Pubblicato in: Atti del XI Convegno Società Italiana di Archeoastronomia, Il dentro e il fuori del cosmo. Punti di vista per interpretare il mondo. Bononia University Press, Bologna, 2013, pp. 77-84, ISBN 978-88-7395-866-6.
Printed in: Atti del XI Convegno Società Italiana di Archeoastronomia, Il dentro e il fuori del cosmo. Punti di vista per interpretare il mondo. Bononia University Press, Bologna, Italy, 2013, pp. 77-84, ISBN 978-88-7395-866-6.
ARCHAEOASTRONOMICAL SURVEYS IN LOTHAL (INDIA)
Archeoastronomia Ligustica; S.I.A.; S.A.It.; email@example.com
Henry De Santis
Archeoastronomia Ligustica; S.I.A.; S.A.It.; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dip. Storia, Culture, Civiltà (Sez. Archeologia) - Università di Bologna; email@example.com
The Indus Civilization harbour-site of Lothal is located within a small doab created by the confluence of the Bhogavo and Sabarmati rivers about 30 km before their flowing into the Gulf of Khambhat and the Arabian Sea (Gujarat, India). The urban settlement (ca. 10 ha) consisted of an acropolis with the public and the ritual buildings and a lower town with the residential and the craft areas. A huge brick-lined water basin (220x40x4 m) - variously interpreted as a water supply tank or a dockyard - has been discovered immediately East of the site.
The acropolis and the dockyard were built matching the four cardinal marks, while the lower town has different orientations.
In our report we show and discuss the results of our astronomical surveys on these ancient architectures.
1. Archaeological data (by Dennys Frenez)
The archaeological site of Lothal (22°31’22.97” N / 72°14’56.10” E)
covers about eight hectares and was discovered in 1954, as the result of a
systematic village-to-village archaeological survey of the Saurashtra-Kathiawar
Peninsula in the State of Gujarat, India. The site is located on a natural
elevation within the small doab created by the confluence of the Bhogavo
River from North-West, and the Sabarmati River from the North, about 25 to
About one third of the site mound has been excavated and documented in detail by S.R. Rao the Archaeological Survey of India between 1955 and 1962. An enormous corpus of data about the structural setting of the site and its material culture has been published over almost thirty years by Rao in different books and papers, but mostly in the official report of the excavations, published by the Archaeological Survey of India in two separate volumes: volume 1, about the environmental context and the structural features of the site (Rao 1979), and volume 2, which illustrates in detail the material culture found at Lothal (Rao 1985).
The excavations carried out by Rao disclosed an urban settlement clearly
ascribable to the Indus Civilization, which flourished on a local pre-Harappan
chalcolithic site (Rao 1979: 24-25). The site occupation was divided into two
main periods separated by a short break. Period A is dated from about 2450 to
1900 BC, perfectly matching to Phases 3B and
At Lothal, archaeologists found an ‘acropolis’ raised upon a system of
artificial box-like platforms that supported the public and the ritual
buildings, and a ‘lower town’ with the residential and craft areas. However,
the most impressive structure is undoubtedly the huge baked-brick-lined water
basin excavated by Rao immediately east of the site. According to the excavator
(Rao 1979: 63-64, 123-134 and fig. 19), it was roughly trapezoidal, measuring
The debate about the function of this unique structure is still open and the different possible interpretations highly influenced several other central archaeological questions about the site. The basin was originally interpreted by Rao as a dock for small boats that reached Lothal from the Gulf of Khambhat through the Sabarmati-Bhogavo river system (Rao 1979: 125-134). This hypothesis was supported by several scholars. Later, other scholars considered it just a big reservoir for irrigation and/or drinking water, while others just rejected both theories without proposing any solid alternatives. In a recent paper, Rear Admiral Retd. S.C. Bindra (2003) evaluated all possible interpretations proposed of the Lothal basin in great detail. Considering the technical features of the structure and the rough environmental data available at the moment, he rejected the possible use of the basin for storing fresh water, in favor of its interpretation as an inland tidal dock (Bindra 2003: 16-18).
2. The Indian-Italian Joint “Lothal Revisitation Project” (by Dennys Frenez)
The Bhogavo-Sabarmati tidal plain north of the Gulf of Khambhat, where Lothal is located, is a very dynamic geographical compound affected by heavy siltation, fluvial erosion and deposition. Consequently, the modifications undergone during the past five millennia may have considerably modified the coastal configuration and the main hydrological drainage system of the region (Khadkikar 2006; Khadkikar et al. 2004a; 2004b; Nigam 1988; 2005; 2006; Nigam et al. 1990; Nigam and Hashimi 2002). Moreover, a comprehensive detailed paleoenvironmental reconstruction has to consider also the particular features of the Sea level fluctuations in the area. The Gulf of Khambhat is, in fact, a macrotidal monsoonal system affected by a high tidal range that reaches up to twelve meters (Deo et al. 2011: 138; Nayak and Shetye 2003).
The geomorphological framework is therefore of fundamental importance to
validate Rao’s interpretation. The geographical and ecological evolution of the
area was closely affected by the Holocene climate cycles that alternated
periods of marine transgression and ingression, which determined a continuous
shifting of the shorelines along the Bhogavo-Sabarmati tidal plain (Mancini et al. 2010). According to several
scholars (Hashimi et al. 1995; Rao et al. 2003; Mathur et al. 2004), the sea level in the eastern Arabian Sea was ca.
