe (c. 3200–600 BC)

Aegean, Caucasus, Catacomb culture, Minoan, Srubna culture, Beaker culture, Unetice culture, Tumulus culture, Urnfield culture, Hallstatt culture, Apennine culture, Canegrate culture, Golasecca culture,
Atlantic Bronze Age, Bronze Age Britain, Nordic Bronze Age

China (c. 2000–700 BC)

Erlitou, Erligang

arsenical bronze
writing, literature
sword, chariot

Iron Age

Several periodisations are employed for the periodisation of the Indus Valley Civilisation.[1][2] While the Indus Valley Civilisation was divided into Early, Mature and Late Harappan by archaeologists like Mortimer Wheeler,[3] newer periodisations include the Neolithic early farming settlements, and use a Stage-Phase model,[1][4][3] often combining terminology from various systems.


The most commonly used nomenclature[5][6] classifies the Indus Valley Civilisation into Early, Mature and Late Harappan Phase.[3] The Indus Civilisation was preceded by local agricultural villages, from where the river plains were populated when water-management became available, creating an integrated civilisation. This broader time range has also been called the Indus Age[7] and the Indus Valley Tradition.[1]

Early, Mature and Late Harappan[edit]

The Early, Mature and Late Harappan periodisation was introduced by archaeologists like Mortimer Wheeler, who "brought with them existing systems from elsewhere, such as the Three Age System,"[6] and further developed by Mughal, who "proposed the term Early Harappan to characterize the pre- or protourban phase."[8] This classification is primarily based on Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, assuming an evolutionary sequence.[3] According to Manuel, this division "places the Indus Valley within a tripartite evolutionary framework, of a birth a fluorescence a death of a society in a fashion familiar to the social evolutionary concepts of Elmond Service (1971)."[3]

According to Coningham and Young, it was "cemented [...] in common use" due to "the highly influential British archaeologists Raymond and Bridget Allchin [who] used similar subdivisions in their work."[6] According to Coningham and Young, this approach is "limited" and "restricted,"[6] putting too much emphasis on the mature phase.[5]

Shaffer: Indus Valley Tradition and Eras[edit]

Shaffer divided the broader Indus Valley Tradition into four eras, the pre-Harappan "Early Food Producing Era," and the Regionalisation, Integration, and Localisation eras, which correspond roughly with the Early Harappan, Mature Harappan, and Late Harappan phases.[9][3] Each era can be divided into various phases. A phase is an archaeological unit possessing traits sufficiently characteristic to distinguish it from all other units similarly conceived.[10] According to Shaffer, there was considerable regional variation, as well as differences in cultural sequences, and these eras and phases are not evolutionary sequences, and cannot uniformly be applied to every site.[3]

According to Coningham and Young,

A critical feature of Shaffer's developmental framework was replacing the traditional Mesolithic/Neolithic, 'Chalcolithic'/Early Harappan, Mature Harappan and Late Harappan terminology with Eras which were intended to reflect the longer-term changes or processes which provided the platform for eventual complexity and urbanisation [...] Notably, Shaffer's categorisation also allowed scholars to frame sites such as Mehrgarh, accepted by all as partly ancestral to the Indus cities within a distinctly pervasive Indus tradition rather than lying outside a Pre-Urban or incipient urban phase.[2]

Coningham & Young raise theoretical concerns with Shaffer's periodisation, noting that remains questionable whether there is sufficient difference and distinction between Shaffer’s definitions of Regionalisation and Localisation. Shaffer’s own definition (quoted earlier) observes the similarities of the two eras, with some differentiation in the form of contact between groups.[11]


The Early Food Producing Era corresponds to ca. 7000-5500 BCE. It is also called the Neolithic period. The economy of this era was based on food production, and agriculture developed in the Indus Valley. Mehrgarh Period I belongs to this era. The Regionalisation Era corresponds to ca. 4000-2500/2300 BCE (Shaffer)[12] or ca. 5000-2600 BCE (Coningham & Young).[13] The Early Harappan phase belongs to this Era. According to Manuel, "the most significant development of this period was the shift in population from the uplands of Baluchistan to the floodplains of the Indus Valley."[12] This era was very productive in arts, and new crafts were invented. The Regionalisation Era includes the Balakot, Amri, Hakra and Kot Diji Phases.

The Integration Era refers to the period of the "Indus Valley Civilisation". It is a period of integration of various smaller cultures. The Localisation Era (1900-1300 BCE) is the fourth and final period of the Indus Valley Tradition. It refers to the fragmentation of the culture of the Integration Era. The Localisation Era comprises several phases:[14]

  • Punjab Phase (Cemetery H, Late Harappan). The Punjab Phase includes the Cemetery H and other cultures. Punjab Phase sites are found in Harappa and in other places.
  • Jhukar Phase (Jhukar and Pirak) The Jhukar Phase refers to Mohenjo-daro and sites in Sindh.
  • Rangpur Phase (Late Harappan and Lustrous Red Ware). Rangpur Phase sites are in Kachchh, Saurashtra and mainland Gujarat.
  • The Pirak Phase is a phase of the Localisation Era of both the Indus Valley Tradition and the Baluchistan Tradition.

