Makers and Shapers: Early Indian Technology in the Home, Village and the Urban Workshop

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Item Code: IDK837
Author: Shereen Ratnagar
Publisher: Tulika Books
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788189487300
Pages: 360 (Illustrated Throughout in B/W)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.9" X 6.5"
Weight 750 gm
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From the Jacket

This is a study of technology as self-help endeavour in the home and the provisioning of the household; as iron tools for the village; and as techniques mastered in the urban workshop, feasible not in simple tribal village with the development of a political hierarchy. The reader is taken from the agricultural field to the building of the home (with its food-processing and storage facilities), to urban water supply techniques and transport mechanisms, to the use of stone, bronze and iron for tools and weapons. A glimpse is afforded of the difference between the making of pottery by hand and the use of the potter's wheel. The social circumstances required of pottery production are in turn contrasted with those required of metallurgy. The whole is based on archaeological evidence of the Neolithic to Iron Age cultures of South Asia, and, concurrently, on observations of some technological processes followed by villagers today.

In the course of this exploration many points have come up for us to ponder. Sometimes it is the nature of the available that could have made possible the use of materials such as certain semi-precious stones or ivory. Which were the craft technologies that depended on bronze tools in the Indus cities? Else, it may have been horse-riding that prompted chiefs of southern India to sponsor the production of new kinds of iron weapons. It is, besides, possible that the charcoal requirements of early iron-smelting and forging are connected with localized deforestation, and forging are connected with localized deforestation and that this had a role to play in the organization and dispersal of the industry. Why were masonry wells so rare after the Indus Valley civilization? Why is glass production known in the Bronze Age of Western Asia but in the Iron Age of South Asia? In what economic circumstances did people begin to use wheeled transport?

Technology is not viewed here as a self-generating phenomenon. Instead, some puzzles are explained in this book by social and economic factors such as the nature of the work group and the resultant production process, and by political structures as well.

Trained in India and Western Asiatic archaeology,Shereen Ratnagar is the author of books and academic papers on the Indus civilization: its overseas trade, political organization, cities, and its decline, as well as studies on pastoralism and urbanism. Her interest in the conceptualization of the early state, of non-stratified tribal societies, and of the limits and potentials of non-market economies, has coloured much of her work. She has also been investigating the sources of certain assumptions behind current archaeological interpretations. She has made interventions concerning the political abuse of archaeology.

This book is about various early technologies as they developed, sometimes in tandem with other technologies, in India and Pakistan before the Mauryan period. The reader will find here not a coverage of all the relevant sites or all the tools and materials evidenced at them, but an engagement with the social contexts of the use and demise of certain technologies for which archaeological evidence is available.

Evidence for the first human occupation of South Asia dates back to about a million years, but the discussion in this study begins with the Neolithic stage. For those unacquainted with South Asian protohistory, the following outline may be useful.

In various parts of South Asia, at different times, people took to crop-growing and animal-breeding. Then onwards, since most forms of agriculture require sedentary life, the settled village came into being. Long-term residence in one place and the rebuilding of houses on the ruins of older houses, together with the continuous deposition of broken, lost and discarded artifacts and food residues in the same habitation, meant that the place of residence, in contrast to the earlier camps of hunters and gatherers, came to be a mound of debris that rose earlier camps of hunters and gatherers, came to be a mound of debris that rose vertically as time went on – the archaeological 'site' par excellence. As we plot the locations of various Neolithic cultures of different periods – followed by those of the Chalcolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages – we see the map of the human geography of South Asia gradually fall into place.

The transition from a mobile life of hunting, gathering and fishing to a more sedentary existence with food production in villages took place in several regions. In the newly established villages, many of the existing stone, wood, bamboo and bone tool forms continued to be used, but there were also new forms of stone tools for cutting vegetation and tilling the earth; crops varied from region to region, and so did pottery when it came into use. Houses were of elementary forms. As far as know, in South Asia this transition first occurred in the seventh or sixth millennium BC at the Pakistani village of Mehrgarh on the Kachchhi plain (adjacent to the Indus alluvium), where we find that wheat and barley were already domesticated, perhaps introduced from places at higher altitudes, and the bones of certain wild animals were, after centuries, succeeded by those of their domesticated counterparts (cattle, sheep, goat).

