Did you know that the little village of Jwalapuram in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool district holds some key revelations about the arrival of early humans in India? Or that Vadnagar, which is prime minister Narendra Modi’s hometown, was once a significant part of the Indo-Roman trade route. Kurush F Dalal, director, INSTUCEN School of Archaeology, Mumbai, lists some such key archaeological discoveries from recent times:
Professor Vasant Shinde, former vice-chancellor of Pune’s Deccan College, has been working in the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi, in Haryana, since 1997. It is believed to be one of the oldest and largest sites of the Indus Valley civilisation. In 2015, a cemetery was found in RGR7, with complete skeletons dating back to 4,500 years. For the first time ever, DNA tests were conducted on a single skeleton, with the results revealed in 2018 and paper published in 2019 in Cell magazine. The DNA didn’t show traces of steppe ancestry, which forms the crux of the Aryan invasion theory.
One must still take it with a pinch of salt as it is a sample size of one. But what is amazing is that they were able to recover Harappan DNA in a place like India, where preservation of DNA is atrocious. According to Shinde, photo reconstruction is also now possible, showing us what an average Harappan might have looked like. A lot of people feel that the excavation happened ten years ago, why have the results not come in yet. With labs located outside the country, one might get results 20 years later for an excavation that has happened today. One needs to be patient when it comes to archaeology.
This site was excavated by archaeologist Katy Dalal in the 1970s, and has been revisited by the ASI in the last 5-6 years. These sites are dedicated to specialised technology with little compounds for making different things, like a cluster of workshops. For too long, people have focused only on mega sites, but there is a need to look beyond these, to towns and villages.
An Indo-French team has been at work at Masol, a village about 10km from Chandigarh. They have found tools dating back to 2.6 million years, making them some of the oldest stone tools in history.
“It has been thought that the Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture developed 90,000-140,000 years ago and was closely tied to the dispersal of modern humans from Africa. But tools excavated from Attirampakkam, Tamil Nadu, have now pushed the antiquity of this culture by almost 500,000 years,” mentioned a 2018-article in the Wire. This shows that nearly 1.5 million years ago, a more advanced hominid was making the same kind of tools that were seen in Africa. The data from the research led by Professor Shanti Pappu of Sharma Centre for Heritage Education shows that this phase of tool making in the Aechulian period went on in India for far longer than anywhere in the world —the technology was more stable in the Indian subcontinent.
This little village in Andhra Pradesh’s Kurnool district holds some key revelations about the arrival of early humans in India. Since the 1990s, it has been believed that homo sapiens originated in Africa’s Rift Valley and moved out in two waves, between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago. “Based on this, it was further believed that the first humans would have reached India approximately 50,000 years ago,” mentions an article on LiveHistory. But the excavations led by Ravi Korisettar changed that preconceived notion. The team came across huge deposits of ash, some two metres thick, which hailed from Mount Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia.
The supervolcanic eruption 74,000 years ago was one of the largest to have occurred in the last two million years. Every volcano has a signature ash, like a fingerprint, and one can carbon date it. For long it was believed that the eruption caused a massive species-level bottleneck in Asia, that all humans disappeared till the continent was repopulated again. However, the team found stone tools above the ash and also below it, which means Homo Sapiens were present in India even when Mount Toba erupted, and continued to live here. This questions the older Eurocentric models that Homo Sapiens first went from Africa to Europe and then came to Asia. It challenges the notions of how India was people, and also the lack of continuity concept.
Located in Tamil Nadu’s Sivagangai district, Keeladi holds evidence that the urbanisation Sangam Era may have begun in 6th century BCE. Sadly, there has been a lot of unnecessary controversy since 2017 when Tamil academicians alleged that the central government was trying to stall the excavations “to push its Hindutva agenda” and that the site had “undeniable evidence of a secular culture in South India”.
The Baroda circle is the only one, which has been quietly working in the field during the pandemic under very tightly-controlled conditions. They are now excavating in Vadnagar, which is prime minister Narendra Modi’s hometown, with some amazing results. The research sheds light on the blackhole between the end of the Matrikas and the beginning of the Solanki dynasty. It shows that from 400 AD to 1000 AD, the site has been in constant habitation—it is said to be the only town in India that has been in existence continuously for 2,500 years. The team has found a Buddhist superstructure on the banks of a manmade lake, Sharmishtha, parts of which date back to the 5th century CE.
There is evidence of significant Indo-Roman trade there. Abhijit Ambekar, who is the SA of the circle, has been doing yeoman service. He has shown how to work in a living town. So, he finds people who are renovating houses, rents them out, demolishes parts of it, sinks in the excavation, gets the data out, closes the house properly and returns it to the owners. Some beautiful artefacts have emerged from Vadnagar, including the most exquisite shell bangles that one has ever seen.