Social Change at the Harappan Settlement of Gola Dhoro: A Reading from Animal Bones

By Chase, Brad | Antiquity, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Social Change at the Harappan Settlement of Gola Dhoro: A Reading from Animal Bones


Chase, Brad, Antiquity


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Introduction

The Indus civilisation (c. 2600-1900 BC) integrated several distinct regions into one of the world's first state-level societies. As Harappa, Mohenjodaro, and several other population centres in the alluvial plains of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river systems emerged as large walled cities, many of the distinctive styles of material culture developed there came to be widely distributed in adjoining regions, such as Gujarat, where they had no local antecedents (Figure 1). While this is clear evidence that the residents of Gujarat during this period came to participate in inter-regional interaction networks to a greater extent than had previously been the case, the social processes by which they came to be incorporated into South Asia'S first urban society remain the subject of considerable debate.

Gola Dhoro, a small (~2ha) settlement situated on the northern coast of the peninsula of Saurashtra, is an ideal site at which to investigate these issues. Analyses of faunal remains from the site show how increased participation in inter-regional interaction networks is associated, firstly, with changes in the pastoral economies that provided the residents of the site with an important category of subsistence goods and, secondly, with changes in residents' domestic practices, specifically those relating to the consumption and preparation of meat.

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The Indus civilisation in Gujarat

The developmental trajectory of the Indus civilisation in Gujarat during the formative Regionalisation Era (c. 3500-2600 BC) (Shaffer 1992) stands in stark contrast to that known from the alluvial valleys of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra rivers in Sindh and the Punjab. In these latter regions, studies of material culture (Mughal 1990) and excavations at sites such as Harappa (Meadow & Kenoyer 2008) demonstrate the clear and gradual development of what has come to be known as Harappan material culture and social practice. In contrast, the bulk of durable material culture from the relatively few excavated sites in Gujarat that date to this period is stylistically and technologically distinct from that known from Sindh and the Punjab (Ajithprasad 2002). While relatively little is yet known regarding the organisation of the pastoral economy practiced in Gujarat during this period, it is nevertheless clear that the residents of the region exploited domestic sheep, goat, cattle and water buffalo (Meadow & Patel 2003). The interpretation of many Regionalisation Era sites in Gujarat as pastoral encampments (Bhan 1994) and the occasional presence at these sites of pottery common in Sindh and the Punjab, has led to the hypothesis of a migration of pastoral peoples from Sindh during this period (Possehl 2007). These migrants would have encountered autochthonous populations who may have been responsible for the recently proposed indigenous domestication of several species of millet in this region (Fuller 2006).

The emergence of walled cities, the development of the as-yet-undeciphered Indus script, distinctive ceramic forms and decorative motifs, urban architectural technologies, and the production of a wide variety of distinctive personal ornaments signal the beginning of the Integration Era (c. 2600-1900 BC) (Kenoyer 1998; Possehl 2002). Urban growth in the alluvial floodplains of the Indus Valley was concomitant with the widespread distribution of Harappan material culture in adjoining regions, such as Gujarat, that were source areas for the semi-precious stones and marine shells from which many of the most distinctive and highly valued Harappan ornaments were crafted. Although this set of inter-related processes is generally understood as the first emergence of state-level society in South Asia, considerable debate remains regarding Indus political organisation during this period (e.g. Kenoyer 1994; Possehl 1998).

In Gujarat, Harappan material culture is most conspicuous at the large (~50ha) walled city of Dholavira (Bisht 2000) and at a network of about 25 small (<10ha) settlements (Sonawane 2005) including the excavated sites of Kanmer (Kharakwal et al.

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