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Fresh eye on Ropar Indus Valley site

- Digging to resume after 56 years to examine diet & dwellings

New Delhi, Jan. 7: Pakistan has been the big boy of Indus Valley excavation, Partition having gifted it both Mohenjo-daro and Harappa. India now plans to make the most of what it has been left with.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will dig up a site in Ropar, Punjab, where the remains of that old civilisation were first seen in independent India, in 1953, but where excavations stopped in 1955.

For some unexplained reason, ASI archaeologist Y.D. Sharma, who carried out that avowedly “limited” exercise, never published a detailed excavation report although he published articles in journals about it.

While Ropar (now Rupnagar) lay untouched for 56 years, US archaeologists took a deep interest in the Harappa and Mohenjo-daro sites.

Harappa has been under re-excavation since 1986 by J.M. Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin and Madison. Mohenjo-daro, which cannot be excavated because of its high water-table, has also been extensively studied and investigated by scholars.

Ropar, in any case, cannot compete with the highly developed and well-planned cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Besides, constraints of space will severely limit the excavation’s scope although the ASI has better technological tools compared with the 1950s.

“The protected area (in Ropar) is about 12 hectares and there is human settlement outside it. We cannot carry out excavation beyond the protected area,” said superintending archaeologist V.N. Prabhakar, who will be in charge of the Ropar re-excavation.

In contrast, the Harappa site is spread over 300 hectares.

Sharma, however, had held out hope, writing: “Allowance must be made for the fact that Ropar has so far been excavated on an extremely limited scale and, quite possibly, further work may bring out specimens of art hitherto regarded as absent.”

Besides, Prabhakar said: “We have made huge advances in palaeo-botany; so we will be using those tools to establish the dietary patterns of the Harappans who lived there.”

He added: “We will also have more samples for examination since it is now easier. We will also look closely at their dwelling structures, which were not investigated.”

Sharma’s main contribution was that he established Ropar as a site where six cultural periods had thrived, from the Harappan period to the rule of the Guptas. The latest excavation will focus solely on the Harappan period, though.

Sharma had said the Harappans possibly marched upstream from their homes in the Indus Valley and established towns and villages on the way to Ropar towards the end of the third millennium BC ( a little before 2000 BC).

“The full course of the journey is not yet clear. But we find ample traces of them in the Bikaner desert along the dried-up beds of the Sarasvati and Srishadvati,” Sharma had written.

Archaeologists believe that the Harappans lived at the Ropar site till about 2,000 BC. Why and in what circumstances they left it remains a mystery.

After that, the site seems to have remained uninhabited for a considerable time. Towards the end of the second millennium BC, however, another people of a different stock came and settled there.

Prabhakar’s team plans to publish a detailed report that will include material from Sharma’s original notebooks.