Lothal – Dig Into The Ancient Era

Lothal was one of the southernmost cities of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, located in the Bhāl region of the modern state of Gujarāt. Construction of the city began around 2200 BCE. Discovered in 1954, Lothal was excavated from 13 February 1955 to 19 May 1960 by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the official Indian government agency for the preservation of ancient monuments. According to the ASI, Lothal had the world’s earliest known dock, which connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river on the trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh and the peninsula of Saurashtra when the surrounding Kutch desert of today was a part of the Arabian Sea. However, this interpretation has been challenged by other archaeologists, who argue that Lothal was a comparatively small town, and that the “dock” was actually an irrigation tank. The controversy was finally settled when scientists from The National Institute of Oceanography, Goa discovered foraminifera (marine microfossils) and salt, gypsum crystals in the rectangular structure clearly indicating that sea water once filled the structure and it was definitely a dockyard. Lothal was a vital and thriving trade centre in ancient times, with its trade of beads, gems and valuable ornaments reaching the far corners of West Asia and Africa. The techniques and tools they pioneered for bead-making and in metallurgy have stood the test of time for over 4000 years.

Lothal is situated near the village of Saragwala in the Dholka Taluka of Ahmedabad district. It is six kilometres south-east of the Lothal-Bhurkhi railway station on the Ahmedabad-Bhavnagar railway line. It is also connected by all-weather roads to the cities of Ahmedabad (85 km/53 mi), Bhavnagar, Rajkot and Dholka. The nearest cities are Dholka and Bagodara. Resuming excavation in 1961, archaeologists unearthed trenches sunk on the northern, eastern and western flanks of the mound, bringing to light the inlet channels and nullah (“ravine”, or “gully”) connecting the dock with the river. The findings consist of a mound, a township, a marketplace, and the dock. Adjacent to the excavated areas stands the Archaeological Museum, where some of the most prominent collections of Indus-era antiquities in India are displayed.

The Lothal site was nominated, in April 2014, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its application is pending on the tentative list of UNESCO.


When British India was partitioned in 1947, most Indus sites, including Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, became part of Pakistan. The Archaeological Survey of India undertook a new program of exploration, and excavation. Many sites were discovered across northwestern India. Between 1954 and 1958, more than 50 sites were excavated in the Kutch (notably Dholavira), and Saurashtra peninsulas, extending the limits of Harappan civilisation by 500 kilometres (310 miles) to the river Kim, where the Bhagatrav site accesses the valley of the rivers Narmada and Tapti. Lothal stands 670 kilometers (420 miles) from Mohenjo-daro, which is in Sindh.

The meaning of Lothal (a combination of Loth and (s) thal) in Gujarati to be “the mound of the dead” is not unusual, as the name of the city of Mohenjo-daro in Sindhi means the same. People in villages neighbouring to Lothal had known of the presence of an ancient town and human remains. As recently as 1850, boats could sail up to the mound. In 1942, timber was shipped from Broach to Saragwala via the mound. A silted creek connecting modern Bholad with Lothal and Saragwala represents the ancient flow channel of a river or creek.

Speculation suggests that owing to the comparatively small dimensions of the main city (7 hectares (17 acres)), Lothal was not a large settlement at all, and its “dock” was perhaps an irrigation tank. However, the ASI and other contemporary archaeologists assert that the city was a part of a major river system on the trade route of the ancient peoples from Sindh to Saurashtra in Gujarat. Lothal provides with the largest collection of antiquities in the archaeology of modern India. It is essentially a single culture site—the Harappan culture in all its variances is evidenced. An indigenous micaceous Red Ware culture also existed, which is believed to be autochthonous and pre-Harappan. Two sub-periods of Harappan culture are distinguished: the same period (between 2400 and 1900 BCE) is identical to the exuberant culture of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.