Early Neolithic adaptations are also known in the Kashmir valley (at Burzahom and Gufkral) in the third millennium BC; in northern Karnataka and adjacent western Andhra Pradesh in the mid-third millennium BC, if not earlier; and along the Belan valley that forms an ecotone between the Vindhyan upland and the lower Jumna plain near the confluence of the latter with the Ganga river, perhaps around 3000BC (with sites such as Koldihwa and Mahagara). On the middle and lower Gangetic plain and the Chhotanagpur plateau to its south (sites such as Chirand, Taradih, Narhan, Imlidih Khurd, Kuchai, Pandu Rajar Dhibi), agricultural villages were established after 2000BC. In the northeast, many surface collections of ground-stone axes (considered the mark of land clearance and tillage), cave sites, and the occasional mound such as Daojali Hading in the North Cachar, Naga and Garo hills, represent early agriculture, but are difficult to date. At all such sites we expect that early animal or plant domestications was accompanied by the collection of wild food species, hunting and trapping, and fishing; it was probably from these places that certain crop seeds and the knowledge of raising them spread to various other parts of the country. Meanwhile, animal grazers and herders would also have introduced cattle, sheep, goat, pig and buffalo to different regions. The breeding of these animals either would have been an adjunct to agriculture or would have been in the hands of specialist pastoralists.

At many of the sites mentioned above, over the ruins of the Neolithic occupation, are stratified remains of what has been called the Chalcolithic stage. The first use of copper in these villages represents no major technological transformation: copper was often beaten into shape for ornaments and small tools, and was neither smelted on any appreciable scale nor cast in complex moulds. Hence the lithic technology continued to be important.

In northwestern South Asia, in the hills and the plains of the greater Indus valley, such a Chalcolithic stage was the precursor to the urban and literate Harappa culture that flourished between 2600 and 1800 BC. We refer to this stage as the Bronze Age, meaning thereby that all stages of copper-smelting, alloying (with lead, arsenic and tin) and casting were known; the smith was a specialist; several new productive technologies depended on the use of copper/bronze tools, and those were also specialized skills.

Note that with the demise of this urban civilization, population were not extinguished but were displaced to villages (technically of the Chalcolithic stage) across the greater Indus valley; post-Harappan villages multiplied in Saurashtra and mainland Gujarat, in Rajasthan and Malwa, on the Sutlej-Jumna Divide, and on the Gangetic plain. Thus iron came into use in villages dating between 900 and 400 BC that were using Painted Grey Ware (henceforth PGW) and, after 500 BC, Northern Black Polished ware (henceforth NBP) on the upper and the middle-and-lower Ganga respectively, at a time when stone had been the main material of tools. As will be elaborated in Chapter 10 of this book, there is no protohistoric site in South Asia where a full-fledged bronze technology gives way, gradually or otherwise, to a technology utilizing iron for its tools and weapons. Another interesting feature is that with the coming of iron, stone tools (except those necessary for grinding) soon become obsolete.

In this book we shall enter a world largely of villagers – and also of the town dwellers of Harappan times – even though the economic and social importance of mobile pastoralists is acknowledged (Chapter 2). Full-time animal-herding in most parts of the country entailed constant movement along grazing routes, so that the archaeological record does not preserve pastoral sites per se – no mounds get to be formed in the process of the serial occupation of camp sites. Yet we know that where technology is concerned, it would have been early pastoral groups who bred the varieties of cattle that were the most hardly and useful for field and traction work, and those varieties that gave the best milk. Moreover, it may have been early sheep and goat herders who developed the tools and techniques of sheep-shearing, and of the spinning and weaving of wool. Like pastoralists; coastal fisherfolk are also 'invisible' in the absence of early villages, of nets and cordage, boat-building and rope-making.

