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Mehrgah was the site of one of the first settlement in the world. The settled form of life emerged at Mehrgarh in the 8th millennium BC. During its period of occupation progress was made in various fields, which ultimately led to the emergence of the Indus Civilization in the Indus Valley in third millennium BC.
Ancient Civilizations>Indus Civilization>Mehrgarh
MEHRGARH’S ROLE IN EMERGENCE OF INDUS CIVILIZATION
(Author, Freelance journalist & news analyst)
Key words: Early Settlements-Ancient Civilizations-Kachchi Plains-Indus Valley-Mehrgarh
Mehrgarh emerged as the first settlement in South Asia, and one of the first anywhere in the world, early in 8th millennium BC. It remained occupied for about 7000 years and attained the size of about 200 hectares. Because of its size and long period of occupation, Mehrgarh produced a much greater impact on the development of human society compared to any other early settlement anywhere in the world.
CLOSE CONNECTION WITH THE INDUS VALLEY
Mehrgarh is located in the Kachhi Plains of Eastern Baluchistan – an area, which is contiguous with the Plains of the Indus River. It therefore displays features, which are similar to those of the Indus Valley. The nearest modern settlement from Mehrgarh is the Dhadhar Village, which is just a few kilometres off the main road, which links this region with the Indus Valley in the east.
SUSTAINED PROGRESS AT MEHRGARH IN CRITICAL AREAS
During the long period of occupation at Mehrgarh from 7500 BC to 2000 BC, sustained progress was made in a number of important fields. This made it possible for semi-urban societies to emerge at Kot Diji and Amri in the Indus Valley in the period between 3000 BC and 2800 BC and a full-fledged Civilization to emerge at Moenjodaro and other settlements in the Indus Valley in the third millennium BC.
The contribution of Mehrgarh in critical areas, which facilitated the rise of Indus Civilization, is described below.
ESTABLISHMENT OF FOOD SUBSISTANCE BASE
Quite early the settlers at Mehrgarh, learnt to grow cereals and domesticate sheep and goats. The alluvial plains on the banks of the Bolan River provided ideal conditions for the cultivation of crops and the green pastures provided rich grazing grounds for raising livestock. Wheat and barley, which were selected for cultivation by these early settlers, subsequently became the staple food of the people in most areas in the Indus Valley.
Over the period of settlement at Mehrgarh techniques for production of food grains improved and there was substantial rise in the yields of food grains. Zebu humped cattle, goats and sheep were domesticated and systematically bred in an ever-increasing scale, which led to increased reliance on meat for food. By 5000 BC almost ninety percent of meat requirements were catered for by domestic animals.
The techniques for food production developed at Mehrgarh were sufficient to support an ever-growing population and to meet the requirements for exchange with other communities. Already by the fourth millennium BC, there was a substantial local population, which was engaged in pursuits other than agricultural. Also at that time there was substantial demand for food-grains from settlements, which were not so favourably placed and from nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes. By successfully meeting these demands, the foundations were being laid for developing other types of economic activities and eventually to move towards urbanization.
The systems and technology for agricultural production developed at Mehrgarh in the Neolithic period between 7000BC and 4000 BC became available to and were used by other inhabitants in the region. This led to the emergence of a vast number of settlements, not only in Baluchistan and in the Indus Valley, but also in Afghanistan and eastern Iran.
ESTABLISHMENT OF INDUSTRIAL BASE
Establishment of craft industries was an important factor in urbanization process. Excavations at Mehrgarh have revealed that, starting from a scratch in 7000 BC, the production of pottery and other ceramics reached the status of a full-fledged industry as early as 4000 BC. Also around that time, beads, ornaments and manufacturing tools were being produced on an industrial scale.
• Production of Pottery and Ceramics:
Pottery making occupied an important place in the economy of the ancient world. Clay, the basic material required for making pottery, was available in plenty in the immediate vicinity of the ancient settlements, which were all located near the banks of rivers. The plastic properties of clay made it easy for the early artisans to shape and form articles, which met their basic needs. Containers solved the problem of storage of grains and water. Pots made of clay made it so much easier to prepare and cook food and clay bowls and plates made serving food and eating so much more convenient. And when the basic necessities were taken care of, beautiful articles made from clay satisfied the aesthetic sense of the ancient inhabitants, as indeed they do in modern times, serving as important items for decoration.
Wheel turned process of making pottery was introduced in Mehrgarh early in sixth millennium BC. During almost 5000 years of continuous developments in the art and technology of making pottery at Mehrgarh, new technologies were evolved as less viable technologies were discarded. Mehrgarh was able to immerse itself into an artistic ocean, experimenting with different forms and shapes, different hues and colours and producing pottery in a large variety of sizes. Thus, when the Indus Civilization emerged in the Indus Valley around 2500 BC, it was able to capitalize on the extensive experience gained at Mehrgarh in this field. Together with diversified food resources, pottery manufacture became the mainstay of the Indus economy.
Quite early the people of Mehrgarh developed special techniques for mixing and kneading the basic materials. For making vessel out of clay and making them tough enough to retain their shape after drying and firing, they added certain coarse materials to the fine clay. Among the various types of materials used by Mehrgarh artisans to ‘temper’ the fine-grained sand obtained from the riverbanks were cow dung, gravel and powdered sherds. The artisans soon mastered the art of mixing the appropriate temper in the required quantity for the particular design of the vessel and kneading the mixture, to achieve the required degree of consistency.
