Rakhigarhi and the history of Aryans

 

Apsidal Structures and Fire Altars (from ASI report 1997-1998)
Apsidal Structures and Fire Altars (from ASI report 1997-1998)

The area covered by Harappan civilization was bigger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia combined  and there are various model which try to explain how the land was administered. One model suggests that it was not centrally governed, but had  various domains centered around five major cities. While Mohenjo-daro and Harappa are the most well known sites of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, Rakhigarhi in Haryana, which was probably one of those capital cities, is less known. Located on the dry river bed of Saraswati, apsidal structures and fire altars too have been discovered there.
In an interview with Sunday Guardian, Vasant Shinde, Professor of Archaeology at Deccan College talks about Rakhigarhi and the question of Aryan invasion/migration.

Has Rakhigarhi been able to shed any light on the theory of the origin and history of Aryans?
It is an intriguing question, one that can be understood only by identifying the actual cultural sequence of the Ghaggar/Saraswati. There are different hypotheses as regards the identity of the people who thrived on the banks of the Saraswati. Some people believe these were Aryans while others insist they were non-Aryans. My argument is that from 7000 BC onwards, we don’t have any evidence of people migrating. If we say the Aryans came from outside, it should reflect in their lifestyle. From 7000 BC onwards, we have been able to observe that they are the same people. Studying Rakhigarhi has been a study of their legacy. The model Haryana household today is exactly how the households of people must have been thousands and thousands of years ago. There are too many similarities between modern day and ancient Rakhigarhi to ignore.[Harappa’s greatest centre sheds light on our today]

Reference

  1. Danino, Michel. Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati. Penguin Books India, 2010.

Guest Post: Michel Danino on the antiquity of Indus-Saraswati Civilization

[This post is in response to this news item – “Archaeologists confirm Indian civilization is 2000 years older than previously believed”. It is adapted from Michel’s response on IndiaArchaeology eGroup – JK]

Early farming village in Mehrgarh, c. 7000 BC, with houses built with mud bricks.
Early farming village in Mehrgarh, c. 7000 BC

Seing that several blogs and mass mailers are repeating this piece of “news”, I would like to emphasize that the article sensationalizes things without understanding the issue. The Indus-Sarasvati civilization (accepting that the word “civilization” connotes urbanism) emerges around 2600 BC, and those dates have not been challenged.
It has long been established — for at least 20 years — that its antecedents at Mehrgarh (Baluchistan) go back to the 8th millennium BCE, in the context of a Neolithic rural society, that is with just stone tools, yet a fairly advanced agricultural economy. The new development (“new” meaning some seven years) is the comparable antiquity of the earliest stages at Bhirrana (Haryana) excavated by the late L.S. Rao. This is also a rural stage, which probably straddles the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic; the pottery type is the Hakra ware, which has emerged at a few other sites of the Sarasvati basin in Haryana (such as Farmana) and Cholistan (in Pakistan).
How such antecedents, whether in Baluchistan or in the Sarasvati region and probably with contributions from other regions, converged towards the Early Harappan stage (usually dated from 3800 BCE) is the very interesting question which should have been addressed instead. As too often, the media hype conceals the real issues.
In any case the dates for the Indus cities — Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Kalibangan or Dholavira — in their Mature urban stage will not change. They are firmly in the 3rd millennium BCE, as hundreds of carbon 14 and thermoluminescence have established.

A Harappan Feast

(via Wikipedia)
(via Wikipedia)

If you are having a proper Indian lunch or dinner, there is good chance that your food will contain ginger or turmeric or lentils. You have rice or millet and maybe even a banana to top it off. If so, the food that we eat today is no different from the ones eaten by our ancestors who lived in the Indus-Saraswati region, 4500 years back. An article in Science explains that due to new tools, researchers can now identify food, based on microscopic left overs. Ginger and turmeric were identified for the first time using these new tools and techniques at Farmana and it is the first time they have been spotted in the Harappan region. Thus, in Western lingo, Harappans ate “curry.”
The interesting find though is the banana, which was first cultivated in Papua New Guinea. It is not clear if banana was cultivated in the Harappan region or if it was obtained via trade with people in the East via the trading hubs of the ancient world. In fact there is a bit of controversy over the banana find and I had written about it here.

