Landscapes of Urbanisation and De-urbanisation: Integrating Site Location Datasets from Northwest India to Investigate Changes in the Indus Civilisation’s Settlement Distribution

02 Mar 2018

Archaeological survey data plays a fundamental role in studies of long-term socio-cultural change, particularly those that examine the emergence of social complexity and urbanism. Re-evaluating survey datasets reveals lacunae in survey coverage, encourages the reconsideration of existing interpretations, and makes it possible to integrate the results of multiple projects into large scale analyses that address a broad range of research questions. This paper re-evaluates settlement site location reports that relate to the major phases of the Indus civilisation, whose Mature Harappan period (c. 2600-1900 B.C.) is characterised by numerous village settlements and a small number of larger urban centres. By the end of the Mature Harappan period, people appear to have left these cities, and a de-nucleated pattern of settlement is evident in the subsequent Late Harappan period. Survey data from the plains of northwest India are key to understanding this process of de-urbanisation, as it has been argued that there was an increase in the region’s settlement density as the cities declined. Assembling site locations from multiple surveys into an integrated relational database makes it possible to conduct geographical information systems (GIS)-based analyses at larger scales. This paper finds that the number of settlements on the plains of northwest India increased between c.1900 and 700 B.C., and that some settings within this region were favoured for settlement, resulting in new landscapes of de-urbanisation. These results lay the foundation for future research that will ask whether this shift in settlement location occurred at the expense of alternative social processes, such as movement to highland areas, fortification of nodes of long distance exchange, and political consolidation. More broadly, investigating the Indus civilisation’s landscapes has the potential to reshape models of social complexity by revealing how it emerged and transformed across extensive and varied environmental settings.