February Contents |
Life in One of India's
First Urban Societies
By Dr. Gregory L. Possehl, curator-in-charge,
THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE of Rojdi, which the Museum has been excavating since the early 1980s, was part of the Harappan civilization -- ancient India's earliest literate, urban peoples. The best-known city of the Harappan civilization is Mohenjo-daro, 400 miles to the northwest on the Indus River, in Pakistan. The ancient city of Harappa is also in Pakistan. We've been conducting our dig at Rojdi, which is in the Indian state of Gujarat, with the Gujarat State Department of Archaeology. About 25 Penn students have participated.
Our field work at Rodji takes place in December and January, when the weather is 85 degrees and clear. We live in tents at the site and have a small kitchen staffed by Brahmin women from the nearby village of Srinathgadh. Many Gujaratis are vegetarians and we respect this tradition in our meals. The students who have come to Rojdi have learned to enjoy Gujarati food, which is served on a traditional metal dish called a tali. We excavate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with an hour for lunch, Monday through Friday, and spend weekends in the city of Rajkot, taking care of laundry, shopping, and other necessities. As for leisure activities, the Rojdi project has a reputation for developing highly skilled players of the card game Hearts.
One of the most basic issues we have tackled was the date of the site. Radiocarbon-dating places the occupation of Rodji from about 2500 to 1800 BC, which would make the village contemporary with Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. This overall period includes two distinct phases of occupation; a later one, which we call Rojdi C, occurred in 2000-1800 BC.
An impressive section of the village's plan has been uncovered: whole houses, courtyards, food-grain threshing and storage areas. Judging by the size of the houses at Rojdi, we believe they were lived in by nuclear families, with room for a few other relatives such as grandparents or the brothers and sisters of the primary occupants. They are not the homes of extended families like those seen in India today. However, like the farmers in 20th-century Gujarati villages, it appears that the villagers kept their animals close to their houses.
The development of animal husbandry and agriculture in South Asia is a particular interest of mine, and a significant portion of our research was devoted to recovering animal bones and plant remains. The report on animals is being prepared by Kathleen Ryan, G'86, of MASCA. She has found that the people of ancient Rojdi kept cattle, along with some sheep, goats, and pigs. Butchering marks and burned bone lead us to believe they were not vegetarians. We've also found the remains of chickens, first domesticated in South Asia. The Rojdi villagers apparently were hunters as well as farmers, and they supplemented their diet with wild animals including elephants, a type of wild dog, and a good selection of the local deer and antelope.
Steven Weber, Gr'89, has used a system of flotation to recover well over 10,000 ancient seeds from the site. According to Weber, the ancient Rojdi farmer used a wide variety of hardy, drought-resistant plants that required little care or cultivation. These plants, which aren't well known in the West, include two indigenous South Asian millets, three forms of gram, four peas, and a bean. Of particular interest is the fact that three other millets present at Rojdi -- sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet, which account for about 20 percent of all food grains in India today -- actually originated in Africa. Their appearance at Rojdi and other Harappan sites demonstrates how early they were integrated into the local foods, and testifies to the seafaring and trading skills of the Harappan peoples, whose ships sailed as far as Mesopotamia, and south to Africa at the mouth of the Red Sea.
Another notable observation that has emerged from Rojdi relates to theories of the so-called eclipse of the cities of Harappan civilization. It has been shown that Mohenjo-daro and many other Harappan sites were abandoned, or shrank dramatically in size, at around 2000 BC. But in investigating Rojdi C, we found that this settlement grew and was in fact completely rebuilt during this period. Our findings are an important reminder that the transformation of ancient urban systems is a very complex process, and events in one region may not be replicated simultaneously elsewhere.
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