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Thursday, June 24, 2021

The journey of Civilization in Pakistan…Mehrgarh Era

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The origins of human beings on the earth are one of the most mysterious and intriguing questions in the human consciousness. The search for the origins of the human endeavors and any traces of the activities is considered to be a step forward in the solution of the jig saw puzzle of the human endeavors.

The knowledge developed for the search of the origins of the humanity is called anthropology and it has a diverse mosaic of tools and branches developed to assist in the understanding of the basic question of the humanity.

The range of subjects and techniques applied in tracing and understanding the bases and origin of humanity in the universe and earth is exhaustive .But on the earth the archaeology is the most potent field in understanding the remnant and footsteps of the ancestors of the human beings.

The land of Pakistan is the epitome and zenith of diverse cultures and harmonized expressions of human creative influences ranging from initial agricultural relics at Mehrgarh and first human dentistry practiced at Mehrgarh in present day Pakistan.[1]

The archaeological evidence revealed in the width and breadth of Pakistan gives the sense of immense cultural origins of civilization from the Cave art of Chilas to the well developed and oldest urban civilization in world excavated so far, with the developed urban infrastructure.

Archaeological artifacts are the undeniable source of the solid knowledge about the ancient history. [2] The ancient history of world is more centered on Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Middle Eastern sites in present day Israel, China and many sites in Europe and Latin America, Australia and North American areas.

But when the comparative studies are conducted then we come to know that all these civilization developments except Mehrgarh are not older than 4000 B.C in Middle East , Europe, China, Asia and other parts of world. In town of Jericho there have been found large quantity of grains ranging back to 12000 years old, but there are no settled town found there before about 4000 B.C.

A chopping tool found in Pakistan dates to 2 million years ago, earlier than the earliest hominid remains, the Homo species “Narmada Man,” (250,000 years ago). Early anatomically modern Homo sapiens are first seen in Sri Lanka about 34,000 years ago.

But the uniqueness of the area which lies in present day Pakistan is unique independent and locally developed. This is continuous, vast, developed, intellectually robust, indigenous and sustained thread of civilization in the present day areas of Pakistan in t he light of present available studies.

There is always danger of ethnocentric ideas in the assessment of the past. Due to overtones of nationalism it has become more passionate and controversial to talk in the light of experiences of past. Interestingly this danger can be done away with the study of past in the present day Pakistani context as the present day population is more than 98% is not practicing the traditional popular religions of the area and converted to the most recent religion Islam. This also can be a destabilizing affect in the form of over zealous and conservative interpretation of the religious affinities of the masses. But it is the utmost interesting and important aspect of this study to delve deep into the ages old soul of the people from Mehrgarh to present day Pakistan. In this brief paper an attempt is made to understand history in its true perspective and analyzing the legacy of our past in a dispassionate and objective way to make sense of our glorious past as the first known urban people of the world.

The Mehrgarh is the most fascinating phenomenon of human development as it is mentioned to be the oldest town as per the present available records but its pre-eminence is rarely mentioned in the text books or historical documents and is mentioned as pre-Indus Civilization without referring to its unique and innovative aspects.

The Mehrgarh is treated as a side show in the so-called bigger picture of Indus civilization. It is the most inaccurate and unscientific assertion in the present age of technological and scientific development.

In preceding pages an attempt has been made to understand Mehrgarh as an independent unit and study it as a pioneer in the development of civilization in the cradle of civilization. Now we look in depth what are unique attributes of Mehrgarh? Why it is unique? When it flourished? Why it is different from Indus civilization?

The archaeological site of Mehrgarh consists of a number of low archaeological mounds in the Kachi plain, close to the mouth of the Bolan Pass. Located next to the west bank of the Bolan River, they are some 30 kilometers from the town of Sibi. Covering an area of some 250 hectares, most of the archaeological deposits are buried deep beneath accumulations of alluvium although in other areas ‘in situ’ structures can be seen eroding on the surface. Currently exposed excavated remains at the site comprise a complex of large compartmental mud-brick structures. Built of hand-formed plano-convex mud bricks, the function of these sub-divided units is still uncertain but it is thought that many were for storage rather than residential. Mounds, MR3 & MR1 also contain formal cemeteries, parts of which have been excavated.

