Animals played a major role in Indus agriculture. The main domestic animals were cattle, but sheep, goats, and other animals were also kept, their relative importance relating to local environmental conditions and no doubt to other factors. Raising livestock was a useful investment against crop failure. In good years, when crop yields were high, grazing would also be good and the number of animals that were kept could be increased, surplus agricultural produce being available as fodder if the grazing ran out.
In lean years, when grazing was limited, the additional animals could either be killed for food or used to obtain other foodstuffs, for example, by trading with pastoralists, by giving the animals as gifts to kin in other areas in the expectation of useful return gifts, or perhaps by exchanging them for grain stored by those in authority, though the evidence of central storage is limited and dubious.
Millets are nowadays often grown for fodder as well as for human consumption. While it is likely that the fodder needs of the Harappan domestic animals were largely met by grazing them on natural vegetation in areas beyond the cultivated land and by taking them to areas of seasonal pasture, it is possible that some use was made of fodder crops. Charcoal evidence from the latest Harappan levels at Lothal in Gujarat gives some indication of local environmental deterioration, which may imply reduce availability of grazing, at least locally.
In addition, bullocks kept for plowing were probably provided with fodder, particularly during the plowing season. In Mesopotamia, as much as one-tenth of the crop could have been used to maintain the plow team, though, of course, this amount could be reduced if, as in some South Asian villages, a single plow team was maintained by and for a whole village.
Cattle were the main domestic animals of the Indus farmers, their bones constituting half or even three-quarters of those found in Indus sites in Gujarat and often around half elsewhere. This set a pattern that has continued up to the present day when South Asia has the highest density of cattle in the world (182 per square mile). Cows were probably kept for their milk and bullocks for drawing plows and carts, threshing, and raising water, while a few bulls would be maintained for breeding, one bull being enough to service all the cows of a village.
Bones recovered from Indus sites show that many cattle were also killed for meat. They bear butchery marks and are often burnt. It is perhaps worth emphasizing that the weight of meat obtained from a cow or bullock is very much greater than that provided by a sheep or goat.
A ratio of around 50 percent cattle in the faunal sample therefore implies that the bulk of meat consumed came from cattle. Cattle dung was probably used for fuel and mixed with mud as a daub applied to wattle walls.
Both the humped zebu (Bos indicus) and the humpless Bos taurus may have been kept because both appear as figurines in the Indus civilization and in earlier and later times. Distinguishing the skeletal remains of these species is difficult, though in cases where it was possible Caroline Grigson (1984), who has examined the bones from Harappa, concluded that only Bos indicus was present.
It is thought likely that there were a number of different breeds of cattle in third-millennium South Asia, including smaller and larger varieties. A short-homed bovid depicted on seals may have been either the humpless bull or the gaur (Indian bison).
The unicorn frequently shown on seals is also often identified as a bovid, perhaps the humpless bull whose representation with a single horn may be due to an artistic convention (which was common in the Near East) for depicting bovids that actually had two horns. Alternatively, it may be intended as a mythical, probably composite, beast.
The latter is perhaps more likely because figurines of unicorns have also been found and because the individual features of the unicorn on the seals, such as the very long horn and the pricked ear, do not match any known bovid. Alternatively, it may be a local copy of a foreign (e.g., Near Eastern) depiction of a humpless bull, if this were the case it would provide evidence that the humpless bull was not present in the Indus civilization.
Another bovid that may have been exploited by the Harappans is the gaur (Indian bison, Bibos gaurus). Wild gaur now inhabit hilly areas in peninsular India but may also have been found in Gujarat and Rajasthan and possibly even in the Indus Valley in prehistoric times. No bones from Indus settlements have been identified positively as gaur, but there are representations on a number of seals of a bovid with the short horns and shoulder ridge of the gaur.
Water buffaloes (Bubalus bubalis) were probably herded because there are buffalo bones at earlier sites such as Rehman Dheri and Mehrgarh period I, and they were also present at the Ahar-Banas site of Ahar. Bones definitely from domestic buffalo are known at Mature Indus sites, including Balakot and Dholavira. However, wild buffalo were probably also still hunted. Buffaloes occur as images on Indus seals, where they appear to be wild.
Buffalo milk is richer than cows’ milk, having higher butterfat content, so it is likely that it was made into ghee. Unlike cattle, domestic water buffaloes were generally kept in or near the village rather than taken elsewhere for seasonal grazing or used as pack animals. They require daily access to water (river buffalo) or mud (swamp buffalo, the variety present at Balakot) to keep their skins moist.