Indus script designed with care

In his book, The Lost River, Michel Danino wrote the following about the Harappan civilization.

Altogether, the area covered by this civilization was about 800,000 km: roughly one-fourth of today’s India, or if we can make comparisons with contemporary civilizations, ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia put together. This vast expanse must have offered unique opportunities as well as posed peculiar challenges — opportunities in terms of a wider choice of sources for raw materials and a richer store of human skill and experience; challenges arising from a greater diversity of regional cultures which had to be integrated , or at least coordinated, and the sheer extent of communication networks required to keep it all together.

It turns out that the Harappans indeed took the challenge seriously and made sure that the script was uniform across this vast region.

“Writing is an important window to the intellectual creativity of a civilisation. Our analysis reveals that people who designed the Indus script were intellectually creative and considerable time and effort went into designing it. The manner in which the signs were modified shows that it was acceptable across all the sites of the civilisation and was not intended for a small group of people,” said Nisha Yadav from TIFR, the principal author of the study.
The Indus script is found on objects such as seals, copper tablets, ivory sticks, bronze implements and pottery from almost all sites of the civilisation. “The Indus civilisation was spread over an area of about a million square kilometres and yet, the sign list over the entire civilisation seems to be the same indicating that the signs, their meaning and their usage were agreed upon by people with large physical separation. A lot of thought, planning and utility issues must have been taken into consideration while designing these signs,” says the TIFR paper, published in the Korean journal, Scripta.
The paper also indicates that the script may have a connection with scripts from India or even China. The authors say that the signs of the Indus script seem to incorporate techniques in their design that were used in several ancient writing systems to make optimum use of a limited number of signs.[Indus script designed with care, say TIFR researchers (via IndiaArchaeology)]

Indian History Carnival – 50: Ghaggar-Hakra, Arthashastra, Shivaji, Karma

  1. There is a new paper by Peter Clift et. al which concludes that Yamuna stopped flowing to Ghaggar 50,000 years back and Beas and the Sutlej stopped their flow ten thousand years back. This has an impact on the dates for the presence of Vedic people in the region. Suvrat Kher writes
  2. I have stressed that this attempt to link a hypothesis of a mighty Sarasvati to the presence of Aryans is misguided and one that has caused harm to the public understanding of the topic and to what constitutes good science. Many geologists and archaeologists accepted the validity of a glacial Sarasvati without critically weighing the evidence. Taking their cue, in web forums and books, supporters of a glacial Sarasvati have popularized the hypothesis of a late river avulsion and often presented it as irrefutable evidence favoring the indigenous Aryan theory.
    I have commented on this earlier in Pragati and on my blog (here and here ) and suggested that evidence at that time did not support a late avulsion and further that this issue of the timing of Aryan presence in this region doesn’t really depend on glacial rivers flowing into the Ghaggar. Rivers can be mythologized and worshiped whether they are big or small. The Aryans could just as well have considered holy a Siwalik fed river and exaggerated its size in their hymns.