Coordinates: 29° 12’ 45” N 67° 40’ 15” E – Mehrgarh… BALOCHISTAN
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:
IA Aceramic Neolithlic c.6500-6000 BC Mound MR3

IB 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 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 possible travelling through the nearby pass seasonally.

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 Baluchistan, 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 such as 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-François 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 in the world as compared to the contemporary and the predecessor human settlement areas of the world. The town of Jericho has, nt got the level of sophistication and developmental level attained at that in Mehrgarh. The symbolic artifacts retrieved from Mehrgarh are far more advance d and more developed as compared to the artifacts retrieved from Turkish sites and Middle Eastern sites especially Jericho.

The Mehrgarh 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 the dead person was buried about 8-10 pitchers of average size were placed over the dead body while 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, as in later Hindu and Magian periods 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 Baluchistan 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 is the first known origin of the dental surgery and related medicinal activities in the Mehrgarh areas. This medicinal and different aspect of the Mehrgarh shows great innovation 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.

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), so 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 BP.[5]

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

Mr. Jarrige said that many beautiful ceramics had been found at the site in Baluchistan 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. [6]
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.
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, Harappa, etc., its development illustrates the development of the civilization’s subsistence patterns, as well as its craft and trade. But this shows that the sequence of civilization was not broken and the flow of civilization was kept moving in 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 on Punjab and Sind side respectively Suleman Range and Kirthar Range separate the Baluchistan Plateau and the other geographical areas. The idea to consider them one geographically unit is not borne by the ground realities. The geographical and terrain of the area are the contributory factor in the development of the patterns of civilization. But in 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 the 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 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 B.C.
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 one as the alluvial levels at Mehrgarh describe the different levels of the different phases of the Mehrgarh civilization showing a long period of habitation.

The religious ideas of Mehrgarh are known to be having reference to Indriya Goddess, which is considered to be the oldest reference to the Indian mythological gods. Her presence shows the matriarchal hierarchy in the society.

The presence of bison in Mehrgarh and resembling terracotta artifacts in the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa bears great similarities. This indicates the possible transfer of technological and symbolic know how form 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 as following;[7]

Mehrgarh Period I

Mehrgarh Period I 7000 – 5500 BCE, was Neolithic and a ceramic (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 BC and Mehrgarh Period III 4800 – 3500 BC 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.
One amazing bit of info about this town is that in 7000 BCE it had a population of 25000 people, which was the number of people living in the entire Egypt at 7000BCE.[8]

During the excavations, the archaeologists discovered clay female figurines associated with fertility rites, and believed to have been worshipped by the natives. Similar figurines have surfaced in other archaeological sites in the province. Several of these statues are carved with necklaces, and have their hands on their breast or waist. Some have children on their laps.

The people of that era used to wear woolen or cotton clothes. Some of the deities had their braid on their back and shoulders. Most of the male statues wore turbans, which is still in vogue in Baluchistan. While the opinion of several archaeologists that several of the statuettes discovered at the site might have been children, there are many who link these terracotta figures to be religious beliefs and the eon-old concept of the power of nature and female deities.

Moreover, terracotta figures of bulls have also been discovered at Mehrgarh pointing to the possible worship of animals or their exalted status as life-givers for the food they yielded. The figurines reveal the attire women possibly wore; lace-like material round their waists and adorned their upper bodies with necklaces. Archaeologists are still clueless as to how they wove the material and whether they used cotton or wool to make their garments.[9]

The first use of cotton in the history has been found to be at Mehrgarh, which shows the deep rooted affiliation of Pakistani areas to cotton since old ages. The local cotton which is the present day white Gold for Pakistan’s economy has roots in the ancient past. Still when ever is good rain on Suleman range excellent quality of cotton is grown in the areas adjoining the Baluchistan range over the Suleman range.

