The Lesser-Known Stories Behind India’s Most Interesting Excavation Sites

Bhuthanatha Temple, Badami
Bhuthanatha Temple, BadamiThe Golden Chariot

“For me archaeology is not a source of illustrations for written texts, but an independent source of historical information, with no less value and importance, sometimes more importance, that the written sources.” ― Michael Ivanovitch Rostovtzeff

Suffice to say that one of the very few things that kept us historically intrigued during lectures of the past were epic archaeological tales of the civilizations that existed in India before us. The sheer mention of the lost cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were enough to evoke more straightened backs and fewer drooled-on tables and just for a short while, a terribly boring lecture was actually informative about something of interest. There’s something more honest about history with clear evidence, as in archaeological findings, beyond the written text being passed down between generational points of views. It did of course hurt a little when we realized that we’d never be able to visit a large chunk of these sites as over 90% of them lie in ruins in Sindh, Pakistan but we decided to dig deep (pun totally intended) and learn more about the fascinating excavations that lie here in India and can be visited. From lost universities to temples and cities, we still have a lot at our disposal. See some of these for yourself.

I. Kawtchhuah Ropuithe
Where: Vangchhia, Mizoram
The Great Gateway to history

The Seven sisters may be a treasure trove of natural beauty, but its history and culture are still relatively unknown to the Indians in the mainland. The recently discovered excavation site Kawtchhuah Ropuithe in village Vangchhia takes one through the deep, lush rain-fed forests in the Champhai-Farkwan mountain range of Mizoram to unravel the mystery behind the megalithic stone sentinels or mehnirs that have long guarded the village.

The Excavation

In the recent excavation carried out by ASI, 20 cobbled stone structures, ruins of ancient graves, charcoal and organic remains and a 200 meter long water pavilion, enveloped by an elevated platform were found.

The Answers

Holding traces to a lost civilization, this discovery in Mizoram serves as a gateway for the Mizos to footprint their own origins. The presence of a pool indicates an affluent, well to do society while the Papute Lamlian shows specks of a footpath that traverses through Vagchhia before breaking into three directions. The locals believe that the Kawtchhuah Ropuithe is the entrance to a secret pathway that runs all the way to the Tiau river on the Indo-Myanmar border. While the research is still on going to find bigger answers, a visit to the deep, dark and mysterious forests are sure to give you revelations on the colourful history of the green land.

To know more details about this excavation, read the full report by The Better India here.

Mehnirs. Image Source:

II. The Great Diwaal of India

Where: Gorakhpur-Deori to Chokigarh, Madhya Pradesh
Period: 10th-11th century

The wall with the secrets

If you happen to travel through the heart of the country, chances are you’d come across a long, very long wall that would follow you all the way through the fascinating Vindhya valleys, forests, langur domains and green farms only to be interrupted in the middle by a dam. Running straight in paths to suddenly turning zigzag or dissolving into long stretches of rubble, the Great Wall of India or as it is called is an 80 km stretching fortification with parts of it still left to be unearthed. Locally referred to Diwaal, it runs from the Gorakhpur-Deori to Chokigarh in Chainpur Bardi in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh.

The Excavation

Probably serving as a fortification for a long-lost abode, historians so far have been able to excavate fragments of statues, debris of temples and step wells, snake insignia etc. but none of the inscriptions could be linked to a particular dynasty or an era. The wall however has a distinctive style of architecture and is suspected to have been built in the 10th or the 11th century.

The Answers

While there are certain speculations to it being a fortifications of the Parmar Kingdom, a Rajput warrior clan, nothing can be said as a definite other than the fact that this Great Wall burries many secrets and stories in its brick and mortar. You might just hear a few of them, if you press your ear against it.

To know more details about this excavation, read the full report by The Hindustan Times here.

III. Harappan Civilisation of Rakhigarhi
Where: Rakhigari, Haryana
Period: 6500 BCE

Tracing life through death

Sprawling over acres of land, Rakhigari in Haryana preserves relics from an era that’s ancient but perhaps the most developed. Dipped in hues of brown and red, it is the largest Harappan Excavation (Indus Valley Civilisation) Site in the world. Planned areas, citadel, proper drainage system, designated areas of trade and residencies, Rakhigari shows us what this lost city must have looked like thousands of years ago.

The Excavation

Many precious artifacts such as terracotta statues, comb, copper fish hooks, needles etc have been found and preserved, but the latest development in the excavations is the one thing that will intrigue you more to visit this place. Around 20 graves were opened and 15 skeletons were recovered, all possessing a different DNA, a crucial discovery to determine what people looked like back then.

The Answers

This excavation may be able to trace the genetic relationship between the people of the Harappan civilisation and the current population of the subcontinent and also find possible explanations of the Aryan migration; the migration of Indo-European speakers from outside the subcontinent into north-west India. The largest Harappan excavation site in the world is also one of the most endangered with cases of looting often reported. The city may be lost and dead but when you stand at the Rakhigari, gazing at the exacavation site, you imagine life.

To know more details about this excavation, read the full report by Caravan and The Tribune here and here.

Image Source:

IV. Vaigai Civilization
Where: Keezhadi, Tamil Nadu
Period: Sangam Era (2500 years old)

Challenging Vedic notions

Have you ever questioned the concept of Vedic roots of Hinduism and wondered that we may just be the children of independent civiliazation in the sub-continent. Keezhadi, a quiet, unassuming village in the city of Madurai may hold all the answers. Imagine meandering through mud and rock chambers unravelling stories from a glorious time, the Sangam era which is about 2500 years old.