Possehl: Indus Age[edit]

Gregory Possehl includes the Neolithic stage in his periodisation, using the term Indus Age for this broader timespan,[4] Possehl arranged "archaeological phases into a seven stage sequence:[2]

  1. Beginnings of Village Farming Communities and Pastoral camps
  2. Developed Village Farming Communities and Pastoral camps
  3. Early Harappan
  4. Transition from Early Harappan to Mature Harappan
  5. Mature Harappan
  6. Posturban Harappan
  7. Early Iron Age of Northern India and Pakistan

According to Coningham & Young,

Possehl's mixture of older periodisation (Mature Harappan), artefact-based descriptive classifications (Early Iron Age) and socio-economic processes (Developed Village Farming Communities) is not unique and others, such as Singh (2008), have presented similar categories which treat the Indus Valley and the Early Historic Traditions in very different ways and thus reinforce established divisions which prevent easy comparative discussion.[2]

Rita Wright[edit]

An "similar framework" as Shaffer's has been used by Rita Wright, looking at the Indus "through a prism influenced by the archaeology of Mesopotamia," using the terms Early Food Producing Phase, Pre-Urban Phase, Urban Phase and Post-Urban Phase.[15][2]

Datings and alternative proposals[edit]

Early Food Produding Era[edit]

Rao, who excavated Bhirrana and claims to have found Hakra Ware in its oldest layers, proposes older datings for the general framework, yet sticks to the Harappan terminology;[16] this proposal is supported by Sarkar et al. (2016), who also refer to a proposal by Possehl, and various radiocarbon dates from other sites:[17]

Date Phase Conventional date (HP) Harappan Phase Conventional date (Era) Era
7500-6000 BCE Pre-Harappan Hakra Period (Neolithic) 7000-3300 BCE Pre-Harappan c.7000-c.4500 BCE Early Food Producing Era
6000-4500 BCE Transitional Period
4500-3000 BCE Early Harappan Period c.4500-2600 BCE Regionalisation Era
3300-2600 BCE Early Harappan
3000-1800 BCE Mature Harappan Period
2600-1900 BCE Mature Harappan 2600-1900 BCE Integration Era
1800-1600 BCE Late Harappan Period 1900-1300 BCE Late Harappan 1900-1300 Localisation Era

Regionalisation Era[edit]

While the Early Harappan Phase was proposed to start at ca. 3,300 BCE,[1] the Regionalisation Era has been proposed to start earlier, at 4,000 BCE[5] to ca. 5,000 years BCE.[11]

S. P. Gupta, taking into account new discoveries, periodised the Harappan Civilisation in a chronological framework that includes the Early, Mature and Late Harappan Phase, and starts with the same date as the Regionalisation Era:[18]

Date Main phase Subphase Harappan Phase Era
ca. 4000 - 3500 BCE Formative Phase e.g., Mehrgarh-IV-V Pre-Harappan Regionalisation Era
ca. 3500 - 2800 BCE Early Phase e.g., Kalibangan-I Early Harappan
ca. 2800 - 2600 BCE Period of Transition e.g., Dholavira-III
ca. 2600 - 1900 BCE Mature Phase e.g., Harappa-III, Kalibangan-II Mature Harappan Integration Era
ca. 1900 - 1500 BCE Late Phase e.g., Cemetery H, Jhukar Late Harappan Localisation Era
ca. 1500 - 1400 BCE Final Phase e.g., Dholavira

Integration Era[edit]

The consensus on the dating of the Integration Era, or Urban or Mature Harappan Phase, is broadly accepted to be 2600-1900 BC.[1][11]

Durée longue: Harappan Civilisation and Early Historic Period[edit]

Kenoyer, and Coningham & Young, provide an overview of developmental phases of India in which the Indus Valley Civilisation and the Early Historic Period are combined.[19][11] The Post-Harappan Phase shows renewed regionalisation, culminating in the integration of the Second Urbanisation of the Early Historic Period, starting ca. 600 BC,[20] c.q. the Mauryan Empire, ca. 300 BC.[21]

Coningham & Young note that most works on urbanisation in early Indian history focus on either the Indus Vally Civilisation or the Early Historic Period, "thus continuing the long-standing division between the Indus and Early Historic." According to Coningham & Young, this division was introduced in colonial times, with scholars who claimed that "a distinct cultural, linguistic and social transformation lay between the Indus Civilisation and the Early Historic," and perpetuated by "a number of post-Independence South Asian scholars."[11] Coningham & Young adopt Shaffer's terminology "to better understand and explore the processes which led to the two main urban-focused developments in South Asia,"[11] and

...replace the traditional terminologies of 'Chalcolithic', Iron Age, Proto-Historic, Early Historic and Mauryan with those of a 'Localisation Era' followed by an Era of 'Regionalisation' and an Era of 'Integration'. We argue that Kenoyer’s (1998) suggestion that the Era of Integration was only reached with the Mauryan period (c. 317 BC) was overcautious and that such a cultural and economic stage became evident in the archaeological record as early as 600 BC [...] This task is likely to be controversial and we acknowledge that not all scholars will be receptive.[11]