During the second half of the 3rd millennium BC, the level of
the Eastern Arabian Sea was ca. +
On these bases, the ‘Lothal Revisitation Project’ was proposed to be carried out in direct partnership between the Department of Archaeology of the University of Bologna and the Archaeological Survey of India, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, with the technical collaboration of the Department of Earth Sciences and Environment of the University of Bologna, headed by Prof. Giovanni Gabbianelli.
The Lothal Revisitation Project was mainly designed as a geoarchaeological project, combining remote sensing and field activities. In particular, non-invasive geophysical prospections have been proposed to detect different natural and artificial subsoil features, complemented by series of core-drillings to determine the shifting of paleochannels and shorelines (for the theoretical background of the proposed geophysical methods and examples of case-studies, see Campana and Forte 2006; Campana and Piro 2009; Khadkikar 2006; Khadkikar et al. 2004a; 2004b).
The research program was designed to investigate in detail the
comprehensive archaeological compound, including the urban settlement configuration
and the surrounding environment, through a close and continuous interaction
between archaeologists and teams of geologists, geomorphologists, geophysicists
and other specialists of environmental sciences, in order to reconstruct the
paleogeography around Lothal during the Late Mid-Holocene (ca.
The ‘Lothal Revisitation Project’ was also planned as a comprehensive program of mutual exchange with an intensive program of training, in order to activate the transfer of the most advanced and innovative methods and techniques for the application of remote sensing, digital documentation and geophysical prospections in archaeology through field activities, lectures and conferences. Moreover, special advisers with recognized experience in museum sciences, archaeological site conservation and design of open-air archaeological parks are continuously assisting the Indo-Italian team for specific actions.
3. The archaeoastronomical survey (by Henry De Santis)
The urban settlement of Lothal (ha 10 approximately) consists of an acropolis with warehouses, public and ritual buildings and a lower town with the residential and the craft areas.
A huge brick-lined water basin (m. 220x40x4) - variously interpreted as a water supply tank or a dockyard - has been discovered Eastward of the site immediately.
A acropolis; B warehouse block; C water basin; D Lower Town.
The following measures of azimuth have been taken
since 5 to
Internal structures of the acropolis:
358°53' « 178°53';
azimuth E-W 88°58’ « 268°58'.
Internal structures of the warehouses block:
azimuth N-S 359°20' « 179°20';
azimuth E-W 89°28' « 269°28'.
Perimeter walls of the warehouses block:
azimuth N-S 357°24' « 177°24';
azimuth E-W 88°30' « 268°30'.
azimuth N-S 357°54’ « 177°54';
azimuth E-W 91°49' « 271'49'.
azimuth N-S 347°12' « 167°12';
azimuth E-W 74°36' « 254°36'.
4. Archaeoastronomical hypotheses (by Mario Codebò)
It is sure that the axes which we measured in Lothal - except the low city - point to the four cardinal points with an average deviation (both eastward and westward) of 1.6° from the meridian. This little deviation coincides with Thuban’s (α Draconis) maximum digression in 2450 B.C. well enough.
equatorial coordinates FK4 B1950 are: α
03m 01.963s, δ 64°36’51.57” and its proper motions in α and in δ
are, respectively, -0.009s ±0.001 and 0.015”±0.001.
Lothal’s latitude φ and longitude λ are respectively 22°31’23”N and
72°14’53”E. We calculated its equatorial coordinates on
1) acropolis: 1°07’;
2) warehouses: 0°40’;
3) warehouses’ boundary walls: 2°36’.
The azimuth of the lower city is completely different: 12°48’ from meridian and 10°40’ from Thuban’s maximum digression. Certainly, the low city had no astronomical alignments.
There are other methods to obtain an orientation toward North in absence of a Polar Star:
1) using the shadow of a gnomon (low accuracy);
2) using the transit of the Sun across the local meridian (low accuracy);
3) using the so called Indian circle (high accuracy) (Romano 1992, p. 89);
4) using an artificial horizon to observe towards North the medium point of the rising and the setting of a circumpolar star (high accuracy) (Romano 1992, pp. 188-189).
Methods No 1 and No 2 are almost inaccurate; this inaccuracy may be in accordance with a very different azimuth from 360°. Methods No 3 and No 4 have a good accuracy but in this case the azimuth of the alignments would be precisely 360°-180°. A difference between the meridian and the average alignments so similar to Thuban’s maximum digression and the presence of a polar star shows us a good evidence for alignments towards this polar star.
As a result, either Lothal’s alignments – except the lower city – are quite random or the builders would point them northward using the contemporary polar star.
Bindra S.C. (2003), Lothal: A Harappan port town revisited, in Puratattva, 33, pp. 1-22.
Campana S., Piro S. (eds) (2009), Seeing the unseen. Geophysics and Landscape Archaeology”, Taylor & Francis, London.
Campana S., Forte M. (eds) (2006), From Space to Place, in 2nd International Conference on Remote Sensing in Archaeology. Rome.
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 S.A.O. data.
 JD 826661,598501.
 The first vertical is the
great circle passing through the points East,
 sen Z = cos δ sec φ.
 Same orientations towards the four cardinal points and towards Thuban were found in two contemporary Turkmenian sites: Gonur-depe and in Togolok-21 (Cerasetti, Codebò, De Santis 2013). Please, read this report for more detailed discussion about this kind of settings in a row and the likelihood that peoples of the 4th – 3rd millennium BC know already the equinoctial precession.