|Geographical range||North South Asia (Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh)|
|Dates||c. 1900-1300 BCE|
|Characteristics||Extensive copper metallurgy|
cremation of human remains
|Followed by||Painted Grey Ware culture|
The Cemetery H culture was a Bronze Age culture in the Punjab region in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, from about 1900 BC until about 1300 BC. It is regarded as a regional form of the late phase of the Harappan (Indus Valley) civilisation (alongside the Jhukar culture of Sindh and Rangpur culture of Gujarat), but also as the manifestation of a first wave of Indo-Aryan migrations, predating the migrations of the proto-Rig Vedic people.
The Cemetery H culture was located in and around the Punjab region in present-day India and Pakistan. It was named after a cemetery found in "area H" at Harappa. Remains of the culture have been dated from about 1900 BC until about 1300 BC.
According to Rafique Mughal, the Cemetery H culture developed out of the northern part of the Indus Valley Civilization around 1700 BC, being part of the Punjab Phase, one of three cultural phases that developed in the Localization Era or "Late Harappan phase" of the Indus Valley Tradition. According to Kenoyer, the Cemetery H culture "may only reflect a change in the focus of settlement organization from that which was the pattern of the earlier Harappan phase and not cultural discontinuity, urban decay, invading aliens, or site abandonment, all of which have been suggested in the past." According to Kennedy and Mallory & Adams, the Cemetery H culture also "shows clear biological affinities" with the earlier population of Harappa.
Some traits of the Cemetery H culture have been associated with the Swat culture, which has been regarded as evidence of the Indo-Aryan movement toward the Indian subcontinent. According to Parpola, the Cemetery H culture represents a first wave of Indo-Aryan migration from as early as 1900 BC, which was followed by a migration to the Punjab c. 1700-1400 BC. According to Kochhar, the Swat IV co-founded the Harappan Cemetery H phase in Punjab (2000-1800 BC), while the Rigvedic Indo-Aryans of Swat V later absorbed the Cemetery H people and gave rise to the Painted Grey Ware culture (to 1400 BC).
The distinguishing features of this culture include:
Some of the designs painted on the Cemetery H funerary urns have been interpreted through the lens of Vedic mythology: for instance, peacocks with hollow bodies and a small human form inside, which has been interpreted as the souls of the dead, and a hound that can be seen as the hound of Yama, the god of death. This may indicate the introduction of new religious beliefs during this period, but the archaeological evidence does not support the hypothesis that the Cemetery H people were the destroyers of the Harappan cities.
Cremation in India is first attested in the Cemetery H culture, a practice previously described in the Vedas. The Rigveda contains a reference to the emerging practice, in RV 10.15.14, where the forefathers "both cremated (agnidagdhá-) and uncremated (ánagnidagdha-)" are invoked.