Though cattle were the principal Harappan domestic animals, farmers also kept a few goats and sheep; caprines were also among the small numbers of livestock kept by town and city dwellers. Specialist pastoralists may have raised larger flocks of sheep and goats in some regions.
Domestication in sheep (as in many species) had led to or coincided with a diminution in size from that of the wild progenitor. Such small sheep continued into Indus times, being known, for example, from Dholavira, Nausharo, and Sibri, and they were still present in Kachi sites in the second millennium.
Much larger domestic sheep at Harappa, however, may show that selective breeding was taking place to increase size. Sheep were kept in far larger numbers than goats at Harappa in the Punjab, a common practice in many communities because goats are less tractable, though often a small number of goats are kept with a flock of sheep, as they are said to calm the sheep and are also useful in leading the flock to pasture.
Goats, however, have the advantage of being able to browse on a wider range of plants, so they can find food in more challenging terrain. This probably explains the more equal proportions of sheep and goats at Dholavira and Nausharo, sites in relatively arid environments.
Sheep and goats were kept for meat and perhaps for their milk. It is usually assumed that sheep were also kept for their wool. There is, however, no direct evidence that this was so. Wool is present in wild sheep as a short undercoat, grown to protect against winter weather and shed in the spring. Sheep bred for longer wool appeared in the Near East during the fourth millennium and spread into Europe during the third millennium.
The wool of these sheep was still molted in the spring and could be combed out or plucked from the animal or collected after it was shed. In Mesopotamia there is both pictorial and documentary evidence of woolly sheep and woolen textiles from the late fourth millennium onward; in Europe, aside from the very rare surviving textiles, the evidence is in the form of combs for removing the wool from the sheep; flat spindle whorls for spinning wool; a change in the age and sex structure of flocks (an increase in adults, often including some weathers [castrated rams], which provide the best and most abundant wool); and a substantial increase in the proportion of sheep among the domestic stock that were kept.
As far as I am aware, none of these features has been actively looked for in the Indus realms; so the question remains open. It is perhaps significant; however, that the excavators of Mehrgarh believe leather to have been the main material used for clothing in the periods leading up to me Indus civilization, suggesting that neither wool nor cotton was in use for textiles before the Harappan period.
For millennia, upland and lowland areas had been linked by the seasonal movements of pastoralists, driving their flocks and herds between summer and winter pastures. Herders also moved within the Indus region itself, grazing their animals on the areas of high ground and seasonal grassland. A study of the distribution of Indus settlements shows significant clusters of towns and villages in some regions, separated by large tracts in which few or no settlements have been located despite intensive fieldwork.
Pastoralists, and perhaps also hunter-gatherers, moved within these tracts, grazing their animals and providing the vital links that held together the civilization. Good pastures existed on the higher ground in the interfluve areas of the Punjab, used to graze the animals of farmers settled in the valleys of the Punjab Rivers.
Pastoralists may have been separate tribes, as was often the case in other regions and as is sometimes the case today in the subcontinent. A symbiotic relationship exists between these pastoralists and settled farmers in the regions that they visit, each providing the other with their produce.
The farmers supply grain, vegetables, and fruits, as well as stubble grazing after the fields have been harvested, while the pastoralists provide meat, leather, wool, and goat hair, as well as dung to fertilize the fields and milk products like cheese and yogurt.
Similar arrangements may have existed in Harappan times. On the other hand, the ancestors of those who had settled on the Indus plains had belonged to communities that practiced transhumance in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, with a settled base in which at least some members of the community lived year-round and with temporary camps in the areas to which part of the community, probably often only the young men, moved seasonally to obtain pasture for their animals.
Settled farmers and pastoralists were in this case members of the same families. Today the majority of cattle are kept by people who are primarily settled farmers, and the specialist pastoralists are mainly shepherds, keeping sheep. The modern zebu is adapted to a diet with marked seasonal variations in the quality and quantity of grazing, living today mainly on scrub vegetation on uncultivated wasteland areas.
In good years the grazing and water available in the area around a village are adequate to maintain the village animals, and it is only in bad years, occurring perhaps every five to six years, that migration in search of grazing and water is necessary.
It is likely that in the Indus period there were both specialist pastoralists and farmers who spent part of their year in transhumance. In the latter case the animals belonged to the farmers and could be exploited directly, and those who took them to pasture would return seasonally to their place in the settled family.
