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Researchers to study shells from Indus Valley Civilization for signs of climate change 6,000 years ago

Looking back 6,000 years to 4,000 before present, a team of Indian researchers is going to attempt and understand the human response to a similar climate change that could have affected the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC).

Written by Anjali Marar | Pune |
Updated: September 7, 2021 9:06:59 am
Dholavira, Harappan city in Kutch. (Photo: Twitter/Vijay Rupani)

Extremely heavy rain, drought, record-breaking heat and cold along with fast depleting snow cover, all of which the world is witnessing today, could possibly be effects of climate change.

Looking back 6,000 years to 4,000 before present, a team of Indian researchers is going to attempt and understand the human response to a similar climate change that could have affected the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC).

Under this project, funded by SERB-Department of Science and Technology (DST), researchers will primarily study shells from several IVC sites.

The project aims to establish biological relations, if any, to climate change that is believed to have contributed to the downfall of this civilization starting approximately 2,000 BCE.

The study will be jointly undertaken by Pune-based Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute and IIT-Kharagpur. Preliminary work, including field visits to some of the identified sites in Gujarat and Haryana, of the three-year project ending 2024 is complete.

Earlier work by this consortium, which includes researchers from Physical Research Laboratory, Kutch University, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and Archaeological Survey of India, had indicated a possible global drought that triggered the collapse of IVC.

Scientists hinted that this could have led to the migration of IVC people to rural areas like Karim Shahi in Kutch during the Iron Age.

“The shells, both of marine and freshwater origin, are commonly found at numerous IVC sites like Dholavira in the Rann of Kutch,” said Arati Deshpande-Mukherjee, principal investigator of this project and archaeologist at Deccan College.

Last month, Dholavira was tagged as a UNESCO World Heritage site, becoming the third such site in Gujarat.

The project will study isotopes in land shells from archaeological sites to retrieve data on past change in seasonality over century-level timescales.

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“We intend to understand the drivers of climate change in the Subcontinent during the IVC and how sensitive these forces were to modulate the past monsoon. Another goal is to look at how fast, for example, the monsoon underwent changes, which might have a bearing to modern climate change,” said professor Anindya Sarkar, co-investigator in the project.

“Shells were part of IVC life. The use of shells for food or making jewellery has been known for long but they have not been studied as past climate repositories during the IVC. Previous work by archaeologists and geologists mostly focused on the ocean, river or lake sediment cores from locations far away from Harappan sites, which might not be exactly representative of the climate of archaeological sites,” she added.

Shells from a large number of IVC sites like Rakhigarhi and Bhirana in Haryana, Dholavira, Kuntasi, Kanmer and Surkotada in Gujarat and Kalibangan in Rajasthan will be studied.

“They cannot be accessed but we would like to study shells from Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan or Shortugai along the Amu Darya river in Afghanistan — which were part of the IVC,” added Sarkar.

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