Early Traders of the Indian Ocean rim

Evolution of farming emerged independently across many clusters around the world and along the Indian Ocean rim. The evolution of Indian Ocean rim along is about the evolution of these clusters & their long distance interactions from very early stage.

River Civilization

Around 4500 BC, the Sahara & Arabian grasslands began to dry. Populations that were living in the encroachments began to converge along the Nile in Egypt and the Euphrates & Tigris in Mesopotamia. There were already farming communities along these rivers. North western parts of Indian subcontinent also become drier while witnessing increased activity. This increased pressure on land might have led to developments of political & cultural institutions along the river cities.

In the Indian subcontinent, the growth was taking place along the two rivers & their tributaries. One of the rivers is Indus & the other is now the dry riverbed of the Ghagger. After many years of debate now it has been accepted that the Ghagger is the same river that earlier Hindu texts refer to as Saraswati. One of largest cities of that time was Harappa & known as Harappa civilization. These river civilizations used rivers to trade internally & the Indian Ocean with other cultures.

Also, Read Interactions of Cultures along the Eastern Indian Ocean Rim

Coastal trade History of India from West Coast

Western India was much wetter at that time & monsoon rains were stronger. The Rann of Kutch also used to receive fresh water from both the Saraswati & the Indus. Relative sea level during the Harappan times was several meters higher than it is today which meant that the Saurashtra peninsula was an island. Thus ships could comfortably travel from Rann of Kutch and then make their way out to the Gulf of Khambhat. Lothal is a site near Rann of Kutch near Gujarat coast and dates back to mature period of Harappan culture. There was a large dockyard which used sluice gates & a spill channel to regulate water levels. Next, to the dockyard, there are remains of structures that may have been warehoused and a series of brick platforms.

Harappans had strong economic trade links with the Middle East. The merchant ships from Gujarat made their way along the Makran coast, trading along the way. They may have stopped near Gwadar to visit their outpost at Sutkagen-dor. The coastline from Gujarat to southern Iran was still a well-populated continuum with strong economic and cultural links. There are archaeologist’s proofs that Harappans had traded with Arabian Peninsula. These sites must have been wetter in Bronze Age.

Further west, Harappan-origin artifacts have also been found in ancient Mesopotamian cities. Trade with Harappan civilization had a big influence on Persian Gulf area. Harappan weights & measure became the standard across the region. The locals also copied Harappans seals.  All these routes were also used by other traders for trade with Harappan cities. And thus the trade was bi-directional.


(The article is based on the book “The ocean of churn” by Sanjeev Sanyal.)

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