  3. Dorian Fuller has a post as well on this topic
  4. Throughout the Holocene, including the Harappan period this river was fed only by seasonal monsoon rain in the east. This rain-fed Ghaggar-Hakra was active until after 4.5 ka and was then covered by dunes before 1.4 ka. What this means is that the Ghaggar-Hakra, unlike any of the major Indus tributaries, was not fed by snow melt, which begins in Spring and may be unpredictable, but was entirely reliant on swelling its banks from the summer monsoon. This means it would have been an ideal river for winter crop agriculture, along the lines of the Nile flood regime which is keyed to the Blue Nile’s monsoon source, with sowing of wheat and barley in Oct.-Nov. as the monsoon flood began to recede to leave behind a rich floodplain. These could then be left to mature until harvests in March or April, without fear of early snowmelt floods ruining crops. It really should come as no surprise then that so many Harappan Bronze Age sites concentrated in this valley. Nevertheless as monsoons gradually weakened (already underway during the Harappan period) with the flood water source retreating eastwards, and the Thar desert expanding, the valley became gradually drier and eventually choked with desert sands. This, however happened in Iron Age or post-Iorn Age times, so thus there is no basis for correlating any catastrophic shift in the Ghaggar-Hakra with the end of the Harappan civilization– a notion which has often appealed to archaeologists.

  5. Jayarava presents a new theory about the origin of the Buddhist idea of karma.
  6. So my suggestion is that we see Buddhist (and Jain) karma as part of the culmination of a process of assimilation of Iranian and/or Zoroastrian ideas by the Kosala-Videha tribes in the Central Ganges Plain region, introduced by the Śākyas. The process probably started soon after 850 BCE when climate change affected the environment and set in process a series of migrations across Eurasia and the sub-continent. The emergence of Buddhism and Jainism marks a mature phase of this culture that was soon to be taken over and co-opted by the militaristic Magadhans and their eventual successors the Mauryans. In particular karma may well emerge from the application of the Zoroastrian ideas about morality and the afterlife, to a widespread belief in cyclic rebirth.

  7. Oliver Stuenkel, Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil has a review of The First Great Realist: Kautilya and his Arthashastra by Roger Boesche
  8. In sum, what is perhaps most fascinating is how many ideas Kautilya articulated that would appear in the West centuries later – while Kautilya wrote the Arthashastra briefly after Thucydides, he long preceded Machiavelli and Hobbes, which thought along similar lines. Rather than looking for “non-Western” international relations theories, then, it may be more adequate to question the supposedly “Western” origin of today’s existing theories and acknowledge the profound contributions thinkers such as Kautilya have made.
    Boesche’s book is ideal reading for a seminar on Indian Foreign Policy, providing a very accessible overview of the somewhat lengthy, yet highly rewarding Arthashastra.

  9. Karmasura has a translation of a letter written by Shivaji to Aurangzeb
  10. In strict justice the jaziya is not at all lawful. From the political point of view it can be allowable only if a beautiful woman wearing gold ornaments can pass from one province to another without fear or molestation. But in these days even the cities are being plundered, what shall I say of the open country? Apart from its injustice, this imposition of the jaziya is an innovation in India and inexpedient.
    If you imagine piety to consist in oppressing the people and terrorizing the Hindus, you ought first to levy the jaziya from Rana Raj Singh, who is the head of the Hindus. Then it will not be so very difficult to collect it from me, as I am at your service. But to oppress ants and flies is far from displaying valour and spirit.

For this episode, there were a large number of contributions and I had a tough time limiting it to five entries. The next carnival will be up on March 15th. Send your nominations by e-mail to varnam.blog @gmail.

Nail, Coffin, Aryans

This one does not need any commentary.

Widely believed theory of Indo-Aryan invasion, often used to explain early settlements in the Indian subcontinent is a myth, a new study by Indian geneticists says. “Our study clearly shows that there was no genetic influx 3,500 years ago,” said Dr Kumarasamy Thangaraj of CCMB, who led the research team, which included scientists from the University of Tartu, Estonia, Chettinad Academy of Research and Education, Chennai and Banaras Hindu University. “It is high time we re-write India’s prehistory based on scientific evidence,” said Dr Lalji Singh, former director of CCMB. “There is no genetic evidence that Indo-Aryans invaded or migrated to India or even something such as Aryans existed”. Singh, vice-chancellor of BHU, is a coauthor.[Indians are not descendants of Aryans, says new study]

Here is a link to the paper.

