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10 March 2009
Harappan-era cemetery found

A big housing complex dating back from the Harappan era has been discovered in a little known village about 40 km from Rohtak (Haryana state of India). A cemetery belonging to the same civilization from about 3500-3000 BCE has also been found at an adjacent site, where nearly 70 skeletons have been unearthed so far.
     The team of archaeologists from Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto Japan, Deccan College, Pune and Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, discovered the settlement spread over 18.5 hectares. It is composed by four big complexes and a cemetery spread over about three hectares. "This is easily among the largest habitation locality of the Harappan era. We have so far excavated one complex which has 26 rooms, 3 to 4 kitchens, an equal number of bathrooms and a courtyard in the centre. The size of the rooms vary from 6x6 to 16x20," said Prof Manmohan Singh of MD University.
     The discovery holds enormous potential, said Prof Vasant Shinde of the Department of Archaeology, Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune, the director of the excavation project. "With a larger sample size it will be easier for scholars to determine the composition of the population, the prevalent customs, whether they were indigenous or migrated from outside," Prof Shinde said.
     Historians still have no definite answers to a number of questions, including where the Harappans came from, and why their highly sophisticated culture suddenly died out. "For the first time, we will conduct scientific tests on skeletal remains, pottery and botanical evidence found at the site, to try to understand multiple aspects of Harappan life," Prof Shinde said. "DNA tests on bones might conclusively end the debate on whether the Harappans were an indigenous population or migrants. Trace element analyses will help us chart their diet." The team also plans to carry out coring tests in lakes around the site to ascertain climatic conditions prevalent at the time of the Harappan civilization, and investigate whether the decline of the culture followed catastrophic climate change.
     The burials found so far are expected to be from around 4509 BP (before present), or 2600-2200 BCE. "There are three different levels of burials and at some places skeletal remains have been found one above the other. All the graves are rectangular - different from other Harappan burials sites, which usually have oblong graves," Prof Shinde said.
     The site shows evidence of primary (full skeleton), secondary (only some bones) and symbolic burials, with most graves oriented northwest-southeast, though there are some with north-south and northeast-southwest orientations as well. The variations in burial orientation suggests different groups in the same community, Prof Shinde said. The differences in the numbers of pots as offerings suggest social and economic differences within the community. Also in evidence are significant signs of regional variations that contest the idea of a homogenous Harappan culture.

Sources: Indian Express (3 March 2009), The Times of India (4 March 2009)

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