Specialist pastoralists, on the other hand, would have had an elaborate pattern of traditionally established or negotiated relationships with settled farmers whereby milk, dung, and other animal products were exchanged for grain, access to grazing, and perhaps manufactured goods.
In practice the distinctions are likely to have been blurred, since many pastoralists are likely to have had a settled base where the elderly and women with very young children lived year-round, growing a few crops. Settled farmers may have made arrangements with pastoralists whereby the latter took charge of some of the farmers’ livestock during the period when the animals needed to be taken to seasonal pastures away from the settlement. In Mesopotamia, where this system was well developed, contracts for such arrangements survive from this period.
The pastoralist received in payment a proportion of the annual yield of wool and lambs from the flock. In addition to the private arrangements between individuals or families, pastoralists in Mesopotamia also entered into such contracts with temple or secular authorities. The elusive rulers of the Indus state may have employed similar means to maintain large herds and flocks that could not be supported on pastures in the vicinity of the cities.
A few settlements have been found that can be linked to pastoralists, although they are hard to locate, given their ephemeral nature. At Nesadi (Valabhi) in Saurashtra, pastoralists dwelt in circular huts with rammed earth floors, occupying the settlement during the winter months, as their successors do today. At this time of year there was abundant lush grazing in the region, which not only provided fodder for the domestic cattle of the inhabitants but also attracted wild animals such as deer, which the pastoralists hunted.
In the summer, this campsite was under seasonal (monsoon) floods, the pastoralists having moved away to higher ground. Another probable pastoralists’ campsite, from the Late Harappan period, was uncovered at Oriyo Timbo in Gujarat. This site was probably occupied seasonally by a community whose main economic strategy was the herding of cattle, sheep, and goats but who may also have practiced a limited amount of cultivation. No structural remains were found there, with the exception of hearths, and it is therefore probable that temporary huts were constructed on arrival each year.
The main surviving traces of the settlement’s occupants are sherds of Lustrous Red ware pottery, querns, and grinding stones. Analysis of the cattle and caprine bones show that the animals were killed in the hot season, March to July, indicating the time of year when this camp was occupied.
Other Domestic Animals:
A number of other domestic animals were kept by the Harappans. These probably did not include domestic pigs; wild boars were common throughout the Indus Valley and adjacent lowlands and were among the abundant game hunted by the Harappans.
Bones of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) have been found in many Harappan sites, as have a number of dog figurines. These indicate that there were several different breeds, including a squat animal resembling a bulldog and a rangy beast like an Afghan hound. Another type had pointed ears, while a fourth had an upright tail. Collars are shown around the necks of some of the figurines, reinforcing their domestic status. One dog is shown tied to a post and may represent a guard dog.
It is possible that cats were kept by the Harappans. A number of felid species are native to the region, including Felis lybica, the ancestor of the domestic cat, and the rather larger Felis viverrina, the fishing cat. Paw prints made by the latter were found in a brick at Chanhudaro that had been laid out to dry when the cat ran across, pursued by a dog.
While cats may not have been deliberately domesticated, they are often commensal with humans in farming settlements where they are attracted by the rodents that feed on stored domestic grain. Unconfirmed bones of domestic cat (Felis catus) have been identified at Rojdi.
The chicken (Gallus gallus) may have been domesticated in South Asia, where its ancestor, the wild Indian red jungle fowl, was indigenous to the Ganges Valley and to parts of the greater Indus region. Recent genetic work, however, suggests that all modern domestic chickens were descended from birds domesticated in Thailand, though some genetic variations may indicate contributions from other birds, making it still possible that Indian chickens were locally domesticated.
Chicken bones have been found on many Harappan sites, including the cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, the towns of Ropar and Kalibangan in the east, and Lothal, Rojdi, and Surkotada in the west.
A variety of other birds were exploited by the Harappans. Cranes are captured and kept as pets by the people of the Bannu Basin in modem Pakistan, and the representation of cranes on fourth-millennium pottery from this region, at Taraqai Qila and other sites, has been tentatively interpreted by Dr. Farid Khan (1991) as suggesting that the practice may also have taken place in ancient times, using the perforated stones found there as weights in a bola to capture the birds. This is an imaginative but not improbable suggestion.
Hares were common in the Indus region and may have been kept as children’s pets but could also provide meat. They are known as terra-cotta figurines and are one of the small groups of signs commonly occurring on copper tablets; they also occur among the miniatures at Harappa.
Another species that was present at a number of sites, including Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Rangpur, Surkotada, and Kuntasi, was an ichneumon, the Indian gray mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi). It is possible that mongooses were kept by the Harappans as a protection against snakes. Bones of a mongoose, probably imported from the Indus, were found in early second-millennium Bahrain (Dilmun).