Summing up, our results confirm both ancestry and temporal complexity shaping the still on-going process of genetic structuring of South Asian populations. This intricacy cannot be readily explained by the putative recent influx of Indo-Aryans alone but suggests multiple gene flows to the South Asian gene pool, both from the west and east, over a much longer time span. We highlight a few genes as candidates of positive selection in South Asia that could have implications in lipid metabolism and etiology of type 2 diabetes. Further studies on data sets without ascertainment and allele frequency biases such as sequence data will be needed to validate the signals for selection.

The point is that nothing exciting happened following the decline of the Harappan civilization. The Dravidian folklore is just that – folklore. Migrations did happen to the region, but they date to much earlier period before there were Dravidian and Indo-European languages.

Harappans go bananas

When we talk about the Arabian Sea trading network, it usually is implied to mean the time from which the Europeans started sailing through the region. But as Manmadhan Ullatil pointed out in Hubs of the medieval trade, this trading network existed much before this period. In fact the ports along the coast of India and Africa were part of the trading network of the Old World. By studying the Prehistoric movement of plants and animals, we are able to reconstruct the trading patterns and speculate about the traders.
In such a study, something interesting has turned up. Researchers looking into the domestication of banana found that it may have been initially done in New Guinea; wild bananas are found in South Asian rainforests. By looking at the banana phytoliths, it is now believed that bananas reached the Harappan region around 2000 BCE, before the decline of the civilization started and apparently were not used for eating. So what else could they have been used for?

Given the distribution of wild Musaceae in South Asia, and the climate at that time (Asouti & Fuller 2008, Madella & Fuller 2006), it is unlikely that these could derive from the ancient presence of wild Musa or Ensete. The possibility that a species was cultivated as a garden ornamental or as a source of fiber and raw materials (e.g., for paper) cannot be ruled out. Indeed, one of these nonculinary uses of Musa/Ensete might be a more plausible explanation for these phytoliths than an early dispersal of edible cultivated bananas from Island Southeast Asia by the third millennium B.C.[Banana Cultivation in South Asia and East Asia: A review of the evidence from archaeology and linguistics( via Carlos Aromayo)]

The paper says that it is possible that the Indus people used the fiber for making paper. Now if they made paper you would think that the next step would be to assume writing. But claiming that Indus people were literate would violate a lakshmana rekha.
So the next line in this paper says that since few folks think that Indus people were illiterate, this could not have happened. Thus apparently, Indus people got bananas, did not eat them, made paper and threw them away. They could have done anything, except writing on it.

Arabian Horses and the Aryans

(from Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities)

Recently Saudi Arabian officials claimed they have evidence that horses were domesticated in the Arabian peninsula around 9,000 years back.

“This discovery will change our knowledge concerning the domestication of horses and the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period,” he told a news conference in Jeddah, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The al-Maqar civilisation is a very advanced civilization of the Neolithic period. This site shows us clearly, the roots of the domestication of horses 9,000 years ago,” he added.
Although humans came into contact with horses about 50,000 years ago, they were originally herded for meat, skins, and possibly for milk.[Saudis ‘find evidence of early horse domestication]

This is shocking: archaeological news from a country which has declared war on archaeology?
The website of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities has a large number of photos from al-Maqar. One of the artifacts is a sculpture of a horse around 100 cm long. On this horse, there are signs of a bridle which proves that the horse was domesticated much earlier than what we thought before. While this is interesting news as it pushes the antiquity of horse domestication by a few millenia, it has a serious impact on a version of Aryan Invasion Theory which depends on the date of horse domestication.
According to this  version of history, the Indus civilization fell to the invaders. In The Wonder that was India, A L Basham gives a dramatic account of this fall. According to him, the barbarians who were already ranging the provinces finally made their move. The citizens of the Mohenjo-daro were no match for the invaders who had superior weapons. Basham also notes that the invaders trimphed because they had the terror striking beasts of the steppes.
These terror striking beasts are horses which till last week was considered to be first domesticated in the steppes of Central Asia. They were probably first domesticated by the Botai people of Kazakstan. In fact there is no dispute over the fact that horses were alien to India and were domesticated by nomads in the Pontic-Caspian region.
According to one of the Indo-European homeland hypothesis known as the Kurgan theory, these mounted warriors from this region, after domesticating the horse used this advantage to impose their culture on their neighbors in Old Europe. These “Aryans” then displaced the “Dravidians” in a kind of fairy tale.
What happens to this theory if the horse was not domesticated near the Caspian sea, but somewhere in the middle of Saudi Arabia as per the new evidence? Did the horsemen wait for few millennia to time their adventure with the decline of the Harappan civilization? If the Aryans indeed came from the Caspian sea area, what prompted them to make a move around that period?
References:

