Indus steatite seal in Mitathal

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					                                                                       Prabhakar V.N., et al., Man and Environment XXXV(1): 54-61 [2010].
                                                                                    © Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies

Mitathal: New Observations based on Surface Reconnaissance and Geologic
Provenance Studies
V.N. Prabhakar, Tejas Garge, Randall Law1                          1    Department of Anthropology,
Archaeological Survey of India,                                         5240 Social Science Building,
Aurngabad Circle,                                                       1180 Observatory Drive,
Aurangabad                                                              University of Wisconsin-Madison,
                                                                        53706 USA

              The Indus Civilization settlement of Mitathal, District Bhiwani, Haryana is rapidly being leveled due
              to agricultural activities. A short surface reconnaissance was conducted during which, among other
              things, a steatite seal was recovered. A small fragment of that seal was analyzed using instrumental
              neutron activation analysis (INAA) and determined to have been made from raw steatite that most
              probably originated in the Alwar District of northern Rajasthan. This, along with evidence that rock
              outcrops near the Haryana/Rajasthan border were being exploited for manufacture of grinding stones,
              indicates that residents of the site had important trade relationships extending towards the south.

Introduction                                                       phase related to the Kalibangan I and ‘pre-defense’ (Kot
                                                                   Diji Phase) at the site of Harappa, which in Haryana has
Mitathal (28o 53’ 31” N; 76o 10’ 11” E), in the Bhiwani
                                                                   been called the Late Siswal culture, was identified. This
district of southwest Haryana, is an important site for
                                                                   was followed by a continuous sequence through a Late
scholars investigating what Possehl (1992) has called the
                                                                   Harappan phase. Bhan defined a Period I and Period II – c.
“Eastern Domain” of the Indus, or Harappan, Civilization
                                                                   2000-1900 B.C. and c. 1900-1500 B.C., respectively. The
(Fig. 1). A brief surface reconnaissance was undertaken
                                                                   classical phase of the Indus Civilization (Mature Harappan)
during a visit to the site by the authors of this paper on
                                                                   was indicated at the site by the presence of well-planned
11th March 2007. The geologic provenance of several
                                                                   mud-brick structures, beads of carnelian, faience, steatite
artefact types, including the first and only steatite seal yet
                                                                   and terracotta, toy-cart wheels, wheeled toys, sling
recovered at Mitathal, was also assessed. These new studies
                                                                   balls, discs with tapering ends, marbles and triangular
have provided a fresh glimpse into this ancient settlement
                                                                   cakes of terracotta as well as stone objects such as balls,
and the surrounding region during the later part of what is
                                                                   hammer stones, saddle querns and mullers, and cubical
commonly termed the Mature Harappan period (ca. 2600-
                                                                   stone weights. The uppermost level (IIB) was designated
1900 B.C) of the Indus Civilization.
                                                                   the “Mitathal” culture (Late Harappan). Some Siswal/
                                                                   Kalibangan ceramic traditions survived and important finds
Site Location and Past Research                                    from this phase include a celt, a parasu and a copper ring.
Mitathal is situated on the alluvial plain near a channel          Bhan suggested that Indus culture transformed into the
between the Chautang and the Yamuna rivers and is in               OCP and hinted that the possible genesis of the OCP lay in
close proximity (25 to 30 km) to the hilly outcrops of             the Siswal phase (Bhan 1975: 3).
Kaliana and Tosham, which are rich in quartzite and meta-               Mitathal’s twin mounds were christened as 1 and 2 by
volcanic rocks respectively. The site is approximately             Suraj Bhan. He recorded Mound 1 as being 150 x 130 m in
120 km west-northwest of New Delhi, 10 km northeast                area and 5 m in height, while Mound 2 was 300 x 175 m in
of Bhiwani – the headquarters of the district of the same          area and 3 m above the agricultural fields. The two mounds
name, and 1.5 km northwest of Mitathal village.                    whose northern periphery was demarcated by a modern
     Prior to excavation conducted by Kurukshetra                  irrigation canal (the Dang Minor) were 10 m apart.
University in 1968 under the direction of Suraj Bhan (Bhan
1969, 1975), copper artefacts, Indus-style pottery, beads          A Brief Surface Reconnaissance
and faience bangles were discovered at Mitathal. Bhan’s
                                                                   It was evident, both during our short visit to Mitathal
excavations, although small in scale, revealed much about
                                                                   and from an examination of recent Google Earth satellite
the site and the region. Firstly, a pre-Mature Harappan
                                                                   imagery (ca. December 2005), that large portions of the
                                                                   mounds have been destroyed since the time of Bhan’s
Received      : 31-08-2009                                         excavation due to agricultural activities. Mound 1 has
Revised       : 26-11-2009                                         been reduced greatly on its south and to a little extent on
Accepted      : 13-12-2009
                                                   Mitathal: Surface Reconnaissance and Geologic Provenance Studies