The fauna of the greater Indus region included the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus). Ivory, which probably came mainly from the elephant, was extensively used by the Harappans. At Mohenjodaro it was more common than bone as a material for making artifacts.
Elephant bones have been recovered from a number of sites throughout the Indus region, from Lothal and Surkotada in Gujarat, to Mohenjodaro and Chanhudaro in Sindh, and to Harappa and Kalibangan in the east; although elephants could have been hunted for their meat, these bones may suggest that tame elephants were employed as work animals, to haul logs, for example.
Further suggestive evidence of tame elephants comes from representations on seals of elephants apparently wearing a cloth over their back, and a clay model of elephant’s head with painted designs on its forehead. Elephants are similarly decorated with paint on festive days in modern South Asia.
The two-humped Bactrian camel was domesticated in southern Central Asia, originally for meat and fur, and figurines show that it was used there to draw carts and as a beast of burden by the mid-third millennium. A skeleton identified as a domestic camel was found at Mohenjodaro, from a level belonging to the Post urban period.
Similarly, camel bones identified at Harappa, Surkotada, Kanewal, Kalibangan, and perhaps Rojdi were all from the upper levels of these settlements, and none is likely to be earlier than 2000 BC. A single representation of a camel at Kalibangan also confirms that the Harappans were familiar with the creature, not surprisingly given the existence of the Indus colony of Shortugai in camel country. Shortugai has also yielded a rather schematic terra cotta figurine of a camel.
There is considerable controversy about the presence of the domestic horse in early South Asia, made contentious by being bound up in the Indo-Aryan debate. Bones said to come from the domestic horse have been found at a number of Harappan sites. From detailed studies of these equid bones, however, the eminent archaeozoologist Richard Meadow concluded that none definitely came from a domestic horse, and the balance of probability is that all the equid bones in Harappan and pre-Harappan contexts in India and Pakistan came from the onager (Equus hemionus, also known as the steppe ass).
This wild equid is indigenous to northern South Asia, unlike the ancestor of the horse, E. przewalskii, which is native to the steppe region from the Ukraine to Mongolia. Morphologically, the two species are similar and it is often difficult to distinguish their bones. The onager is apparently too intractable to domesticated, although there are claims that young onager can be tamed. Wild onager could provide meat and skins for leather: This is probably the reason for the presence of equid bones on Indus sites.
The history of the exploitation of aquatic resources is obscured by the frustrating paucity of well-reported faunal collections from prehistoric sites in the greater Indus region. However, at the exemplary site of Mehrgarh the remains of fish were rare despite the proximity, of the Bolan River, and the reported remains from other Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites in the Indo Iranian borderlands do not suggest a tradition of exploiting riverine resources.
The absence of fish in the coastal settlement of Balakot during the pre- and Early Harappan periods suggests that the pastoralists from Baluchistan who settled there had no interest in the locally available marine resources. In contrast, the presence of seashells at inland sites such as Mehrgarh, brought there through exchange networks, indicates that from early times there were coastal communities who did exploit marine resources.
Similarly, fish were regularly caught by hunter-gatherer communities in the subcontinent, as is vividly shown in the rock art at Bhimbetka and other Central Indian sites. Fish bones were among the faunal remains at Bagor, and in the Hakra period site of Jalilpur on the Ravi River terra-cotta net sinkers indicate that fishing was practiced. In all probability, the pre- and Early Harappan inhabitants of Gujarat exploited marine resources- “Although faunal remains have not been reported from their settlements, the coastal location of sites such as Padri and Somnath and the island situation of Dholavira are suggestive, as is me presence of fishhooks at Padri.”
Fish and Fishing:
An important source of food for the Harappans was fish. Large numbers of fish bones have been recovered from the Harappan settlements whose faunal remains have been studied. Some bones came from fish 2 meters or more in length, and it is likely that fish were an important source of protein. At Balakot fish provided around half the faunal component of the diet. The faunal remains from the coastal settlement of Balakot and from Harappa far inland near the Ravi River have been examined in detail, providing a complementary picture of the exploitation of marine and freshwater resources.
A large selection of marine fish were exploited at Balakot, including requiem sharks, stingrays, wolf herring, sea bream, mullet, and drum, but the villagers concentrated on a few species, particularly marine catfish, mackerel, and various types of grunt, the latter around 90 percent of the fish caught. The range of fish varied seasonally, with few species being available in winter but many coming in close to shore in the summer and autumn to spawn, making them easy to catch.