  1. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).

Brain Surgery in Bronze Age

Trepanation is a surgical technique in which a hole is drilled into the human skull to treat intracranial diseases. It was quite popular during the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe. Count Philip of Nassau had 27 successive trepanations done in the 17th century. In England, it was a common form of treatment among miners who suffered cranial trauma.
Trepanation has a much older history; it was done during the Bronze Age in Peru and Jericho as well. During those times, it was done to repair skull fracture resulting blows, to remove splinters and blood clots. It was also done on dead people, to obtain skull bones to create necklaces.

At Ikiztepe, a small settlement near the Black Sea occupied from 3200 to 1700 B.C., archaeologist Önder Bilgi of Istanbul University has uncovered five skulls with clean, rectangular incisions that are evidence for trepanation, or basic cranial surgery. The procedure may have been performed to treat hemorrhages, brain cancer, head trauma, or mental illness. Last August Bilgi also unearthed a pair of razor-sharp volcanic glass blades that he believes were used to make the careful cuts.
There is ample evidence that Bronze Age sawbones knew what they doing. Last summer, biological anthropologist Handan üstündag of Anadolu University in Turkey excavated the 4,000-year-old trepanned skull of a man at Kultepe Höyük in central Turkey. üstündag says the surgeon cut a neat 1- by 2-inch incision, and  there are clear signs of recovery in the regrowth of bone tissue at the edges. Judging from the frequency of healed bone in such skulls, anthropologist Yilmaz Erdal of Hacettepe University in Turkey recently proposed that about half of all Bronze Age trepanation patients- and 60 percent of those in Turkey- survived the procedure.[Bronze Age Brain Surgeons]

Trepanation was practiced in Harappa (Lothal, Kalibangan) and the megalithic site of Maski too.

Trepanation is known from the Bronze Age Harappan (ca. 4300 BP) people of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Sarkar (1972) attributed a squarish hole on the right temporal skull of a child of 9-10 years skull found at Lothal, a Harappan site. Roy Chowdhury (1973) also believed that evidence of trepanation was present in Harappan skull No. H 796/B and H 802/B, from Cemetery R37 and possibly in a Kalibangan skull (another Harappan site) in Western India. A megalithic skull (M30) from Maski (Karnataka) in South India also showed evidence of trepanation (Sarkar, 1972): it has two circular holes of 22 mm and 15 mm respectively on the either side of the sagittal suture of the vertex.[Evidence of Surgery in Ancient India:Trepanation at Burzahom (Kashmir) over 4000 years ago]

While the skull of the child found in Lothal is considered the earliest evidence of this type of surgery, a ~4300 year old skull found in Burzahom (10 km north-east of Srinagar)  in Kashmir Valley is definite proof of trepanation. In this particular case, the victim had suffered a blow from a strong wooden stick. She survived the blow as well as the trepanation process.
(Thanks Michel Danino, for the links)
References:

  1. The Chicago medical recorder, Volume 35 By Chicago Medical Society
  2. God-apes and fossil men: paleoanthropology of South Asia By Kenneth A. R. Kennedy
  3. First evidence of brain surgery in Bronze Age Harappa, Current Science, Vol 100, No 11, 10 June 2011