Lothal in Gujarat is a 4,500-year-old Harappan port town. The word lothal in Gujarati literally means “the mound of the dead”. First discovered in 1954, Lothal was subsequently excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). 

The city was a thriving trade centre in ancient times and dealt in various types of beads, gems and ornaments. Lothal is said to possess the largest collection of antiquities in the archaeology of modern India. 

The archaeological remains that have stood the test of time over 4,000 years are a testament to the ingenuity of the inhabitants of Lothal. The site has a museum adjacent to it, that displays some of its most prominent antiquities discovered during excavations. It is currently on the tentative list for consideration as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Also read: Why you must visit Champaner – only UNESCO heritage site in Gujarat

What Will This Article Cover?

The article will explore the ancient Lothal city, its planning, and why the town prospered. It will also look at Lothal’s contributions to human civilisation in the fields of art, city planning, science, and so on through archaeological findings and the Lothal museum.

Welcome to Lothal signboard
Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

A Brief Glimpse Of This City’s History 

Lothal of the Indus Valley Civilisation was one of the southernmost port cities and is considered to be the oldest Harappan city in India. Over 4,000 years old, the city was scientifically planned, with a grid-like pattern, with streets crossing at proper right angles and well-thought-out drainage systems. The people of Lothal also pioneered techniques and tools for bead-making and metallurgy. 

Why Is Lothal Famous?

Several ruins and antiquities dating back to the Indus Valley Civilisation were found in Lothal. It’s famous not only for the brilliant way in which the city was planned but also for its early trade practices which boomed due to their exceptional bead and pottery creations. Some evidence suggests that Lothal even had international trade relations.

The town was very strategically planned and consisted of a dockyard, warehouse, an upper part of the town or the acropolis, a lower part of the town, and so on. 

Lothal is also famous for possessing the world’s oldest known dock. It is believed that the people of Lothal studied tidal movements and built the dockyard away from the main current to avoid the deposition of silt. It is probably due to this intelligent construction that the dock still stands.

Dockyard at Lothal, Gujarat
The dockyard at Lothal, Gujarat. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

The Rise And Fall Of Lothal 

Lothal rose to prominence due to its bead-making industry. In fact, it is said that the methods of bead-making employed by the people of Lothal were so advanced that no improvement has been made to the process even after 4,000 years. The dockyard at Lothal was responsible for the town being well connected to the sea and had important trade and commerce relations with other centres. Lothal routinely imported raw materials like copper and semi-precious stones. The ancient town was also an important centre for shell-work too. Due to its proximity to the Gulf of Kutch, Lothal had access to a large variety of shells from which they made unique ornaments, fish hooks, spears and other weaponry.

Bead factory site at Lothal, Gujarat
Bead factory site at Lothal, Gujarat. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

The business of import was proven by archaeological findings that were not local. For instance, a unique circular seal was found here whose origin was traced back to Bahrain.

Similarly, the town had export trade relations with various centres. Objects particular to Lothal have been found in Egypt, Bahrain and Sumer. Distinctive beads that could have only been made in Lothal have also been discovered in Mesopotamia. These pieces of evidence prove that Lothal was connected to a global trade network. 

It is the close proximity to the sea that eventually brought about the downfall of Lothal. The city endured multiple floods and storms during its time but the town was extremely dedicated and quick to repair the damage. However, over time as the town and its economy prospered, they could not keep up with the repairs—perhaps due to overconfidence in their own system and architecture—and gradually the town started to fall apart. The inhabitants began to desert the town, trade started dwindling as people took their business elsewhere, and the floods continued to wreak havoc on the architecture. 

Who Discovered Lothal?

Lothal was first discovered in 1954 by the ASI, which is responsible for the preservation of ancient sites and monuments in India. The excavation went on for a period of five years from 13 Feb 1955 to 19 May 1960. The ASI propounded that Lothal was the first city in the world to have a dock which connected it to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river through which trade routes were established. Although this theory was contested by archaeologists who said that the dock was an irrigation tank, owing to Lothal being a small town, it was proven false by scientists who discovered marine microfossils in the dockyard which clearly pointed to the fact that it was filled with seawater at some point. 

A well at the excavation site of the archaeological city of Lothal, Gujarat
A well at the excavation site of the archaeological city of Lothal, Gujarat. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

On Which River Is Lothal Situated?

Lothal is situated between the Sabarmati river and its tributary Bhogavo. Today, the sea is over 19 km away from the Lothal site. But, back in the day, boats from the Gulf of Cambay could sail right up to the dockyard. It was during the exploration of the Sabarmati river around the 1950s that led to the discovery of the Lothal site. Lothal is surprisingly close to Ahmedabad and the capital of Gujarat Gandhinagar, thereby making the site very accessible. The easiest way to reach Lothal from Ahmedabad is by road as it is barely a two-hour long journey. 