Fig. 1: Location of Mitathal in the “Eastern Domain” of the Indus Civilization.

its north. On the south, the mound was levelled for nearly        (Period 3) levels at Harappa (Kenoyer 1992: 87, Fig. 3),
40 m and a section of nearly 1 m is exposed. Mound 2              while Bangle 5 and 6 have parallels in some terracotta
has likewise suffered extensive damage. A huge chunk              bangles from the same site and period. The horizontal
measuring roughly 50 x 50 m has been lost on its eastern          incised designs are not described among the major faience
side just in the past few years. Although this ongoing            bangle styles from Harappa. Further analysis of faience
destruction is lamentable, it has provided a wealth of fresh      bangles from Harappa and other Indus Civilization
archaeological materials for surface investigation.               settlements like Mitathal may reveal evolutionary patterns
                                                                  and regional variations, if any.
     When walking across Mitathal one is struck by the
large number of blue-green faience bangle fragments                    Ash pits and kilns of considerable size were observed
visible on the site’s surface. Most are so fragmentary that       on the northwestern and eastern peripheries of the site.
their complete forms are difficult to judge. Nine examples         One among these was a feature that is suspected to be a
worthy of shape determination are documented in Figure            series of faience kilns. The surface evidence indicates an
2. Bangle 1 has a triangular section and is without any           elliptical spread of furnaces in an east-west direction. The
decoration, while Bangles 2 and 4 are incised with diagonal       furnace walls exhibit vitrification indicative of extremely
lines with triangular and ovular sections respectively.           high temperature craft activities. In his discussion of
Bangles 5 and 6 have spiked triangular sections and small         Indus faience production Kenoyer mentions (1994: 37)
pinched spike motifs. Bangles 3, 7, 8 and 9 have broadly          the discovery of white rocky quartz at the site of Harappa,
similar horizontal banding and rectangular sections. If           which might have been the raw material crushed to make
we take these surface decorations into account, parallels         the silica powder. Our exploration of Mitathal also yielded
are found for Bangle types 2 and 4 in the Harappa Phase           examples of white rocky quartz (Fig. 3). Its presence along

Man and Environment XXXV (1) – 2010

Fig. 2: Select faience bangles collected from the surface of Mitathal.

