Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mehrgarh Culture of Southwestern Pakistan


Isolated remains of Homo Erectus in has been found indicating that Pakistan might have been inhabited since at least the Middle Pleistocene era. The precise date of these remains is unclear, and archaeologists put it anywhere between 200,000 to 500,000 BCE. The fossils are the earliest human remains found in South Asia. Modern humans arrived from Africa after their evolution about 70,000 to 31,000 years ago and settled in South Asia.

The evidence from the excavations at Mehrgarh, Balochistan, has demonstrated that the north-western part of the Pakistan had reached a neolithic, i.e. settled agricultural stage, by the 9,000 BCE. Here it may also be emphasized that the Mehrgarh neolithic complex stands in marked contrast to that of western Asia. For example, whereas in the West Asian neolithic there is the domination of sheep and goat amongst the domesticated animals and of wheat amongst the cultivated cereals, in the Mehrgarh context the cattle dominated over other animals and barley over other cereals. Thus, the Mehrgarh neolithic has its own identity, having no generic relationship with its West Asian counterpart. In other words, the Mehrgarh people were the “the sons of the soil”.

The Mehrgarh declined about the same time as the Indus Valley Civilization only 200 Kilometers south east was developing. It has been surmised that the Mehrgarh residents migrated to the fertile Indus River valley as Balochistan became arid over time. The Elamo-Dravidians invaded from the Iranian plateau and settled in the Indus valley around 4000 BCE. The main site of the Indus Valley Civilization in Punjab was the city of Harappa and Moen and Mohenjodaro in Sindh.

Mehrgarh (Mehrgahr, Merhgarh or Merhgahr) in Balochistan province of Pakistan was an ancient settlement and is one of the most important sites in archaeology for the study of the earliest neolithic settlements in South Asia. The archeological sites are located in the Kachi ( Kacchi or Katchi) plain near the Bolan Pass, to the west of the Indus River valley and between the present-day cities of Quetta, Kalat and Sibi.

Mehrgarh is sometimes cited as the earliest known farming settlement in South Asia, based on archaeological excavations from 1974. The earliest evidence of settlement dates from nearly 9,000 BCE. It's also cited for the earliest evidence of pottery in South Asia. Archaeologists divide the occupation at the site into several periods. Mehrgarh declined around 3,500 BCE at the same time that the Indus Valley Civilization was being established only two hundred kilometers south east from Mehrgarh. It is conceivable that the Mehrgarh culture expanded to the fertile Indus river valley and gave rise to the Indus Valley civilization.

The earliest stage of Mehrgarh predates the Indus Valley Civilization by nearly 3,000 years.

The chalcolithic people of Mehrgarh also had contacts with northern Afghanistan, north eastern Iran and even with the southern part of central Asia.

Mehrgarh Period I

Mehrgarh Period I 8000-5500 BCE, was neolithic and aceramic (i.e., without the use of pottery). The earliest farming in the area was developed by semi-nomadic people using plants such as wheat and barley and animals such as sheep, goat and cattle. The settlement was established with simple mud buildings with four internal subdivisions. Numerous burials have been found, many with elaborate goods such as baskets, stone and bone tools, beads, bangles, pendants and occasionally animal sacrifices, with more goods left with burials of males. Ornaments of sea shell, limestone, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sandstone and polished copper have been found, along with simple figurines of women and animals. A single ground stone axe was discovered in a burial, and several more were obtained from the surface. These ground stone axes are the earliest to come from a stratified context in the South Asia.

Mehrgarh Period II and Period III

Mehrgarh Period II 5500-4800 BCE and Merhgarh Period III 4800-3500 BCE were ceramic neolithic (i.e., pottery was now in use) and later chalcolithic. Much evidence of manufacturing activity has been found and more advanced techniques were used. Glazed faience beads were produced and terracotta figurines became more detailed. Figurines of females were decorated with paint and had diverse hairstyles and ornaments. Two flexed burials were found in period II with a covering of red ochre on the body. The amount of burial goods decreased over time, becoming limited to ornaments and with more goods left with burials of females. The first button seals were produced from terracotta and bone and had geometric designs. Technologies included stone and copper drills, updraft kilns, large pit kilns and copper melting crucibles. There is further evidence of long-distance trade in period II: important as an indication of this is the discovery of several beads of lapis lazuli - originally from Badakshan.

