What do you think our forefathers – the Harappans — looked like? A group of Indian archaeologists who are looking to answer this intriguing question are increasingly assuming that the people of the Indus Valley came from India. This assumption, as any serious archaeologist will tell you, flies in the face of current archaeological evidence.

The discovery of a Harappan site at Rakhigarhi in Haryana, India, by archaeologists of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune, has set the Indian academic world alight. This has been classified as a ‘Mature Harappan Period’ find, dating 4,000 to 4,500 years old. The excitement is over the announced discovery of four skeletons, two men, a woman and a child.

Dr Vasant Shinde, vice-chancellor of the college and director of the Rakhigarhi excavation, on Saturday announced and as reported by Indian newspaper: “We want to study the DNA of the Harappan people and try to find out who they were. So we excavated the skeletons scientifically at Rakhigarhi. There was no contamination. All the four skeletons are in good condition.

The facial bones of two skeletons are intact. We are going to show the world how the Harappan man looked like. This will happen in July. It will be a breakthrough in Harappan studies.”

“…using the DNA to be extracted from the four full-sized skeletons excavated… and a novel software developed in South Korea, archaeologists of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute, Pune, are confident of projecting, in a few months, how the Harappans looked like 4,500 years ago — their build, the colour of their skin or hair, their facial features and so on”.

The archaeologists of the Deccan institute, and Haryana’s Department of Archaeology, have stated that the skeletons belonged to the Mature Harappan period (2600 BCE-1900 BCE). The tests will be done by the college staff and forensic scientists of Seoul National University, South Korea.

Rakhigarhi is in Hisar district. The site has 21 trenches and four burial pits. Dr Shinde, a specialist in Harappan civilisation has excavated Harappan sites at Farmana, Girawad and Mitathal, all in Haryana.

He says: “The 21 trenches yielded typical Harappan painted pottery, including goblets, terracotta figurines of wild boar and dogs, and furnaces and hearths that provided evidence of a bangle- and bead-making industry”.

The Indians have announced to the academic world that the latest Rakhigarhi finds establish it as the biggest Harappan civilisation site. Until now Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan was the largest among the 2,000 Harappan sites known to exist in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The archaeological remains at Mohenjo-daro extend around 300 hectares. Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and Ganweriwala (all in Pakistan) and Rakhigarhi and Dholavira (both in India) are ranked as the first to the fifth biggest Harappan sites. With the discovery of two additional mounds, the total area of the Rakhigarhi site is 350 hectares, making it the largest.

Dr Shinde says: “It was earlier thought that the origin of the early Harappan phase took place in Sind, in present-day Pakistan, because many sites had not been discovered then. In the last ten years, we have discovered many sites in Haryana, and there are at least five Harappan sites such as Kunal, Bhirrana, Farmana, Girawad and Mitathal, which are producing early dates and where the early Harappan phase could go back to 5000 BCE. We want to confirm it.

“Rakhigarhi is an ideal candidate to believe that the beginning of the Harappan civilisation took place in the Ghaggar basin in Haryana and it gradually grew from here. If we get the confirmation, it will be interesting because the origin would have taken place in the Ghaggar basin in India and slowly moved to the Indus valley. That is one of the important aims of our current excavation at Rakhigarhi.”

This in a nutshell is what the Indian scientists working at Rakhigarhi are saying about their finds. My view is that when scientists have pre-determined aims in matters of archaeology, then it is suspect. The declarations will have to wait until ‘verifiable’ findings. That is only fair.

Scientists, archaeologists and early period historians in Lahore, where a considerable amount of Harappan period work has taken place and materials exist, as well as experts working in the University of Cambridge in England one has come in contact with in the purse of a research, take a sedate view of the theory that is being proposed by the Indians. So where does the problem lie?

First, is the accepted theory: This states that the two major migrations in history, the Mediterranean-Australiods (Dravidians) migrations almost 20,000 years ago, and the Aryan movement of people almost 7,000-4,000 years ago, were both eastward movement of populations under varying circumstances. The entire work by all the ‘greats’ of Harappan archaeology have stated this.

No evidence, so far, including massive amounts of very recent research work using, among other techniques, DNA technology, has suggested a westward movement. If anything they have confirmed the eastward drift. Even the classic epics of the sub-continent clearly suggest an eastward movement.

Secondly, there is the irrefutable evidence of excavated sites in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Take Mehrgarh in Balochistan as an example. This site is clearly 9,500 years old. New carbon-dating technology has suggested a 12,000-10,000 year timeline for Mehrgarh. Did Mehrgarh and Mohenjo Daro come after Rakhigarhi? Surely no one is going to buy such an assumption in a hurry.

Harappa itself is an early period find, that being 3,000 BCE or 5,000 years plus old. The other finds in Pakistan, and more recently in Afghanistan, point to a stable agro-based settlement people 4,500 BCE or 6,500 years ago.

This is irrefutable work by internationally-recognised scientists. So though the Haryana finds are exciting, just how this point to a westward drift of populations is beyond comprehension.

Let me make it very clear that this piece is not about disproving or challenging the new theories. It must be said that some of the latest assertions about ‘Hindu inventions and discoveries’ thousands of years ago are best left alone. Scientific verification will take care of them.

Then why this westward drift of populations theory being proposed by Dr Shinde? Is it to disprove the irrefutable fact that the Hindu religion was born in the lands that today make up Pakistan? Is it to dispute the irrefutable fact that all the holy books of the Hindu religion were based and written in the lands of Pakistan?

Is it to disprove the irrefutable fact that almost all the people of India, thousands of years ago, came from the lands that are today Pakistan?

The lack of excavation work in Pakistan, the dearth of credible archaeologists working in Pakistan, the security situation restricting scientists from all over the world from working in Pakistan, and the lack of a knowledge-based environment, has created a vacuum in rational scientific thinking.

Narrow ‘belief-based’ thinking by alleged scientists and intellectuals has narrowed the world of Pakistani scholarship. We must accept this shortcoming of ours.

But then we must all accept that over the eons the subcontinent was an island that crashed into Asia, creating the Himalayas and providing the homo-erectus with fertile grounds to move eastwards, and that the melting of the ices meant our ancestors from Africa coming to possess the empty lands as they existed, followed much later by the Slavic peoples, who overwhelming them pushed them eastwards.

We must surely consider that religions are beliefs which are not verifiable. We must accept that our history is a continuum and does not end or start in any timeframe.

What evidence Haryana provides we must consider dispassionately. At the moment, it seems and I can be wrong, that this find at Rakhigarhi is providing the rising power of revisionist Hinduism with a chance to alter the very assumptions on which scientific verifiable research about our collective past takes place.

It is a short-term success that might grip a few. In the end truth has to prevail, as it has to prevail in Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2015

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