This overview of technological development begins in the period 7000 – 6000 to 4300 BC, at the farming and animal-raising village of Mehrgarh. This site lies on a plain accessed by routes from Kandahar and Quetta, from the Marri and Bugti hills and from the Brahui hills – tracks that were, until the twentieth century AD, frequented by herders who had to bring their sheep and goats down from the intensely could hill slopes to this warm plain in the winter. Many cultural stimuli probably reached the people of Mehrgarh because of its location as the winter resort of hill pastoralists. Here, those plants and animals were cultivated and reared which would, in later times, form the subsistence base of the urban Harappan economy: these were species of the neighbouring uplands as well as western Asiatic domesticates such as wheat. There were dates as well, and a range of animals that were hunted. Soon similar settlements were founded on the lower reaches of the Gomal (the Dera Ismail Khan region) and Tochi rivers (the Bannu region), where there would have been similar convergences of animal-herder migrations in the winter. Ground-stone axes and hoes for land clearance and tillage, and ground-stone querns and pounders for the preparation of cereals, basketry and later pottery, comprised the technological equipment. By the later centuries of this period houses were distinguishable from small storage structures at Mehrgarh; cotton then came to be cultivated, and many villages were established in the uplands.

Between 4300 and 2600 BC, many other parts of the plains region of Pakistan (such as the Hakra valley and the Potwar plateau) and adjoining regions in India (such as the Sutlej-Jumna Divide and northern Rajasthan) also came to be settled. Stone, ground-and –polished as well as flaked, continued to provide the main tools and projectiles, and there were bone tools as well. The grape is in evidence at Mehragarh; and there are modest beginnings in the use of copper that would result in a knowledge of copper-casting. Terracotta art (animal and women figurines) exhibits strikingly individual styles in different zones. Seals were made of stone and were perhaps used to close rooms and houses, rather than to distinguish the ownership of sealed containers. The number of village sites is much higher in this period than in the preceding, and a few cemeteries in Baluchistan also date to this period. The most striking feature of this period is traffic in not only exotic stones such as lapis lazuli and in sea shells, but also in very skillfully fabricated pottery utilizing a range of pigments and firing techniques. Many developments (certain pottery styles and seal forms, as well as the use of the two-humped Bactrian camel) in southern Afghanistan, by now in periodic contact via the Bolan pass with Mehrgarh and other plains sites in Baluchistan and on the plains, could have been influenced by migrants who appear to have come from Turkmenia.

The Early Indus Kot Kijian, Amrian and Nal cultures that flowered on the Indus plain and the adjacent highlands to the west, between 3200 and 2600 BC, are believed to have been ancestral to that of the Harappan civilization, They give hints of the existence of chiefdoms and occasional inter-community conflict – there are walls enclosing some of the settlements, stone and baked-clay missiles, the beginning of a settlement size hierarchy (as if centres of political control had been established), and craft production on a modest scale at the major sites with the use of shell, copper and various stones for beads. Ivory makes a rare appearance at one or two sites. The largest and most prosperous sites, Mehrgarh and Rahman Dheri, were perhaps centres of chiefships that emerged when relations between settled farmers and mobile herders had to be managed. What is significant is that all these developments were taking place in a frontier region – a biological frontier as well as a linguistic one, and a region of contrasting land-use systems.

The structural limitation of the chiefdom (for technological and economic growth) are perhaps revealed in the contrast in material culture between this Early Indus stage and the Harappa culture (2600-1800 BC) that followed. In the latter period, copper, tin- and lead-bronze, silver and gold were used on an appreciable scale; two-mould and cire pedue casting were mastered, as were techniques such as soldering; steatite was used for multiple purposes, and was both carved and ground into a paste; ivory was a regular material for household equipment at Mohenjo-daro; an inter-community, regional economy was regulated with the use of, inter alia, superbly carved seals and a system of finely calibrated withts; urban architecture used baked brick on a lavish scale, and houses. Many urban centres comprised two usually unequal areas: a high citadel with residential buildings and a lower town for the majority of the residents. As not suffice for beads and other ornaments, synthetic glaze, frit and faience were made as substitute gemstones. The storage facilities are intriguing even in small settlements such as Lothal – facilities that have dimensions far greater than any 'storage' building at Mehrgarh. And in the Harappan period there was also that great human invention, writing. The Harappan people, besides, were in trading contact with people in Oman. Bahrain and Mesopotamia.

