As the ongoing Rann Festival puts the international spotlight on Gujarat’s Thar Desert & Kutch area, researchers from IIT Kharagpur and other institutes have come up with a big archaeological find and analysis that establishes possible human settlement in the area, dating back to 3,000 years in history.

The discovery of Iron Age remains in the arid Rann of Kutch and Thar Desert, dispels notions of a ‘Dark Age’ or period considered to be archaeologically silent, due to a lack of evidence.

The new evidence points to locales of human habitation that sprang up after the decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation, due to climate change and water deprivation. The findings have been published online in the prestigious Elsevier journal Archaeological Research in Asia .

According to researchers from IITK, the Harappan remains found in the Kutch region were limited on rocky islands. The Rann and the Thar, till now, were considered to have been devoid of any sign of continued human settlement.

“Explorations in the coastal settlement of the Karim Shahi region of the Rann, south of the desert, has unearthed pottery and charcoal, which when dated by means of optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon methods, has revealed active human habitation from the Early Iron Age to Early Historic (3100–2300 years) times. We have also found evidence of Historic to Medieval (~1500–900 years old) settlements at Vigakot in the Thar Desert,” said collaborator, Navin Juyal, from the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

M. G. Thakkar, a collaborator from Kutch University, emphasised the existence of a post-Harappan cultural continuity. “This finding is going to bring Kutch under the international limelight and what better time than now, when the famed Rann Festival has just begun,” he commented.

“It has been long known that from the Mature to Late Harappan period, the number of human settlements continuously increased from west i.e. the Indus River Valley to the Ghaggar-Hakra in the east. Our findings suggest that such human migration was far more expansive than earlier thought,” said Anindya Sarkar from IIT Kharagpur’s Department of Geology and Geophysics, who led the research funded by Infosys Foundation and IIT Kharagpur.

“We believe that the gradual southward shift of the Intertropical Convergence Zone over the last 7,000 years forced people to migrate to greener pastures. In a way, this created large numbers of climate refugees, who took refuge where some rainfall was still available. The United Nations framework convention on climate change has warned about such climate refugees, due to impending climate change. If it could have happened in the past, it will happen in the future, too,” he added.

The Archaelogical Finds

Apart from artefacts such as pitchers, jars and bull figurines, numerous animal remains including bones and teeth have also been recovered, which has helped in reconstructing the social subsistence pattern, says co-researcher Arati Despande Mukherjee from Deccan College PGRI Pune.

The study involved the analysis of sediments, pollen and oxygen isotopes in fossil molluscan shells, indicating the presence of an active river system and some rainfall that probably sustained human habitation from the Early Iron Age to medieval times.

In view of the difficult terrain and closeness to the Indo-Pakistan border, the exploration was facilitated by the Indian Army.

The researchers also referred to the historical travelogue of Al Beruni of 1030 AD, which has mentioned the presence of rivers in Kutch.

Talking about the probable occupation of those people, Sarkar remarked, “both Karim Shahi and Vigakot probably acted as trade centres during this time. In fact, at Vigakot we found a 1,100-year-old Chinese Qingbai porcelain, probably manufactured in Guangdong province of south China, and Sgraffiato pottery of 10th century Persia, suggesting it to be a part of a long-distance trade route between West Asia and China”.

Exploration at Motichher, located close to Karim Shahi, has thrown up iron objects, nuggets, and slags, but this would need further investigation, the researchers felt.