History Series Podcast: Episode 3 – All about IVC

Episode 3 of The History of the Indian Sub-continent series takes us to the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). Our panel journeys from the banks of the Oxus River to the Deccan plateau. We connect the genetic and archaeological dots, speculate about people whose scripts we are yet to decipher, talk about what they did for a living, their towns, and what are the missing blocks in our understanding of that age. The Dancing girl from Harappa makes an appearance as do textiles and we ask if the great bath of Mohenjo Daro was really the great bath or was it something else.
Joining Maneesh Taneja in this conversation are Razib Khan, Gaurav Lele, Mukunda Raghvan, and Shrikantha Krishnamacharya.

We look forward to your comments and feedback.

Speakers & their Twitter handles: Razib Khan – @razibkhan, Gaurav Lele- @gaurav_lele, Mukunda Raghvan- @raghman36, Shrikanth Krishnamachry – @shrikanth_krish and Maneesh Taneja- @maneesht

Episode 3 – All about IVC

You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Links to the previous podcasts: Episode 1; Episode 2;

Also, find this supplementary blog post: Some miscellaneous points about Indian Prehistory

Links to Sources/Reference Material:

Harappa.com is arguably the best source of all information about the IVC.

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12 thoughts on “History Series Podcast: Episode 3 – All about IVC”

  1. I have said this before, but I will re-iterate interesting thing about the IVC was that most mature sites were made on virgin soil, quite unlike the organic growth model in Mesopotamia. Also, while I don’t know a whole lot about the Balkan copper age cultures, it looks like they didn’t have major public monuments either but there were some extremely rich graves in those cultures. Regarding the role of steppe migration in decline of the IVC, I agree with Gaurav: this depends on the timing, if the steppe migration happened around 2000 bc, then it can be a contributing factor but if it is 1500 bc then that is hundreds of years after the cities had declined and been abandoned. One important point of nuance about the toolkit that Gaurav mentioned: the wheat found in Mehrgarh must have been imported since it isn’t local (he is right about this), but the barley was naked undomesticated local wild barley, not a part of the imports. So in the list of the toolkit, I think Gaurav should have mentioned this.

    1. @ DaThang

      Reproducing one my past comments on Wheat

      Wheat grains have been archaeologically attested at Mehrgarh in the period 7000 yBP. The finds were discrete enough for researchers to confirm the exact cultivar (T. Monococcum, T. Diococcum and several others). Within the interior of India, it is first attested in Bihar (Chirand) in 5500 yBP. From there it is next found at Ter and Inamgaon in Maharashtra by 4500 yBP. We can infer from the evidence that wheat is well established throughout India – beginning somewhere in the Northwestern part in the Neolithic and ending in the South by the Early Chalcolithic. For a more detailed reading of the cultivar history in India, I recommend the 1985 VP Kulshreshtha paper, “History and ethnobotany of wheat in India”.

      A single glance at the different words for wheat in various IE languages will tell you that it is an adopted child. In other words, the PIE homeland did not know wheat. Or at least, wheat was not in vogue when the last branch left the PIE homeland. This also rules out the possibility of the Fertile Crescent being a candidate for the homeland.

      Latin – Triticum
      German – Weizen
      Dutch – Tarwe
      Greek – Sitos/Sitari
      Russian – Pshenitsa
      Sanskrit – Godhuma

      If you look at the Dravidian words for wheat, they also tell a story

      Kannada – Godhi
      Telugu – Godhuma
      Tamil – Godhumai
      Malayalam – Gothambu

      A parsimonious explanation covering all the three areas of archaeology, ethnobotany and philology is very much at hand. The earliest cultivators of wheat in India were the north-western IE speaking peoples beginning in the late Neolithic (5000 BCE). It then spread to the Gangetic Basin by 3500 BCE. From there, the crop spread to South India carrying along with it the loan of the Sanskrit word.

      1. >A parsimonious explanation covering all the three areas of archaeology, ethnobotany and philology is very much at hand. The earliest cultivators of wheat in India were the north-western IE speaking peoples beginning in the late Neolithic (5000 BCE). It then spread to the Gangetic Basin by 3500 BCE.