Different workshops in Mehrgarh started producing different types of pottery using different types of equipment and gadgetry. A study of Mehrgarh pottery of different types indicates that over a period of time the process of making wheel turned pottery was refined and low, medium and high speeds of rotation were employed to meet the requirements of the type of pottery being produced.
In the early phases the raw vessels produced on the potter’s wheel were sun-dried. Sometime later the sun-dried vessels began to be baked in open fires. Early in the sixth millennium BC, further improvements in the hardening technology were introduced when kilns began to be used, which employed cow dung, wood and dried grass as fuel. Different types of kilns continued to be used at Mehrgarh in the period 6000-2000 BC. These included ovens similar to those used for baking bread, single chambered kilns and two-chambered kilns with separate firing chambers. The artisans were well aware of the temperature control requirements to produce the appropriate degree of hardness. They were also familiar with the effect of oxidizing and reducing atmospheres on the colour of pottery. The type of kilns and firing procedures developed at Mehrgarh were later used in the pottery workshops in the peak period of the Indus Civilization.
• Production of Female and Male Figurines and figurines of animals and their use for votive purposes:
A large variety of female figurines were produced at Mehrgarh since early times after pottery making commenced. Appliqué technique was commonly used for making parts of human bodies such as breasts, hair and eyes as well for ornaments worn by the figurines. These parts were made separately from the main body of the figurines and then pasted to the body. Mehrgarh and some other sites around Mehrgarh, particularly Nausharo, also produced figurines of male humans with elaborate headdresses and trousers. The animal figurines were mostly of bulls.
These human figurines found in such large numbers indicate that that the cult of mother-goddesses and the practice of using figurines of animals and humans figurines for votive purposes, were well established at Mehrgarh. These practices later became a part of the culture of pre-Indus settlements such as Kot Diji, as well as the Indus Civilization.
• Development & Production of Tools and implements:
A large variety of tools were developed by the artisans for use in the manufacture of pottery and other craft items. Initially most tools were made of stone. With improvement in skills and increase in the range of craft items, spatulas used in production of pottery and other tools began to be produced from the bones of animals. Also broken pieces of pottery and flaked stones were sharpened or smoothed for applications such as scraping and polishing.
• Production of Ornaments and Beads:
The artefacts recovered from the Neolithic burials and from excavations of construction pertaining to different phases of occupation provide evidence of local manufacture of different types of beautiful ornaments at Mehrgarh. The beads and pendants made from a variety of semi-precious stones and sea-shells have been found from the graves and there is further evidence of the extensive use of these ornaments in the shape of heavily adorned mother-goddess figurines found from various Neolithic sites in and around Mehrgarh.
DEVELOPMENT OF MINERAL RESOURCES
Mehrgarh played an important part in the development of mineral resources in Baluchistan and other regions to the west of Baluchistan. These sources for supply were fully exploited during the early period of the Indus Civilization when craft industries became an important tool in the urbanization process.
Chagai was tapped as an important source in south-western Baluchistan for the supply of copper, lapis lazuli and agate. The rich resources of Robat and Shah Bellaul in Iranian Baluchistan catered to the needs of the industries in Mehrgarh and later served as important sources of supply of copper to Moenjodaro and other Indus Civilization industrial centres. Mehrgarh used seashells from the Makran Coast of Southern Baluchistan, for making ornaments and tools, while white and yellow limestone supplied from several sites in Baluchistan was commonly used by artisans of Mehrgarh for the painting of pottery.
From the earliest times, Mehrgarh had been in contact with regions to the west of Baluchistan. It was therefore able to tap the material resources of Afghanistan, eastern Iran and Turkmenistan. The Hilmand Valley region around Kandahar was rich in gold, copper and tin; turquoise, although not very extensively used by the Indus craftsmen, was available to the Mehrgarh artisans from Nishapur in Khorasan. The region between the Kabul and Khurram Rivers in Central Afghanistan and Badakhshan in north-eastern Afghanistan were rich in minerals and these regions were known to be in trading contact with Mehrgarh and other settlements in Baluchistan.
ESTABLISHMENT OF A GATEWAY FOR EXTERNAL TRADE
In the pre-Indus Civilization period and even in the early period of the Indus Civilization, Mehrgarh and other settlements belonging to the Mehrgarh Regional Complex played a very important part external trade of the Indus Valley as well as Baluchistan. Infact most of the trade was controlled and regulated by the merchants of the Mehrgarh-Quetta Region. The cultural entities in south-central Baluchistan were also involved in trade and cultural exchanges with settlement in the western bordering areas, such as Bampur in Iranian Baluchistan and Mundigak in south-western Afghanistan.
The involvement of Mehrgarh in the external trade of the Indus Civilization was only reduced after the Indus State established trading posts such as Shortughai and Aq Tabruk in northern Afghanistan.
DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGIES FOR CONSTRUCTION
Substantial progress was made at Mehrgarh in the technology for design and construction of buildings for various applications. Initially the buildings at Mehrgarh were crude simple one room structures, which were used for residential a well as storage purposes. The technology and design of buildings gradually improved