The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Oxford to test Joshi’s civilisation claim

Chennai, Feb. 12: The world’s oldest surviving university has been asked to judge whether India was home to the world’s oldest civilisation.

Parts of the 40 to 50 samples of burnt pottery, furnace materials and “stone tools” discovered during recent underwater explorations in the Gulf of Cambay off the Gujarat coast are being sent to Oxford University in the next couple of days for an “exact dating” of their period.

The samples were dug up about 20 km west of Hazira by a team from the Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology, the technical wing of the Indian government’s Department of Ocean Development.

S. Kathiroli, who headed the team, told The Telegraph that the institute’s board had chosen the Oxford University Laboratory for the purpose of “thermo-luminescence dating” and carbon 14 dating to determine whether these findings were proof of prehistoric human activity.

A wooden log with carbon deposits unearthed during the first round of excavations in 2000 was dated to around 7595 BC by the carbon 14 method, but had stirred up a controversy. Doubts were raised over whether it belonged to the area or was brought from elsewhere. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, eager to prove India’s superiority by virtue of being home to the world’s oldest civilisation, had held a news conference to announce that the “find” of a “civilisation” dating back to 7595 BC would change history.

But S.R. Rao, an accomplished marine archaeologist credited with discovering sunken settlements of ancient Dwarka, said: “You cannot date a civilisation from a piece of wood that could have come from anywhere.”

So the institute is leaving nothing to chance this time and is sending the samples to the most reputed laboratory in the scientific world. “We have to convince our critics first before we convince our friends,” said Kathiroli at his office at Indian Institute of Technology here.

The items that are being sent to Oxford were dug up between October 2002 and January 30, 2003. Two vessels from the Department of Ocean Development were involved in the dredging operations. “The sea was very rough, unusually rough, with a lot of swells during the dredging period,” recalled one of the scientists involved in the operations.

The investigations at Oxford are expected to take up to six weeks, said Kathiroli, now busy with the paper work to get the necessary foreign exchange released by the Central government to ship the samples to England. Another two weeks would be needed to complete the formalities, including travel time for the samples. A second set of samples is being sent to the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad.

The National Geophysical Research Institute at Hyderabad is in the process of commissioning sophisticated equipment for dating objects. If that comes through, a third pack of the samples will be sent there for carbon dating, Kathiroli added.

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