The Excavation

The first large scale river basin excavation in Tamil Nadu has led archaeologists to find an underground terracotta pipeline, furnace, pot sheds with Brahmi inscriptions indicating a highly literate society.

The Answers

The 53 trenches dug up denote an urban settlement with established trade links with many countries. In an interview to Scroll, Amarnath Ramakrishna said that “Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has stated that Keezhadi could prove their long-held belief that Tamil Nadu may have had a non-Vedic, independent ancient civilisation, something that could challenge the notion of Vedic roots of all of Hinduism.”

To know more details about this excavation, read the full report by The Hindu here.

Image Source:

V. Dholavira
Khadirbet, Kutch, Gujarat
Period: Indus Valley Civilisation, 3000 BCE-1800 BCE

Exploring the 7 stages of civilization

The quadrangular city of Dholavira does not only fascinate its visitors with its elaborate Harappan architecture but also provides great perspective on the innovative minds of the Harappans. What today may seems like a hot arid land was once a bustling port for 1200 years (3000 BCE-1800 BCE). It is also the earliest example of a well planned water conservation systems.

The Excavation

At Dholavira you will see world’s first signboards in the Indus script, beautiful shell bangles and teracotta pots, goblets and perforated jars and even stone tools made to ease certain jobs, all well preserved and displayed in the Archaeological museum nearby. The excavation also tells the story of the 7 stages of the civilization, from development to maturity to decay.

The Answers

While the area still needs to be excavated for further discoveries, Dholavira shows the highly organised system of town planning with definite street patterns, perfected proportions and even a well designed rain water harvesting system. The site which is today situated in barren surroundings was once an urban metropolis with an urban sophisticated lifestyle.

To know more about the excavations read the full report by UNESCO here.

VI. Vijaynagara Excavations
Where: Bellary and Badami, Karnataka
Period: 14th century

Going beyond Hampi

The spectacular ruins of the Vijaynagara Empire set amidst the beautiful landscape of Hampi may have completely amazed you but there is much more to this lost, colurful empire that extends beyond the hippie paradise of Hampi . Bellary and Badami in Karnataka are true representations of the Vijaynagara dunasty with beautiful rock cut temples, forts and palaces that have been excavated and developed.

The Excavation

The Vijaynagara empire has been annexed and overthrown a number of times thus influences from various dynasties are visible. In the Badami excavations, some of the most exquisitely built rock-cut temples with intricate carvings and elaborate inscriptions were found, supposedly built by the rulers of theEarly Chalukyan dynasty. Once the Vijayangara dynasty took over certain developments and improvements were made in the cave temples. Other significant findings include artificial lake, water reservoirs, citadel and a graveyard.

The Answers

While these excavations have been able to trace the history of the region quite elaborately, there is still a certain sense of mystery attached to the Bellary Fort, which stands atop a monolithic rock hill. Legend has it that a French Engineer was hung here. The inscriptions in Badami caves too tell us about a certain lifestyle of that period. Depiction of poly amorous couples, 81 dance poses, mythological figures, clothing and culture, all miraculously preserved over hundreds of years.

To know more about these excavations, read the full report here.

Bellary Fort. Image Source:

VII. Harappan Excavation Site of Lothal
Where: Lothal, Gujarat
Period: Indus Valley Civilisation, 3700 BCE

Not a mirage.

Dipped in hues of brown and red, one will only see blocks and pavilions from a distance, in Lothal, that translates to the mound of the dead. The 5th largest Harappan Excavation site was discovered in 1954 and excavations began in February 1955. Boats arriving from Mohenjo-Daro and Western Asia through the River Bhogava and River Sabarmati (both, which have now receded) on the either side of the village, stopping at the huge dockyard, for trading purposes, the labour working in bead factories, the chaotic hustle in the market, folks making their way in and out of the community kitchens and bathrooms, stopping by to pay respect to the ruler in the acropolis; life seemed idyllic. But looking at what was left of it today; bricks and ruins baking under the scorching sun, it is fascinating to even think of the presence of a civilization here.

The Excavations

The fact that the town was well planned is evident from the visible traces of proper drainage systems, community kitchens, bathrooms, factories and a citadel. There was a designated space for the ruler in the market area which is the citadel while the labour class was supposed to live in the lower town, further away. The 14 m long and 35 m wide dockyard here, supposedly the world’s earliest known, denotes otherwise is perhaps the most astounding example of Harappan architecture. Today it is arid and cracked. A museum here, houses artifacts which were excavated from the site. Beads, shells, wooden toys, animal figurines, ceramic ware, copper utensils, skeletons from joint burials, and even paintings of what this Indus Valley Civilization would have been like in 3700 BC.

The Answers

The huge block towards the left of entrance is where earlier the bead factory. Infact, Harappan’s approach to bead making and metallurgy was pioneering and it withstood the test of time. While it is eveident that Harappans were very advanced and disciplined people, there is still alot that needs to be unearthed about their life. A few sites in Lothal like the labour town and the cemetery have still not been excavated due to lack of funds and grants. The last survey was done back in 2005.

Lothal. Image Source:

While most of these sites can be visited, we suggest that you call the ASI office of the region first to confirm the days and timings during which the sites are open to visitors. We also strongly suggest taking a guide of available to be enlightened with more stories from a time lost.

Visiting excavation sites may be fascinating, but it should done with utmost responsibility. Kindly do not trod, litter or manipulate the site.

If we missed to mention any important excavation site relevant to the article, you can send your suggestions to

Feature Image Courtesy: The Golden Chariot

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