The Harappan economy was based on irrigated surplus agriculture, cattle rearing, proficiency in various crafts and brisk trade both internal and external. Here we will analyse the various facets of Harappan economy, particularly agriculture, crafts and industries, trade and commerce.
Agriculture and Animal Husbandry: In the mature Harappan period there is a considerable amount of information available concerning animal husbandry and agriculture.
The range of domesticated animals, or of wild animals used for food, is quite large. In addition to sheep and goats, there is, as we have seen, repeated evidence of the predominant role of Indian humped cattle. One strain of these is depicted on the Harappan seals (along with a hump less bull of a boss prim genius variety) and is beyond doubt the ancestor of a strain still bred in parts of Western India and Sind.
Another species whose bones are of frequent occurrence at more than one site is the Indian goat which must have been either domesticated or regularly hunted. The buffalo bones are less common and seem to indicate that the buffalo was at this period not yet regarded as a domesticated species. Yet more rare are bones of both elephant and camel, but as the former is a fairly common motif upon seals, where it appears to be caparisoned, it may be assumed that the Indian elephant was already domesticated. Camel bones are reported at Kalibangan. Bones of pigs are also regularly found, suggesting that pigs were kept within the orbit of settlements. Among the birds, bones of the domestic fowl are noteworthy.
There is also a wide range of wild animals which were undoubtedly hunted for food; these include the sambhar deer (rusa unicolor), the spotted deer and the hog deer and several varieties of tortoise. Horse is rather an enigma for the researchers. Bhola Nath in 1963 identified the remains of the horse from the unworked collection from Harappa. He had also recovered the bones of true horse from Ropar. A. K. Sharma collected skeletal remains from Kalibangan.
In 1938 Mackay had remarked on the discovery of a clay model of horse from Mohenjodaro. A Jaw-bone of a horse is also recorded from this site. From phase three of Lothal has been recovered a terracotta figuring of a horse. A tooth of the horse has also been found at Lothal. The Kalibangan material includes an upper molar, a fragment of shaft of distal end of femur and the distal end of left humorous.
From an Early Harappan site of Rana Ghundai, Ross reported a few teeth of the horse, though Zeuner did not agree with the identification. Surkotada has yielded quite a few bones of the horse from a superficial level. At Nausharo, Jarrige found many terracotta figurir.es of this animal. Dholavira has also yielded small samples of this animal. Despite such findings, the complete bones of horse have not been found anywhere and it is difficult at the present stage to say whether horse was known as a domesticated animal to the Harappans.
The Harappan people cultivated various crops. Since the majority of Harappan settlements were located along the fertile rivers with assured irrigation, agriculture must have been the back-bone of the Harappan civilization. Depending on climate, fertility of soil and irrigational facilities, various crops were raised at different Harappan settlements.
Wheat is frequently recorded, apparently of three varieties, the club wheat (triticum compactum), the Indian dwarf wheat (triticum sphaerococcum) and the tricitum aestivum. Barely (hordeum vulgare), probably of a small-seeded six- rowed variety, was also found both at Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Both wheat and barley were found at Kalibangan, two more varieties hordum nudum valgare and hordeum sphaerococcum have also been recorded.
Chanhudaro and Nausharo and indeed these two crops must have been the most important at all Harappan sites. Other crops include dates, and varieties of leguminous plants, such as field peas, sesamum and mustard were grown presumably for oil (lentils from Nausharo, chickpea from Kalibangan field pea from Harappa).
Another discovery of great significance is of a number of millets: elenisne coracana, finger millet, ragi, from the lowest levels of Rojdi; bajra, (pennisetum typhoideum) from Babar Kot in Saurashtra and at a slightly later date, sorghum, jawar (sorghum bicolor) probably all present as introductions from Africa.
Unfortunately, no excavation has yet revealed evidence of that typical Indian crop - the sugarcane, though its presence is to be expected. At Lothal and Rangpur, rice husks and spikelets were found embedded in clay and pottery. Another find of great interest was a fragment of woven cotton cloth at Mohenjodaro. The plant belonged to one of the coarser Indian varieties closely related to gossypium arboreum, and the fibre had reputedly been dyed with madder, indigenous in India.
The prehistory of a textile industry is necessarily elusive, as so much of the evidence disappears unless climatic conditions favour its survival, but we have already noticed the presence of cotton at Mehrgarh some two thousand years before the finds at Mohenjodaro.
That woven textiles were already common in the Indus civilization, and that the craft for which India has remained famous was already in a mature stage of development, must be inferred from these finds, and from occasional impressions of textiles upon earthenware, pottery and faience from the Harappan sites a whole class of small faience vessels were evidently formed upon a cloth bag filled with sand or some other suitable substance, leaving the textile impression upon the interior of the pot. The finding of Indus seals suggests that merchants from India actually resided in Mesopotamia and their chief merchandise was probably cotton.
There is as yet comparatively little evidence for the actual tools employed for agriculture. It seems likely that this already ancient practice was followed also during the Mature Indus period. There is some very interesting evidence from Kalibangan where a field surface still retained the marks of furrows laid out in two directions at right angles to each other.
The marks suggest that a wooden plough or 'arid' was employed. This finding, therefore, provides an interesting suggestion that agricultural practices, such as ploughing the fields, were practised even during the Early Harappan phase.