Board game on stone
Boardgame on stone. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

What Was Found In Lothal?

Excavation Site

The excavations led to a discovery of a lot of prominent structures of the ancient city along with numerous antiquities that were produced by its people and used for trade and day-to-day activities that are now displayed in the Lothal museum.

The city’s site complex has the archaeological remains of some of its buildings—skeletal structures that have stood the test of time. The fact that the bricks still remain intact shows that the people of Lothal used kiln-burnt bricks as opposed to sun-dried bricks. It is this ingenuity that has made the structures last for over 4,000 years, albeit partially. 

Ancient pottery
Pottery. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

The distinctive dockyard is still present at the site with some portions of the canal opening remaining intact even now. The dock walls have remained intact due to the deposition of loam as a result of frequent floods.

Very close to Lothal’s dockyard is the remaining structure of the warehouse where the trade material would have been stored. On analysing the site map of Lothal, it appears that the whole town was designed tactically. The upper town is in close proximity to the warehouse so that the rulers/upper-class people could oversee the ongoings in the warehouse and the dockyard. 

The division of the upper town and lower town also indicates that the people were subject to some kind of social stratification. What remains unclear is the basis for the division. The acropolis had large and sophisticated houses with rows of bathing platforms, kilns, and wells which would have contained potable water. 

Remains of bathrooms
Remains of bathrooms. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

As evidenced by the strategic planning of the town, the people of Lothal were very disciplined and gave importance to cleanliness.

In modern times, where we still struggle to create reliable infrastructure and drainage systems, our ancestors had achieved peak efficiency when it came to town planning. The drainage systems of Harappan sites, including the one in Lothal, are nothing short of an ancient wonder.

The remains of the bathrooms near the upper town reveal that the people of Lothal were way ahead of their time when it came to construction and architecture. Every aspect was planned out to the smallest detail. They used fire-dried bricks to prevent seepage and inserted wooden screens in the grooves of the side drain walls to hold back solid waste. 

A well-preserved bead factory which was responsible for their economic prosperity can also be found here. A circular kiln reveals the advanced technology that they employed to make high-quality beads. 

Drainage system
Drainage system. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

Lothal Museum 

Lothal was known for its carnelian beads. A variety of these is found on display in the Lothal museum which was also used to make ornaments. 

This ancient city also introduced new forms of realistic painting which displayed animals in their natural surroundings. Their artistic imagination also shines through in painted jars, some of which are displayed in the museum.

Painting on pottery
Painting on pottery. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

Lothal followed various practices when it came to the disposal of the dead. There is also a site marked as the cemetery. While the population was hefty, the cemetery was considerably small. This has led archaeologists to the conclusion that not only did they bury their dead but sometimes, they even cremated their dead. However, a method that is atypical was discovered in Lothal—twin burials, where two bodies would be buried in the same grave. The reason for this could have been to save space or might have signified some ancient religious practice. A fossil depicting this twin burial is kept in the museum as well. 

Twin burial at the ancient city of Lothal
Twin burial. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

The people of Lothal also had a sophisticated weight measurement system. They had developed various tools and weights with stones like agate and chert, and the accuracy of this system can be verified through their efficient town-planning and architecture. Among the various antiquities, a collection of these stone weights were also found. 

Ancient weights found at archaeological site in Gujarat
Ancient weights. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia
Ancients weighing scales found at Lothal, Gujarat
Ancients weighing scales. Photo courtesy: Vandana Lohia

Objects made out of seashells like jewellery, spoons, ladles, pieces of weaponry (probably meant for hunting animals) were also discovered along with raw material like shells and conches. 

If you thought the citizens of this ancient civilised city were all work and no play, think again. Not only were they skilled at what they did, but they had also devised various toys and games for entertainment. A lot of terracotta figurines of various animals like goats, dogs were discovered along with toy-sized clay carts, and board games etched out on flat stones. 

Is Lothal An Archaeology Enthusiast’s Paradise?

Even if archaeology isn’t something that immediately piques your interest, the contributions of the people of Lothal to human civilisation are of paramount importance and worth knowing about. It is fascinating to learn that our ancestors were so advanced in fields of science, architecture, city-planning, commerce, and were artistically oriented enough to create beautiful paintings, pottery, games, figurines, beads and jewellery. 

Lothal is truly one of the most marvellous ancient sites that India has to offer.

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