What a Harappan grave says about marriage

• In 2016, archaeologists and scientists from India and South Korea found these two “very rare” skeletons in a Harappan (or Indus Valley) city – what is now Rakhigarhi village in the northern Indian state of Haryana.

• For two years, they researched the “chronology” and possible reasons behind the deaths; and the findings have now been published in a peer-reviewed international journal.

Details about the findings

• The man and the woman were facing each other in a very intimate way. We believe they were a couple.

• They seemed to have died at the same time. How they died, however, remains a mystery,” archaeologist Vasant Shinde, who led the team, told me.

• They were buried in a half-a-metre-deep sand pit.

• The man was around 35 years old at the time of his death, while the woman was around 25.

• Both were reasonably tall – he was 5.8ft (1.77m) and she, 5.6ft.

• They were both possibly “quite healthy” when they died – tests didn’t find any lesions or lines on the bones or any “abnormal thickness” of skull bones, which could hint at injuries or diseases such as brain fever.

Important highlights

• Archaeologists say this unique “joint grave” was not an “outcome of any specific funeral customs commonly performed at that time”.

• They believe that the man and the woman “died almost at the same time and that, therefore, they had been buried together in the same grave”.

• Ancient joint burial sites have always evoked interest.

• In a Neolithic burial site in an Italian village, archaeologists found a man and a woman in an embrace. In another joint burial reported from Russia, the couple were holding hands and facing each other.

• Nearly 6,000-year-old skeletons in Greece were found embracing each other, with their legs and arms interlocked.

• In Harappan cities, graves usually contained pots with food and some jewellery – people likely believed in life after death and these materials were meant to be grave offerings.

• Archaeologists believe the “mystery couple” lived in a settlement spread over more than 1,200 acres, housing tens of thousands of people.

• The 2,000-odd Harappan sites discovered in India and Pakistan so far, the settlement in Rakhigarhi is the largest, overtaking the more well-known city of Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan. (The ancient civilisation was first discovered at Mohenjo Daro in the 1920s.)

• This is not the first time archaeologists have discovered a couple in a Harappan grave.

Past findings incidents

• In the 1950s, the skeletal remains of a man and a woman, heaped on top of each other, were found in a sand pit in Lothal in what is now Gujarat.

• The skull of the woman bore injury marks. Some excavators made a controversial claim that the grieving woman had killed herself after her husband’s death – a claim that could never be proved.

• At Rakhigarhi, archaeologists have discovered 70 graves in the cemetery, barely a kilometre away from the settlement, and excavated 40 of them.

• But this single grave of the “mystery couple” has turned to be most fascinating of all.


Mains Paper 1: Arts & Culture | All syllabus

Prelims level: Indus Valley civilization sites

Mains level: Important historical findings related to IVC

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