Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Prehistoric Shell Middens, Seascapes and Landscapes at Lake Siranda (Las Bela, Balochistan) Preliminary Results of the 2011 Fieldwork Season

Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Prehistoric Shell Middens, Seascapes and Landscapes at Lake Siranda (Las Bela, Balochistan) Preliminary Results of the 2011 Fieldwork Season

Article excerpt


The first season of archaeological surveys carried along the shores of Lake Siranda (Las Bela, Balochistan) in January 2011 has shown the presence of two prehistoric shell middens characterised by fragments of mangrove and marine shells as well as chipped stone artefacts. The shell middens were AMS dated to the middle Holocene by one single specimen of Terebralia palustris gastropod. Their presence indicates that mangrove environments exploited by groups of shellfish gatherers existed in the area at least since the above period, and that the present-day lake depression was in fact a shallow tidal lagoon of the Arabian Sea, the shores of which had been settled at least during part of the Neolithic.


Balochistan, Las Bela, Lake Siranda, Shell middens, Mangrove environments, Shellfish gatherers

1. Preface

This paper is a preliminary report of the surveys carried out at Lake Siranda in January 2011. Its scope is to describe the finds we discovered, discuss the results we obtained and frame them into the general picture of the archaeology of Las Bela province and the northern coast of the Arabian Sea.

Very little is known of the archaeology of Lake Siranda and the region that surrounds it. This is mainly due to the absence of any systematic survey along the coast of Las Bela (Khan, 1979a), the only exception being that of Sir A. Stein, who provided us with a detailed description of the geography of the province (Stein, 1943: 194-219), during his research aimed at the definition of the route followed by Alexander on his retreat to Babylon across the country of the Oreitai.

In his paper, A. Stein describes the place where the Macedonian army camped, which is briefly reported by Arrian (Alexandrou Anabasis, VI: 5) close to "a water not large", translated by Sir A. Stein (1943: 214) as "a small (sheet) of water", possibly the eastern shore of Lake Siranda. This place was probably chosen by Alexander because of the scarcity of water in "mostly an uninhabited desert, presenting a wilderness of hills and cliffs with swampy or arid clay plains" with capricious rainfalls "the greater part in summer, some in winter" (Field, 1959: 17), "situated as it is just without the limits of the south-west monsoon" (Carless, 1855; see also Pithawalla, 1953: 21).

The most important archaeological site in the area is Kot-Bala (better known as Balakot), which was discovered by R. Raikes in 1960 (Raikes, 1968), and later reported by A.R. Khan (1979b: 3). The site, located in the Khurkera alluvial plain, some 5 miles east-south-east of the southernmost coast of Lake Siranda, and 2 miles north of the course of the Windar, was excavated by G.F. Dales in the 1970's (Dales, 1974; 1979; 1981). It is a multi-stratified mound with occupation layers and structures attributed to the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age periods, radiocarbon-dated between 5200±135 (UCLA-1923A) and 4210±80 (UCLA-1293D), and 4050±130 (HAR-1992) and 3890±100 uncal BP (HAR-1993) respectively (Possehl, 1988: 171-172). Nevertheless these results are from samples collected from a reverse stratigraphic position, and their reliability has been greatly disputed by (see Shaffer, 1986: 74).

The study of the faunal remains collected during the excavations showed an "enormous quantity" of broken specimens of Terebralia palustris gastropods "gathered for food" (Meadow, 1979: 296), which are supposed to indicate the presence of a mangrove environment rather close to the site.

"Weathered samples of these shells" are reported also by R.E. Snead (1966: 60) from the eastern shore of Lake Siranda, a shallow depression "about two miles north of the Miáni village. When full it is about 9 miles long and 2 miles broad. Its general situation is north and south. The average depth of water in the cold weather is 3 to 5 feet, but the part known as kun in the south-west corner attains to a depth of 22 feet. On the occurrence of floods the level is raised some 10 or 12 feet (Minchin, 1907: 9). …

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