Scientists from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) have discovered two large circular structures which they believe were used by the Harrapan Civilization as astronomical observatories. This is a significant find as it is the first evidence of astronomy being used by the ancient people group.
Dholavira is one of the largest ancient cities of the Indus valley civilization. This civilization existed around 2650 BCE and encompassed areas of western India and modern day Pakistan. Pictured below, you can see the location of Dholavira on the map.
Dholavira was first discovered in 1967 and according to Wikipedia “has been under excavation almost continuously since 1990 by the Archaeological Survey of India“. Recently, a team led by Dr. Mayank Vahia of TIFR set out to study the Dholavira site in hopes to discover what structures might have been used as observatories.
According to an Indian Express article:
“It is highly implausible that such an intellectually advanced civilisation did not have any knowledge of positional astronomy. These (structures) would have been useful for calendrical (including time of the day, time of the night, seasons, years and possibly even longer periods) and navigational purposes apart from providing intellectual challenge to understanding the movement of the heavens,”
It is assumed that Dholavira was surrounded by water back in the day and that it was an important center of trade for the region. This idea is what drove the team to search for astro observatories due to the fact that such a cultural center had to have a strong grasp of time. Out of over a thousand structures observed so far it appears they have only been able to identify these two structures with such a purpose. Due to their “celestial orientations”, it is believed that this was their express purpose. They were able to make assumptions based on computer simulations which showed that shadows would align at an entrance on summer and winter solstice.
This study will enable scientists to measure the intelligence of the Harappan people and will give them some idea how they “used the astronomical data to conduct business, farming and other activities”.
For more information about this archaeological site see the Archaeology Survey of India’s page.