        It entered India through the Northwest due to trade with the Middle East. From Jarrige 2006: ” Lorenzo Costantini has shown that the plant
        assemblage of Period I is dominated by naked sixrow barley which accounts for more than 90% of the so far recorded seeds and imprints.7 He has also pointed out the sphaerococcoid form of the naked-barley grains with a short compact spike with shortened internodes and small rounded seeds. According to him, such characteristics in the aceramic Neolithic levels can be ascribed to probably cultivated but perhaps not fully domesticated plants. Domestic hulled six-row barley (H. vulgare, subsp. vulgare) and wild and domestic hulled two-row barley (H.vulgare subsp. spontaneum and H. vulgare subsp.distichum) have also been recorded, but in much smaller quantities. According to Zohary8 quoted by R.H. Meadow,9 the distribution of wild barley extends today to the head of the Bolan Pass. It is therefore likely that local wild barleys could have been brought under cultivation in the Mehrgarh area. Costantini has also identified a small amount of domestic einkorn (hulled: Triticum monococcum), domestic emmer (hulled: T. turgidum subsp. dicoccum) and a free-threshing form which can be referred to as Triticum durum (Fig. 10). So far no morphological wild wheat has been identified in South Asia. Therefore the small amount of wheat seeds at Mehrgarh, Period I, needs further explanation since obviously wheat has not a great significance in the agricultural activities of the aceramic period.”

        Period 1 is from ~7,000 BC to 5,500 BC. While Barley, and especially six-row Barley can be ascribed to a local wild source, the same cannot be done for wheat. The wheat varieties in the earliest records of Mehrgarh were Einkorn, Emmer and a selected variety of Emmer (T. Durum). Earliest Einkorn is attested from Southern Anatolia, from over 8,000 BC and the earliest Emmer is also domesticated in the Levant and Southern Anatolian regions also from around 8,000 BC. The earliest use of wild undomesticated wheat in the levant goes back to over 20,000 years ago by Kebarans. The wheat in Mehrgarh appears without a wild antecessor in the region, it shows up domesticated and only in small numbers from period 1. The logical conclusion is that it must be an import from the Middle/Near east since there is no wild variety in Mehrgarh and the domesticated variety was already there in the Near East at least 8,000 BC.

        I don’t understand why you don’t look at the evidence for the arrival into South Asia by trade and instead talk about some PIE association which has nothing to do with the origin of wheat.

        >In other words, the PIE homeland did not know wheat. Or at least, wheat was not in vogue when the last branch left the PIE homeland. This also rules out the possibility of the Fertile Crescent being a candidate for the homeland.

        The PIE languages didn’t come from the Fertile Crescent so this is a moot point. Why would PIE speakers originating in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe be associated with the evolution of a crop in the Fertile Crescent? Especially one that originated long before PIE even existed, and by the time of PIE it would have been known to many different language families (we know the Middle East was very linguistically diverse).

        1. The inconsistency is with the supposed AIT/AMT influx only in 1500 BCE. Indian farmers were not waiting for the Steppes foragers to show up with a IE word for wheat.

          Indus farmers (2400 BCE) were already multi-cropping rice, millets & beans in summer/Barley, wheat & pulses in winter. They followed this pattern for close on to 600 years.


          In fact, at 1700 BCE – wheat is already in Bidar, Karnataka.

          So how does one square this with the uniform Sanskrit word (godhuma) for wheat in both IE and Dravidian families which was supposedly framed only in 1200 BCE (Witzel)?

          The Western Indology dates for the Vedic corpus are in total discord with the archaeological and ethnobotanical evidence.

          1. Just to be clear- none of that has any bearing on the introduction of wheat into India during the neolithic. Now as for why Sanskrit’s word is similar to that of Dravidian languages- because both languages got the word from a common source- in the Indus valley. IVC people, even after their decline in the post-mature period were farmers and so at least some farming terminology would be borrowed from them by a less intensive agricultural migrant population. The Dravidian languages likely came from northern India as well- not far north but like in the northern half or from the southern periphery of the northern half. Even if Indus Valley and related zones (eastern, western and other zones) weren’t Dravidian speaking, they, as the main focal point of South Asian agriculture in the neolithic, copper age and bronze age would be the source of influence for more liminal groups.
            In all likelihood, the pre-South Asian entry word for wheat that proto-Sanskrit or pre-Sanskrit had would have been replaced with the local South Asian word for it.

          2. @DaThang

            Wheat, Rice have been in widespread agricultural usage in the Seven Rivers, Gangetic regions and South India for close on 1500 years before the supposed Steppes influx.

            Closely connected to the agricultural revolution is the use of iron ploughshares. At Dadupur near Lucknow, Stuiver and Reimer (1993) found iron implements dated to 1600 BCE (secure C14 dating).

            Yet we have the Rgveda situated in the AIT timeline at 1500 BCE. Listing out all the incongruencies –

            1. Rice and Wheat are widespread throughout North India. Yet Rgveda does not mention them – only barley (yava) and millets (dhanya)

            2. Iron Age already widespread in Gangetic Plains by 1600 BCE (Rakesh Tewari, 2003). Yet Rgveda know only Bronze.

            3. Saraswati has ceased to exist for almost a 1000 years. Yet Rgveda mentions it.

            All of these require “special pleading” to exist in the AIT timelines.