They also note that the term "Integration Era" may not be applicable to the whole of South Asia for the period of the Mature Harappan Civilisation, because "large swathes of northern and southern South Asia were unaffected by what was, on a subcontinental scale, a regional feature."[11]

Concordance of periodisations[edit]

Dates Main Phase Mehrgarh phases Harappan phases Other phases Era
7000–5500 BCE Pre-Harappan Mehrgarh I
(aceramic Neolithic)
Early Food Producing Era
5500–3300 BCE Pre-Harappan/Early Harappan[21] Mehrgarh II-VI
(ceramic Neolithic)
Regionalisation Era
c.4000-2500/2300 BCE (Shaffer)[12]
c.5000-3200 BCE (Coningham & Young)[13]
3300–2800 BCE Early Harappan[21]
c.3300-2800 BCE (Mughal)[22][21][23]
c.5000-2800 BCE (Kenoyer)[21]
Harappan 1
(Ravi Phase; Hakra Ware)
2800–2600 BCE Mehrgarh VII Harappan 2
(Kot Diji Phase,
Nausharo I)
2600–2450 BCE Mature Harappan (Indus Valley Civilisation) Harappan 3A (Nausharo II) Integration Era
2450–2200 BCE Harappan 3B
2200–1900 BCE Harappan 3C
1900–1700 BCE Late Harappan Harappan 4 Cemetery H[8]
Ochre Coloured Pottery[8]
Localisation Era
1700–1300 BCE Harappan 5
1300–600 BCE Post-Harappan
Iron Age India
Painted Grey Ware (1200-600 BCE)
Vedic period (c.1500-500 BCE)
c.1200-300 BCE (Kenoyer)[21]
c.1500[24]-600 BCE (Coningham & Young)[20]
600-300 BCE Northern Black Polished Ware (Iron Age)(700-200 BCE)
Second urbanisation (c.500-200 BCE)

See also[edit]


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  • Coningham, Robin; Young, Ruth (2015), Archaeology of South Asia: From the Indus to Asoka, c.6500 BCE–200 CE, Cambridge University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dikshit, K.N. (2013), "Origin of Early Harappan Cultures in the Sarasvati Valley: Recent Archaeological Evidence and Radiometric Dates" [archive] (PDF), Journal of IndIan ocean archaeology no. 9, 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Erdosy, George, ed. (1995), The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gupta, S.P. (1999), "The dawn of civilisation", in Pande, G.C.; Chattophadhyaya, D.P. (eds.), History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, vol I Part 1, New Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilizations<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark (1991), "The Indus Valley tradition of Pakistan and Western India", Journal of World Prehistory, 5 (4): 1–64, doi:10.1007/BF00978474 [archive]<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark (1997), "Early City-States in South Asia. Comparing the harappan Phase and Early Historic Period", in Charlton, Thomas Henry; Nichols, Deborah L. (eds.), The Archaeology of City-states: Cross-cultural Approaches, Smithsonian Inst. Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Manuel, Mark (2010), "Chronology and Culture-History in the Indus Valley", in Gunawardhana, P.; Adikari, G.; Coningham Battaramulla, R.A.E. (eds.), Sirinimal Lakdusinghe Felicitation Volume [archive], Neptune<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Possehl, Gregory L. (2002), The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective [archive], Rowman Altamira, ISBN 978-0-7591-1642-9<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sarkar, Anindya (2016), "Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization" [archive], Nature Scientific reports<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shaffer, J. G. (1992), "The Indus Valley, Baluchistan and Helmand Traditions: Neolithic Through Bronze Age", in Ehrich, R. (ed.), Chronologies in Old World Archaeology (3rd Edition), Chicago: University of Chicago Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Willey; Phillips (1958), Method and Theory in American Archaeology<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wright, Rita P. (2009), The Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy, and Society [archive], Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-57219-4, retrieved 29 September 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading[edit]

  • S.P. Gupta. The dawn of civilization, in G.C. Pande (ed.)(History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization, ed., D.P. Chattophadhyaya, vol I Part 1) (New Delhi:Centre for Studies in Civilizations, 1999)
  • Kenoyer, J.M. 1998 Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Oxford University Press and American Institute of Pakistan Studies, Karachi.
  • Kenoyer, J. M. 1991a The Indus Valley Tradition of Pakistan and Western India. In Journal of World Prehistory 5(4): 331-385.
  • Kenoyer, J. M. 1995a Interaction Systems, Specialized Crafts and Culture Change: The Indus Valley Tradition and the Indo-Gangetic Tradition in South Asia. In The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity, edited by G. Erdosy, pp. 213–257. Berlin, W. DeGruyter.
  • Shaffer, J. G. 1992 The Indus Valley, Baluchistan and Helmand Traditions: Neolithic Through Bronze Age. In Chronologies in Old World Archaeology (3rd Edition), edited by R. Ehrich, pp. 441–464. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

External links[edit]