Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mehrgarh... The Lost Civilisation [Part 1 of 4]

            The people of Mehrgarh in ancient Pakistan were the First to start a community life in human history.  They knew the art of making fabric “just” 9000 years ago and had an organized social life when the humanity at large was ‘housed’ in caves.

        The First Urban Settlement in Human History

by Mahmood Mahmood

             The origin of man on this earth is one of the most mysterious and intriguing questions boggling the human mind. The search for the origin of man’s endeavors, therefore, and any traces of these activities is rightly considered a step forward in the solution of the jigsaw puzzle of human endurance and survival.

The knowledge developed for the search of the origins of the humanity is called anthropology and it has a diverse mosaic of tools and branches developed to assist in the understanding of the basic question of humanity’s origin. The range of subjects and techniques applied in tracing and understanding the bases and origin of humanity in the universe and earth is exhaustive. But on the earth the archaeology is the most potent field in understanding the remnant and footsteps of the ancestors of the human being.

Pakistan is the epitome and zenith of diverse cultures and harmonized expressions of human creative influences ranging from initial agricultural relics at Mehrgarh and the first human dentistry which was practiced here in the Balochistan province. [1]

The archaeological evidence revealed in the vast span of this country gives the sense of immense cultural origins of civilization from the cave art of Chilas to the well developed and oldest urban civilisation in the world excavated so far; with the developed urban infrastructure.

Above: Jericho town in Palestine. Though large quantity of grains ranging back to   12,000 years old were found here in this small town but there was no evidence at all of settled, urbanized towns before about 4000 BC.

Archaeological artifacts are the undeniable source of the solid knowledge about the ancient history.[2] Heitherto, the ancient history of the world was more centered on Mesopotamia and Egypt in the Middle East, specially the sites in present day Israel. China and many other sites in Europe and Latin America, Australia and North American areas have also been under focus. However, when a comparative study is done, only then is it realized that all civilisations like Middle East, Europe, China, Asia and other parts of the world are not older than 4000 BC. Mehrgarh being the oldest in the world is unique. See for instance Jericho, a town in Palestine, large quantity of grains ranging back to 12000 years old were found but there was no evidence at all of settled, urbanized towns before about 4000 BC.

A chopping tool found in Pakistan dates back to 2 million years ago, earlier than the earliest hominid remains, the Homo species "Narmada Man," (250000 years ago). The presence of early anatomical modern Homo sapiens was first indicated in Sri Lanka only about 34000 years ago.

But what distinguishes the Mehrgarh area from other archeological sites is its unique, independent and locally developed culture. There is a continuous, vast, developed, intellectually robust, indigenous and sustained thread of civilization in the present day Pakistan.

While doing an assessment of the past history or exploring the layers upon layers of humanity’s social habitat, there is always a risk of ethnocentric bias. Due to overtones of nationalism - to talk in the light of experiences of past, it frequently becomes a passionate and controversial issue. Interestingly this risk is done away with in case of our country as the study of past in the present day Pakistan is religiously irrelevant. More than 98% of Pakistan’s population is not practicing the traditionally popular religions of the area and are converts to the most recent religion Islam. However, this also can be a destabilizing affect in the form of over- zealous and conservative interpretation of the religious affinities of the masses. But it is the utmost interesting and important aspect of this study to delve deep into the soul of the people from Mehrgarh to present day Pakistan - spread over thousands of years. In the present discourse, therefore, an attempt is being made to understand the history in its true perspective and analyze the legacy of our past in a dispassionate and objective way to make sense of our glorious past as the first known urban people of the world.

The Mehrgarh period of Indus Civilisation is the most fascinating phenomenon of human development as it is the oldest town as per the present available records but its pre-eminence is rarely mentioned in the text books or historical documents. Mostly it is cited as the pre-Indus Civilization without referring to its unique and innovative aspects.

In these pages it is endeavored to understand Mehrgarh as an independent unit and its study as a pioneer chapter in the development of civilization in the cradle of civilization. Let us look in depth
·         What are unique attributes of Mehrgarh?
·         Why is it unique?
·         When did it flourish?
·         What relation does it have with the succeeding Indus civilization?

Coordinates: 29° 12’ 45” N 67° 40’ 15” E – Mehrgarh…Balochistan

The archaeological site at Mehrgarh consists of a number of low archaeological mounds in the Kachi plain, close to the mouth of the Bolan Pass, located next to the west bank of the Bolan River, it’s some 30 kilometers from the town of Sibi. Covering an area of about 250 hectares, most of the archaeological deposits are buried deep beneath accumulations of alluvium although in other areas ‘in situ’ structures can be seen eroding on the surface. Currently exposed excavated remains at the site comprise a complex of large compartmental mud-brick structures. Built of hand-formed plano-convex mud bricks, the function of these sub-divided units is still uncertain but it is believed that many were for storage rather than residential purposes. Mounds, MR3 & MR1 also contain formal cemeteries, parts of which have been excavated.
The archaeological sequence at the site of Mehrgarh is over 11 meters deep, spanning the period between the seventh and third millennium BC. The site represents a classic archaeological tell site that is an artificial mound created by generations of superimposed mud brick structures. Its excavators have proposed the following chronology:-

           I-A: Aceramic Neolithlic c.6500-6000 BC Mound MR3 
I-B: Ceramic Neolithic c.6000-5500 BC Mound MR3
II: c.5500-4500 BC Mound MR4
III: Early Chalcolithic c.4500-3500 BC Mound MR2
IV-VII: Chalcolithic c.3500-2500 BC Mound MR1
The earliest Neolithic evidence for occupation at the site has been identified at mound MR3, but during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic period the focus shifted to mound MR4. The focus continued to shift between localities at the site but by 2600 BC it had relocated at the site of Nausharo, some six kilometers to the south. During this period the settlement was transformed from a cluster of small mud brick storage units with evidence of the on-going domestication of cattle and barley to a substantial Bronze Age village at the centre of its own distinctive craft zone.

The absence of early residential structures has been interpreted by some as further evidence of the site’s early occupation by mobile groups possibly travelling every season through the nearby pass.

Although Mehrgarh was abandoned by the time of the emergence of the literate urbanized phase of the Indus Civilization, its development illustrates the development of the civilization’s subsistence patterns as well as its craft and trade specialization. Following its abandonment it was covered by alluvial silts until it was exposed following a flash flood in the 1970s. The French Archaeological Mission to Pakistan excavated the site for thirteen years between 1974 and 1986, and they resumed their work in 1996. The most recent trenches have astonishingly well preserved remains of mud brick structures proving the urban streak of this civilization.
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