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Indus farmers grew rice independently of China 

Indus farmers grew rice independently of China  G.S. Mudur  New Delhi, Nov. 20: Farmers in the Indus civilisation had independently domesticated rice and grown it as an annual summer crop long before rice from China spawned the crop’s cultivation across the Gangetic plains, new archaeo¬logical excavations have estab¬lished.  

By G.S. Mudur
  • Published 21.11.16

Archaeologists excavate pits to look for crop residues at sites of the Indus civilisation in Haryana. Picture by Cameron Petrie 

New Delhi, Nov. 20: Farmers in the Indus civilisation had independently domesticated rice and grown it as an annual summer crop long before rice from China spawned the crop’s cultivation across the Gangetic plains, new archaeological excavations have established. 

These excavations, at three sites in Haryana, provide stro¬ng scientific evidence for a longstanding but muchdebated idea that the domestication of rice had occurred inde¬pendently in China and South Asia, archaeologists involved in the excavations said today. 

The new research, published today in the journals Antiquity and the Journal of Archaeological Science, also suggests that the Indus people were the first to exploit complex, multicropping strategies, planting crops across both seasons. 

While earlier excavations had revealed rice grains at Lahuradewa, Uttar Pradesh, dated to about 6000 BC, sections of archaeologists had argued they represented the exploitation of wild rice and not real domestication, which they said began only after rice from China arrived about 2000 BC. 

Now archaeologists from India’s Banaras Hindu University and the University of Cambridge in the UK have discovered evidence indicating a progressive increase in the proportion of domestic types of rice and a decrease in wild types between 2430 BC and 2140 BC. This would imply rice domestication in India about 400 years earlier than presumed. 

“We’ve found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara,” Jennifer Bates, an archaeobotanist at Cambridge who specialises in South Asian archaeology, said. 

The archaeologists examined crop material from two sites Masudpur in Hissar district and Bahola in Karnal district and found what they say is a pattern of slow development of rice exp¬loitation from wild foraging to farming with full cultivation. 

“Until now, many had argued that the Indus people had not routinely cultivated rice,” Ravindra Nath Singh, the te¬am member at BHU, told The Telegraph. “Our findings suggest that rice domestication had already occurred in South Asia before the arrival of Oryza japonica (the Chinese variety).” 

The analysis of weed residues from the sites suggests that the Indus civilisation farmers had introduced multicrop farming that is practised even today, growing rice, millets and beans during summer and wheat, barley and pulses in winter. 

Some of the Indus civilisation sites received both summer and win¬ter rain, which may have encouraged multicropping practices, the scientists said. “We found evidence for yearlong farming that predates its appearance in other river valley civilisations,” said Cameron Petrie, the third team member. 

Most contemporary civilisations used either summer or winter crops, he said. Mesopotamia, for instance, grew wheat and barley during winter, while China produced rice and millets during summer. 

The study, supported by the Archaeological Survey of India and funded by the UKIndia Education Research Initiative and other agencies, has also yielded the first absolute radiocarbon dates for Indus crops 2890 BC to 2630 BC for millets and winter pulses, 2580 BC to 2460 BC for horsegram, and 2430 BC to 2140 BC for rice.

“We’ve had earlier evidence for rice suggesting independent domestication from Lahuradewa and other sites in the Gangetic plains,” said Rakesh Tiwari, director general of the ASI, who was not associated with the Cambridge BHU study.

The dates ranged from about 6000 BC to about 3000 BC. 

However, until now, some archaeologists had viewed rice residues from a site called Mahagara in Uttar Pradesh as the earliest evidence of full domestication. Some had attributed the earlier rice residues as exploitation of wild rice. 
Another archaeologist, Dorian Fuller from the University College, London, had in earlier research papers argued that there was no evidence for rice agriculture until about 2000 BC, by which time the Chinese variety had been brought into India.