Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mehrgarh, The Lost Civilisation [Part 2 of 4]

Female figurine from Mehrgarh excavation (6000-3000 BC)


The artifacts from Mehrgarh are far more advanced and developed as compared to those obtained from excavations in Turkey and Middle East especially Jericho.
  • The most unique discovery is the first known origin of the dental surgery and related medicinal activities exercised in Mehrgarh area. The discovery proves the great innovative mind and developmental level of those people about 9000 years ago.
  • Mehrgarh was also a centre of manufacture for various figurines and pottery that were distributed to surrounding regions. These products are of a high quality given the circumstances and the time they were fabricated.
  • No other civilisation in any other part of the world existed then; what to speak of a level of perfection in the art and craft elsewhere.
by Mahmood Mahmood

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: Late 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.

Mehrgarh is a Neolithic (7000-3200 BC) site on the Kachi plain of Balochistan, Pakistan, and one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming (wheat and barley) and herding (cattle, sheep and goats) in south Asia. The site is located on the principal route between what is now Afghanistan and the Indus Valley.

The earliest settled portion of Mehrgarh was in an area called MR.3, in the northeast corner of the 495-acre occupation. It is a small farming and pastoralist village dated between 7000-5500 BC, with mud brick houses and granaries. The early Mehrgarh residents used local copper ore, basket containers lined with bitumen, and an array of bone tools. They grew six-row barley, einkorn and emmer wheat, jujubes and dates.

Sheep, goats and cattle were herded at Mehrgarh beginning during this early period.
Later periods included craft activities like flint knapping, tanning, and bead production; also, a significant level of metal working. The site was occupied continuously until about 2600 BC, when it was abandoned.

Mehrgarh was discovered and excavations begun by a French team led by Jean-Fran├žois Jarrige; the site was excavated continuously between 1974 and 1986.

Mehrgarh is the centre of the first known developed place of civilization in its advanced form as compared to the contemporary and the predecessor human settlements around the world. The town of Jericho, mentioned earlier, has not got the level of sophistication and developmental level attained as that in Mehrgarh. The symbolic artifacts retrieved from Mehrgarh are far more advanced and more developed as compared to the artifacts retrieved from Turkish sites and Middle Eastern sites especially Jericho.

The Mehrgarh site has the unique tradition of burying the dead with the pitchers being used as the supporting material along with the dead person’s body. This is the most unique cultural legacy of the Mehrgarh civilization for the area of Pakistan as I myself saw in late 1980’s in a village Kalyan near Lahore in district Kasur, that, while burying the dead person, about 8-10 pitchers of average size were placed over the dead body and thus the  burial process was completed.[3] This unique similarity to 8000 years old tradition is the direct proof of the deep rooted traditional affinity of the Pakistani area, which is quite in contrast to the   later Hindu and Magian periods when the dead were burnt and placed under the sun respectively. (These are still followed in the Hindu and Parsi community of the subcontinent).

It is interesting to note, however, that the male figurines have turbans — much like those worn by the inhabitants of Balochistan today. These turbans are not only found in Baluchistan, they are still worn in the rural areas of Punjab.

One of the most unique discoveries of the Mehrgarh civilisation is the first known origin of dental surgery and related medicinal activities in the area. This medicinal and different aspect of Mehrgarh shows the great innovative and developmental level of the people of the area about 9000 years ago. According to a report in the April 6, 2006 issue of Nature, Italian researchers working at a cemetery site in the Neolithic town of Mehrgarh discovered drill holes on at least eleven molars from people buried in the MR3 cemetery. Light microscopy showed the holes were conical, cylindrical or trapezoidal in shape. A few had concentric rings showing drill bit marks; and a few had some evidence for decay. No filling material was noted; but tooth wear on the drill marks indicate that each of these individuals continued to live on after the drilling was completed.

Dental caries (or cavities) are the result of sugars and starches in the food we eat. Hunter-gatherers, who rely on animal protein, do not generally have cavities; cavities associated with the use of roots and tubers, or starchy grains.[4]. Researchers point out that only four of the eleven teeth contained clear evidence of decay associated with drilling; however, the drilled teeth are restricted to molars in the back of both lower and upper jaws, and thus are not likely to have been done for decorative purposes. Flint drill bits are known from Mehrgarh, long associated with the bead industry there. The researchers conducted experiments and discovered that using a flint drill bit attached to a bow-drill, it required under a minute to produce similar holes in human enamel.
Picture on left, above: Drilled, maxillary left second molar from an adult male (MR3 90) from Neolithic Mehrgarh.
L. Bondioli (Museum L. Pigorini, Rome) & R. Macchiarelli (Univ. of Poitiers).

The dental techniques have only been discovered on about .3% of the population (11 teeth out of a total of 3880 examined from 225 individuals studied to date), hence it was a rare occurrence, and, appears to have been a short-lived experiment as well. Although the MR3 cemetery contains younger skeletal material (into the Chalcolithic), no evidence for tooth drilling has been found later than 6500 BC. [5]

Jarrige carried out extensive archaeological explorations and investigations under the French Archaeological Mission in Kachi area.
The mission has been doing exploratory work in Balochistan for nearly three-and-a-half decades
. According to Jarrige, Mehrgarh and its associated sites provide irrevocable evidence of considerable cultural development in early antiquity as far back as 8,000 years.

The Bird shaped Figurines from Mehrgarh

Many beautiful ceramics were found at the site in Baluchistan, continues Jarrige, and were believed to be of the era as early as eighth millennium BC. The French archaeologist further said that the studies suggested the findings at Mehrgarh linked this area to the Indus civilization. 
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