Indus Valley on Tides of History

Patrick Wyman interviewing a specialist on the IVC. Pretty interesting, though I’m mildly skeptical of the idea of what seems like a pre-state primitive democracy being the political system in the IVC.

6 thoughts on “Indus Valley on Tides of History”

  1. I read “Killing the Priest-King” a while back and was quite impressed with the investigation of the cultural homogeneity and missing markers of elites in the Indian Bronze Age. So very happy to hear this interview of Adam Green in a bit more detail. Thanks to Razib for posting on Brown Pundits.

    While I agree with the author’s contention that John Marshall’s insight about elites (or the lack of) still holds true for the IVC, social insights from unrelated fields should make us pause.

    The primary one is the discovery of multi-cropping at Rakhigarhi (Bates, Petrie) – that dated rice cultivation (as a summer crop) to 2400 BCE. If we combine this insight with that of Talhelm – that rice farming societies have higher social norms and are tightly linked – then it follows that the IVC cities might have “not been egalitarian” at all.

    I, for one, think that the Indian civilizational continuum continues to place relevance on group allegiance and continuity and it would be discordant to project egalitarianism on the IVC. It is similar to the Confucian value system which values collectivism and harmony over individualism (another rice-growing brother society).

    Regarding the material homogeneity itself, my favourite one is Irawati Karve’s who hypothesized the beginning of the varna-kula (caste) continuum in the IVC. Quite a lot of Indian archaeologists have continued to work within this hypothesis.

    An Indian twitter user found Lamberg-Karlovsky’s supposition about the cultural homogeneity of the IVC. Reproducing it here –

    “Not only is there a uniformity of culture, but the physical layout of the community is replicated irrespective of whether it is the 5-acre site of Allahdino or the 150 acre site of Mohenjo-Daro. Lamberg-Karlovsky believes this “enigma” can be adequately explained by supposing that only an exceptional social organization such as the caste system can account for this. ”

    Another minor nitpick – It’s time to move beyond the moniker of the IVC and upgrade the term with the latest archaeological findings. Rakhigarhi – which is turning out to be the IVC’s largest city ever – is not even in the Indus river basin!! It is in the middle of the Ghaggar Hakra river basin, which was mapped by British cartographers in the 18th century as the Sarsuti (Saraswati).

    Rakhigarhi is already the site for ground-breaking papers such as the Bates-Petrie paper (rice) or the Narasimhan-Shinde (genetics). The secret of Rakhigarhi is that the spatial separation in cultures (Early, Mature, Late) is also separated physically.

    BTW, the archaeologist Manjul (of Sinauli fame) is currently leading a multi-year excavation at Rakhigarhi. We can expect critical breakthroughs.

    1. IVC wasn’t as much of a rice grower as the Chinese were. Rice does have a noticeable presence but in some sites only. Barley is consistently common and wheat appears to be more common than rice.
      This is more like the Northern Chinese neolithic which was a dead end in that region than like the Southern Chinese rice growing neolithic which became the foundation of later cultures in China.

  2. is it possible that things like Ramayan etc existed among IVC people like a folklore or something ? and is it possible to know what was their contribution to indic spirituality ?

  3. The link looks off, the previous episode/installment is the IVC episode. The one linked here is an ad.

  4. Instead of a small circles of elite, how about a portion of the population as the elite? 10% for example represents a small fraction but still a sizeable number of people for differential importance in society. The graves aren’t extravagant like Pyramids but there are obvious differences in the material goods found in burials, this much cannot be denied. It could relate to a corresponding diluted power, but since the goods aren’t uniform in wealth, the power/functionality wouldn’t be diluted equally to every single person in the IVC. The issue seems to be a narrow understanding of what is an elite instead of elitism vs egalitarianism. If a small amount of people didn’t have a lot of wealth, then a scenario with wealthy patrons working with artisans on large personal projects would be less common, but if a portion of the population (like 1/10th) had the same total wealth as would-be ultra rich patrons, they could enforce craft traditions in both the vertical and horizontal guild organization. Not saying this is what happened, but I think it is a viable explanation.

    A summed up alternative hypothesis: Instead of a single family or a small group of families, something like a class of the overall society holding clout and the other classes/groups/proto-castes/guilds being organized in a structured manner (overseeing both vertical hierarchy and horizontal relations). This can work well with what was discussed in the episode.

    One way to reconcile the gap between the gradual decline vs immediate changes in rainfall: with this change, either new strategies or existing strategies (which weren’t dominant prior to the 4.2 kiloyear event) outcompeted the increasingly burdensome big settlement societal pattern which was getting harder to maintain over time. When it gave way, the transport networks would have broken down (as the guest says- the long distance interaction networks of things like stones go away with the IVC). In its place, the newer/alternate societal strategies would have brought their own peculiarities like developing upon the existing material traditions (as the guest says- craft traditions continuing on, making new things and elaborating on traditions common in height of IVC).

    1. @Dathang

      Brother, you seem quite knowledgeable about the IVC. Do you have any social media/e-mail where i can communicate with you? I wanted to learn about our heritage.

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