Chalcolithic and Modern Potting at Gilund, Rajasthan: A Cautionary Tale

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Introduction

The Ahar-Banas Complex (Shinde & Possehl 2005) initially termed the Ahar culture (Sankalia et al. 1969) is the earliest farming-based culture in Rajasthan and dates to the Chalcolithic period (c. 3600 BC-1800 BC). The principal excavated sites are Gilund, Ahar, Balathal and Ojiyana (Figure 1). The Ahar-Banas culture was economically and technically advanced, and featured public architecture like the fortified enclosure and boundary wall in Balathal and the warehouse and fortification in Gilund, which would have required large-scale mobilisation of labour (Misra 2007). Recent evidence from the site of Balathal and Gilund suggests that the Ahar-Banas Complex came into being before the Harappan period. The first hint of village life in western India- at the site of Balathal--can be traced back to the middle of the fourth millennium BC (Shinde 2002).

An important characteristic of the Ahar-Banas culture, and of Gilund in particular, was its well-developed pottery industry. It was while studying the Chalcolithic assemblages at Gilund that the author also became aware of the modern potters practicing there, whose pots had many points of similarity with those of the third millennium BC. Although direct equations between two such widely spaced periods are not likely to be valid, there may be rewards in comparing them. For example, the technology, social organisation and family commitments of the present community may have ethnoarchaeological analogies to offer which may prove helpful in the interpretation of the Chalcolithic period. It also became evident that this was likely to be the last generation of potters to remain engaged in active production at Gilund. For this reason the documentation of this community took on a sense of urgency, and could result in a valuable contribution to the ethnography of Mewar (Nagar 1967; Saraswati & Behura 1966; Kramer 1997; Mishra 2008).

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Chalcolithic Gilund

At 25ha, Gilund is the largest of 111 reported sites of the Ahar-Banas Complex. It is situated in the wide fertile valley of the Banas River, about 1km north of the modern village of Gilund. The archaeological site is part of the modem village, which is roughly 120km to the north-east of Udaipur in Rajsamand district, at the southern end of the 'Khetri copper belt'. The site has a special place in the protohistoric archaeology of India. Nearly 45 years ago, one season's excavation by B.B. Lal of the Archaeological Survey of India brought to light previously unknown features of the Chalcolithic culture of South Asia. These included the use of burnt bricks for construction and a unique parallel-walled mud-brick structure (IAR 1959-60). These discoveries indicated that the site had great potential for future research work on Chalcolithic Mewar.

Since 1999, the University of Pennsylvania has participated with Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute in a multi-disciplinary research project at Gilund. During these excavations, the site became famous after the startling discovery of an underground clay bin containing over 100 seal impressions, which excavators believe have parallels with the Bactriana-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) of northern Afghanistan and Central Asia (Possehl et a/. 2004). However, a present study on the sealings from Gilund by Ameri (2010) asserts that these sealings reflect the shifting pattern of Indo-Iranian contact. Apart from these seals, a large variety of pottery vessels and terracotta objects have been found in many contexts throughout the site. Impressive and complex mud-brick structures including a magazine-type warehouse, storage bins, kilns and evidence for other pyro-technological activities have been found. The use and manufacture of kiln- burnt bricks by the ancient inhabitants of Gilund is also another remarkable feature of the site. Other finds include a cart track or road and a large retaining wall. …