Sumerian and Akkadian traders were active in the Gulf, there is no evidence that they ever reached farther south than the western coast of Magan. Harappan material, however, began to appear in Mesopotamia in the early days of the Indus civilization- Carnelian beads, for example, are known from some of the graves in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, dated between 2600 and 2450 BC. Initially such exotica may have reached the Sumerians indirectly either by trade through the Iranian plateau or via their trade with the people of Magan, with whom the Harappans were now in regular contact.

By the late twenty-fourth century, however, the Harappans were sailing through me Gulf right up to ports in southern Mesopotamia, for it was at this time that Sargon of Akkad boasted that ships from Dilmun, Magan, and Meluhha docked at the quays of his capital, Agade, which lay far up the Euphrates river.

Meluhha, it is now generally agreed, was the name by which the Indus civilization was known to the Mesopotamians- Meluhha was the most distant of the trio of foreign lands, and the imports from Meluhha mentioned in Sumerian and Akkadian texts, such as timbers, carnelian, and ivory, match the resources of the Harappan realms.

The Meluhhans were said to have had large boats, and indeed substantial, seaworthy craft would have been a prerequisite for trade over the distances involved. By the time of Sargon, therefore, if not before, the Indus people were plying the Gulf sea lanes and anchoring in Mesopotamian ports.

Harappans in Sumer and Akkad (Babylonia):


Harappan trade with Babylonia seems to have been established on a significant scale by Akkadian times. One Mesopotamian cylinder seal of this period identified its owner as a “Su-i-li-su, Meluhha interpreter.” Another text, probably of this period, recorded that a Meluhhan called Lu-Sunzida paid a certain Urur, son of Amar-Luku, 10 shekels of silver as compensation for a broken tooth.

It is probable that Harappan merchants were resident in Mesopotamia by this time, but one should not underestimate the difficulty of archaeologically identifying their presence- In a comparable situation in nineteenth-century BC Kanesh in Anatolia, the presence of a substantial Assyrian merchant quarter in the town was known only from the cuneiform tablets found in the merchants’ houses detailing their trading and other activities, while in other respects (architecture and artifacts) their remains were indistinguishable from those of their Anatolian neighbours.

Small objects that have been occasionally found, such as dice, frequently in a worn or broken condition, might have been the personal possessions of Indus merchants, as would be the Harappan seals that have been found.

The Akkadian levels in the city of Eshnunna yielded Harappan material, including a cylinder seal with a design of Harappan animals (an elephant, a rhino, and a gharial), camelian beads, and Harappan pottery. Possehl (1997) draws attention to a toilet of this period at Eshnunna, associated with Harappan-style drainage, suggestive of Harappan influence and probably of a Harappan presence in the city.

Mesopotamia’s Imports from the Indus:


Some indication of the range of materials that the Sumerians and Akkadians imported from Meluhha can be gleaned from Mesopotamian texts. These included various types of timber, stone, and metal, as well as ivory and animals.

Some of these were clearly of Indus origin; others were not products of the Indus region itself but were materials that the Harappans imported and traded on to Mesopotamia. In addition, texts refer to some goods that the Mesopotamians imported from Dilmun and that were clearly not produced there; many of these were originally from the Indus region.


Carnelian (red stone) was frequently mentioned in Mesopotamian texts, often as an import from Dilmun (which had no native carnelian), though in Gudea’s inscriptions it was said to come from Meluhha. Although it is also found in parts of Iran, carnelian must have come mainly from me Harappans, who mined and worked it in considerable quantities.


Their most distinctive carnelian products included exceptionally long beads and beads decorated with various so-called etched (actually bleached) designs, including eye patterns; identical carnelian beads have been found at Mesopotamian sites such as Kish, Up, Nippur, Eshnunna, and even Assur in the north.

