Archaeological and anthropological studies on the Harappan cemetery of Rakhigarhi, India
Archaeological and anthropological studies on the Harappan cemetery of Rakhigarhi, India
Vasant S. Shinde 0 1
Yong Jun Kim 1
Eun Jin Woo 1
Nilesh Jadhav 0 1
Pranjali Waghmare 0 1
Yogesh Yadav 0 1
Avradeep Munshi 0 1
Malavika Chatterjee 0 1
Amrithavalli Panyam 0 1
Jong Ha Hong 1
Chang Seok Oh 1
Dong Hoon Shin 1
0 Department of Archaeology, Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute , Pune , India , 2 Lab of Bioanthropology, Paleopathology and History of Diseases, Institute of Forensic Science/ Department of Anatomy, Seoul National University College of Medicine , Seoul , South Korea , 3 Department of Oral Biology, Division in Anatomy & Developmental Biology, BK21 PLUS Project, Yonsei University College of Dentistry , Seoul , Republic of Korea
1 Editor: Michael D. Petraglia, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History , GERMANY
An insufficient number of archaeological surveys has been carried out to date on Harappan Civilization cemeteries. One case in point is the necropolis at Rakhigarhi site (Haryana, India), one of the largest cities of the Harappan Civilization, where most burials within the cemetery remained uninvestigated. Over the course of the past three seasons (2013 to 2016), we therefore conducted excavations in an attempt to remedy this data shortfall. In brief, we found different kinds of graves co-existing within the Rakhigarhi cemetery in varying proportions. Primary interment was most common, followed by the use of secondary, symbolic, and unused (empty) graves. Within the first category, the atypical burials appear to have been elaborately prepared. Prone-positioned internments also attracted our attention. Since those individuals are not likely to have been social deviants, it is necessary to reconsider our pre-conceptions about such prone-position burials in archaeology, at least in the context of the Harappan Civilization. The data presented in this report, albeit insufficient to provide a complete understanding of Harappan Civilization cemeteries, nevertheless does present new and significant information on the mortuary practices and anthropological features at that time. Indeed, the range of different kinds of burials at the Rakhigarhi cemetery do appear indicative of the differences in mortuary rituals seen within Harappan societies, therefore providing a vivid glimpse of how these people respected their dead.
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are
within the paper and its Supporting Information
Funding: This study was supported in part by a
grant from the National Geographic Society (Asia
21-15). DHS received the funding. The funders had
no role in study design, data collection and
analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Harappan Civilization, named after the first site discovered close to the village of Harappa
(Punjab, Pakistan), has been examined and appreciated since the early twentieth century
because this is the earliest complex society known from ancient South Asia. The cultures of the
Harappan Civilization can generally be subdivided into Early (3300~2600 BCE), Mature
(2600~1900 BCE), and Late (1900~1700 BCE) periods [
]. Recent excavations in the Ghaggar
Basin (or RgVedic Saraswati) sites, including Bhirrana, Girawad, Farmana, and Rakhigarhi,
have pushed the date for the beginning of the Harappan Civilization back to 5500 BCE [
The significance and geographical extent of this civilization are now clearer than ever as it
encompassed a vast area spanning southeastern Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as the
northwestern and western states of India [
According to the relevant previous literatures [
], this civilization was originally formed
as the result of the gradual development of indigenous farming communities. Their eventual
unification was the beginning of a complex urban society. Because of extensive
inter-community trade networks, Harappan people shared a common cultural tradition characterized by
life in well-planned and organized towns or cities. They boasted multiple hallmarks of an
advanced civilization such as copper-bronze metallurgical techniques, a standard
measurement system, shared ceramic idioms, a written language and so on. To date, five major urban
sites (Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Ganweriwala, Rakhigarhi, and Dholavira), each originally
surrounded by a vast rural landscape and small settlements, have been identified as regional
centers of Harappan Civilization [
Over the last 100 years, archaeologists have uncovered a number of Harappan cemetery
sites (Fig 1), including Harappa [
], Kalibangan , Farmana [
], Rakhigarhi , and
]. However, the data from these sites are currently too incomplete to describe how
the Harappan people treated their dead in the cemeteries [13±15]. Archaeological efforts on
known Harappan cemeteries have also been limited because of their remote locations and the
apparently random nature of sites. A further complicating factor has been the action of
hydrological and wind erosion flattening the soil pits of burial mounds. As a result, the majority of
the archaeological surveys completed on more than 2,000 sites so far have been focused mainly
on Harappan cities and towns, while relatively few cemetery sites have been addressed [
Despite these difficulties, some pioneering interdisciplinary studies successfully
reconstructed the people's lives of Harappan Civilization, with the data from mortuaries and skeletal
remains of particular interest to archaeologists and anthropologists [16±18]. Briefly speaking,
the biological relationships between Harappan societies and their neighboring civilizations
were revealed in previous works [
]. Isotopic analysis elucidated individual migration life
histories linking city populations to hinterland groups . Dietary [
] and pathological
[24±27] features have also been the subject of interdisciplinary researches. Paleopathological
studies were done on the teeth and mandibles of the Harappan people [
]. Schug et al. [
compared the cranial traumas seen in historical populations at Harappa burials to evaluate
whether the society was characterized by a peaceful heterarchy [
]. Schug [
] speculated that
the presence of non-normative burials as well as traumatic injuries and leprosy in skeletal
remains might have related to differences among the dead at Harappa. Other recent
publications have dealt with the significance of mortuary behavior in the sociocultural dynamics of
Harappan Civilization [21,26±30].
