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The World’s Oldest Dock at Lothal

lothal

The dockyard at Lothal. Photo: DARSHAN KUMAR/Shutterstock.com

This large rectangular, water-filled structure may look like a reservoir, but is in fact an ancient dock, and one of the oldest in the world. It is located at the site of the ancient city of Lothal situated about 85 kilometers south of Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, in India. Lothal is one of the few sites within the Indus Valley Civilization that is accessible from India.

Lothal is believed to be at least 5,000 years old and was the only port-town of the Indus Valley Civilization. Lothal’s dock connected the city to the Sabarmati river which was an important trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh (now in Pakistan) and the peninsula of Saurashtra. At that time, the surrounding Kutch desert of was a part of the Arabian Sea.

The dock is roughly 200 meters long and about 35 meters wide. During high tides, the dock would have filled with seawater allowing ships and boats to move in an out of the dockyard. In fact, Lothal’s location was ideal for a dock because the Gulf of Khambhat has the highest tidal amplitude and ships can be sluiced through flow tides in the river estuary. The dock also possessed a lock in the form of a wooden door that could be lowered at the mouth of the outlet to retain a minimum column of water in the basin so as to ensure flotation at low tides. The warehouse, which was central to the city's economy, was built on a raised platform to protect the goods from flood. A ramp led directly from the dock to the warehouse to facilitate loading. Despite elaborate precautions, it was floods that brought the city's decline.

lothal map

Photo: Avantiputra7/Wikimedia Commons

Like most Harrapan cities, Lothal had remarkable town planning with a quadrangular fortified layout intersected by wide streets running east-west and north-south, lime-plastered pavements, a sophisticated drainage system, rows of bathing platforms and even a bead-making factory.

When the site was first excavated in 1955, some archeologists argued that the basin was too small to house ships and conduct much traffic, and that the dock was actually an irrigation tank. But the discovery of marine microfossils, salt, and gypsum crystals has provided decisive prove that the structure once held seawater. Today, the site is not linked to the gulf by a waterway because the river had since change its course.

Lothal survived long after the core settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, had decayed away. But tropical storms and frequent floods caused immense destruction, and the city became unlivable and was eventually abandoned.

lothal

lothal

The dockyard at Lothal. Photo: DARSHAN KUMAR/Shutterstock.com

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The drainage system at Lothal. Photo: Abhilashdvbk/Wikimedia Commons

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5,000-year-old foundation in immaculate shape. Photo: DARSHAN KUMAR/Shutterstock.com

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The bathroom-toilet structure of houses in Lothal, India. Photo: Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons

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Ancient water well in the upper town of the site of Lothal, India. Photo: Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons

lothal

Photo: Orissa8/Wikimedia Commons

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