with the kilns and the unusually large numbers of faience          Mound 2 not far from the canal. Suraj Bhan’s excavation
antiquities (both from the past excavation and from this           report makes note of a seal (Bhan 1975: 82, Fig. 16)
surface reconnaissance) suggests that Mitathal might have          collected from the surface of Rakhi Shahpur (Rakhigarhi),
been a major faience production centre.                            but no seal or sealing had previously been reported
                                                                   from Mitathal itself. The seal recovered by our team is
     Other common surface finds were non-diagnostic
                                                                   rectangular in shape, trapezoidal in section and inscribed
bits of copper and identifiable copper-alloy objects such
                                                                   on one side. The surviving portion measures 15.50 x 14.51
as bangle fragments (Fig. 4). Likewise abundant were
                                                                   mm. The section of the top and bottom suggests that it
non-diagnostic fragments (Fig. 5), broken pieces and a
                                                                   was, when complete, convex backed with a perforated
few complete examples (see Shinde et al. 2008, Fig. 87) of
                                                                   hole through the width. Seals of this type were used at
stone querns and mullers. The large majority of these stone
                                                                   the site of Harappa only during Period 3C (Meadow and
artefacts were composed of a reddish-coloured quartzite
                                                                   Kenoyer 2001: 27) and so we can confidently date this
with distinctive thin black seams.
                                                                   surface find to ca. 2100-1900 BC or the later part of what is
     The most significant find by our team was of a broken           commonly called the Mature Harappan Phase of the Indus
steatite seal (Fig. 6). It was found on the southern slope of      Civilization.

                                                    Mitathal: Surface Reconnaissance and Geologic Provenance Studies

                                                                 composed of seven vertical strokes/bars – having four
                                                                 strokes in the first row and three in the second. Scanning
                                                                 electron microscopy (SEM) of the first sign (Fig. 7)
                                                                 was performed at the Department of Materials and
                                                                 Metallurgical Engineering, IIT, Kanpur and suggested that
                                                                 the seal’s deeply incised characters were created with a
                                                                 sharp-edged metal tool.

                                                                 Geologic Provenance Studies
                                                                 Although our surface reconnaissance was brief, it
                                                                 has nonetheless been possible to assess the geologic
Fig. 3: White quartzite cobble fragment from the leveled
                                                                 provenance of some of the stone artefacts we documented
surface of Mound 2.
                                                                 and collected at Mitathal.

                                                                 Grinding Stone Sources
                                                                 Co-author Randall Law compiled an extensive database
                                                                 of sources for the grinding stones (querns, mullers,
                                                                 whetstones, etc.) used by Indus Civilization peoples (Law
                                                                 2008: Chapter 5). The milky white quartzite cobbles we
                                                                 encountered came, in all likelihood, from the foothills of
                                                                 the Himalayas, which are some 200 km to the northwest of
                                                                 Mitathal. Such heavily water-worn cobbles (indicative of
                                                                 a dynamic fluvial environment) are not found in the nearby
                                                                 northern Aravallis. They are, however, quite common in the
                                                                 beds of the major rivers draining the Himalayas such as the
                                                                 Ghaggar, Beas, and Sutlej (R. Law personal observations ).
                                                                      The numerous artefacts composed of reddish quartzite
Fig. 4: Copper bangle fragment.                                  with black seams can be traced to a series of small outcrops
                                                                 (Fig. 8) in the vicinity of Kaliana village, some 35 km
                                                                 due south of Mitathal in southern Haryana. This type of
                                                                 stone is actually a variety of Delhi quartzite, which mainly
                                                                 occurs along an extensive zone extending from Northern
                                                                 Rajasthan to the city of New Delhi. However, the quartzite
                                                                 along that zone is gray in colour, has a highly silicified,
                                                                 often glassy texture and is generally unsuitable for use as
                                                                 a grinding stone. The Delhi quartzite, found in the Kaliana
                                                                 area outcrops (which are outliers around 50 km west of
                                                                 the main Delhi quartzite formation) has a tightly packed
                                                                 granular texture and is still used to make querns, mullers,
                                                                 mortars and pestles today. Most importantly, only the
                                                                 Delhi quartzite at this location has the highly distinctive
                                                                 appearance – reddish in colour with black seams (Fig. 9)
                                                                 – that is identical to the grinding stone artefacts observed
                                                                 at Mitathal. In fact, it appears that peoples throughout the
Fig. 5: Reddish quartzite fragments with rife with black seams   northern reaches of the Indus realm (Fig. 10) valued the
from the surface of Mound 2.                                     stone from the Kaliana area outcrops. Law has observed
                                                                 grinding stone artefacts from the Kaliana Hills at numerous
     The first sign on the face of the seal resembles a           sites across that region including Siswal, Banawali, and
vertical eye enclosing a vertical flaring stroke attached         Kalibangan. Over 26% of all grinding stone artefacts
with three short oblique strokes. This sign corresponds to       recovered from Period 3C levels at the site of Harappa
the sign no. 354 in Parpola’s “Sign List of Indus Script”        came from this source (Law 2008: 216), which was nearly
(Parpola 1994: 77). The second sign, which corresponds           400 km away. Ongoing research by Garge and Law on
to sign no. 134 in the “Sign List” (Parpola 1994:73), is         the collections from Rakhigarhi suggests that upwards of

