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    Ochre Coloured Pottery Culture

    Map Academy

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    Broadly dated to the third and second millennium BCE, during the Chalcolithic Period in India’s Upper Gangetic Valley, the Ochre Coloured Pottery Culture (OCP Culture) is a cultural sequence defined by its characteristic ill-fired, wheel-made ceramics with a fine or medium fabric and a thick red slip. The culture may have had contact with the Indus Valley Civilisation, but its status as an independent pottery culture remains debated. 

    The culture, which was first described in 1950–51, derives its name from the ochre-coloured residue left behind by the ceramic artefacts, which may be due to factors such as waterlogging, wind action and poor firing. Pottery finds at Nasik, Jorwe and Nevasa in Maharashtra and Navdatoli in Madhya Pradesh have displayed similar colour and residue as the finds of the OCP Culture, which led to them being erroneously classified as such. However, scholars agree that the geographical extent of the culture is confined to the Upper Gangetic Valley — covering the modern states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, with the greatest number of OCP Culture sites in the Ganges-Yamuna doab region in western Uttar Pradesh — with a few finds in eastern Rajasthan, at the sites of Noh and Jodhpura. More recently, the burial site of Sinauli was classified as an OCP Culture site. 

    Scholars have divided OCP Culture sites into zones based on archeological findings that suggest contact with the late phase of the Indus Valley Civilisation. The links with the Indus Valley Civilisation are most prominent at sites such as Alamgirpur, Ambakheri and Bargaon in present-day Uttar Pradesh, which fall in the western zone. Alamgirpur is noted for Indus Valley influences in the shape of the ochre pottery in artefacts such as goblets, ring stands and offering stands (also known as dish-on-stand). Bargaon’s archeological yields showed a mix of Indus Valley and OCP cultures, suggesting an overlap between the two phases; the designs on pottery, such as chevrons and wavy and oblique strokes, also suggest contact between the OCP and Cemetery H cultures. In terms of ochre pottery, Bargaon and Ambakheri have yielded Harappan forms of objects such as the dish-on-stand, basins, storage jars with thick clubbed rims, vases with globular bodies and bowl-shaped lids with central knobs. Terracotta objects linked to the OCP Culture were also found at Ambakheri, including figurines of humped bulls, a toy cartwheel and terracotta cakes. Pottery finds at Sinauli included vases with flared rims, basins and bowls, which provide further insight into contact with the late period of the Indus Valley Civilisation. 

    The pottery finds in the eastern zone, comprising sites such as Atranjikhera, Lal Qila and Saipai in Uttar Pradesh have shown no signs of contact with the Late Indus Valley Civilisation. Atranjikhera and Lal Qila also appeared to be significant in terms of a few structural remains of wattle-and-daub structures. At Atranjikhera, these structures also showed evidence of the use of babul, sissoo, sal and chir pine wood as frames. Lal Qila, which is likely to have been a major centre, also yielded bone tools and a few copper objects. The range of terracotta objects found at the site included anthropomorphic and animal figurines, wheels, bangles, balls, gamesmen, crucibles, beads, grinders and querns. Plant remains indicate wheat and barley consumption, and animal remains and fire pits with charred bones suggest meat consumption. A piece of copper and fragments of a terracotta crucible with copper granules were also found at Atranjikhera. Saipai is also significant as a rare site where Copper Hoard artefacts were found at the OCP level. 

    Scholars continue to debate whether the OCP Culture can be classified as an independent ceramic culture or whether it is part of the Late Harappan Phase, attributed to migrants from the Indus Valley Civilisation who settled in the doab region. Except at Saipai, the connection between the OCP Culture and the Copper Hoard Culture is unclear owing to a lack of stratigraphic evidence as well as the more widespread nature of Copper Hoard artefacts. However, the archeological burial site of Sinauli, where a large number of copper implements were also found, may provide insights into how the two cultures are related. 

    At some sites such as Atranjikhera and Noh, the OCP Culture was succeeded by the Black and Red Ware Culture, followed by the Painted Grey Ware Culture, while at Hastinapura and Jhinjhana, the OCP Culture was succeeded by the Painted Grey Ware Culture


    Deva, Krishna. “Problem of the Ochre Coloured Pottery.” In Potteries in Ancient India, edited by D. B. Sinha, 75–82. Patna: Patna University, 1969. 

    Lal, B. B. “The Ochre-Coloured Pottery.” In Potteries in Ancient India, edited by D. B. Sinha, 83–93. Patna: Patna University, 1969.

    Nair, Deepak K. “The Ochre Coloured Pottery: Reconsidering Issues and Problems.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 73: 1161–71, 2012.

    Singh, Upinder. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. New Delhi: Pearson, 2016. 

    Subramnian, T. S. “Royal Burial in Sinauli.” Frontline, September 12, 2018. Accessed January 15, 2023.

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