Excavations over three consecutive years (between 1997 and 2000) carried out by the
Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) uncovered the evidences of a well-established road,
drainage system, large rainwater storage facility, and additional city infrastructure in Rakhigarhi site
[31±33]. The ASI thus established that Rakhigarhi, once surrounded by fertile cropland and
numerous settlements, was the provincial capital of the eastern region of the Harappan
]. Although this preliminary ASI fieldwork paved the way for future investigations, the
majority of graves within the cemetery still remained untouched except for 11 burials in a
trench within the cemetery area (RGR 07) [
]. This subsequent lack of archaeological and
anthropological focus on the cemetery area has been unfortunate, especially since the
Rakhigarhi site was one of the greatest political and economic centers of the Harappan Civilization.
Our investigations carried out between 2013 and 2016 at Rakhigarhi cemetery might
therefore prove meaningful. By the excavation of a salvage trench in 2013±14, we were able to reveal
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Fig 1. Harappan sites where skeletons were discovered (indicated by dots). Red dot: Rakhigarhi site; dashed dot: skeletons from non-cemetery area;
black dots: cemetery sites other than Rakhigarhi.
the general features of this cemetery. We continued our excavation in the following year
(2014±15), and extended its range further in the year after (2015±16). The results of this
threeyear study have enabled us to conjecture how the people of Harappan Civilization were buried
and how their graves were managed within the necropolis. The numerous novel aspects about
Harappan mortuary customs are also discussed in this paper.
3 / 30
Materials and methods
Rakhigarhi is an ancient megacity site located about 150 kilometers from Delhi in India's
Haryana state. Its necropolis area (N29Ê17052.9@/E76Ê06051@) is situated in what is now an
agricultural field (ASI designation: RGR 07) (Fig 2). We differentiated the area into three distinct
localities: RGR 7.1 (for salvage-trench), RGR 7.2 (northern section), and RGR 7.3 (southern
section) (Fig 3). In each locality, we numbered trenches and burial pits in their order of
excavation (S1 Fig). We put one salvage-trench (S1 Fig) in RGR 7.1, and three (A1 to A3) and two
(B1 to B2) trenches in RGR 7.2 and 7.3, respectively.
The investigation was conducted under the permission of the Archaeological Survey
of India (approval number: F/15/1/2010 EE). During the excavation of the necropolis area,
very large numbers of potsherds and animal bones, as suggestive of the complex mortuary
Fig 2. Aerial view of Rakhigarhi. Mounds 01±06: Archaeological mounds of Harappan city; Mound 07: cemetery area. The blue and green rectangles indicate the
currently excavated trenches (2014±16) and salvage investigation area (2013±14), respectively.
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Fig 3. Distinct localities of Rakhigarhi excavation site.
activities in the cemetery area, were found around burial pits. Outside the burial pits within
the trenches, common Harappan objects like hopscotch, sling balls and shell objects were
collected though in small quantities. It is quite likely that these are indications of the rituals
practiced by the Harappans as part of their burial ceremonies. Photos and videos were taken
during and after the excavation of each burial pit. Two drones (Phantom3 Standard;
Professional, DJI, Shenzhen, China) were deployed for acquisition of the aerial views of the site.
After unearthing of skeletons at the excavation site, we recorded the relevant archaeological
information. During the fieldwork, we wore protective gloves, masks, gowns and caps in order
to reduce sample contamination to the minimum (Fig 4; S2 Fig). We also took steps to prevent
damage to skeletons, especially by limiting access to them. For future bio-anthropological
experiments, the genetic profiles of every researcher's hair sample were obtained to compare
with those of ancient specimens. The human and cultural remains retrieved from each burial
pit finally were transported to the Laboratory at the Department of Archaeology, Deccan
College Post Graduate and Research Institute (Deemed University), Pune, India.
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Fig 4. Fieldwork. Note the protective clothing worn to minimize contamination of samples.
The specimens discussed in this paper are housed in the collections of the Department of
Archaeology, Deccan College, Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune, India. For the
skeletons, access is available to bona fide researchers on request. The review of Institutional Review
Board (IRB) for this study was exempted by Seoul National University Hospital (exemption
number: 2013±004; 2017±001).
Choosing the burial classification system
Classification is the basis of archaeological analysis. Mortuary excavation, for example, yields a
wide variety of evidence reflective of practices that have to be classified systematically in terms
of shared attributes and differences [
]. Concerning the archaeological aspects of disposal of
the dead, early studies on ancient South Asia employed ambiguous terminology based on the
assumption of the duality of burial, either inhumation or cremation [
]. We had to reject this
protocol for classification of burials discovered at Harappan cemeteries, as inhumation and
cremation were not mutually exclusive in practice.
6 / 30
] suggested the following system of burial-type classification for South Asia: (1)
burial of complete body: inhumation in pits or urns; (2) burial of selected bones after
cremation: post-cremation burial, and (3) burial of selected bones after excarnation:
post-excarnation burial. Although an improvement on the former protocol, this classification system
cannot be considered the standard for field archaeology either, as it neglects some burial cases
(e.g. a cenotaph or empty grave for commemoration of the deceased) due to the technical
limitations at the time. Next, Sprague [
] classified body disposal into simple (primary
inhumation irrespective of aquatic, superterranean or subterranean disposals) and compound
(involving a reduction process before final disposal) cases. Although these definitions are
consistent with primary and secondary burials, respectively, they are nonetheless too ambiguous
for classification of every grave in the archaeological context of South Asia.
