The undeciphered script of Indus Valley people holds key to a question with sharp political overtones – were people of Indo-Pak subcontinent’s earliest recorded civilisation Aryans or Dravidians? Or neither? In 1946, a India’s archaeological survey team was at one of its favourite digs when it stumbled upon 37 skeletons. Two lay on steps of a well with visible marks of head injury. Five were on steps of another well room.
A few others were hastily buried as if times were so bad dead could not be taken to cemetery. “Men, women, children seemed to have been massacred in streets and left dying or, at best, crudely covered without any last rite,” wrote Mortimer Wheeler, who led the expedition.Archaeologists were at a site on west bank of river Indus in what is now Pakistan’s Sindh province. For veterans of this dig, area’s local name seemed apt. Sindhi people called it Mohenjo Daro, meaning mound of the dead. But for University of London-educated Wheeler, it was time to revisit history textbooks. As an undergraduate, he had learnt by rote a sentence in Cambridge History of India – The history of India is, in large measure, a struggle between newcomers and earlier inhabitants.
More than 1,500 sites of Indus Valley civilisation have been discovered since 1924 when Mohenjo Daro & Harappa were first excavated. Archaeologists believe area is roughly quarter of Europe. Dholavira in Gujarat is last major site discovered. It was excavated in 1990s.
Wheeler recollected his mentor at archaeological survey, John Marshall often said ancient people on banks of Indus were Dravidians. In 1924 Marshall led an expedition to Mohenjo Daro & Harappa, 500km away and announced a civilization as ancient as Mesopotamia and as grand as Egypt. Excavation doubled recorded age of civilisation in Indo-Pak subcontinent – shifting it to about 2500 BC from inscriptions of Ashoka in 250 BC.