          3. I am extremely bored of the OIT_AIT debate which has fascinated me for years now – so didnt blog about it – we recently had a podcast with Kushal Razib and some more about this – it might come out in few weeks – its a very long episode and lot of digressions.

            Lots of things up in the air – especially with circumstantial evidences Sarasvati or lack of Rice in RV (also a point against eastern 3000 BCE 6 mandala point made by Talageri).
            Also I agree the timelines make more sense when RV is placed around 2000 BCE.

            Frankly without Genetics and Linguistic data – i would favor OIT like model or atleast AIT before 2500BCE.

            But we have to address the 10-15% Genetic ancestry in the Elites of India (20-30% in the Brahmanas of the north) also the R1A preponderance (where is the alleged paper by Rai and Chaubey ?).

            Frankly I have engaged a lot with Talageri thoughts – found some compelling -some circumstantial and some unconvincing.
            I went throught mandala 6-3-7 which he claims around 3000 BCE – Ganga to Sarasvati => All the references to ratha i found were coupled with Asva – and many had adjectives descriptions like speed, Indra defeating enemies etc. So i dont necessarily buy the all old references to ratha are carts and all old asva are non horse equids – even if the TL are set aside.
            But refuting it would require meta analysis and help of the Oldenberg analysis (even if it has to be refuted).
            Also absolutely no archaeological records before 2000 BCE in gangetic plains which point to complexity .
            Especially without outward demographics, I just cant think of a way languages can spread in pre modern societies (given what we know of demographics of europe) without military conquests.

            I am bored to write these thoughts in a well thought out blogposts – maybe i will in coming days

          4. @Gaurav_L

            I find the AIT_OIT debate to be a gateway drug to newer scientific enquiries, many of which would have never crossed my path. Genetics, hydromorphology, archaeoastronomy, epigraphy, crop domestication, cryptography……

            The dating of the Rgveda is by a consensus mechanism, with excessive emphasis on textual consistency/drift. It does not meet the scientific criterion of repeatability. Ask 15 scholars, they will give 15 dissonant dates.

            Only the OIT side is dabbling in lateral thinking to uproot the 1500 BCE date. The most charitable thing I can say about the AIT camp, is that they are status quoist. They would actually prefer that no new information come to light lest the 1500 BCE date is nullified.

            I am fine with the genetics data – it proves that the Steppes people only came in 1500 BCE (or later). Good timing in my opinion! Too late to worship the Saraswati river in full flow. Or build the IVC cities. Or domesticate the zebu bull (Shiva’s faithful steed, Nandi).

          5. how would you look at theory RV as composition by local priests who learned Sanskrit and became Brahmanas and Kshatriyas. In a way these local domesticated the steppe barbarians.

            Mainly because no major linguist apart from Kazanas agrees at RV Sanskrit being closer to the root of PIE. The phylogeny of IE languages is not bulletproof – but i think there is consensus of IA as later branch

          6. @GauravL

            The internal structure of the Rgveda falsifies the academic consensus of the phylogeny of IE languages. To be precise, in a very accurate spatial fashion.

            There is universal consensus about the Rgveda’s internal classification into Old (Family) books and New books. Almost every scholar, whether Western or Indian agrees that Books 2,3,4,6,7 are the oldest layers of the Rgveda.

            1. The rivers of India occur in the Old Books in this order – first the Gangetic cousins (Ganga, Yamuna), then the Indus family.

            2. All the common cognates and names between the Iranian and Indian branches occur in the New Books, but not in the Old Books.

            It is quite clear that the composers kept expanding outwards from the Gangetic Plains into the Indus regions. This was the central contribution of Talageri’s beautiful thesis. You can check it yourself. The data is there.

            The nemesis of linguistic phylogeny (relativism) is linguistic determinism. Cultural and environmental factors strongly determine the expressible ideas in a language. Material conditions have extraordinary influence.

            Rgveda is first and foremost a religious text, NOT an exercise in linguistic excellence. The religious ideas in the Brahmanas are non-pareil.

            There is qualified atheism in the Rgveda, the branching of monism, eschatological innovation!! This is the output of a sedentary, settled, high-surplus river culture. Impossible for the weak, low-intensity, foraging Steppes culture to produce such profound metaphysical thoughts.

  2. I have heard about some dancing figure in Bhimbetka caves with a trident, though I don’t know which period it belongs. Clarification on that would be useful to relate it to any later figures.
    In the IVC- the western part shows clear Middle Eastern cultural influences like the Gilgamesh motif, I don’t know if it made its way to the eastern part or not.

    As far as I know, the mother goddess-like figurines are also mostly in the western part, this also looks like it is because of post-neolithic middle-eastern influence.

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