Nowadays, Harappan archaeologists prefer a classification system accounting for primary,
secondary, and symbolic burials, each sub-categorized by the difference in the means of
disposal of the body (full, fractional or absent body) [
]. This classification yields a
comprehensive set of mutually exclusive categories. Primary burial indicates any method whereby the
full body is interred (e.g., underground pit, built-grave, ship-burial, hanging burial, etc.) as the
final stage of burial. Secondary burial represents burial of a fractional part or parts of the body
that were collected after artificial or natural decomposition. Symbolic burial covers the
practices whereby the grave is built at a location other than the burial place of the dead body. This
classification system is beneficial to field archaeologists, as it is also applicable to other
historical mortuary-archaeological contexts of the Indian subcontinent (e.g. Iron Age megalithic
]. In consideration of the aspects and advantages above-noted, we adopted this
system for classification of mortuary customs evidenced in our study of Rakhigarhi cemetery.
Specific individuals, communities and societies have their own normative methods of
burial. What was or were the Harappan Civilization's normative form or forms of body
disposal remains unclear to us. And indeed, we have to allow for the possibility that diverse
groups within the broader Harappan society had distinctive mortuary customs [
Such uncertainty as to what practices were normative for the Harappan Civilization make our
classification fundamentally etic. We thus sub-categorized the Rakhigarhi cemetery's primary
burials into typical and atypical cases. Typical cases, entailing burial of supine-positioned
bodies inside of a plain pit (Fig 5A), were found in much greater numbers than were atypical,
exceptional cases such as brick-lined graves (Fig 5B), multiple bodies or prone-positioned
burial. The Harappan people's common practice was, at least as far as Rakhigarhi cemetery
indicates, the burial of the body without any process of reduction.
As for secondary burial, the term is somewhat problematic due to its ambiguous usage
among archaeologists. Darvill [
] defined it as involving a grave dug into a pre-existing
barrow or burial at any time after its initial construction. KnuÈsel [
] defines secondary burial as
the relocation of the body of a primary burial to another site. South Asian archaeologists,
meanwhile, have their own definition of secondary burial: the final disposal of the body parts
long after death, regardless of inhumation or cremation, decomposition, or earlier relocation
]. In our study, we adopted this South Asian definition of secondary burial.
We also categorized as symbolic burials cases in which the body was not placed inside the
burial at the time that the grave was first constructed. An example is a cenotaph, a type of
monument that functions as a symbolic burial to commemorate an individual whose body was
missing (e.g. who died far from home) [
]. We performed careful examinations to rule out
the possibility that the body had disappeared due to taphonomic agents or processes. We
classified cases as symbolic when human bones were not discovered whereas sacrificed-animal
bones or other grave goods were (Fig 6). Also, we classified cases as unused pit chamber when
the grave had been elaborately built but absolutely no bones or artifacts were found.
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Fig 5. (A) Primary typical interment (A2/BR 36) at Rakhigarhi cemetery. (B) Primary atypical burial (A2/BR 22) with brick-lined grave
Anthropological studies were conducted on skeletal remains obtained from respective burial
pits in order to shed light on some of the bio-anthropological characteristics of the Rakhigarhi
8 / 30
Fig 6. Symbolic grave (BR16).
population. During the analyses at Deccan College, archaeologists and anthropologists
exchanged opinions with each other for more comprehensive understanding of the data.
While the archaeologists analyzed the characteristics of each burial and grave artifacts, the
anthropologists assigned the information obtained from the individual skeletons to the burial
inventory archaeologists summarized.
Sex and age estimations were performed on the skeletal remains using methods described
in Standards for Data Collection [
]. The sex estimation of the individuals was carried out
by macroscopic assessments of the pelvis and skull. The primary indicators included the
greater sciatic notch and pre-auricular sulcus of the pelvis. When the pelvic elements were
not dispositive, the glabella, supraorbital margin, nuchal crest, and mastoid process of the
skull and mandibular mental eminence were examined [
]. Age at death was estimated
with reference to degenerative changes of the auricular and pubic symphyseal surfaces of the
pelvis , the degrees of palatal and ectocranial suture closure [
], and dental wear
]. All of the adult individuals were categorized into three age groups: young adult (18~35
years), middle-aged adult (36~50 years), and old adult (over 50 years). For immature
individuals, approximate age was determined based on dental development and epiphyseal closure
9 / 30
The individual's sex, age and burial type as well as the number of votive pots were tabulated
and subjected to statistical analysis using R version 3.4.0 (R Foundation for Statistical
Computing, Vienna, Austria). To determine statistical difference between two independent groups, we
first tested all data for normality (Shapiro-Wilk test). Next, to compare variances, we
performed an F test for normally distributed groups, using Welch's t-test when the variances were
not equal to each other and, in cases where they were equal, the pooled estimate of the
variance. The Wilcox rank sum test for non-parametric statistical hypothesis was applied to
nonnormally distributed data. A P value of <0.05 was considered statistically significant
(confidence interval: 95%). We drew boxplots to visualize the results by group. We also utilized Strip
Charts for drawing of individual variables in a single plot. In order to detect burial outliers by
the number of votive pots, we defined the inner fence as follows: Q3 + 1.5 x interquartile range
(IQR). When a burial's pot number was outside the inner fence, we regarded it as an extreme
case (i.e., too divergent from the others).