The Mehrgarh is supported further by the nearby discoveries of the Nausharo situated on the Kachi plain approximately 10 kilometers southwest of Mehrgarh, Nausharo… excavated by the French team from 1980 to 1998. The site was first occupied at around 2800 B.C. before the Harappan period under the influence of the early farming cultures of Baluchistan. The material culture of the site indicates that the site fell under Harappan influence or occupation by circa 2500 B.C. and reverted to the Baluchistan cultures by 2100 – 2000 B.C. This is the period when new summer crops such as rice were introduced into the Kachi plain in peripheral regions where the Indus Civilization had formerly flourished.

Additionally, farming in this region involves the domestication of native cattle rather than sheep and goat, and the early layers are a ceramic, at odds with the arrival of a “package” from Southwest Asia. This region’s Neolithic probably developed locally.

The statements like this as above show the tendency of the scholars to create confusion as the majority of the scholars are Western trained and interestingly whenever there is mention of some historical evidence of the age old civilizations they add a lot of ifs and buts. This is the same idea which was floated by Mortimer and Wheeler in their book Indus Valley civilization written in 1950, s he attributed the rise of Indus Valley Civilization to the Middle Eastern influences. The research at Mehrgarh was done decades after that but the old passions die hard, the new evidence in Mehrgarh is not taken independently and the real place of Mehrgarh is denied due to lack of knowledge and wrong frames of reference.

Recent archaeological evidence especially from Mehrgarh has established that the Indus Civilization was essentially an indigenous development growing out of local cultures in an unbroken sequence from the Neolithic at the end of the eighth millennium BC, through the Chalcolithic (about 5000-3600 BC) and Early Harappan (about 3600-2600 BC) to the commencement of the Mature Harappan period in about 2550 BC.[10]

Mehrgarh has all the ingredients of indigenous and local civilization and symbolic expression of its originality, uniqueness to be placed as foremost place of human heritage and human endurance and struggle to survive in a permanently changing universe and globe.[11]

The domestication of animals began at Mehrgarh; the artifacts excavated from Mehrgarh substantiate this fact. The first pottery evidence is found in Mehrgarh.

The originality and local and indigenous nature of Mehrgarh is beyond any doubt and there is need to accept it as such not on the bases of nationalistic or ethnic point of view but upon the bases of rational and logical scientific evidence which is in abundance in Mehrgarh to support the thesis of its indigenous growth and sprouting up.

The continuous flow and development of Mehrgarh was entirely local in its scope, development, technological and symbolic expressions. No doubt around 6000 BC there was human activity in Middle East and some areas of Turkey but the developmental level of Mehrgarh in art, symbolism, nature control, and technology was far more developed and continuous as compared to the pastoral, grazing communities of the Middle East and Turkey.

From Mehrgarh the flow of civilization travelled to other areas of Pakistan in the fertile plains of Indus with more hospitable condition and more refined conditions of the civilization taking inspiration and innovation to new heights from the local and independent source of Mehrgarh to its unique contours and expressions.

Indus civilization was most scattered and had a different scope and point of climax, but the uniqueness, originality of Mehrgarh will always hold the crown of pioneer in the journey of civilization in present day Pakistan’s past and hidden heritage!

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Mahmood Akhtar Mahmoodhttp://www.pak-times.com
Mahmood Akhtar Mahmood is 32 years old Pakistani serving in Consulate General of Pakistan Shanghai as Vice Consul. He holds Chartered Accountancy degree from Foundation ICAP Karachi, Pakistan. He holds Masters in History and Economics. He has served in Provincial Government of Punjab in Judiciary, Administration and Revenue Departments; also worked in United Nations Division in Foreign Office Islamabad. Besides working in Consulate General of Pakistan Shanghai he loves reading and writing.
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  1. Yes, Sharma , that is truth , and I hope to write series of articles to understand the cultural identity of the region.

    Next will be about Indus valley civilization, is under writing.

    thanks for reading and comments.


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