Near-complete skeletal remains of a young male and female, believed to be a couple, have been discovered at a recently excavated archaeological site in Rakhigarhi village in Haryana, suggesting, according to the scientists who found the remains, that marriage as an institution could have originated in India.
A team of Indian and South Korean researchers, led by Vasant Shinde of Deccan College, Pune, carried out excavations in Rakhigarhi, one of the most prominent sites of the Harappan civilisation, between 2013 and 2016. The excavations have made news as details of the finds have emerged periodically.
The skeletal remains of the couple were discovered from a site where nine graves were unearthed in one trench. Except for the foot bones, the two skeletons have been found almost entirely intact. Of the 62 graves discovered in Rakhigarhi, only this one had more than one skeleton — and of individuals of the opposite sex, together.
The researchers believe the couple were buried at almost the same time, perhaps even together, following their deaths which could have occurred about 4,700 years ago. They believe the male was around 38 years old at the time of his death, while the female was around 25.
Most archaeological recoveries show individuals were buried separately in Harappan times. Joint graves have been very rare, and almost none have been found containing a couple. The only joint burial of a couple discovered earlier has been from Lothal in Gujarat. But there, the skeletal remains of the male and female were found placed over one other, indicating that they may have been buried at the same place, but at different times. In addition, the female skeletal remains were found to have lesions or injury marks, leading archaeologists to conclude that her death could have been the result of a social practice such as Sati.
In the present case, however, the skeletal remains were found in a supine position with arms and legs extended. The head of the male was found facing towards the female’s, possibly indicating an intimate relationship, Shinde told The Indian Express.
Remains of pots and stone-bead jewellery found close to the burial site of the couple point to the possibility of a ceremonial burial with rituals. These remains also suggest they belonged to a middle-class family.
No lesions have been found on the bones the couple, leading researchers to rule out the possibility of their having been murdered. It is possible a heart ailment of some kind led to the deaths, the researchers believe.
Shinde said the Harappan people were generally known to strictly adhere to only legal relations, and the fact that the couple were buried in the same pit together could be an indication of societal acceptance of their relationship. The researchers, he said, were inclined to believe that they could have been married — which would in turn suggest the possibility that the institution of marriage originated in the Harappan civilisation.
Broadly, three types of graves have been discovered at Harappan sites. In the most common type, known as the primary grave, archaeologists have found full-body remains of the person placed inside a pit. Secondary pits were those that contained partial remains of a few bones placed in the pit. In the third type of the grave, skeletal remains were completely missing in the burial pit. Instead, there were some accessories, presumably the belongings of the deceased person. Perhaps the body could not be ever retrieved, possibly in cases of deaths caused by wild animals or during wars.
So far, at Harappan sites, most graves have been that of men. Only 20% of graves are of women, while fewer that 1% are of children. Excavations of cemeteries so far have found that graves of women were positioned in the centre of the cemetery, and surrounded with bangles, jewellery, and other ornaments. This, experts suggest, could mean that the Harappan society gave a higher status to women.