Results and discussion
Information on excavation site
We performed a series of archaeological and anthropological analyses on the Rakhigarhi
cemetery area for three consecutive seasons (2013±2016): the first season (2013±2014) for RGR 7.1,
and the next two seasons (2014±2016) for full-scale excavations of RGR 7.2 and 7.3.
Radiocarbon dates (determined by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) for charcoal samples from different
depths at the Rakhigarhi site were previously reported by the Inter University Accelerator
Center (Delhi, India). The carbon dating of the samples at the depths of 9.1 and 20.6 meters yielded
calibrated dates of 2273±38 years BCE and 2616 ±73 years BCE, respectively [
By surface survey and interview with village seniors (April, 2014), we were able to obtain
stratigraphic information on the RGR 7.1 site. We learned, for example, that the local people
had already leveled much of the mounds (about 1 meter) for farming purposes. We estimated,
by surface survey of the area and its remaining portions of mounds, that the present extent
of the cemetery was approximately 1 ha. In the following season (2014±15), we resumed
systematic excavation of a trench (A1±10 × 10 m) in RGR 7.2, finding 6 burials (A1/BR 01±06)
therein. In 2015±16, we extended the excavation area, designating a large trench (A2; 20 × 20
m) next to A1, and discovering a total of 36 burials. A small trench A3 (5 × 5 m) was assigned
to check the stratigraphy of the locality. By this means, we were able to determine that the
cemetery inclined from north to south at the time that the Harappan people were actively
constructing graves there. The burials in the trenches within the northern locus generally
remained closer to the soil surface. In the B1 to B2 trenches assigned to the southern locality
(RGR 7.3), we found 11 burials: 3 in the RGR7.3 B1 trench and 8 in the B2 trench. The general
information is summarized on the conceptual map of the excavation site (Fig 7).
Most of the burial pits were rectangular in shape, with vertically cut sides and flat bottoms.
We also found some oval or square pits specially used for non-primary burials. Although each
primary burial pit had a slightly different orientation, all were generally arranged on the
north-south axis with the head to the north. The pottery and any other artifacts from all of the
excavated graves belonged to the Mature Harappan period. Because the shapes of the graves
and typologies of the burial goods did not much differ from each other, detailed burial
chronology proved difficult.
Even so, from the information obtained by the archaeological excavations, we could classify
the Rakhigarhi burials into three distinct groups (I, II and III). Group I, the earliest burials,
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Fig 7. Map of excavation site at Rakhigarhi necropolis.
included only two graves (BR 16 and 36) within the A2 trench. Both were found around 1.1
meters below our Datum Point. We speculate that the A2 locality might have been chosen by
the Rakhigarhi people at the initial stage when the surface of the area was around -1.1 meters.
There was no evidence of anthropogenic activity below this phase. The localities A1 (BR 02)
and A2 (BR17A/B, 19, 22, 30, 31 and 34) became a cemetery when the surface layer was
between -0.75 to -1.0 meters, at which time Rakhigarhi people were increasingly buried there.
11 / 30
The Group II graves were found to be neatly arranged, becoming the possible ritualizing place
that was constructed elaborately.
Lastly, within the A1 and A2 as well as B1 and B2 trenches and above the Group II burials, the
Group III graves were found. These Group III burials showed that the cemetery had been extended
to other localities (B1 and B2) beyond the earlier, focal locality (A1 and A2) where the Groups I
and II burials were found. Haphazard encroachments against previously built graves (BR08 and 09
against 07, BR 13 and 15 against 14, BR 20B and C against A, BR 10A against B, BR 25 against 29,
BR 18A against B) was observed to have occurred during this phase. Such carelessness, according
to previous reports on other Harappan cemeteries at least, was not uncommon [
]. In summary,
we conjecture that the A2 locality was chosen during the Group I phase as the first burial place,
and that subsequently, during the Group II phase, the same locality (A2) became the site of greater
ritualization. In the Group III phase, a well-established necropolis covering a much wider area
extending beyond the A2 locality was established by the Harappan people in Rakhigarhi.
The burials at Rakhigarhi
In the course of our three-season excavation of Rakhigarhi burials (n = 53), we deemed cases
to be primary burials when the full skeleton was discovered inside a grave and there were no
signs of any reduction process. These primary burials were the most commonly identified type
(n = 41, 77.4%) at the Rakhigarhi necropolis.
Among the primary interments, we found both typical (34/53, 64.2%) as well as atypical (7/
53, 13.2%) burials. The typical burials had one characteristic in common: a singular individual
buried supinely inside a simple (plain) grave. Among the primary atypical burials, on the other
hand, unique patterns were exhibited, such as brick-lined grave architecture, and multiple or
prone-positioned individuals inside a pit. The present study's box plots of votive pot numbers
(Fig 8A) revealed that atypical graves had significantly more votive pots than did typical graves
(Wilcoxon rank sum test, W = 173.5, p = 0.0009399). Similar atypical cases were also reported
from the cemetery at Harappa [
] (R-37, Mature Harappan period).
We also found, at the same cemetery, uncommon burials including secondary (5/53, 9.4%)
and symbolic (6/53, 11.3%) graves (Table 1). Good examples of secondary burial at Rakhigarhi
cemetery are bones inside pots buried in a circular pit (A2/BR 21) (S3 Fig). They must not
have been cremated prior to burial, as they exhibited no burn marks. In most of the secondary
burials, animal bones (buffalo or cattle, goat or sheep etc.) were found, either in a
dish-onstand or some other arrangement, suggesting that meat might have been offered to the dead.
