Between 1856 and 1872, Sir Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893), director of the Archaeological Survey of India, performed some small excavations at the Harappan site while looking for settlements visited by Chinese pilgrims in the Buddhist period. (4-5) He had no idea about the age or importance of the Harappa ruins. Entrepreneurial humans (brick robbers) reused the site’s heavy adobe brick to build houses and other structures, such as 100 miles of track ballast for the Karachi-Lahore railroad under construction in 1865.
In 1914, Sir John Marshall (1876-1958), also a director of the Archaeological Survey of India, surveyed Harappa, identifying a high citadel 50 feet above the lower Harappa city, a great waterproofed tank or bath, and a granary. Seven years later in 1921, he initiated Harappa’s systematic excavation, finding six levels of occupation belonging to a complex contained within a three-mile circumference.
Sir Marshall also worked on the Mohenjo-Daro site (“Mound of the Dead”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1980), (6) the largest of all the 1,500 known cities and hamlets of the Indus Valley civilization. (1) Mohenjo-Daro is located 350 miles south of Harappa in the Indus River flood plain of southern Pakistan’s Sindh province.
R.D. Banerji, an officer of the Archaeological Survey of India, first discovered Mohenjo-Daro in 1921-1922 while studying an overlying Buddhist stupa--a simple mound of mud or clay to cover supposed relics of the Buddha. (7) Sir Marshall wrote about Mr. Banerji’s discovery of Mohenjo-Daro in his 1931 book entitled Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization:
The site had long been known to district officials in Sindh, and had been visited more than once by local archaeological officers, but it was not until 1922, when Mr. R.D. Banerji started to dig there, that the prehistoric character of its remains was revealed. This is not greatly to be wondered at; for the only structures then visible were the Buddhist Stupa and Monastery at the north-west corner of the site, and these were built exclusively of brick taken from the older ruins, so that it was not unnatural to infer that the rest of the site was referable to approximately the same age as the Buddhist monuments, viz, to the early centuries of the Christian era. Indeed, when Mr. Banerji himself set about his excavations here, he had no idea of finding anything prehistoric. His primary object was to lay bare the Buddhist remains, and it was while engaged on this task that he came by chance on several seals inscribed with legends in an undecipherable script which had long been known to us from the ruins of Harappa in the Panjab [sic].
As it happened, the excavation of Harappa itself had at my instance been taken up in the year previous by Rai Bahaur Daya Ram Sahni, and enough had already been brought to light to demonstrate conclusively that its remains, including the inscribed seals, were referable to the Chalcolithic Age [Copper Stone Age, 4500-3300 BC]. (8) Thus, Mr. Banerji’s find came at a singularly opportune moment, when we were specially eager to locate other sites of the same early age as Harappa. Mr. Banerji himself was quick to appreciate the value of his discovery, and lost no time in following it up…With the hot season rapidly approaching, Mr. Banerji’s digging was necessarily very restricted, and it is no wonder, therefore, that his achievements have been put in the shade by the much bigger operations that have since been carried out. This does not, however, lessen the credit due to him. His task at Mohenjo-daro [sic] was far from being as simple as it may now appear. Apart from the discoveries at Harappa, which he had not personally seen, nothing whatever was then known of the Indus civilization. (9)
Sir Marshall published an illustration in Illustrated London News in 1924 of one of the seals (impressions on clay) discovered at Mohenjo-Daro, which University of Chicago archaeologist Ernest MacKay read with great interest, realizing immediately that the seal in the photo was identical to a seal he had discovered under the foundation of a temple at Kish in Mesopotamia. Dr. MacKay’s exciting discovery was the first hint of the antiquity of the ruins at Mohenjo-Daro. Ernest MacKay, K.N. Dikshit, and numerous other directors excavated bountiful Mohenjo-Daro through the 1930s.(90)