SEPTEMBER  2001
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SEPTEMBER 2001 Contents


 Arundhati Roy


 Cultural Heritage of  south Asia


 Noor Inayat Khan


 The Indo-African  Diaspora


 Delhi's First Ladies


 Beyond the Arclights

 Editor's Note

 Phoolan Devi


the craft shop

the print gallery


Silk Road on Wheels

The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh


Page  2  of  2

South Asia's World Cultural Heritage


Robin Coningham

Robin Coningham is Senior Lecturer (Archaeology) at Bradford, UK

South_asian_cul_heritage_site_map_-_unesco.gif (19151 bytes)
South Asia's cultural heritage sites
Source: Unesco

Neolithic Sites

Early scholars argued that because the earliest Neolithic sites were clustered in a fertile area, domestication must have spread from there. But the chance discovery of Mehrgarh in 1970 altered this model, as its pre-ceramic levels dated to the seventh millennium BC and provided evidence for the transition to domestication. Similar developments may have occurred in other regions in south Asia, for example the Ganges valley and the Kashmir-Swat region, but Mehrgarh represents the pre-eminent site for understanding the origins of the relationship between humans, plants and animals. The site is suitable for inclusion under criteria III and IV, although a better preserved site might be found. Mehrgarh is a good candidate because no other Neolithic site has been inscribed; it throws light on the emergence of the region's earliest urban forms, and it presaged the development of fourth millennium BC proto-urban sites. Only recently identified, this stage is the precursor of the mature Harappan, refuting the hypothesis that diffusionism or colonisation from Mesopotamia influenced later examples in neighbouring areas.

Bronze Age Sites

A number of upland agricultural settlements in Baluchistan were self-sufficient and developed into centres of production, linked through trade. By the middle of the fourth millennium BC they had spread to the Indus alluvium with the development of regional centres and ceramic styles such as at Mehrgarh and Amri. By the end of the fourth millennium BC, some developed into fortified proto-urban settlements, ranging in size between two and 20 hectares. These Early Harappan sites were unified by a common ceramic style known as Kot Dijian and represent the beginnings of convergence into a common culture. Although a number of representative sites exist, such as Amri, Kot Diji, Harappa and Kalibangan, the best example is Rehman Dheri in Pakistan. Aerial photographs have demonstrated that it consists of a square settlement with housing laid out within a regular grid-iron surrounded by a mudbrick wall. Dated to the fourth millennium BC and covering an area of 22 hectares, it represents the earliest regular town plan in south Asia and would qualify for inscription on the World Heritage List under criteria I, II, III and IV. These early forms converged until they possessed a shared assemblage of material culture during the urbanised phase of the Harappan, or Indus, civilisation. 

Dated to between 2600 BC and 1900 BC and covering almost one million square kilometers, Rehman Dheri represents the world's largest Bronze Age culture, with uniformity of script, ceramics, town planning and weights throughout. Systems for exploiting, processing and transporting raw materials were necessary because cities were located in the resource-barren alluvium. Evidence has been found of close trade and contact with the cities of the Near East. As the civilisation's script has never been deciphered, it is unclear what form of social organisation kept this integrated urban civilisation functioning. Understanding is also hindered by the absence of palaces and distinctive burials.

This Bronze Age civilisation is represented on the World Heritage List by only one site: Moenjodaro, which was inscribed under criteria II and III, as it had an influence on the urban development of the region and it was the best preserved urban site prior to the third century BC. It is, however, only one of the settlements of the Harappan civilisation and is unrepresentative as a whole. 

Five types of settlements existed: major urban sites, minor urban sites, trading sites, village settlements and additional off-site activity. Moenjodaro is one of four cities of more than 80 hectares, the others being Harappa, Lurewala and Ganeriwala. Thirty smaller urban forms each cover less than 30 hectares, but often share the plans of the larger cities. Kalibangan, for instance, has a citadel and lower town. Factory sites found in western India are less than 10 hectares in area but conform to a similar plan. They are surrounded by a wall and consist of a platform area and a residential area with a grid-iron pattern and evidence of manufacturing. They may represent factory-forts that exploited local raw materials. Lothal is the best known site, but since it is connected with a problematic tank, Kuntasi may be more representative. More than 1,000 smaller rural sites provided the subsistence base of the civilisation, in addition to hunter-gathering and Neolithic communities, who collected raw resources to trade with factory-forts for copper arrowheads and other goods. Such finds have been made at the camping site of Bagor in western India. So far, however, only Moenjodaro and Harappa have been considered for inclusion on the World Heritage List. A serial nomination grouping several sites might be considered to ensure that all categories are represented.

Archaeologists have tended to view the period between the end of the second millennium and the first half of the first millennium BC as a "dark age". Traditionally, they have attributed the collapse of the Harappan cities to natural or manmade disasters, prompting the movement of new populations, culture and languages from the northwest. New evidence suggests, however, that the presence of "foreign" traits in the post-urban period reflects a continuation of exotic imports that were already occurring during the civilisation's zenith. Similarly, the presence of new burial traits, such as in the Gandhara Grave Culture or Cemetery H, may merely represent the spread of a new ideology; it is noteworthy that the sequence of Pirak and Mundigak continue unchanged. Indeed, this evidence, combined with a population increase in western India, suggests that while certain elements may have been lost, there is no evidence of a collapse.

Chalcolithic sites

There appears to have been a transformation within the Indus region from a hierarchical model of integration to one with more socio-political mobility. Evidence from a number of Chalcolithic sites, such as Inamgaon and Daimabad in Maharashtra or Hastinapura in the Ganges valley, suggests that this period was one of gradual growth culminating in fortified regional power centres by the beginning of the first millennium BC. None of these sites are on the World Heritage List.

A number of these emerged as cities in the Early Historic period, boosting the preference for continuum over diffusion models. Traditionally, it was thought that the second urbanisation was the result of diffusionism from the Achaemenid empire, but recent work at Charsadda and Kandahar has suggested that a number of sizable proto-urban forms had already been established in the northwest by the beginning of the first millennium BC before the Persian expansion. Furthermore, little evidence exists of an invasion by Alexander the Great. Despite a century of study, we are no closer to identifying the cities sacked. This suggests that the appearance of Alexander was not an incident of outstanding universal significance, unlike the spread of Hellenistic culture 200 years later during the Indo-Greek period. The closest example of a Greek presence is at Ai Khanoun on the banks of the Oxus, which conforms to criteria II, IV and VI. This symbol of the interchange of human values is threatened by looting and is in danger of being destroyed, and should be inscribed immediately.



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