Mehrgarh

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History

Isolated remains of Homo Erectus in has been found indicating that Pakistan might have been inhabited since atleast the Middle Pleistocene era. The precise date of these remains is unclear, and archaeologists put it anywhere between 200,000 to 500,000 BCE. The fossils are the earliest human remains found in South Asia. Modern humans arrived from Africa after their evolution about 70,000 to 31,000 years ago and settled in South Asia.

The evidence from the excavations at Mehrgarh, Balochistan, has demonstrated that the north-western part of the Pakistan had reached a neolithic, i.e. settled agricultural stage, by the 9,000 BCE. Here it may also be emphasized that the Mehrgarh neolithic complex stands in marked contrast to that of western Asia. For example, whereas in the West Asian neolithic there is the domination of sheep and goat amongst the domesticated animals and of wheat amongst the cultivated cereals, in the Mehrgarh context the cattle dominated over other animals and barley over other cereals. Thus, the Mehrgarh neolithic has its own identity, having no generic relationship with its West Asian counterpart. In other words, the Mehrgarh people were the “the sons of the soil”.

The Mehrgarh declined about the same time as the Indus Valley Civilization only 200 Kilometers south east was developing. It has been surmised that the Mehrgarh residents migrated to the fertile Indus River valley as Balochistan became arid over time. The Elamo-Dravidians invaded from the Iranian plateau and settled in the Indus valley around 4000 BCE. The main site of the Indus Valley Civilization in Punjab was the city of Harappa and Moen and Moenjo Daro in Sindh.

Mehrgarh (Mehrgahr, Merhgarh or Merhgahr) in Balochistan province of Pakistan was an ancient settlement and is one of the most important sites in archaeology for the study of the earliest neolithic settlements in South Asia. The archealogical sites are located in the Kachi ( Kacchi or Katchi) plain near the Bolan Pass, to the west of the Indus River valley and between the present-day cities of Quetta, Kalat and Sibi.

Mehrgarh is sometimes cited as the earliest known farming settlement in South Asia, based on archaeological excavations from 1974. The earliest evidence of settlement dates from nearly 9,000 BCE. It's also cited for the earliest evidence of pottery in South Asia. Archaeologists divide the occupation at the site into several periods. Mehrgarh declined around 3,500 BCE at the same time that the Indus Valley Civilisation was being established only two hundred kilometers south east from Mehrgarh. It is concievable that the Mehrgarh culture expanded to the fertile Indus river valley and gave rise to the Indus Valley civilization.

The earliest stage of Mehrgarh predates the Indus Valley Civilization by nearly 3,000 years.

The chalcolithic people of Mehrgarh also had contacts with northern Afghanistan, north eastern Iran and even with the southern part of central Asia.

Mehrgarh Period I

Mehrgarh Period I 8000-5500 BCE, 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 such as 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 the South Asia.

Mehrgarh Period II and Period III

Mehrgarh Period II 5500-4800 BCE and Merhgarh Period III 4800-3500 BCE were ceramic neolithic (i.e., pottery was now in use) and later 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.

Mehrgarh Period VII

Somewhere between 2600 and 2000 BCE, the city seems to have been largely abandoned, which is the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

The evidence from the excavations at Mehrgarh, Balochistan, has demonstrated that the north-western part of the Pakistan had reached a neolithic, i.e. settled agricultural stage, by the 7,000 BCE. Here it may also be emphasized that the Mehrgarh neolithic complex stands in marked contrast to that of western Asia. For example, whereas in the West Asian neolithic there is the domination of sheep and goat amongst the domesticated animals and of wheat amongst the cultivated cereals, in the Mehrgarh context the cattle dominated over other animals and barley over other cereals. Thus, the Mehrgarh neolithic has its own identity, having no generic relationship with its West Asian counterpart. In other words, the Mehrgarh people were the “the sons of the soil”.

Further, there is a continuous story from the succeeding chalcolithic level onwards, taking us through various evolutionary stages to the Early Harappan from which there emerged the Harappan Civilization itself, around the middle of the third millennium BCE. Again, after a thorough study of the human skeletal remains, Hemphill and his colleagues (1991) have shown that there was a biological continuity right from 4500 BCE to 800 BCE. A question may now be posed: “What language did these chalcolithic people speak?” Though the Harappan script has not yet been deciphered, in spite of so many tall claims, we have yet another way of tackling the issue.

Dentistry in Mehrgarh

Tiny holes found in teeth suggest even prehistoric man may have had to fear the dentist's drill.
Remains found at Mehrgarh show dental decay may have been treated 8,000-9,000 years ago. It is some of the earliest evidence of dentistry. Archaeologists discovered perfect tiny holes in two molar teeth from the remains of different men. The people of that time and area were extremely sophisticated. They cultivated crops and made intricate jewellery from shells, amethysts and turquoise.

History

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.

Although Mehrgarh was abandoned by the time of the emergence of the literate urbanized phase of the Indus civilization around Moenjodaro, Harapa, etc., its development illustrates the development of the civilization's subsistence patterns, as well as its craft and trade.

Mr Jarrige said that many beautiful ceramics had been found at the site in Balochistan and were believed to be of the era as early as eighth millennium BC. The French archaeologist said that studies suggested that the findings at Mehrgarh linked this area to the Indus civilization.

There are indications that bones were used in making tools for farming, textile, and there are also evidences of the use of cotton even in that period. Mr Jarrige pointed out that the skeletons found at the site indicated that the height of people of that era was larger than that of the later period.

He said that the architecture at that time was well developed. Rice was the staple food for those people and there were also indications of trade activities.



 

 

Page last updated: Thursday, April 03, 2008 12:30:15 -0400