After the core of the Indus civilisation had decayed in Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, Lothal seems not only to have survived but to have thrived for many years. Its constant threats – tropical storms and floods – caused immense destruction, which destabilised the culture and ultimately caused its end. Topographical analysis also shows signs that at about the time of its demise, the region suffered from aridity or weakened monsoon rainfall. Thus the cause for the abandonment of the city may have been changes in the climate as well as natural disasters, as suggested by environmental magnetic records. Lothal is based upon a mound that was a salt marsh inundated by tide. Remote sensing and topographical studies published by Indian scientists in the Journal of the Indian Geophysicists Union in 2004 revealed an ancient, meandering river adjacent to Lothal, 30 kilometres (19 miles) in length according to satellite imagery— an ancient extension of the northern river channel bed of a tributary of the Bhogavo river. Small channel widths (10–300 m or 33–984 ft) when compared to the lower reaches (1.2–1.6 km or 0.75–0.99 mi) suggest the presence of a strong tidal influence upon the city—tidal waters ingressed up to and beyond the city. Upstream elements of this river provided a suitable source of freshwater for the inhabitants.

Town planning

A flood destroyed village foundations and settlements (c. 2350 BCE). Harappans based around Lothal and from Sindh took this opportunity to expand their settlement and create a planned township on the lines of greater cities in the Indus valley. Lothal planners engaged themselves to protect the area from consistent floods. The town was divided into blocks of 1–2-metre-high (3–6 ft) platforms of sun-dried bricks, each serving 20–30 houses of thick mud and brick walls. The city was divided into a citadel, or acropolis and a lower town. The rulers of the town lived in the acropolis, which featured paved baths, underground and surface drains (built of kiln-fired bricks) and potable water well. The lower town was subdivided into two sectors. A north-south arterial street was the main commercial area. It was flanked by shops of rich and ordinary merchants and craftsmen. The residential area was located to either side of the marketplace. The lower town was also periodically enlarged during Lothal’s years of prosperity.

Lothal engineers accorded high priority to the creation of a dockyard and a warehouse to serve the purposes of naval trade. While the consensus view amongst archaeologists identifies this structure as a “dockyard,” it has also been suggested that owing to small dimensions, this basin may have been an irrigation tank and canal. The dock was built on the eastern flank of the town, and is regarded by archaeologists as an engineering feat of the highest order. It was located away from the main current of the river to avoid silting, but provided access to ships in high tide as well. The warehouse was built close to the acropolis on a 3.5-metre-high (10.5 ft) podium of mud bricks. The rulers could thus supervise the activity on the dock and warehouse simultaneously. Facilitating the movement of cargo was a mudbrick wharf, 220 metres (720 feet) long, built on the western arm of the dock, with a ramp leading to the warehouse. There was an important public building opposite to the warehouse whose superstructure has completely disappeared. Throughout their time, the city had to brace itself through multiple floods and storms. Dock and city peripheral walls were maintained efficiently. The town’s zealous rebuilding ensured the growth and prosperity of the trade. However, with rising prosperity, Lothal’s people failed to upkeep their walls and dock facilities, possibly as a result of over-confidence in their systems. A flood of moderate intensity in 2050 BCE exposed some serious weaknesses in the structure, but the problems were not addressed properly.

All the construction were made of fire dried bricks, lime and sand mortar and not by sun-dried bricks as bricks are still intact after 4000 years and still bonded together with each other with the mortar bond.

Economy and urban culture

The uniform organisation of the town and its institutions give evidence that the Harappans were very disciplined people. Commerce and administrative duties were performed according to standards laid out. Municipal administration was strict – the width of most streets remained the same over a long time, and no encroached structures were built. Householders possessed a sump, or collection chamber to deposit solid waste in order to prevent the clogging of city drains. Drains, manholes and cesspools kept the city clean and deposited the waste in the river, which was washed out during high tide. A new provincial style of Harappan art and painting was pioneered. The new approaches included realistic portrayals of animals in their natural surroundings. Metalware, gold and jewellery and tastefully decorated ornaments attest to the culture and prosperity of the people of Lothal.