Additionally, there was also one unused pit chamber (1/53, 1.9%).
The votive pot numbers found in each burial group are depicted in a box plot (Fig 8B). The
difference in pot numbers between the primary typical and secondary burials was statistically
insignificant (Wilcoxon rank sum test: W = 66.5, p-value = 0.2341). However, we found that
the pot numbers for symbolic burials were significantly higher than those for primary typical
graves (Wilcoxon rank sum test: W = 158, p-value = 0.007606).
Unlike the cases of symbolic burials, nothing was discovered inside A2/BR30: no human or
animal bones, and no grave goods. We suspected that A2/BR30 might have been built in
preparation for a funeral but was eventually abandoned for reasons as yet unknown. If this actually is
as we conjecture, an unused pit chamber, it is a very rare case in the field of Harappan
archaeology. Only one similar case, from Farmana cemetery, previously has been reported [
Among the various graves excavated in Rakhigarhi cemetery, human remains were found only
in primary and secondary burials, not in any presumptive symbolic or unused pit chambers.
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Fig 8. Box and scatter plots of votive pot numbers for (A) primary typical and atypical as well as (B) primary typical, secondary and symbolic graves from Rakhigarhi
Well-preserved bones were found, as is typical, mainly in primary graves; skeletons were
found also in cases of secondary burial, though their conservation status was generally poor.
Overall, our excavation at Rakhigarhi cemetery revealed at least 46 sets of complete or
partial skeletal remains. Of them, 41 (89.1%) were discovered in primary burials, and 5 (10.9%) in
secondary burials. In the primary burials, though the individuals were generally placed in
supine positions, prone-positioned individuals were also found in a few exceptional cases (A2/
BR33, B1/BR01A and B2/BR02A1).
After excluding the cases of only fragmentary or incomplete skeletal remains, only 37
individuals were finally subjected to anthropological examination. Overall, there were 9
individuals with more than half of the skull preserved; in 14 individuals meanwhile, the pelvic bones
remained. In the age estimation, we found 8 subadults (under 18 years old) and 17 adults; fully
12 cases were indeterminate due to skeletal incompleteness or poor preservation. Among
the 17 adults, 5 seem to have died at young age, 11 at middle age, and only one at old age
(Table 2). We also sub-divided the age at death of the children. Two children (A2/BR10A and
A2/BR17A) seem to have died at 2±4 years and one child (A1/BR03) at 3±5 years. For A2/
BR20B, though the skeleton was judged to be that of a child, the age could not be estimated
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inside Simple Pit
(circular or square)
RGR 7.2 (A1 / A2)
BR 01, 02, 03, 04, 07
08, 09, 10A,10B, 11,12,
13,14,15,17A,17B, 18A, 18B,
20A,20B,20C,23, 24, 25,
26, 27, 28, 29, 35, 36
BR 19, 22, 31, 33
BR 21, 32B
BR 06, 16, 34
BR 05, 32A
RGR 7.3 (B1 / B2)
BR 01B, 03A, 03B, 04
BR 01A, 02A1
BR 02A1, 02C1
BR 02A2, 02B,02C2
As for the individuals' sex, we estimated that there were 7 males and 10 females. For all of
the children (n = 4), some of the adolescents (n = 2) and adults (n = 4) and most of the
ageindeterminate individuals (n = 10), we could not estimate the sexes. In the light of the
anthropological information obtained, we tried to interpret the archaeological data collected from
Rakhigarhi cemetery. The data are summarized in Table 3.
Graves for subadults
When we depicted the votive pot numbers of subadult (under 18) and adult graves, the
former's burials included significantly fewer votive pots than did the latter (Fig 9). The difference
between them was statistically significant by Wilcoxon rank sum test (W = 58.5, p-value =
0.03874). In general, according to particular cultures, subadults' deaths are dealt with quite
differently. Some cultures did not make graves for their dead children at all, while others
constructed children's graves as good as or even better than adults' [
]. As fewer votive pots were
found in the subadults' burials than in the adult graves, the Rakhigarhi people might have
treated their children's deaths in a somewhat different way from adults'.
Graves for women
The votive pot number found in atypical graves was higher than in typical graves (Fig 8A). As
the number of votive pots in those graves somewhat differed by sex (higher in males' graves
1 m 5
3 r 1
iiftsooonP /rreayonP it/Ireednm llii/cboN /rreayonP li/raydnN li/raydnN i/reaySpun li/raydnN i/reaySpun i/reaySpun i/reaySpun
/eyp irPm ray ySm irPm ecSo ecSo irPm ecSo irPm irPm irPm
s 6 s
/ le ry
r in in in in in le ry
lea y53 tea a 0 lea y81 rm rem lea rem rm rem a 0
M-1 in eFm -635 M-6 tee te Mte tee te eFm -635
/2 m / /1 d d d d d /
e In /In /I In /In
Fig 9. Box and scatter plots of votive pot numbers found in subadult and adult graves.
than females') (Fig 10), there might have been, among some Rakhigarhi people at least,
discriminatory attitudes toward women with respect to the construction of graves. In a statistical
analysis of the votive pots from atypical burials, however, we failed to find any significance for
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Fig 10. Box and scatter plots of votive pot numbers in typical and atypical graves according to sex. M_ and F_ means male and female, respectively.
