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24 November 2011
Ancient Indus bones show gender discrimination

A study of human bones from the ruins of Harappa, India, has revealed signs of lethal interpersonal violence and challenged current thinking that the ancient Indus civilisation was an exceptionally peaceful realm for its inhabitants.
     Harappa was among the largest and most populous cities in the Indus civilisation between 2600 and 1900 BCE. The Indus civilisation experienced a period of decline between 1900 and 1700 BCE, although what caused this decline remains unclear.
     American bio-archaeologist Gwen Robbins Schug has said that her analysis suggests that women, children and individuals with visible infectious diseases were at a high risk of facing violence.
     Robbins Schug studied the skeletal remains of 160 individuals from cemeteries of Harappa excavated during the 20th century. The burial practices and injuries on these bones may be interpreted as evidence for social hierarchy, unequal power, uneven access to resources, and outright violence, she says. "The violence was present in low frequency at Harappa, but it affected some communities more than others."
     The majority of head injuries appeared to be the result of clubbing. The prevalence of such head injuries was about 6 per cent - a low figure for an ancient state-society - however the distribution of the head injuries across gender and class appeared striking.
     About half the female skeletons from one cemetery had severe head injuries caused likely by blows from clubs. In 'Area G', another pit of bones, 22 per cent skeletons had acute head trauma as well as chronic highly-visible infectious diseases. "The individuals in Area G appeared marginalised even in burial - they suffered the most extreme injuries and had the highest prevalence of diseases, and they were interred just beyond a sewage drain," says Robbins Schug. Area G also had skeletal remains of children similarly affected.
     Indian anthropologist Anek Ram Sankhyan said earlier research on the skeletal remains from the Indus cities had independently suggested that women had lower levels of nutrition than men.

Edited from The Telegraph (21 November 2011)

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