Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Archaeological sites

Renowned archaeologist Prof. B. B. Lal had first excavated the ancient city of Sisupalgarh in 1948 and then he had referred Sisupalgarh to be a 2000-year-old fortified township.

The Hindu

Nearly 50 years after, two researchers R. K. Mohanty of Pune-based Deccan College and Monica L. Smith of University of California started excavating a portion where they claim to have exposed 18 previously unknown pillars and several associated structures on a mound within the fortification wall. During current excavation several artefacts and urban structure of pre-historic period also came to the light.

Though archaeologists and anthropologists continue to emphasise on the fact that Sishupalgarh is unique, there has been no attempt on part of the State Government to protect and preserve the site. New constructions are coming up within 20 metre to 30 metre distance of monuments. “Entire Sishupalgarh is said to be a fort area. However, land patches have been systematically transferred in the name of private individuals."

And more than five years ago:
Lost City of Cambay
For archaeologists the word certainty is an oxymoron. The origin of the glass bangle was initially believed to have been the result of Indo-Roman contacts in the 1st century A.D. Then bangles were found among the painted greyware of Hastinapur dating 7 B.C. The ornament's antiquity and origin was pushed further back when they were more recently found in Harappan settlements of 2000 B.C.

As S.P. Gupta, chairman of the Indian Archaeological Society, says, "Nothing is static. Dates are constantly being revised by newer findings. The discovery of the Harappan site of Dholavira in Gujarat, for instance, pushed all our dates back by 1,000 years."

Oceanographers from the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) while taking routine sonar photographs off the coast of Gujarat unknowingly photographed the ruins of a vast ancient city submerged 40 m under the sea. Last fortnight, after spending weeks dredging the site and picking up over 2,000 artefacts, the NIOT team made some astonishing revelations.

It found that the ruins under the sea were strung across a 9-km stretch on the banks of an ancient riverbed which even had signs of a masonry dam. The submerged city bore striking similarities to Indus Valley Civilisation sites in the mainland. One of its structures, the size of an Olympics swimming pool, had a series of sunken steps that looked like the Great Bath of Mohenjodaro. Another rectangular platform was 200 m long and 45 m wide-as big as the acropolis found in Harappa. A larger granary-like structure made of mud plaster and extending to 183 m was discernible.

The real stunner came when the team sent samples of a fossilised log of chopped wood to two premier Indian laboratories-the Birbal Shahni Institute of Paleobotany (BSIP) in Lucknow and the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) in Hyderabad-to determine its antiquity. The BSIP dated it as 5500 B.C. But the NGRI found its sample to be much older: possibly dating back to 7500 B.C.

In the Indian subcontinent, the only evidence of large agricultural settlements dating back to 7500 B.C. were discovered in Mehrgarh in the Bolan river valley in Baluchistan, now in Pakistan. But as S.R. Rao, India's most experienced marine archaeologist, points out, there is no evidence of parallel development of the hinterland in Saurashtra to support the growth of a big city like Cambay during that period. Rao, who was called in by the NIOT team to examine the evidence, concedes that it does show the existence of a prehistoric site. That would make Cambay at least the oldest known settlement in India.

Others believe that if validated, the findings could lead to a paradigm shift in the basic premises that Indian history has been built on. Delhi University historian Nayanjot Lahiri is "excited by the possibilities" and says that it could give the heave-ho to the diffusion theory of civilisation that proposes urbanisation spread from West Asia to the Indus and thence downwards to India.

Read more on the ancient ruins discovered five years ago and ask why nothing further has been heard of from this site ever since the fall of the NDA government? Also go through the story of how the oceanographers went about their work:
Sending divers 40 m deep to collect samples is a trying proposition. The exploration of Dwarka in 1981 looks like child's play compared to this operations. Divers could spend a long time underwater collecting material from the Dwarka site, which is just 5 m deep. In the Gulf of Cambay, the tidal variations are up to 11 m, which means that a four-storey building will get submerged twice a day. Even expert divers from the Indian Navy cannot stay underwater for more than 20 minutes in the interregnum between the tides. Hence, the need for ROVs and sea-bed crawlers.