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  • Indian Archaeology in Retrospect, Volume II: Protohistory—Archaeology of the Harappan Civilization
  • William R. Belcher
Indian Archaeology in Retrospect, Volume II: Protohistory—Archaeology of the Harappan Civilization. Edited by S. Settar and Ravi Korisettar. 2002. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers. xix + 497 pp., tables, illustrations, bibliography, index. ISBN 81-7304-302-5.

This volume of the series presents a timely synthesis of current topics and research strategies related to the Harappan or Indus Valley civilization. Indian and Western scholars present a variety of topics related to the development, rise, and senescence of this civilization. During the last thirty years, "Harappan" research has moved away from speculation to well-formulated research strategies. Some of the most important contributions have been the influence of geoarchaeological/landscape, human biological, and faunal/paleoethnobotanical studies. Of course, the basis of any research is solid archaeological fieldwork and a reanalysis of past data and paradigms. Although the title of the book refers to Indian Archaeology in Retrospect, readers must understand that the Harappan civilization overlaps the borders between Pakistan and India. More than half of the contributions deal specifically with research or sites in Pakistan; however, these papers are presented by German, American, and British researchers. It is unfortunate, for whatever reason, that any contributions by Pakistani scholars could not be included.

Possehl sets the stage with an overview of "Harappan archaeology" since Indian independence with a chronology of work done by Indian as well as foreign scholars (also see Possehl's appendix). He includes a brief examination of the changing paradigms of research, which allows the reader to put the subsequent chapters in a theoretical and historical context. Two papers (Schuldenrein, Jansen) discuss "landscape archaeology" in a geological/paleoclimatological sense as well as in terms of settlement systems. Schuldenrein's research is ground-breaking and represents one of the first detailed regional, geoarchaeological studies intimately tied to an ongoing archaeological project. By using a variety of landscape records, Schuldenrein ties the paleoclimatic and geomorphological settings of the "Indus Heartland" together and examines the morphology and site formation processes of site occupation. Jansen examines settlement networks of the Indus [End Page 395] civilization. Considering that the Indus civilization occupies over 1 million sq km, one of the key questions is how the settlements were distributed and interconnected over the landscape. This article focuses on Mohenjo-daro, but examines the importance of the city's placement in order to utilize water transport. From this specific model, Jansen expands to a discussion of transportation and trade corridors that developed between Indus and non-Indus civilizations and examines core and periphery relationships between urban and rural areas.

One of the most enigmatic aspects of Harappan studies is the origin and decipherment of the Indus script. It seems that more ink, paper, and frustration has been produced dealing with this particular topic than any other in reference to this civilization. Coningham's cogent article presents a useful overview on this difficult and volatile topic. His call to use multiple approaches and place writing and inscriptions in an archaeological and cultural context is necessary to begin to understand the role of writing in the Harappan civilization.

Harappan social organization and religion are examined by Dhavalikar and Atre, respectively. These aspects of society are often inextricably combined, particularly in urban settings. In examining Harappan social organization, Dhavalikar tackles an exceptionally difficult topic and offers a unique overview that provides insights into modern as well as ancient social and political systems. By using a more anthropological approach and reviewing previous research and ideas, Dhavalikar has provided a very thorough review of this subject. Likewise, Atre reviews the extremely controversial topic of Harappan religion. Through the examination of the dichotomies that have been presented in terms of Vedic/non-Vedic, Aryan/Dravidian, etc., Atre moves beyond these and presents Harappan religion as a more organic entity. Atre offers a model that is tied into artifact and spatial analyses, architectural studies, and ethnographic comparison. As with Dhavalikar's contribution, Atre's discussion of religion suggests that religion, social and political organization, as well as architecture, are interconnected and cannot be readily disarticulated.

Three papers (Ajithprasad, Sonawane, and Choksi) present an excellent overview and current...