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Favourable monsoon 3,000 years ago saw dominance of paddy cultivation in arid Vidarbha: Study

Many previous archaeological excavations from Vidarbha had linked antiquities and agriculture equipment -- hoe, sickle and others -- to the Iron Age from this region of Vidarbha.

Written by Anjali Marar | Pune |
June 22, 2021 3:07:03 am
Carbonised remains of rice wheat and barley grains from Rithi Ranjana near Nagpur.

A GROUP of archaeologists have identified extensive cultivation, dominated by rice, some 3,000 year ago in the semi-arid regions of Vidarbha in Maharashtra.

Researchers from Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences (BSIP), Archaeological Survey of India and Banaras Hindu University jointly studied over a thousand macro-botanical sample remains from Rithi Ranjana, a site about 37km northwest of Nagpur district along the banks of river Kanhan, a tributary of Wainganga.

Many previous archaeological excavations from Vidarbha had linked antiquities and agriculture equipment — hoe, sickle and others — to the Iron Age from this region of Vidarbha.

“Though previous excavations had studied agriculture in the region, the direct cultivation dates of individual grains or cereals had not been established. We now have evidence of double cropping and sequential cultivation undertaken during the early Iron Age period in this region,” said Himani Patel, a third-year PhD student at BSIP and the lead author of the paper, published in the recent edition of journal Current Science.

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The botanical samples unearthed from the site included cereals — rice, wheat, barley, pulses and lentils — pigeon pea, horse gram, green gram along with gooseberry and other wild berries.

From over 1,060 carbonised samples collected, 34 were subjected to radiocarbon dating, and it has now been established that 56 percent of the total summer and winter cultivation here during the early Iron Age period was rice, the principal crop.

Agriculture was predominant here even 3,000 years ago as 88 percent of the samples pointed at cultivation and some 11 percent comprised weed and other wild taxa found in the region.

The present day Vidarbha experiences hot and arid summers, where daytime temperatures can go over 45 degrees. The region, on an average, records 846 mm of rain between June and September, and rice is neither among the staple foods consumed here nor is it one of the prominently cultivated cereals. In current times, large-scale rice cultivation is taken up in the Konkan-belt of Maharashtra.

“As the region recorded good rainfall during the June to September monsoon season, the climatic conditions here were favourable for paddy cultivation. Paddy cultivation was prevalent here till about 2,000 years ago,” the researchers said.

Archaeo-botanical evidence in this study suggests rice (39 percent) topped the cultivation at Rithi Ranjana, with studies previously stating that rice cultivation commenced over Vidarbha after the cereal arrived from Suabarei village in Odisha.

The other most commonly cultivated crops were pea (19 percent), green gram (17 percent), barley and lentils (4 percent each) and wheat (about 1 percent).

The remains were found in carbonised form mixed well in soil. The researchers, during their field visit in 2017 – 2018, had to sieve the soil from the trenches earmarked at the site and later perform radiocarbon dating.

It is concluded that these grains and seeds could have been charred either at the time of cooking using fire or they must be the remains of standing crops from farmlands, which were deliberately put on fire or had accidentally caught fire.

The archaeologists have noted that gooseberry and other berries could have been used for their medicinal properties during this age.

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