Rita Wright is a Professor of Anthropology at New York University.  Her research interests include comparative studies of urbanism, state formation, gender, and cycles of change in early societies.  In the field she has conducted research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, and used secondary sources from Mesopotamia to study the organization of production.  She specializes in ancient technologies with a focus on the production and distribution systems of ceramics and textiles and exchange networks.  Wright’s major field work has been at the city of Harappa and a study that she directed of rural sites in a Landscape and Settlement survey along a now dry bed of the Beas River that ran parallel to the nearby Ravi River, where Harappa is located.  She is especially interested in planned cities, their socio-political organization and management of their water technologies. 

She is founder and chief editor of Case Studies in Early Societies (Cambridge University Press), editor of Gender and Archaeology, co-editor with Cathy L. Costin of Craft and Social Identity, and author of Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy, and Society (2010, Cambridge University Press).


“Enigmatic” Polities and the Indus Civilization.  Rita P. Wright, New York University.  The enigmatic label, an “unknowable” and “mysterious” civilization, has plagued Indus scholarship.  Two propositions are addressed:  Almost since its discovery, scientists have sought explanations for the relatively rapid (compared to Mesopotamia and Egypt) development and subsequent decline of the Indus civilization.  A second proposition is its regional environmental diversity thought to have impacted on cultural differences.  While these differences are apparent in the agro-ecologies employed by Indus centers, their political strategies are becoming especially evident in the Harappan’s selection of landscapes, urban development, and the spatial practices that shaped the political economy and its integration.  Nowhere is this more evident than in Sindh, at Mohenjo-daro, Gujarat at Dholavira and its neighboring settlements and at Harappa.  After a brief discussion of climate constraints, natural environmental diversity and their continuity and change, I focus on the two river systems of the Ravi and Beas, in the Punjab, and the Indus and Ghaggar/Hakra in Sindh based on Louis Flam’s research.  Although these differences have been mapped by Indus scholars and have been useful in identifying ecological differences, they do not account for the systems of authority that materialized into sub-regional polities (integration vs. independent, source suppliers).  For the bulk of the paper, I focus on water storage innovations that reached a high level at Mohenjo-daro, discovered by the early excavators and documented by the Aachen team. They attest to an advanced technological development that provided a much needed potable water supply in the form of wells, large ceramic jars stationed through the city, and water sources for the maintenance of the city’s amenities, i.e. cutting down disease bearing dust on streets, moving water from houses to sump pits, and a host of other technologies that kept the city in working order, as an example of its political order.