difference by sex (Pooled variance t-test, t = -2.5266, df = 4, p-value = 0.0649), possibly due to
the insufficient sample size. Our estimates will be firmer as reports from similar cases become
Multiple individuals inside the pit
While the great majority of interments in Rakhigarhi cemetery contained only one individual,
interestingly enough, five individuals (A1/A2/B/C1/C2 of B2/BR02) were found to be have
been placed together inside the same pit. According to the archaeological context, we
conjecture that all of those individuals had been buried together at the same time. Among them, B2/
BR A1 and C1 were primary burials, whereas B2/BR A2, B and C2 were secondary. While only
bone fragments were found inside the secondary burials, the skeletons discovered in primary
18 / 30
Fig 11. Five individuals buried together inside the same pit. A prone-positioned male (B2/BR 02A1) and a supine-positioned male (B2/BR 02C1) were found together.
burials showed an excellent preservation status. The skeletons from the primary burials were
determined to be males; the age estimations were 21±35 yrs for B2/BR A1 and 16±18 yrs for
C1 (Fig 11). In this multiple-individual grave, the number of grave goods was far numerous
than in any of the other primary graves; moreover, various types of bowls rarely found in other
burials were discovered here.
In two primary burials (B2/BR A1 and C1), we found the same kind of small pot positioned
in the same way under the knees (S4 Fig). In Rakhigarhi cemetery, there were two other graves
very similar to B2/BR A1 and C1. In the A2/BR13 and 15 burials, we found that a similarly
shaped shell spoon had been placed in the same way inside the small pots (S5 Fig). The manner
of arrangement of grave goods is very important, as it sometimes suggests that the two
individuals buried together had a close relationship in life. Even so, as there have been very few reported
parallels in the Harappan funerary context, this kind of burial remains enigmatic to us.
Ornaments of the buried bodies
Among the anthropologists' sex-determined cases, we found that only the females (n = 7) wore
bangles. These ornaments were also found in burial A2/BR35, for which we discovered a
young individual (12±16 years old, sex not determined) wearing necklaces and bangles made
of copper, shell and gemstones (Fig 12A and 12B). Initially, we conjectured that this individual
might have been of a high social class. However, this hypothesis had to be abandoned later, as
the grave architecture of A2/BR35 was too humble to be comparable to other, elaborate graves
19 / 30
Fig 12. (A) Young individual (A2/BR35) discovered wearing necklaces and bangles. (B) The necklace worn by the A2/BR35 individual.
found in Rakhigarhi cemetery. This case is a good example of how care must be exercised
when making social-status determinations for Harappan burials based on only a limited
number and/or variety of artifacts.
20 / 30
Actually, exotic items, such as inscribed seals or ritual objects (e.g. terracotta Mother
goddesses) have never been found in any Harappan-period graves, not even in elaborate ones
]. Likewise, the burial structures and grave goods of the Rakhigarhi necropolis have
all been determined to be generally humble in nature. It was easy for us to conjecture as to a
common pattern among primary typical burials in the cemetery: for example, only one
individual was interred supinely in a plain grave. Even so, when we come to the details of each
burial, differences possibly reflective of ritual status and/or the dynamic situation prevailing at
the time of the individual's death seem to have determined grave structures or offering goods
discovered in various burial cases. Among the atypical primary interments, we noted
bricklined graves (A2/BR19, 22, 31, and 33) as an example of such unique burials found in
Rakhigarhi cemetery. Our box and scatter plots show that the brick-lined graves included more
votive pots than did typical interments. This difference was found to be statistically significant
(Wilcoxon rank sum test, W = 111.5, p-value = 0.01074) (Fig 13).
The brick-lined graves showed the following features.
A2/BR19: A rich variety of grave goods was identified. We discovered the skeletons of a
young woman (21±35 years old). The bricks had been crushed into small pieces and mixed
with lime for strengthening. The brick-lined wall was found only at the head of the buried
A2/BR22: This grave was made with great care. A young woman (21±35 years old) was
found inside. The individual wore copper bangles on both arms. A brick-lined wall was
confirmed to be present near the head of the individual.
A2/BR31: The burial wall was made with a mixture of burnt bricks and lime. A large
number of pots was found inside the grave. The individual was estimated to be an old female (> 50
years) (Fig 14).
A2/BR33: Bricks were found in the burial wall. A large amount of pottery was found inside.
The individual was a female (21±35 years old).
Brick-lined graves also have been reported for other Harappan cemeteries (i.e., Harappa,
Kalibangan, Farmana, and Lothal) [
]. These burials were assumed to have been for important
men and to be representative of the intra-variability of social and ritual status, due to their
impressive and unique elaborateness [
]. Correspondingly, at Rakhigarhi cemetery, the
brick-lined burials were among the most elaborately constructed graves, implying a high social
or ritual status for the deceased. Notwithstanding the many similarities, there were also some
differences between the brick-lined burials in Rakhigarhi and similar graves of other Harappan
cemeteries. While the former used a mixture of crushed burnt bricks and lime, the latter were
made mainly of mud bricks; and whereas the Rakhigarhi graves built the brick-lined wall only
near the head of the individuals, the other, similar cases at other cemeteries had walls
constructed that completely surrounded the graves.
