First farmers of South India

Pick any book on ancient India and you will find pages and pages on the origins  and decline of the Harappan civilization. You will also find details on the Aryan-Dravidian controversy. But when it comes to South India during the same period, there is nothing that exciting. There are no big cities or controversies. There is no Sarasvati or Rg Veda. South Indians were not among the first to domesticate crops and animals;this technology came from the North. On the whole the place looks jaw-droppingly jejune.
Now we know a lot more: on what developed indigenously and what was imported, on rituals  unique to the region and on how Neolithic globalization influenced the social structure.
First, not all crops were domesticated in Gujarat, Indus and Gangetic plains. Moong dal, urad dal, horse gram, browntop millet and hooked bristlegrass were domesticated in the south. Winter crops like wheat and barley were domesticated elsewhere and imported. Animal domestication too, it seems, was introduced from outside.
Second, cattle and cow dung had some significance. The zebu, for instance, is prominent in rock art and terracotta figurines. Also prominent were ash mounds, created by burning heaps of cow dung. Some of these ash mounds — unique to South India — were located outside the primary settlement and may have been used a place of gathering for some ritual and the burning of dung was symbolic. It probably had something to do with their belief system. In this gathering there was feasting and people exchanged beads, copper objects, cattle or the valuable Hiregudda axe. Maybe marriage alliances, which helped during times of need, were also made. You know what they say – marriages are made near the cow dung heap.
Finally, changes start affecting this idyllic community. Following the decline of the Harappan civilization, wheat and barley appear in the region. We also see crops from Africa and Indonesia, possibly through contact with seafaring traders. Remember that the Polynesians were doing sea cruises during this time and ships from Meluhha were reaching Mesopotamia. This trade, along the Indian Ocean rim, affected the Neolithic belief system and social structure.  Hilltop settlements were abandoned and people moved to the plains. There were burials with grave goods which look elitist. Hierarchies started forming.

  1. Boivin, Nicole, D. Q. Fuller, R. Korisettar, & M. Petraglia (2008) First farmers in South India: the role of internal processes and external influences in the emergence and transformation of south India’s earliest settled societies. Pragdhara 18: 179-200
  2. K.A Nilakanta Sastri (the late), R.C. Champakalakshmi, and P.M. Rajan Gurukkal,The Illustrated History of South India, First Edition. (Oxford University Press, USA, 2009).
  3. Moong Dal picture via Wikipedia

The Pharaoh's Ship

On Dec 29, 2009, archaeologists found the eighth in a series of lost chambers at Wadi Gawasis in Egypt. Previously seven chambers had revealed pieces of an Egyptian sea faring vessel.

Inside they found a network of larger rooms filled with dozens of nautical artifacts: limestone anchors, 80 coils of knotted rope, pottery fragments, ship timbers, and two curved cedar planks that likely are steering oars from a 70-foot-long ship. According to hieroglyphic inscriptions, the ship was dispatched to the southern Red Sea port of Punt by Queen Hatshepsut during the 15th century B.C. [Archaeologist Kathryn Bards Amazing Egyptian Digs]

This is not the oldest ship remains in Egypt; that credit goes to Khufu’s ship (2500 B.C.E), but then Khufu’s ship probably never sailed.

The ship that was found at Wadi Gawasis was sent to Punt by the female Pharoah Hatshepsut (1508 B.C.E – 1458 B.C.E). But even now no one knows where Punt it. We know that it was south of Egypt, was accessible through the Red Sea and from there Egyptians obtained an alloy of gold and silver, wood, slaves and animals like giraffe and rhino. 

The most important export of Punt was a tree resin  used to make incense. Then incense, during those times, could be obtained from Arabia, Sindh, Baluchistan, Gujarat, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. In fact among all these places, the Arabian one was considered the best. But looking at various other factors, Punt is believed to be in the Saudi/Yemen border or Eastern Sudan/Eritrea area.

The importance of incense during that period can be seen in the story of Queen Sheba who visited King Solomon. She came either from Ethopia or Yemen and bought bales of incense as gift. This is the same queen who had a Duryodhana effect and converted and whose son stole the Ark of the Covenant

Egyptians were known for their land trade, but when the King of Kush became powerful and hostile, Queen Hatshepsut had no option other than navigating the choppy waters of the Red Sea. The design of her ship can be seen in the frescoes of her tomb and based on that archaeologists and ship builders made an exact replica which was the subject of the new PBS documentary Building the Pharoah’s ship. This ship,  made of wood, tied with rope and sealed with beeswax, performed well. It was able to survive a small storm as well.

But then sailing across the open ocean was quite common by that period. A millennia before Hatshepsut, Sargon of Akkad boasted about the ships of Magan, Dilmun and Meluhha lying in his harbor. To prove that ancient ships could do such long distance travel Thor Heyerdahl made a 60 foot reed ship called the Tigris and sailed from the Tigris delta to the Indus delta and returned back to Djibouti. It was in such ships that Queen Puabi got her carnelian beads, Gudea got his wood and the Meluhhans arived to settle in Guabba.