The ancient site at Dholavira (230 53' 10" N; 700 13' E), taluka Bhachau, District Kachchh in Gujarat, lies in the north-western part of the Khadir island, which is surrounded by the barren salt waste of the Great Rann of Kachchh. Located to the north of the modern village, the ancient site of Dholavira is flanked by two storm water channels; the Mansar in the north, and the Manhar in the south. The site, discovered in 1960s, is the fifth largest Harappan site in the Indian subcontinent, and is under excavation since 1990 almost continuously by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The ancient ruins at the site are spread over an area of about 100 hectares. Half of these relics fall within the fortified Harappan settlement, a large parallelogram in form. The longer axis of the fortifications is oriented east-west. The salient components of the fortified settlement comprise a bipartite 'Citadel', a 'Middle Town, both having their own fortifications a 'Lower Town', two 'stadia' of which one is extensive with an open 'ceremonial ground' with seating arrangement, and the other is quite small but compact, an 'Annexe' and a series of reservoirs -all disposed within a common fortification wall. The fortifications of the Citadel had elaborate gateways, provided with, along the passageways, entrance chambers equipped with well-chiselled and fine polished pillar members of banded limestone.
The occupational deposits at Dholavira are divisible into seven cultural stages, from Stage I to VII. The first settlers at Dholavira arrived at the site sometime around the beginning of the third millennium B.C., and raised a small fortress there during Stage I. This fortress outgrew its original size through Stages II, which developed into a large and full-fledged city during Stage III. Stages IV and V characterize classical Harappan finds, but with registration of progressive fall in civic standards since Stage V onwards till the site was deserted. The site was reoccupied after certain time gap during Stage VI, the late Harappan times, witnessing decline and shrinkage of the Harappan settlement norms. The decline and shrinkage were all the more pronounced during Stage VII, the terminal stage referred to as the post-Harappan.
The terminal habitation at Dholavira also appeared after certain time gap, and was at best definable as a small rural settlement established randomly. This terminal stage is datable to circa 1500 B.C. The Harappan settlement thus showing its rise and fall from circa 3rd millennium B.C. to the middle of 2nd millennium B.C. has been brought to light from the site.
The evidence of water harvesting through check-dams, and storage in the series of reservoirs, both rock-cut and made of masonry, at Dholavira are the first known examples of their own kind in the Harappan context. One of the large reservoirs, termed Eastern Reservoir, has even evinced a rock-cut step-well, the first ever known in this context. The cemetery at Dholavira, located west of the habitation, has also thrown a welcome light on some hitherto unknown aspects about the disposal of dead by the Harappans. There are a variety of funerary structures, including rock-cut chambers, cairn circles with or without cist, burial mounds, and so on. As a rule, these burials contain no skeletal remains. The burials, however, contain largely the pottery vessels, with or without ornaments of gold, copper and steatite. These burial goods were found secured variously by a combination of well-marked cairn circles topping burial chambers; stupa-like mud brick circular structures having' spokes' or no 'spokes', encircling large stone slabs in one burial mound, and with tight-packed cairns in the other, etc.
An inscription made of ten large-sized Harappan signs, the earliest excavated sign-board, is among the most unique discovery from Dholavira. A sculpted human torso of stone, though badly mutilated and defaced, is one more noteworthy find, and so far the only one known from any excavated Harappan site in India.