We note that every individual discovered in a brick-lined burial was likely, by
anthropological examination, to have been female. Therefore, if we accept the hypothesis that the people
buried in the brick-lined graves actually belonged to the dominant group in Rakhigarhi
society, we must reconsider the social role of some Harappan females at that time.
Although approximately 600 prone-positioned cases have been reported from archaeological
sites over the past several decades [
], such individuals remain very rare. Then, what was
prone-positioning for? It has been thought that, traditionally, prone-positioned burials
represented a way to treat the bodies of individuals who had been shamans (or witches), disabled
21 / 30
Fig 13. Box and scatter plots depicting votive pot numbers from primary typical, brick-lined and prone-position graves.
22 / 30
Fig 14. Brick-lined burial at Rakhigarhi cemetery. A large quantity of grave goods was found inside A2/BR31.
individuals, and/or those who had been ostracized for any reason (e.g., criminality, religious
nonconformity) from the community [56±59]. Most prone-positioned individuals have been
revealed to be males, and the grave goods found inside such graves have been very few [
In our study, we found prone-positioned individuals in some of the graves of Rakhigarhi
cemetery (A2/BR33, B1/BR01A and B2/BR02A1). Details on each burial are summarized as
A2/BR33: A brick-lined, atypical burial. A large amount of pottery was found inside the
grave. The individual was a female (21±35 yrs.). She was buried in a prone position while
looking left (Fig 15A).
B1/BR01A: Traces of funeral rituals (burnt ashes, animal bones, a large jar) were identified
inside the grave at the northeast. Fine silt soil had been piled up as if for a makeshift bed. The
young adult male (aged 21±35 yrs.) was in the prone position, facing to the left side. The
quantitative and qualitative features of the votive pottery (Fig 15B) were more remarkable than in
B2/BR02A1: A male (aged 21±35 yrs.) was found prone-positioned and facing to his left
side. The disposers had arranged large numbers of votive pots inside the grave (Fig 11). Next to
him, upon a higher elevation, a male individual (B2/BR 02C1, aged 16±18 yrs.) also lay in the
supine position. We wondered why the two individuals had been placed in different positions.
] speculated that the prone position might have symbolized a submissive posture. If
23 / 30
Fig 15. Prone-positioned individuals in (A) A2/BR33 and (B) B1/BR 01A.
this was the case, the prone-positioned B2/BR 02A1 individual might have been arranged in
such a way as to pay homage to the supine-positioned C1 individual. Although this seems a
24 / 30
strong hypothesis, we will need to reconsider the present case, particularly because in the same
Rakhigarhi cemetery, there were other prone-positioned individuals (A2/BR 33 and B1/BR
01A; Fig 15) who had been buried alone, in the absence of higher status individuals.
In Rakhigarhi cemetery, what stands out in prone-position graves is that the individuals
appear unlikely to have been social deviants. We could not find any evidence of physical
restraint such as intentional bending at the knees and/or tying of the feet to the buttocks.
Neither were there any signs that any of the individuals had been social deviants. It is also
interesting that among the Rakhigarhi individuals that were found lying in prone position, some were
not, as is typical around the world, facing down [55±59] (so as to block their view of the sky
and indeed to prevent their ever breathing again), but rather looking to the left.
We conjecture that those prone-positioned individuals might actually have belonged to the
upper classes of Rakhigarhi society, principally because they were given elaborate burials and
interred with a large number of grave goods. Our box and scatter plots clearly depict that the
votive pot quantity in the prone-positioned burials is significantly greater than in the primary
interments of the same cemetery (Wilcoxon rank sum test, W = 93, p-value = 0.005024) (Fig
13). However, we admit that in order for this hypothesis to be generally accepted, more
research into similar cases from other Harappan cemeteries is required.
Burial on bed of pottery
We finally comment on the presence of burials on beds of pottery. In Rakhigarhi cemetery, we
found graves (A2/BR33 and B2/BR02C1) wherein the soil had been built up with pots like a
bed upon which the body was laid. Considering the grave architecture and amounts of grave
goods inside them, burials A2/BR 33 and B2/BR 02C1 seem to have been of high-ranking
people in Rakhigarhi society.
A similar burial on bed of pottery was reported for another Harappan grave. In Kalibangan
cemetery, the prone-positioned individual of No. 29 grave had been laid down on stacked
votive pots [
]. This report did not attract much attention at the time of the report. However,
we noticed that this Kalibangan No.29 burial (S6 Fig) shared many features (grave structure,
votive pots, and prone-positioned posture) with our Rakhigarhi grave A2/BR33 (Fig 15A). The
similar finding was also reported at Harappa, the type site of the Harappan Civilization [
recent report from a 7th century Anglo-Saxon cemetery is also suggestive to us, because it
indicates that a real bed had been put in the grave, not a platform made of soil and pots, and that
the individual had been a high-ranking female [
]. Although the discovery of similar burials
has been very rare to date, we could not rule out the possibility that such a funeral custom
might have been followed over a much wider area than we had initially considered.
In principle, there was always a high probability and expectation that cemeteries would be
discovered in the vicinity of Harappan cities or towns. However, with respect to Harappan
megacity sites, Harappan cemeteries have not been reported in sufficient numbers to date. The lack
of a cemetery within the Mohenjo-daro area, for example, represented a serious inconsistency
between the archaeological data and the literature. The only relevant discoveries there were a
disorganized scattering of 43 skeletal remains within the city district [
] and a few isolated
graves and skeletons at construction sites outside of the city [
]. Ganweriwala, another large
Harappan city, has not been properly excavated yet, as it is situated in a volatile area near the
India±Pakistan border. A large cemetery area was identified at the Dholavira site, but only a
few graves have been excavated so far [
25 / 30
Of the five megacities of the Harappan Civilization, an actual cemetery district (area: ca.
