Suppose I found two different settlements named A and B. These settlements are located near the river X. The distance between A and B is so that it would take at least M months of continuous travel to go from A to B.

What are the things I need to look at to prove that the two settlements belongs to the same civilization (say C) ?

If nuclear dating establishes that the two settlements,

(a) existed around the same time. (i.e. range given by nuclear dating merge)

(b) were separated by some time T years. (obviously T > least count of nuclear dating technique)

Kindly answer it in a very general sense so I can understand the basic underlying assumptions.

EDIT Okay, now a much specific question.

How can we say that Mohan-jo-daro, Harappa and Kalibangan belong to same category ? I mean what is the evidence to support this claim?

  • 1
    This is a question about archaeology, not history. Mar 11, 2016 at 15:26
  • @TylerDurden I know but could not find archaeology.stackexchange besides I did apply the tag.
    – The Imp
    Mar 11, 2016 at 16:18
  • I don't think dating and distance of travel figure prominently in these debates one way or the other. Material culture is what matters, even for sites located next to each other in time or space.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 11, 2016 at 18:52
  • @TheImp Actually there is. In Area51, there is a proposed SE entitled Anthropology (and it lists archaeology explicitly) listed under the topic of Science. See here. I also note that in our close vote of off-topic for questions on social sciences other than history, archaeology is expressly listed. Perhaps you could support the new proposal and ask your question in that SE? (Note that I do not know the rules of posting questions in Area51 proposals).
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:15
  • You are, of course, entitled to disagree with our assessment, and if this question gets put on hold, or closed, feel free to bring it up in History Meta
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 11, 2016 at 19:17

2 Answers 2


Several factors will have to come together:

  • They look at patterns in the artifacts. How do they build their houses, make their tools, etc.? When many techniques match, they're assumed to be the same culture. Consider the Beaker Culture. Just one technique could be coincidence, but if many techniques match there seems to be a common culture.
  • They detect patterns in the remains. Burial grounds, middens, and so on. What did they eat?
  • They examine written records, if any. Not just from A and B but also from C and other civilizations D. Of course they have to ask themselves if D knew what it was talking about. Caesar is an important source on Gaul, even if he was a Roman.

In the end it is a judgement call based on the preponderance of evidence, not a clear-cut answer.

  • 2
    If the artifacts from the sites are located within a particular (the same) layer of soil, this can also indicate the settlements may be from the period.
    – Fred
    Mar 11, 2016 at 13:07
  • I have extended my question. could you extend the answer again.
    – The Imp
    Mar 11, 2016 at 16:32
  • @TheImp, I don't feel qualified to answer the specific question.
    – o.m.
    Mar 11, 2016 at 17:22
  • @TheImp - Personally, I think this answers your extended question just fine.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 11, 2016 at 21:52

This is a very good question, but not easy to answer.

– "Civilization" is a term connected to the idea of an evolutionary progress of societies. It is sometimes still used as a synonym for "culture", but what you are really interested in is the concept of "archaeological cultures".

– Cultures are a classification system of the very beginning of archaeology. The assumption was that similarities in material culture indicate similarity in culture, and "a culture" is the same as "a people" or race. In a very simplified form, entire cultures were often grouped around a single type of pottery or grave, or language. In a more complex form, entire assemblages of finds (found in the same context) are used for these comparisons.

– These days archaeologists recognize cultures as a modern construct, which might or might not correspond to a common cultural identity in the past (which, likewise, is a social construct). What constitutes a culture and which similarities are important for this classification depends on your definitions of "culture".

– The original cultures defined during the 19th/early 20th century are still used, since we did not really come up with anything better. There is an ongoing and heavy debate around this topic.

– Cultures are often divided into chronological periods, i.e. Late, Middle, Early, or A1, B1, B2 and so on. Some differences in the material are related to chronology, while there are still similarities that are sufficient to classify it at the same culture. This too is an archaeological construct which rests on several assumptions and cross-references (and sometimes turns out to be wrong). This means that two settlements can be separated by several hundred years, yet still belong to the same culture. Only when there are very hard breaks in material culture (often connected to assumed migration events), archaeologists declare a culture to have "ended".

– In specific archaeologies all of this can differ greatly, so you will have to look this up for your specific case. I do not know much about Indian archaeology, but from a short literature review it seems like the Indus valley culture was classified around the first major excavation of Harappa. This formed the basis to which all other sites were later compared to. I would say that the criteria are:

  • similarities in material culture, in particular pottery (form and style), figurines and jewellery
  • use of seals with distinct symbols
  • use of the Indus script (possibly a writing script, maybe just signs)
  • use of the same language (linguistic assumption)
  • planned, fairly sophisticated cities, with similar layout
  • long distance trade network
  • similar religious ideas (this seems to be a heavily discussed topic)

Archaeologists of the 19th century were impressed enough by all of this to call the Indus valley culture a "civilisation". I would however not be surprised if there are people who disagree with this classification. There is probably also a discourse about the early work of British archaeologists in occupied India and how they introduced these Western concepts and ideas about culture, civilization, and so on.

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