Mehrgarh Period VII

Somewhere between 2600 and 2000 BCE, the city seems to have been largely abandoned, which is the time of the Indus Valley Civilization.

The evidence from the excavations at Mehrgarh, Balochistan, has demonstrated that the north-western part of the Pakistan had reached a neolithic, i.e. settled agricultural stage, by the 7,000 BCE. Here it may also be emphasized that the Mehrgarh neolithic complex stands in marked contrast to that of western Asia. For example, whereas in the West Asian neolithic there is the domination of sheep and goat amongst the domesticated animals and of wheat amongst the cultivated cereals, in the Mehrgarh context the cattle dominated over other animals and barley over other cereals. Thus, the Mehrgarh neolithic has its own identity, having no generic relationship with its West Asian counterpart. In other words, the Mehrgarh people were the “the sons of the soil”.

Further, there is a continuous story from the succeeding chalcolithic level onwards, taking us through various evolutionary stages to the Early Harappan from which there emerged the Harappan Civilization itself, around the middle of the third millennium BCE. Again, after a thorough study of the human skeletal remains, Hemphill and his colleagues (1991) have shown that there was a biological continuity right from 4500 BCE to 800 BCE. A question may now be posed: “What language did these chalcolithic people speak?” Though the Harappan script has not yet been deciphered, in spite of so many tall claims, we have yet another way of tackling the issue.

Dentistry in Mehrgarh

Tiny holes found in teeth suggest even prehistoric man may have had to fear the dentist's drill.
Remains found at Mehrgarh show dental decay may have been treated 8,000-9,000 years ago. It is some of the earliest evidence of dentistry. Archaeologists discovered perfect tiny holes in two molar teeth from the remains of different men. The people of that time and area were extremely sophisticated. They cultivated crops and made intricate jewelery from shells, amethysts and turquoise.

Most of the ruins at Mehrgarh are buried under alluvium deposits, though some structures could be seen eroding on the surface. Currently, the excavated remains at the site comprise a complex of large compartmental mud-brick structures.
Function of these subdivided units, built of hand-formed plano-convex mud bricks, is still not clear but it is thought that many were used probably for storage, rather than residential, purposes. A couple of mounds also contain formal cemeteries, parts of which have been excavated.

Although Mehrgarh was abandoned by the time of the emergence of the literate urbanized phase of the Indus civilization around Mohenjodaro, Harappa, etc., its development illustrates the development of the civilization's subsistence patterns, as well as its craft and trade.

Mr Jarrige said that many beautiful ceramics had been found at the site in Balochistan and were believed to be of the era as early as eighth millennium BC. The French archaeologist said that studies suggested that the findings at Mehrgarh linked this area to the Indus civilization.

There are indications that bones were used in making tools for farming, textile, and there are also evidences of the use of cotton even in that period. Mr Jarrige pointed out that the skeletons found at the site indicated that the height of people of that era was larger than that of the later period.

He said that the architecture at that time was well developed. Rice was the staple food for those people and there were also indications of trade activities.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Theories on the origins of Pakhtuns

By Ismail Khan

The Pakhtuns (also Pushtun , Pakhtun , ethnic Afghan , or Pathan) are an ethno-linguistic group of people, living primarily in eastern and southern Afghanistan, the Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan, and small communities in India. The Pakhtuns are characterized by their indigenous code ("religion") of honor and culture, Pashtunwali (pakhtunwali). The Pakhtuns are the world's largest segmental lineage (patriarchal) tribal group in existence. The total population of the group is estimated at ca. 40 million.

Pakhtun culture is ancient and much of it is yet to be recorded in contemporary times. There are many conflicting theories, some contemporary, some ancient, about the origins of the Pakhtun people, both among historians and the Pakhtun themselves.