Man and Environment XXXV (1) – 2010

                                                                   90% of the grinding stones used, derived from the Kaliana
                                                                   source. It is possible that residents of Mitathal, given their
                                                                   relative proximity to that source, were to some degree
                                                                   involved in the exploitation and distribution of raw material
                                                                   from it.

                                                                   The Mitathal Seal
                                                                   The rectangular seal discovered at Mitathal was broken at
                                                                   some point prior to its recovery in March of 2007. Whether
                                                                   or not this occurred in antiquity or after it had eroded to the
                                                                   site’s surface is unknown. The khaki-colour raw steatite of
                                                                   its unheated interior was visible in the seal’s broken section
                                                                   and at numerous places where the “glazed” portion of its
                                                                   exterior was worn away. Some of this unfired material was
                                                                   carefully collected and subjected to instrumental neutron
                                                                   activation analysis (INAA) at the University of Wisconsin’s
                                                                   Nuclear Research Reactor.
                                                                        INAA is a highly accurate and precise method for
Fig. 6: Drawing of the seal from Mitathal.
                                                                   quantifying the elemental compositions of materials.
                                                                   Archaeologists around the world have long employed it
                                                                   in efforts to determine the provenience of a wide range
                                                                   of artefacts (see Glascock and Neff 2003 for a detailed
                                                                   account of this technique and its application). In brief,
                                                                   INAA involves the irradiation (or activation) of elements
                                                                   within artefacts and/or source samples by exposing them
                                                                   to a neutron flux. Following varying periods of decay,
                                                                   the gamma ray emissions they produce are detected and
                                                                   counted. After the results are screened of elements that
                                                                   failed to be detected in all samples or had high count-rate
                                                                   standard deviations, data can statistically evaluated. The
                                                                   elemental data produced during the analysis of the Mitathal
                                                                   seal are listed in Table 1 in parts per million (ppm). Using
                                                                   canonical distriminant analysis (a multivariate statistical
                                                                   technique that is well-suited to differentiating various
                                                                   raw material sources and assigning a possible provenance
Fig. 7: SEM image of the seal from Mitathal.                       to artefacts), the elemental composition of the Mitathal
                                                                   seal was compared to INAA-derived geologic data from
                                                                   37 steatite sources within and adjacent to the area across
                                                                   which peoples of the Indus Civilization dwelled (Law
                                                                   2008: Chapter 7). The locations of those 37 sources are
                                                                   noted on Fig. 11. The results of the analysis – displayed as
                                                                   a bivariate plot (Fig. 12) – indicate that the steatite the seal
                                                                   is composed of most closely resembles that from a deposit
                                                                   (Nangalhari-Bairaswas) in the Alwar District of northern
                                                                   Rajasthan, some 150 km south of Mitathal.

