A 4,000-year-old pot excavated in the Haigam area of Sopore earlier this year has been commented upon for its unusual name — the archaeological artefact has been christened ‘Kim’, after the American reality television star Kim Kardashian. But there is much more to this truly unusual and significant find.
‘Kim’ is the first piece of Neolithic pottery in Kashmir that has been found entirely intact. Before this, said Dr Mumtaz Yatoo of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Kashmir, only stone tools, pieces of pottery, and some human remains had been unearthed. “We found bases or rims, and would then have to imagine the rest of the design. This is the first complete piece,” said Dr Yatoo, whose research helped locate the Neolithic site where the pot was found.
According to Dr Yatoo, the pot dates back to a period in Kashmir’s prehistory about which very little is known. “The early levels of the Kashmiri Neolithic sites date from the end of the fourth to the mid-second millennia BC. This is a critical period in the history of inner Asia, but only a handful of sites are known,” he said.
The Neolithic sites are being documented under the Kashmir Prehistory Project (KPP). The discovery of the pot was reported in The Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 11, 2017; ‘New Evidence for Early Fourth Millennium BP Agriculture in the Western Himalayas: Qasim Bagh Kashmir’). Researchers are now searching for clues to determine if these sites played a role in transmitting knowledge of agriculture, particularly wheat and barley cultivation, from western Asia into China, where farm practices played a key role in supporting the early rise of the Chinese state.
“The origins of the Kashmiri Neolithic period are poorly understood. It is likely that they are part of an important early agricultural complex that until now has remained hidden behind the mountains and valleys of the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and the Karakoram ranges,” Dr Yatoo said.
Alison Betts, an adjunct Professor at Kashmir University and Professor of Silk Road Studies at the University of Sydney, said there is evidence in Kashmir of its links with eastern Central Asia, and hence the Valley is a key location for the study of the earliest cultural contact between China and the rest of Asia.
“Wheat and barley were first domesticated in western Asia while rice and millet were domesticated in central China. From these early centres of domestication, cereal farming spread eastwards and westwards until wheat/barley and millet cultivation met in the middle around 5,000-6,000 years ago in the Tian Shan, Pamir and western Himalayan regions of Central Asia. The Neolithic people of Kashmir were early adopters of cereal agriculture and their practice of using deep underground storage pits has preserved this evidence very well,” Dr Betts said by email.
Finds like that of ‘Kim’ also provide a boost to the larger study of archaeology in Kashmir, Dr Yatoo said. “From my personal viewpoint, the study or teaching of archaeology is essential in exploring and documenting the history of J&K and its people. It will also play a critical role in the promotion of tourism, especially to foreign visitors. A large number of tourists today are older, well educated people who also want to learn about the history and culture of the places they visit,” he said.