"The word Afghan… first appears in history in the Hudud-al-Alam, a work by an unknown Arab geographer who wrote in 982 AD." Until the advent of the modern Afghan state in the 18th century, the word Afghan had been synonymous with Pakhtun.

From the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD the regions where the Pakhtuns lived saw immense migrations of peoples from Central Asia and the Middle East: the arrival of the Sakas, Kushans, Huns, Gujjars Hebrews,and Greeks.

According to most anthropologists, the Pakhtuns appear to be primarily of Iranic descent similar to the Persians, Ossetians, Kurds, Balochis and Tajiks. The Pakhtuns have eastern Iranic origins as the Pashto language is classified as an eastern Iranic tongue closely related to Avestan among other Iranic languages.

There are more mythological and romanticized origins for the Pakhtuns. For example, according to the Encyclopedia of Islam, the Theory of Pakhtun descent from Israelites is traced to Maghzan-e-Afghani who compiled a history for Khan-e-Jehan Lodhi in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir in the 16th century AD. This reference is in line with the commonly held view by Pakhtuns that when the twelve tribes of Israel were dispersed (Israel and Judah, Lost Ten Tribes), the tribe of Joseph among other Hebrew tribes settled in the region.

Hence the term "Yusef Zai" in Pashto (pukhto) translates to the ' sons of Joseph'; the Yusefzai are the 8th largest tribe of the Pakhtuns. Other Pakhtuns claim descent from Arabs and some groups such as the Afridis claim to be descended from Alexander the Great's Greeks as well. What may be the case is that the Pakhtuns have been modified by various invaders, while maintaining their eastern Iranic base both linguistically and genetically overall.

The Pakhtuns are intimately tied to the history of modern-era Afghanistan. The country's founder, Ahmad Shah Durrani, was a Pakhtun. He founded the state, as we know it today, in 1747 and the Pakhtuns would rule it for the next 200 years. The Pakhtuns fought both the British and Russians to a standstill during the Great Game.

The land and people of Kashmir

By Abir Bazaz

The origins of Kashmiri are, like much else about Kashmir, mired in controversy (though in these matters, such controversies are not necessarily a bad thing). Perhaps one of the best ways to approach this question here (on a website which expects to acquaint the reader with Kashmiri literature, rather than linguistic controversies about the origins of the language) is to quote some of the scholarship on Kashmiri:

Braj B Kachru “…Kashmir provides a unique case of language convergence and language contacts, since it is surrounded by Sina (a Dardic language in the north, Tibeto-Burman languages (e-g Balti, Ladakhi in the east, Pahari and Punjabi dialects in the west, and Dogri and other Pahari dialects in the south. A non-native language, has always played an important role as the language of prestige and elitism; Sanskrit and Persian earlier served such a purpose, and subsequently Urdu, English, and Hindi, have done so. “ Braj B Kachru, Kashmiri Literature. For a more detailed account of the origins and linguistic affinity of Kashmir, please see pp. 4-7 of Braj B. Kachru, Kashmiri Literature.

Suniti Kumar Chatterjee: “As a language, Kashmiri, at least in its basic stratum, belongs to the Dardic Section of Indo-Iranic. Possibly one section of the Aryans who came to the subcontinent before 1000 B.C. and who spoke dialects very much like the language of the Rig-Veda but with certain special characteristics (which later gave rise to the Dardic branch of Aryan) became established in the valley of Kashmir, and in the surrounding mountainous tracts; and very early, possibly from after the Vedic Age, Brahmanical Aryans with their Indo-Aryan 'spoken' Sanskrit (and subsequently with the Prakrits) came and settled in Kashmir and other Himalayan areas. Following the Brahmans, the Buddhists also came to Kashmir, and Kashmir formed a part of the Maurya Empire of Asoka; and beyond Kashmir, speakers of the Indo-Aryan dialect from North-Western India settled round about what is now Khotan (Kustana in Sanskrit). In this way, Kashmir, in spite of a Dardic substratum in its people and in its speech, became a part of the Sanskritic culture world of South Asia. The Indo-Aryan Prakrits and Apabhramsa from the Midland and from Northern Punjab profoundly modified the Dardic bases of Kashmiri, so that one might say that the Kashmiri language is a result of a very large over-laying of a Dardic base with Indo-Aryan elements.”