0.8±1.2 ha) has been discovered only at the Harappa site. Several excavations in recent years
have provided extensive data on approximately 280 burials [
]. In the cemetery (R-37) at
Harappa, archaeologists have found many unique cases [
] that were matched in our current
report on Rakhigarkhi cemetery. Reports on cemeteries have also been made from the smaller
Harappan towns of Lothal [
], Kalibangan [
], and Farmana [
]. While this archaeological
data, in sum, still falls short of a comprehensive accounting of Harappan cemeteries, we can
summarize it as follows.
In brief, Harappan-period cemeteries were generally built on the periphery of residential
settlements. Most burials included only one individual. The body was fully extended in the
supine position, with the head to the north. A number of votive pots were placed in the graves
at the head end. While some graves had no or few pottery, certain burials included various
kinds of pots. Overall, people over vast areas covering the Northwestern parts of South Asia
might have shared common burial practices and heritages during the Mature Harappan
Like the other cemetery sites in the Ghaggar Basin, Rakhigarhi cemetery is representative of
the Mature Harappan period, date-estimated to 2,500±2,000 BCE. By our three-year survey,
we obtained scientific information from the graves of the cemetery. We found that various
types of graves co-existed in different proportions. Primary interments were identified most
commonly in the cemetery, followed by secondary, symbolic, and unused (empty) graves.
There were significant differences in mortuary rituals especially between primary typical and
atypical graves. Prone-positioned individuals are another noteworthy finding for Rakhigarhi
cemetery, because we need to reconsider the validity of the common pre-conception about
prone-positioned burials in archaeology, at least as far as the Harappan Civilization is
In this study, systematic analysis of Rakhigarhi cemetery was successfully achieved by close
collaboration between archaeologists and anthropologists. Although the general patterns of
burial and mortuary practice at the Rakhigarhi necropolis look similar to those of other
Harappan cemeteries, there was also much concrete information acquired that is unique to the
present investigation. All in all, the current report provides a rare glimpse into the Harappan
people's practices and rituals relating to burial of their dead. But more work remains to be
S1 Fig. Examples of naming of burial pits at RGR 7.2/A2.
S2 Fig. Investigations ongoing at Rakhigarhi cemetery.
S3 Fig. Secondary burial (A2/BR 21) at Rakhigarhi cemetery. The pot burial was placed in a
circular pit. Adult human skull and a few long bones were kept inside a jar. The skeletons
might have been buried temporarily in one place before finally being moved for a pot burial.
Note the animal bones placed on the dish.
S4 Fig. Same kind of small pots was found in the same way under individuals' knees at two
different primary burials: (A) B2/BR A1 and (B) B2/BR C1.
26 / 30
S5 Fig. Pottery set for one individual's grave was similar to those of two adjacent burials: (A)
A2/BR13 and (B) A2/BR 15. The shell spoons were found inside the small pots.
S6 Fig. Drawing of burial No. 29 found in Kalibangan cemetery. The grave structure of this
burial is very similar to our Rakhigahi A2/BR33 case. The figure is here redrawn from the
original of the previous report [
First four authors (VSS, YJK, EJW, NJ) contributed equally to this study. VSS and DHS were
in charge of every academic or related work in India and South Korea, respectively, under the
MOU between Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute (Pune, India) and
Institute of Forensic Science, Seoul National University (Seoul, South Korea).
Conceptualization: Vasant S. Shinde, Yong Jun Kim, Dong Hoon Shin.
Data curation: Vasant S. Shinde, Yong Jun Kim, Eun Jin Woo, Nilesh Jadhav, Jong Ha Hong,
Dong Hoon Shin.
Formal analysis: Vasant S. Shinde, Yong Jun Kim, Eun Jin Woo, Pranjali Waghmare, Yogesh
Yadav, Jong Ha Hong, Chang Seok Oh, Dong Hoon Shin.
Investigation: Vasant S. Shinde, Yong Jun Kim, Eun Jin Woo, Nilesh Jadhav, Pranjali
Waghmare, Yogesh Yadav, Avradeep Munshi, Malavika Chatterjee, Amrithavalli Panyam, Jong
Ha Hong, Chang Seok Oh, Dong Hoon Shin.
Methodology: Vasant S. Shinde, Dong Hoon Shin.
Project administration: Vasant S. Shinde, Dong Hoon Shin.
Resources: Vasant S. Shinde, Dong Hoon Shin.
Software: Jong Ha Hong.
Supervision: Vasant S. Shinde, Dong Hoon Shin.
Visualization: Nilesh Jadhav, Jong Ha Hong.
Writing ± original draft: Vasant S. Shinde, Yong Jun Kim, Eun Jin Woo, Dong Hoon Shin.
Writing ± review & editing: Vasant S. Shinde, Yong Jun Kim, Nilesh Jadhav, Jong Ha Hong,
Dong Hoon Shin.
27 / 30
28 / 30
31. Nath A. Rakhigarhi: A Harappan Metropolis in Saraswati-Drishadvati Divide. Puratattva. 1998; 28: 41±
White TD, Balck MT, Folkens PA. Human Osteology ( Third Edition): ELSEVIER Academic Press;
29 / 30
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