Research Article

Social organization and change in the Indus Civilization; phytolith analysis of crop processing aims at Masudpur VII

Jennifer Bates

University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, UK


30 Jun 2010


20 Jan 2011


3 Mar 2011






archaeology, phytolith analysis, social organization, Indus Civilization, crop processing


The Indus Civilization (3rd to 2nd millennium BC) has been understood primarily through the study of its cities. However, the majority of the population lived in rural villages whose material remains have not been the focus of archaeological research. There has been no consensus on the nature of the social organization of the Indus Civilization, and the focus on urban sites and elite artefacts has meant that there has been little investigation into urban–rural interactions or the impact of urbanization on rural hinterlands. Food production, particularly that of staple crops, is one of the key links between a city and the villages that surround it. This paper uses phytolith analysis, a method of identifying plants and their constituent components using microscopic plant silica, to explore if the development of the cities affected the daily practice of crop processing and exchange in the Indus Civilization. This helps to ascertain whether city-centralized models of social organization can be applied to all aspects of rural–urban interactions. Using samples from Early and Mature Harappan periods at the village site of Masudpur VII in Haryana, India, the aims of crop processing, the crop assemblage and the local environmental conditions have been explored. This study concludes that contrary to the assumed city-focused models, the aims of the processing, composition of the crop assemblage and the local environmental conditions at Masudpur VII were not altered by the development of the city of Rakhigarhi in close proximity to it. This paper demonstrates that an understanding of ancient civilizations cannot be accurately drawn from the study of only their most conspicuous sites, especially when most of the people lived in the rural hinterlands.

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