A good overview of a rather pointless linguistic controversy (except, of course, for the science of linguistics) by Omkar Nath Kaul: “There is no consensus of opinion regarding the origin or genealogical classification of Kashmiri. There are basically two schools of thought one places Kashmiri under the Dardic group of languages and the other places it under the Indo-Aryan group of languages. Grierson has placed Kashmiri under the 'Dardic or Pisacha' family of languages. He has classified the Dardic language under three major groups:

1. The Kafir Group,
2. The Khowar or Chitrali Group and
3. The Dard Group.

According to his classification the Dard Group includes Shina, Kashmiri, Kashtawari, Poguli, Siraji, Rambani, and Kohistani- the last comprising Garwi, Torwali and Maiya.
Grierson considered the Dardic language a subfamily of the Indo-Iranic languages "neither of Indo-Aryan nor of Iranic origin, but (forming) a third branch of the Indo-Iranic stock, which separated from the parent stem after the branching forth of the original of the Indo-Aryan languages, but before the Eranian language had developed all their peculiar characteristics." He has further observed that "Dardic" was only a geographical convention. Morgenstierne also places Kashmiri under the Dardic Group of languages along with Kashtawari and other dialects which are strongly influenced by Dogri. Fussman has based his work on Morgenstierne's classification. He has also emphasized that the Dardic is a geographic and not a linguistic expression. It is only in the absence of reliable comparative data about Dardic languages, a geographic or ethnographic label is frequently applied to a group of languages or dialects.
According to Chatterjee, Kashmiri has developed like other Indo-Aryan languages out of the Indo-European family of languages and is to be considered as a branch of Indo-Aryan like Hindustani (Hindi+Urdu), Punjabi etc.
The classification of Dardic language has been reviewed in some works with different purposes in mind. Kachru laid stress on the linguistic characteristics of Kashmiri. Strand presents his observations on Kafir languages. Koul and Schmidt have reviewed the literature on the classification of Dardic languages and have investigated the linguistic characteristics or features of these languages with special references to Kashmiri and Shina. The classification of Kashmir under the Dardic group of languages needs further elaborate investigation.”

The real axis of evil?

By Mohammad Jamil

India continues with its propaganda blitz against Pakistan. Its think tanks, the RAW, embedded journalists and media have stepped up their campaign after the relations between the US and Pakistan became strained when US Special Forces conducted operation at Abbottabad compound. Though many Indian think tanks and organizations are part of the malicious onslaught on Pakistan, yet the ‘South Asia Analysis Group’ (SAAG) is producing reports on almost daily basis. B. Raman, who served the RAW for 28 years and former additional secretary of the Cabinet Secretariat, is the main contributor to the SAAG. Answering questions in his recent interview with the Newsweek, he said: “We can assist Afghanistan in strengthening the capabilities of its armed forces….My assessment is that Haqqani network no longer operates from North Waziristan; it now operates from Pakistan’s Kurram Agency…What we are worried about is the increasing strategic threat from the developing Sino-Pakistani axis. This axis is the real axis of evil”. It is unfortunate that Pakistani think tanks, media and other organizations instead of exposing the real axis of evil – the US, India and Afghanistan – believe the American and Indian propaganda and start criticizing Pakistan’s agencies.