Sometimes the Sumerians engraved these beads with cuneiform inscriptions, such as two that the Akkadian King Shulgi dedicated to the goddess Ningal as booty from his war against Susa. The Sumerians also imported unworked pieces of carnelian that were used by their own artisans. For example, there was a carnelian-working industry at Girsu; its products were small and rough compared with those imported from the Indus.

Lapis Lazuli:

One of the most prized materials imported into Mesopotamia was lapis lazuli, referred to as a suitable material for adorning temples and known in Mesopotamia by the Uruk period. It was used for decorating precious objects, including the lyres and gaming boards placed as grave offerings in the Royal Cemetery at Ur, as well as being widely employed for small pieces of jewelry, such as beads and the heads of pins.

Plants and Plant Products:

Linguistic evidence suggests that sesame oil was among the Indus exports to Mesopotamia. It was known in Sumerian as ilu/ili and in Akkadian as ellu/ulu, terms that are strikingly similar to an early Dravidian name for sesame, el or ellu.

The plant from which the oil came, however, was known by an unrelated name and was under cultivation in Mesopotamia by around 2250 BC; it may have been introduced from the Indus or from Africa, to which it was also indigenous, via the Levant.

Timbers of various sorts were valued imports to southern Mesopotamia, which lacked substantial trees for construction. “Highland mesu wood,” from which the Sumerians made boats, chariots, and furniture, was probably sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo), which grew in the Punjab and in other parts of the Indus Basin, as well as in Baluchistan. Another wood used for construction and furniture was called kusabku—sea wood.

This might have been mangrove but this identification would be problematic, since mangrove, which grows in the saline waters of the Indus delta and other Indian river deltas and on the Pakistani Makran coast, is not suitable for fine use, such as the throne inlaid with lapis lazuli mentioned in one Sumerian text.

However, teak, native to the hills of Gujurat, is much used for boatbuilding because it is water- resistant, and it may therefore be a good alternative identification of sea wood. Teak is a very fine timber that would have been highly suitable for making decorative furniture.


Both Magan and Meluhha are referred to in the Mesopotamian texts as sources of copper. The Sumerians obtained some copper directly from Oman throughout the third millennium, but during the latter part Meluhha and Dilmun also acted as intermediaries and Sumer had no direct contact with Oman after about 2000 BC.

It is curious that the Harappans, who were conducting expedition to Magan to obtain copper, presumably to meet a shortfall in the supply of more local (Aravalli and perhaps Baluchi) copper for their own needs, should also have been trading it on to the Sumerians who were themselves obtaining Magan copper.

It is possible that the Harappans, who probably traded directly with the copper miners inland, may have obtained copper at a rate sufficiently favourable to allow them to make a profit by selling it to the Sumerians, who had only indirect access to Magan copper via coastal settlements.

Animals and Animal Products:

Ivory from Indian elephants was used in great quantities by the Indus people. Curiously, although the Mesopotamians used ivory their surviving texts record Meluhha as the source only of ivory birds. A number of Indian animals were brought to Mesopotamia as gifts or exotic goods. These may have included water buffaloes, vividly depicted on a few Akkadian cylinder seals and mentioned in a few texts.

In one, they were among the exotic animals invoked to give a flavour of the cosmopolitan nature of the Akkadian capital, Agade- the goddess Inanna ensured that monkeys, mighty elephants, water buffalo, exotic animals, as well as thoroughbred dogs, lions, mountain ibexes, and alum sheep with long wool would jostle each other in the public squares (Electronic Corpus of Sumerian Literature, “The Cursing of Agade,” lines 21-24).

Transporting animals of the size and ferocity of water buffaloes to Mesopotamia would reinforce the suggestion that the Harappans must have possessed large ships. An Ur III text describes a red dog originally from Meluhha, probably a dhole (Cuon alpinus), which was given to King Ibbi-Sin as tribute from Marhasi (inland southwestern Iran). Figurines of animals were also among the goods brought to Mesopotamia by the Harappans. These included ivory birds and carnelian monkeys, according to the texts, and model monkeys in several materials, including gold, have been found.