Most of their equipment: metal tools, weights, measures, seals, earthenware and ornaments were of the uniform standard and quality found across the Indus civilization. Lothal was a major trade centre, importing en masse raw materials like copper, chert and semi-precious stones from Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, and mass distributing to inner villages and towns. It also produced large quantities of bronze celts, fish-hooks, chisels, spears and ornaments. Lothal exported its beads, gemstones, ivory and shells. The stone blade industry catered to domestic needs—fine chert was imported from the Larkana valley or from Bijapur in modern Karnataka. Bhagatrav supplied semi-precious stones while chank shell came from Dholavira and Bet Dwarka. An intensive trade network gave the inhabitants great prosperity. The network stretched across the frontiers to Egypt, Bahrain and Sumer. One of the evidence of trade in Lothal is the discovery of typical Persian gulf seals, a circular button seal

Architectural development

While the wider debate over the end of Indus civilisation continues, archaeological evidence gathered by the ASI appears to point to natural catastrophes, specifically floods and storms as the source of Lothal’s downfall. A powerful flood submerged the town and destroyed most of the houses, with the walls and platforms heavily damaged. The acropolis was levelled (2000–1900 BCE), and inhabited by common tradesmen and newly built makeshift houses. The worst consequence was the shift in the course of the river, cutting off access to the ships and dock. The people built a new but shallow inlet to connect the flow channel to the dock for sluicing small ships into the basin. Large ships were moored away. Houses were rebuilt, yet without removal of flood debris, which made them poor-quality and susceptible to further damage. Public drains were replaced by soakage jars. The citizens did not undertake encroachments, and rebuilt public baths. However, with a poorly organised government, and no outside agency or central government, the public works could not be properly repaired or maintained. The heavily damaged warehouse was never repaired properly, and stocks were stored in wooden canopies, exposed to floods and fire. The economy of the city was transformed. Trade volumes reduced greatly, though not catastrophically, and resources were available in lesser quantities. Independent businesses caved, allowing a merchant-centric system of factories to develop where hundreds of craftsmen worked for the same supplier and financier. The bead factory had ten living rooms and a large workplace courtyard. The coppersmith’s workshop had five furnaces and paved sinks to enable multiple artisans to work.

The declining prosperity of the town, paucity of resources and poor administration increased the woes of a people pressured by consistent floods and storms. Increased salinity of soil made the land inhospitable to life, including crops. This is evidenced in adjacent cities of Rangpur, Rojdi, Rupar and Harappa in Punjab, Mohenjo-daro and Chanhudaro in Sindh. A massive flood (c. 1900 BCE) completely destroyed the flagging township in a single stroke. Archaeological analysis shows that the basin and dock were sealed with silt and debris, and the buildings razed to the ground. The flood affected the entire region of Saurashtra, Sindh and south Gujarat, and affected the upper reaches of the Indus and Sutlej, where scores of villages and townships were washed away. The population fled to inner regions.

Later Harappan culture

Archaeological evidence shows that the site continued to be inhabited, albeit by a much smaller population devoid of urban influences. The few people who returned to Lothal could not reconstruct and repair their city, but surprisingly continued to stay and preserved religious traditions, living in poorly built houses and reed huts. That they were the Harappan peoples is evidenced by the analyses of their remains in the cemetery. While the trade and resources of the city were almost entirely gone, the people retained several Harappan ways in writing, pottery, and utensils. About this time ASI archaeologists record a mass movement of refugees from Punjab and Sindh into Saurashtra and to the valley of Sarasvati (1900–1700 BCE). Hundreds of ill-equipped settlements have been attributed to this people as Late Harappans a completely de-urbanised culture characterised by rising illiteracy, less complex economy, unsophisticated administration and poverty. Though Indus seals went out of use, the system of weights with an 8.573 gram (0.3024 oz avoirdupois

Places To Stay: NA

Things To Do: Photography, explore the historic site

Places To Visit: NA

Location: Lothal, Saragwala, Gujarat 382230

How To Reach: Lothal can be reached by a simple train or bus journey. You can get down at the Bhurkhi station that comes in the Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar railway line. From here, take local transport to reach Lothal.

Famous For: Ancient remains

    Plan Your Trip To Gujarat