B. Raman, in his latest paper no 741 under the caption ‘Many more Abbottabads waiting to be discovered in Pakistan’, referred to arrests of Abu Zubaidah, Ramzi Binalshib, Khalid Sheikh in Pakistan; and Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad. He then conjectured: “Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has taken over the leadership of Al Qaeda, Jallaludin and Serajuddin Haqqani of the so-called Haqqani network, Mulla Mohammad Omar of the Afghan Taliban, and Hakimullah Mehsud of the Pakistani Taliban are also in Pakistan”. India is playing upon the follies of the Pakistani journalists and pseudo-intellectuals who relish discussing Pakistan’s weaknesses and differences between the political parties and organs of the state. Although there is nothing wrong in having different perceptions over security and foreign policy matters but it is the pernicious way these are presented and interpreted to the detriment of Pakistan, of which India takes advantage. On the other hand, Indian propaganda against Pakistan continues. In June 2004, a report titled “Pakistan’s Provinces” had been published by a think-tank of India under the name and style of “Strategic Foresight Group”. Given the nature of study, it appears that this organization is the wing of Research and Analysis Wing.

The malafide intentions behind the so-called free intellectual enquiry were obvious from glancing through the preface by Sundeep Waslekar - the president of the group. He explained the reason for discussing the provinces instead of Pakistan and explained that the bottom-up approach has been adopted in view of the multitude of cultures that coexist. “In 2004, political discourse is increasingly references to the 1971 situation. It does not mean that provinces will secede in 2004 or 2005, yet it remains to be seen whether they will be together until 2010,” he asks the question, which speaks volumes about the purpose of the book. Secondly, the book had come at a time when India and Pakistan dialogue was passing through the crucial stage, and they had already taken a number of confidence-building measures. But one could infer from the double-speak and India’s rhetoric about resolving all the disputes with Pakistan including the core issue of Kashmir that all this is meant for the US and West’s consumption only. Working on ‘bottom-up approach’, the authors had allocated four chapters to four provinces.

At the end of each chapter, they have given under the sub-headings - Forecast, Trend, Discontinuity and Wild Card. What they had presaged was figment of their imagination, or reflective of the Indian leadership’s wish that Balochistan, Sindh and NWFP would seek separation because Punjab was exploiting them. In the chapter Punjab, the report said: “Punjab would be devastated, as the next war with India will see concentration of the Indian assault on Punjab. Making Punjab the battleground will greatly affect Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan’s retaliation can be more aggressive and might take the form of nuclear warfare”. Concluding the report, the authors had given four future scenarios. In the first scenario, they discussed the ideal situation visualizing that democratic government embarking upon a reorganization of provinces, creating many more provinces and giving them autonomy, containing jihadi activities, as such internal stability will bring investment leading to development. Relations with neighbouring countries could also improve, which would realize the benefits of good relations with Pakistan. The other scenarios in one way or the other portended gloom and disaster.

The India’s intent is obvious from the fact that it wants to keep the focus entirely spotted on Pakistan to demonise it as a state, denigrate its agencies and its military, to project it as a state sponsoring terrorism globally, to isolate it internationally with a view to reaping a big harvest of consequent gains. But this path is fraught with dangers because the escalation of tensions and then war between the two nuclear states is not an option. It is therefore in the best interest of both India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues and resume composite dialogue process in real earnest, when it has been established that Pakistan as a state was not involved in any of terrorist acts in India. Indian leadership has to bear in mind that there are more contradictions between the states and the center in India. There are separatist movements in a dozen states. India has indeed achieved prodigious economic growth but the awning gap between the rich and the poor, festering caste system and domination of Hindu majority over the minorities, the scenario is dismal.

And once the course of disintegration is set rolling, India is much more vulnerable to disintegration than Pakistan. A lot of books have been written in India and in the West. A brief survey of the shelves of any bookshop will among others show books on India such as “The Corrupt Society”, “Foul play: Chronicles of Corruption 1947-97” and so on. Pakistan should expose Indian RAW’s thuggish activities in FATA, Swat and Balochistan. Pakistan’s foreign office should abandon the habit of being on the defensive and always responding to India’s allegations. It should stop playing on the back foot and play on the front foot to bring India’s machinations and artifices to destabilize Pakistan to the attention of international community. Since the US and Indian interests converge in the region, it is almost certain that the propaganda blitz against Pakistan has also the wink from the former. There is a perception that the strategic partnership agreement signed between India and Afghanistan has America’s blessings, and the latter wants to exert pressure on Pakistan to do more.