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20 November 2005
First Harappan cemetery found in Uttar Pradesh

For thousands of years, the fields of Sinauli in western Uttar Pradesh (India) hid their secret well. But now its past is out in the open. Beyond the village’s brick lanes, a burial site of the Harappans dating back to about 2,600 BCE has finally given up its dead.
     A skeleton lies in one of the trenches, the copper bangles on its hands intact though twisted with time. A few tiny beads are scattered around. Another was probably not fortunate enough to be buried whole, its bones lie in a heap. The Archaeological Survey of India’s excavations in Sinauli in Bagpat district, over 80 km from Delhi, have found 18 such skeletons. All of them have seven terracota vases and bowls buried near their heads. "One of the graves also had a dog’s head. Perhaps it was a favourite pet and was buried along with the dead person," says superitendent archaeologist at the ASI, Dharam Vir Sharma. The beginning of this historical discovery was accidental. A farmer decided to level his wayward field. The labourers from the village found some pots while digging and took them home. That could have been the end of the story but for a villager with a keen interest in history.
     When Tahir Hussain saw some of these pots in his relatives house in Sinauli last year, he was sure of their worth. "I thought the best way was to tell the local press," says Tahir. The article was published and officials at the ASI read it. They recovered the pots from reluctant villagers and on August 17, 2005, the ASI began its excavations. Digging up the past is a delicate business. About twenty people work at the site, while at any time there are at least two guards at the site.
     "It is the first Harappan burial site to be found in Uttar Pradesh," says Sharma. Previously Harappan cemetries have been unearthed at Kalibanga and Lothal. Says Upinder Singh, reader in the department of history at St Stephen’s College, Delhi: "This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much new evidence coming in that archaeologists may have to re-think on many counts."
     The burial ground could shed new light on the funeral practices of the Harappans. "It could also point to a larger habitation. Also the pots found here are all unpainted. These should be co-related to the pots found in other burial sites. That exercise is yet to be done," says Singh.
     At Sinauli, the skeletons lie with their arms crossed and feet close to each other, head facing north-west. The burial site has many layers. Sinauli has also marked another first. Says Sharma: "There is a copper hoard culture that is presumed to be late Harappan or said to follow it. But no one is sure of its authorship. Now two antenna swords belonging to this culture have been found next to a corpse. This could mean that the copper hoard was a contemporary or belonged to the mature Harappan period. An ancient riddle will be solved and historical chronology will change."
     "What is also interesting is that the soil found here shows that this site was on the banks of the Yamuna. The river now flows 8 km away," says Sharma. It will take a while to tie up all these threads blown astray by time. At present, a team from Kolkata’s Anthropological Survey of India is conducting DNA and other tests on the ancient bodies. The excavations, says Sharma, will go on for another year. After the burial ground, the team aims to move towards the habitation. "This is a big burial ground so there could be a buried town around too."

Source: The Indian Express (18 November 2005)

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