Monday, March 2, 2009

Mehrgarh… The Lost Civilisation [Part 3 of 4]

Mehrgarh figurines


There are indications that bones were used in making tools for farming, textile, and there is good amount of evidence on use of cotton even in that period. The skeletons found at the site indicated that the height of people of that era was larger than that of the later periods. The architecture of the area at that time was well developed. Rice was the staple food for those people and there were also indications of trade activities.

Most of the ruins at Mehrgarh are buried under alluvium deposits, though some structures could be seen eroding on the surface. Currently, the excavated remains at the site comprise a complex of large compartmental mud-brick structures. Function of these subdivided units, built of hand-formed plano-convex mud bricks, is still not clear but it is thought that many were used probably for storage, rather than residential purposes. A couple of mounds also contain formal cemeteries, parts of which have been excavated.

Though Mehrgarh was abandoned at the time of the emergence of the literate urbanized phase of the Indus civilization [6] around Moenjodaro, Harappa etc., the development illustrates its synchronization with the civilization's subsistence patterns, as well as its craft and trade. It also shows that the sequence of civilization was not broken and the flow of civilization kept moving into the Indus Civilization. The similarity of Indus Civilization to Mehrgarh in many respects shows the linkages and relationships among the Mehrgarh and later periods, but the important thing is that between the Mehrgarh and Indus civilization in Punjab and Sind side respectively, Suleman Range and Kirthar Range separate the Baluchistan Plateau and the other geographical areas.

Though the idea to consider them as one geographical unit appears to be premature at this time, yet the geography and terrain of the area are contributory factors in the development of the patterns of civilization. Another fact which needs serious consideration is that in Suleman and Kirthar Range there are some historical passes which are still used by the people to cross the range to move from one side to other sides. The most famous in the Suleman range is the route between Kandahar and India from times immemorial and it was the same route adopted by Babur, the Founder of Mughal dynasty in India in 1520’s.There are still some minor passages between Baluchistan and Punjab scattered over the long area of Suleman Range. In Rajanpur district near Atari there is a passage which locals still use to go towards the other side of the mountains.

The habitation of Mehrgarh has been divided into seven periods, the first being the Pre-Pottery (aceramic) Neolithic period that dates to circa 7000 B.C. or even earlier. The site was abandoned between 2000 and 2500 B.C. during a period of contact with the Indus Civilization and then reused as a burial ground for some time after 2000 BC.
Perhaps the most important feature of Mehrgarh is the fact that one can witness its gradual development from an early village society to a regional centre that covered an area of 200 hectares at its height. In the course of this development, a huge platform that may reflect some form of authority was constructed at the site. Mehrgarh was also a centre of manufacture for various figurines and pottery that were distributed to surrounding regions.

The Mehrgarh periods are technically divided for the ease and understanding of the cultural and civilization’s way of development with reference to the site under study. Usually they are not linked to the overall way of the development of the other areas; the terms are localized and technical one. This is the reason the alluvial levels at Mehrgarh describe the different levels of the different phases of the Mehrgarh civilization showing a long period of habitation.
The presence of bison (wild ox) in Mehrgarh and resembling terracotta artifacts in the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa bears great similarities. This indicates the possible transfer of technological and symbolic knowhow from Mehrgarh to later Indus civilization. This bison and its related cart are still used in the areas of Sindh and Punjab for transportation at local level. The bison carts terracotta toys were also found in other Indus civilization sites. The gypsies still make these Indus like bison carts and in childhood, I used to buy them when the gypsies came in our area to sell these toys and bison of shapes just like found in Mehrgarh and other Indus valley sites.

Some specific details of the different periods of Mehrgarh are: [7]


Mehrgarh Period-I started in 7000BC and goes up to 5500 BC. It was Neolithic and aceramic (i.e., without the use of pottery). The earliest farming in the area was developed by semi-nomadic people using plants such as wheat and barley and animals like sheep, goat and cattle. The settlement was established with simple mud buildings with four internal subdivisions. Numerous burials have been found, many with elaborate goods such as baskets, stone and bone tools, beads, bangles, pendants and occasionally animal sacrifices, with more goods left with burials of males.
Ornaments of sea shell, limestone, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sandstone and polished copper have been found, along with simple figurines of women and animals. A single ground stone axe was discovered in a burial, and several more were obtained from the surface. These ground stone axes are the earliest to come from a stratified context in South Asia.


Mehrgarh Period II: 5500 - 4800 BC and Mehrgarh Period-III: 4800 - 3500 BC were ceramic Neolithic (i.e., pottery was now in use) and later.
The bison chalcolithic: Much evidence of manufacturing activity has been found and more advanced techniques were used. Glazed faience beads were produced and terracotta figurines became more detailed. Figurines of females were decorated with paint and had diverse hairstyles and ornaments. Two flexed burials were found in period-II with a covering of red ochre on the body. The amount of burial goods decreased over time, becoming limited to ornaments and with more goods left with burials of females. The first button seals were produced from terracotta and bone and had geometric designs. Technologies included stone and copper drills, updraft kilns, large pit kilns and copper melting crucibles. There is further evidence of long-distance trade in period-II, important as an indication of this is the discovery of several beads of lapis lazuli originally from Badakshan.
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