Indus era at least 8,000 years old; ended because of weaker monsoon

..A group of researchers in India have used carbon dating techniques on animal remains and pottery fragments to conclude that the Indus Valley settlements could be 8,000 years old—2,500 years older than previously believed.

That could make the Indus Valley settlements, which were spread across Pakistan and northern India, even older than the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations.

What’s more, the researchers have found evidence of a pre-Harappan civilization that existed for at least 1,000 years before this.

As per a report published in Times of India, this may force a global rethink on the timelines of the so-called ‘cradles of civilization’.

“We have recovered perhaps the oldest pottery from the civilization. We used a technique called ‘optically stimulated luminescence’ to date pottery shards of the Early Mature Harappan time to nearly 6,000 years ago and the cultural levels of pre-Harappan Hakra phase as far back as 8,000 years,” said Anindya Sarkar, head of the department of geology and geophysics at IIT-Kgp.

Archaeological studies had earlier suggested that the civilization was centered around Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan, and Lothal, Dholavira, and Kalibangan in India. In recent years excavation at Rakhigarhi and few other places indicate that the civilization probably was more expansive than thought before. Whatever may be the extent most Harappan settlements grew in the floodplains of river systems including those of the Indus or now defunct Ghaggar-Hakra (mythical river Saraswati?).

Map Showing Indus Valley Sites and Decline of Civilization
(Left) Map of Northwest India and Pakistan showing the locations of main Harappan settlements. (Right) Panoramic view of the excavation of mature Harappan stage at Bhirrana. –img source

They took their dig to an unexplored site, Bhirrana — and ended up unearthing something much bigger. The excavation also yielded large quantities of animal remains like bones, teeth, horn cores of cow, goat, deer and antelope, which were put through Carbon 14 analysis to decipher antiquity and the climatic conditions in which the civilization flourished, said Arati Deshpande Mukherjee of Deccan College, which helped analyse the finds along with Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

Our study shows that the pre-Harappan humans started inhabiting this area along the Ghaggar-Hakra rivers in a climate that was favorable for human settlement and agriculture. The monsoon was much stronger between 9000 years and 7000 years from now and probably fed these rivers making them mightier with vast floodplains.

– Deshpande Mukherjee

While the earlier phases were represented by pastoral and early village farming communities, the mature Harappan settlements were highly urbanized with organised cities, and a much developed material and craft culture. They also had regular trade with Arabia and Mesopotamia.

The Late Harappan phase witnessed large-scale de-urbanization, drop in population, abandonment of established settlements, lack of basic amenities, violence and even the disappearance of the Harappan script, the researchers say.

The study revealed that monsoon started weakening 7,000 years ago but, surprisingly, the civilization did not disappear.

The Indus Valley people were very resolute and flexible and continued to evolve even in the face of declining monsoon. The people shifted their crop patterns from large-grained cereals like wheat and barley during the early part of intensified monsoon to drought-resistant species like rice in the latter part. As the yield diminished, the organised large storage system of the Mature Harappan period gave way to more individual household-based crop processing and storage systems that acted as a catalyst for the de-urbanisation of the civilization rather than an abrupt collapse, they say.

Source: Oxygen isotope in archaeological bioapatites from India: Implications to climate change and decline of Bronze Age Harappan civilization.

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