The grunt, however, spawns during the winter and could be easily caught with stationary nets set up in the shallow waters of Sonmiani Bay where Balakot is located. A similar range of marine fish was found at Allahdino, along with freshwater catfish.
The Harappans probably used similar techniques to those of modern fishers in the region, who catch some fish close to the shore and others farther out to sea, using fixed nets particularly for large fish and cast nets for smaller ones; some nets are also set on the sea bottom to catch crabs and other crustacean. Modem fishers also practice trolling crisscrossing an area of sea towing a series of lures and hooks from the boat.
As well as being eaten fresh, fish were dried or salted so that they could be eaten later or elsewhere. At the tiny site of Prahag, west of Balakot along the Makran coast, where sherds of Harappan and local pottery are known, evidence was found of fish processing on a large scale. Skate, jack, grunt, marine catfish, drum, and small shark appear to have been caught locally, probably from boats using a hook and line.
They were then cut open and the heads and tails removed, as well as part of the vertebral column of the skates and sharks; they may then have been preserved by salting or drying. Dolphins were also caught, and the people of this region also ate sheep, goats, and gazelle, perhaps reserving the dried fish for export. Bones of marine catfish and jack at Harappa show that preserved fish was transported even this far inland, more than 850 kilometers from the coast.
Similarly, abundant bones of shark, marine catfish, drum, sea bream, and jack at Miri Qalat in Baluchistan, 120 kilometers of difficult terrain distant from the sea, also provide evidence of a flourishing trade in preserved marine fish. In modern Baluchistan dried fish are used not only for human food but also as fodder for animals. Probably only a limited range of species were distributed in this way. Grunt (Pomadasys hasta), the predominant fish at Balakot, are often preserved by salting in modern times.
The settlement of Padri in Saurashtra has been suggested by its excavator, Vasant Shinde, to have been a salt-making village in the Harappan period. Salt making is one of the local industries there today, and the flat area on the southern side of the Harappan village was ideally suited for this purpose because it was submerged at high tide but protected from lesser tides by a high natural barrier.
This allowed seawater to be captured and left to evaporate in small embanked plots, a process taking a little over a week. Shinde suggests that the well-made, sturdy, nonporous storage jars found at Padri were designed for transporting salt. If so, preserving fish and perhaps other meat may have been one of the main purposes for which this industry was intended.
Shellfish were taken in considerable quantities by coastal communities. The shells were processed to make a variety of objects, particularly bangles, and this may have been the main reason for their collection, the edible molluscs being a bonus of the shell- working industry.
The internal shells (bones) of cuttlefish, found, for instance, at Othmanjo Buthi in Sindh, could have been used as an abrasive device for sanding wood or could have been ground up and made into an abrasive paste. Some settlements, such as Nageshwar on the northern coast of Saurashtra, probably existed for the specialized purpose of exploiting marine molluscs for manufacturing shell objects.
The shells were obtained in various ways. Nageshwar is situated on a freshwater lake with easy access to extensive shallow bays in the sheltered waters of the Gulf of Kutch from which abundant supplies of Turbinella pyrum (chank) and Chiodreus ramosus (spiny murex) shells could be obtained. Although these could be gathered in the shallow coastal waters, the fishers of Nageshwar seem generally to have gone into deeper water on rafts or small boats to obtain shells that were free from the boring activities of Cliona sponges and other marine organisms to which those near the shore were prey.
Farther north, the shellfish collectors of Balakot and other settlements on the coast of Sindh and Makran obtained some of their shells, such as the bivalve Meretrix casta, from intertidal pools and from the shallows at low tide. Other types of molluscs had to be dived for from boats on reefs in shallow coastal waters.
Here the fishers might encounter hazards such as moray eels, Portuguese man-of-wars and other dangerous jellyfish, and poisonous sea snakes and fishes. Fishing and diving for shells probably took place mainly before and after the monsoon, in April to June and in October to January.
In addition to chank and spiny murex, these regions yielded Lambis truncata sebae and Fasciolaria trapezium shells, all used for making objects found throughout the Indus realms, as well as various species whose circulation was more restricted, such as clam shells (Tivela damaoides), which were worked at Balakot to make shell bangles worn by people in the local area and at other sites along the Makran coast but not farther afield.
In addition, at Balakot Terebralia palustris molluscs, which live in mangrove swamps and brackish water, were collected in large quantities and were probably the main source of shellfish for food; they were not used for making shell objects.