Carnelian Mines in Gujarat

By Insoll, Timothy; Bhan, Kuldeep | Antiquity, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Carnelian Mines in Gujarat


Insoll, Timothy, Bhan, Kuldeep, Antiquity


In June-July 2000 a sample collection programme was completed in the extant carnelian mines of Jhagadia Taluka, Broach District, Gujarat, Western India (FIGURE 1). The predominant rationale behind the fieldwork is an Africanist one. Namely, to obtain modern comparative material which could be elementally analysed and compared with samples of carnelian beads from archaeological contexts in West and West-Central Africa. For besides local production of carnelian beads in West Africa, it seems that certain examples were also imported via trans-Saharan trade routes, probably from India (Insoll 2000). However, at present such an attribution remains purely hypothetical, based as it is upon the colour, workmanship, and shapes, resembling the carnelian bead production of Western India. Beads known to have been extensively exported in the medieval period, the focus here, and of course before (Theunissen et al. 2000). Thus it is hoped that the geochemical analysis of the carnelian samples from Gujarat will either prove or disprove a trade to West Africa. Following a successful pilot study at the NERC LA-ICP-MS facility at Kingston University, the full programme of analysis will now be completed in co-operation with Dr Dave Polya in the new LAICP-MS facility at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Manchester.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The history of carnelian bead making in Western India probably predates the Harappan period (Allchin 1979: 91). Within the Ratanpor or Ratnapura area the precise date of the origins of carnelian working is unclear, but it is perfectly reasonable that the region supplied Harappan bead-makers. Extraction of carnelian, and in all probability manufacturing of beads, continued in the Ratanpor area during the medieval period (at least until the 15th century for the latter activity), when its control appears to have shifted from Hindu to Muslim hands (Francis 1986). This was accompanied by a shift in manufacturing (but not extraction) to Khambhat (Cambay), a town better suited for transport purposes being located at the mouth of the River Mahi where it flows into the Gulf of Khambhat (Karanth 1992: 61), and thus closer to the international sea-borne trade which the bead makers supplied (FIGURE 2).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Carnelian samples were collected from 10 different locations in the Ratanpor area where it occurs as rolled pebbles or nodules in the conglomerates and gravels of the area. These are laid down in thick beds in the region and can be accessed relatively easily by digging narrow shaft mines into the agate beds (FIGURE 3). This work is completed by the Bhils, a tribal group in the region, and the epicentre of this carnelian mining area is the Baba or Bawa Ghori hill. …

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