After this great flowering, urbanism came to an end, and we find that people reverted to life in more or less self-sufficient villages. A surprisingly large number of Harappan settlements were abandoned, the large city sites included (some had the makeshift structures of intrusive cultures over Harappan buildings), and along the Sutlej- Jumna Divide, many small villages were now established. In Kathiawad, too, there were now dozens of small villages, perhaps because of the spread of dry-zone crops, ragi, jowar and, later, bajra. There are several post-Harappan cultures that developed from 2000 or 1800 BC onwards, with few crafts and modest artefactual remains, such as the Bara and Late Siswal cultures along the Divide, the Jhukar, Cemetery H and Gomal Grave cultures. These are known to us only in the form of makeshift shelters intruding into Harappan strata, or burials with some superb, glossy red pottery, or modes of disposal of the deal that combined cremation and burial. As for the second millennium Rangpur llb to III phase in Kathiawad, contemporary with Prabhas C, it is characterized by a complete change in assemblages and a remarkable absence not only of writing, weights, street drains and seals, but also of Harappan long chert blades, terracotta cakes, bronze axes and standardized bricks of everyday use. It was only after a centuries-long hiatus that the Iron Age arrived in western India. At Bhagwanpura in the north, on the other hand, where a 'Late Harappan' stratum lies at the bottom of the mound, there is later a traditional stratum (100-700 BC) with this and PGW together; later, on top of the mound, the remains are exclusively PGW-related. There is neither copper nor iron, little baked brick, some terracottas, and very little faience and ivory.

Near Mehrgarh, a small settlement at Sibri (about 2000 to 1750 BC) with metal, flaked-stone and bone tools yielded certain artifacts that are more Iranian-Certral Asiatic than Harappan. In that area there is also the 9-hectare sits of Pirak where settlement endured between 1750 and 700 BC, house from and one of the ceramics remaining in use throughout, but the use iron beginning in about 1100 BC, Jowar and also rice, better suited to the local environment than wheat and barley, began to be grown. Pirak shows that with the end of Harappan dominance, movements were resumed from the plateau and mountains in the west: other than the north Iranian – Central Asiatic artefactual influence, there are also remains or representations of the horse and the Bactrian camel.

In southern Rajasthan, where there had been no Mature Harappan sites, was the Banas culture (said to be early third to late second millennium BC) with village sites such as Ahar and Balathal, where simple flat axes and blades and a few other copper tool types were in use. Even though fairly numerous, these metal artifacts do not indicate a full-fledged metallurgy. The small mud or mudbrick houses were raised on pebble foundations and Red Ware (BRW). There was agriculture and a cultural emphasis on cattle. At Daimabad, on the north bank of the Pravara, a tributary of the Godavari, first settled between 2200 and 2000 BC, there are slender parallels with Harappan pottery and houses, and the crops there do not fit the Harappan pattern.




  Introduction xi
1. The Conceptual Framework 1
2. The Technological Foundations of the Food-Producing Village 14
3. Pottery 34
4. House Construction 65
5. Water Supply and Sanitation 82
6 Metallurgy: The Bronze Age 94
7. Ivory-Carving and Shell-Cutting: The Association with Bronze of Iron Tools 124
8. Wheeled Transport 129
9. Working with Stone 141
10. Iron 150
11. Iron Technology and the Production of Glass: A Necessary Connection? 222
12. The Labour Process and the Development of Technology 229
  Bibliography 252
  Index 325
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