Fig. 8: Delhi quartzite outliers near Kaliana, Bhiwani District,

                                                     Mitathal: Surface Reconnaissance and Geologic Provenance Studies

                                                                  INAA studies conducted by Law (2008) on samples from
                                                                  the sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro indicated that the
                                                                  steatite was largely derived from deposits in the NWFP
                                                                  of Pakistan and the Jammu region of India. It was not
                                                                  surprising to find that the Mitathal seal is composed of
                                                                  steatite from the Alwar District, as that would have been
                                                                  one of the nearest raw material source areas for people
                                                                  dwelling in Haryana. However, a small percentage of
                                                                  the samples analyzed from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro
                                                                  also appears to have come from Alwar and other northern
                                                                  Rajasthan sources. What we might be seeing at Mitathal
                                                                  then is a node near the beginning of a steatite trade route
                                                                  through which raw material was transported westward
                                                                  towards those distant cities. Hopefully, large-scale analysis
                                                                  of steatite artefacts from major sites like Rakhigarhi can
                                                                  one day be carried out in order to more effectively evaluate
Fig. 9: Detail of Delhi quartzite at Kaliana Hill in situ.
                                                                  the extent to which raw steatite from northern Rajasthan
                                                                  and other source areas was utilized in the “Eastern

                                                                  This study highlights the utility of revisiting previously
                                                                  excavated Indus sites even for a reconnaissance as brief
                                                                  as the one described here. The condition of sites that have
                                                                  often not been visited for decades can be re-assessed. The
                                                                  information we gathered on Mitathal’s rapid destruction led
                                                                  directly to a short salvage excavation (Shinde et al. 2008:
                                                                  148-155) by the Indus Project team led by
                                                                  Prof. Vasant Shinde (Deccan College, Pune) and Toshiki
                                                                  Osada (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature,
                                                                  Kyoto). Through the results of that operation as well as
                                                                  the information gathered during our reconnaissance it was
                                                                  possible to confirm much of what Dr. Suraj Bhan reported
                                                                  on the nature of this site over three decades ago, including
                                                                  its apparent role as a major faience manufacturing centre.
                                                                  New material also came to light, however, including
Fig. 10: Possible Harappan Period distribution route for          the discovery of a steatite seal dating to the later part of
Kiliana quartzite.                                                the Mature Harappan Period. While all of the evidence
                                                                  indicates that the site was fully integrated into the
Table 1: INAA data for the Mitathal seal                          interaction system that was the Indus Civilization, geologic
                                                                  provenance studies have revealed that there were important
Element                                    ppm                    connections toward the south as well. The acquisition of
Al                                        2272                    raw material for grinding stones from the Kaliana Hills and
Co                                       2.264                    steatite from the Alwar region of northern Rajasthan likely
Cr                                         2.87                   put residents of Mitathal in contact with, if only indirectly,
Eu                                       4.018                    peoples of the Ganeshwar-Jodhpur cultural phase. Further
Fe                                        1939                    evidence for this southern connection may come when the
La                                      0.9789                    provenance of some of the many copper artefacts recovered
Mn                                       16.23                    from the site is determined.
Na                                        1457
Sc                                      0.0614
V                                        9.567
Zn                                       16.13

Man and Environment XXXV (1) – 2010

Fig. 11: Steatite sources and select acquisition networks ca. 2200-1900 BC.

Acknowledgments                                                  Thanks also to Robert Agasie and Kevin Austin at the
                                                                 University of Wisconsin’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory.
We are thankful to B. Vikrama for accompanying us
                                                                 Finally, a very special thanks to Prof. V. Shinde, T. Osada
during our field investigation. H. Barapatre, Excavation
                                                                 and their team for promptly taking up salvage operations
Branch I, Nagpur, deserves appreciation for his outstanding
                                                                 at Mitathal on account of information we provided on the
drawings. We are grateful to Prof. R. Balasubramaniam for
                                                                 rapid destruction of the site.
providing us access to the SEM facilities at IIT-Kanpur.

                                                  Mitathal: Surface Reconnaissance and Geologic Provenance Studies

Fig. 12: Bivariate plot comparing Harappan steatite artifacts to samples from 37 geologic sources.

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