Monday, 28 March 2016

Continuity of Harappan culture in Sindh and the intriguing case of the copper plates

I have just found a significant paper of 2012 by Rafique Mughal on archaeological research in Sindh about the so-called Jhukar culture of the beginning of the 2nd mill. BC. Like Kenoyer about Harappa, he shows how this culture is in strong continuity with the previous 'Harappan' phase:
Most recent research has confirmed that the onset of decline or Late Harappan period or phase of the Indus Civilization did signal a number of changes in the material culture but the basic Indus cultural fabric continued to survive for a considerable length of time in a very large area of Sindh and southeastern Baluchistan. 
Mughal speaks of his excavations at Jhukar: 

The new evidence changed our understanding and perspective of the Late Indus/Harappan Cultural period in the lower or Souther Indus Valley. It was found that the Indus ceramics as known from Mohenjo-daro and other cities were present in all the layers at Jhukar and found mixed with the new or modified forms of pottery which are labeled as "Jhukar" in the literature. [...] There were less than ten percent new pottery types but all these types were found associated with 80% of the Mature Harappan or Indus pottery. The evidence was almost conclusive to establish for the first time that the Jhukar culture is only a pottery style emerging in association with the continuing Mature Indus ceramic tradition without any break or sudden change in cultural continuity in Sindh. 
 There was a change in the disappearance of square seals, substituted by round ones, similar to those found in the Persian gulf (Bahrein). The script continued to be used on pottery, which is a remarkable fact. Mughal also speaks of the wide relations of the Indus sites with Balochistan and Central Asia, especially the Bactria-Margiana, all areas that belong in my opinion to the Indo-Iranian cultural domain. On the other hand, in the Jhukar period there were relations with Gujarat and even Rajasthan (Gilund) but not apparently with Punjab. Thus the unity of the vast Mature Harappan net was broken.

About the crisis of the urban civilization in Sindh, Mughal sees the main factor in the change of course of Indus and Hakra (Nara in Sindh) caused by tectonic movements. He also cites the earthquake of 1819 in lower Indus valley causing mass migrations. But we must consider also the change in rains and the aridification around the beginning of the 2nd mill. BC.

While in a past publication of 1992 he saw a complete end of Harappan "cultural mosaic" after Jhukar, here Mughal concludes, like B.B. Lal, with the continuity of "Indus traditions" and also people up to the present:
Even today, many Indus traditions continue to survive in art form and daily life of the people. For example, the use of shell bangles on the upper and lower parts of arms recalls the style of famous bronze dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro. The short-wheeled bullock carts of present-day Sindhi farmers are precisely identical in shape with those found at the Indus culture sites. The facial features of many local people in Sindh very much resemble those of the famous "King-Priest" of Mohenjo-daro. Such examples demonstrate survival of several aspects of the Indus Civilization since the third millennium BCE that would link the past with the present and also future.    

Probably he was alluding to someone like this modern rural Sindhi (from here).
This continuity suggests that the general abandonment of sites in Sindh following Jhukar did not mean a disappearance of the local culture, we can imagine at least a survival of some rural communities using carts and shell bangles, also present in Rajasthan and Gujarat. More specific is the survival of ancient kinds of boats depicted also on Indus tablets, and the Ajrak or blockprinted shawls that have been recognized in the garment of the so-called King-Priest of Mohenjo-daro.
A similar trefoil motif can still be found on some modern ajraks (from here, cf. here):

It is interesting that the technique of ajrak has been cited in a recent paper by V. Shinde and R.J. Willis about some particular copper plates from a private collection in Pakistan, with Indus script and animal and human-like figures comparable with Harappan seals and tablets. 

About these plates, the authors write:
The proposal that this unique set of copper plates was designed for printing is indeed radical, but offers the most obvious reason for their existence. The principles of printing were perhaps known to Indus Valley artisans through the ancient technique of ajrakh, printing fabric with woodblock designs. It is possible that the copper plates were created firstly to maintain a permanent record of the standard designs on seals and tablets, and furthermore provide a cheap and portable means to distribute standard designs to craftsmen that carved seals in the Indus Valley region.
Copper plates with inscriptions are an important aspect of ancient Indian epigraphy (see here), but apparently not for printing. In this case, the authors think that they were used for printing because the script is 'mirrored' as in the seals. They have even tried to print with a plate on tussah silk and parchment, with good results. An example is here on tussah silk:

Ajrak printing is done with wooden carved blocks, made from Acacia Arabica trees, indigenous to Sindh (see here). We can suppose that already in Indus times they used such wood for textile printing, which went completely lost like cloth or leather. We can even wonder if the seals were not used also as stamps with ink, and if in post-Harappan times they continued to be used in wood instead of steatite. Anyway, the aspects of continuity between the civilization that flourished in the Sindhu and Sarasvati valleys during the 3rd millennium BC and the later South Asian culture are remarkable, and suggest that, despite crises and natural calamities, the civilization flowed without breaks, like a majestic river.   

A traditional bullock cart and flat bottomed ferry boat used for local transport along the Indus River near the ancient site of Mohenjo-daro, Sindh (

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Sumerian and Indo-European: a multifarious connection

In my first post on this topic, I focused on an exploration of the connections between Sumerian and Indo-European roots and words, neglecting the possible connections with other linguistic families except some citations of Akkadian or Kartvelian parallels.

But checking these other connections is important in order to ascertain if an apparent Sumerian/Indo-European parallel is not a loan or a specific relation, but only the appearance of two results of a root which is spread in a much wider area.
Sumerian, in its apparent isolation, has been compared with very different linguistic families. One is even Austric, which seems especially strong in grammatical morphology (see here).
A more lexical comparison has been made with Dravidian, by Boisson and Sathasivam (see here).
This comparison has also been widened to Afro-Asiatic (see here).
And finally to the so called 'Nostratic', involving all these families except Austric (see here).

Some Sumerian words that we have compared with Indo-European are traced also in other linguistic families, like tab 'to burn' or zalag 'to shine' in Austric, tag 'to touch' in Afro-Asiatic and Dravidian, kur 'mountain' in Austric and Afro-Asiatic, and so on.

This can suggest that both Sumerian and Indo-European belong to a broad (Southern) Asian linguistic area, and impose caution about direct connections. But if we discover that a parallel is found only between Sumerian and Indo-European, there are more probabilities that the direct connection is there.

Another point to be considered is the possibility that different Indo-European languages lent words to Sumerian, kentum and satem for instance, in different periods.