Agro-pastoralism in Chalcolithic Cultures of Early India

The post-urban Indus region was marked by several cultures. In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is found Swat Culture IV dated to C. 1800- 1400 B.C.E. Here, the cultivators grew wheat (bread and shot), barley, rice, oat, lentil (masur), linseed and grapes.

Cattle, goats, sheep and pigs were domesticated as well as consumed. In the Kachhi plains of Northeastern Baluchistan, sites like Sibri and Pirak testify the cultivation of rabi and kharif crops. Rabi crops include wheat (bread and shot), barley (six-rowed varieties), oats; chickpea and linseed while rice, millets (jowar and cheena) were the principal kharif crops found along with grapes. Goat, sheep and humped bull were being domesticated.

The Jhukar Culture, spread over Jhukar (north of Mohenjodaro), Chanhudaro, Amri and Mohenjodaro itself consisted of very few settlements and does not provide us with evidences pertaining to cultivation of crops. In the Cemetery-H Culture discovered at Harappa, rice and finger millet (ragi) were introduced in this period.

At a site named Hullas, rabi crops including wheat (shot and bread), barley, gram, lentils, oats, grass pea and field pea and kharif crops like rice, jowar, ragi, cow- pea, green-gram, horse-gram and cotton have been found.

The increased number of settlements in Punjab (on the Indian side), Haryana and Northwestern Uttar Pradesh might have resulted from migration of some communities from Hakra and Ghaggar to upper reaches of Sutlej-Yamuna divide and to the upper Doab. Here, the extensive flood lands and heavier rainfall suited rice cultivation. Rice cultivation in period

II-A along with millet, bajra or bulrush millet (Pennisetum typhoideum) in period III is obtained at Rangpur. Adry forest and a different climate existed in the region. This is indicated by identification of the trees of acacias, tamarisk and albizzia. At Rojdi, a site belonging to Gujarat, kharif crops including millets (ragi, bajra, jowar) and rabi represented by the lentil and pea have been discovered. However, rice is not reported.

Outside the Indus (Harappan) region a large number of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and farmers existed. It is difficult to ascertain the Harappan influence on their lives. Some changes in the pattern of crop combination and the agricultural practices in the Neolithic-Chalcolithic period are discernible.

Rice has been reported from the valley of Swat. Here, the discovery of a small ploughed field with furrow marks dated to 1300/1200 calibrated BC has led archaeologists to infer that a plough-ard was used. The earth was automatically pushed to one side of the furrow. Some sites dated to 3rd and 2nd millennium BC at Burzahom and Gufkral (Kashmir) were using sickle shaped implements for harvesting grain. Such implements are also discovered from Central Asia.

Rice also occurs at Ahar in Rajasthan, upper Gangetic valley, Chirand in Bihar, Orissa and the further East, possibly in Northeast and at a later date at Malwa. Wheat and Barley have been reported from Balathal in Southeast Rajasthan and appear as dominant crops in Malwa.

Millets, generally cultivated in the South are represented in Balathal too. It has been suggested that the social pattern of the wheat growing area was not as complex as of those cultivating rice. In central India and Rajasthan several Chalcolithic sites have been investigated. Of these, mention may be made of Kayatha culture in the Chambal Valley, Dangwada in Ujjain and Ahar in Rajasthan.

The site of Kayatha (Sample TF 402) brings out the evidence of cultivation of Indian jujube, two kinds of wheat (Triticum sphaerococcum and Triticum compactum) and seeds of horse gram. Faunal remains of bovine species and tortoise are also reported.

Though five­fold cultural sequences spanning from Chalcolithic to early medieval times are discovered at Dangwada, the site context of material remains of the early period have not been satisfactorily understood. However, lentil, rice, horse gram and Indian jujube dated to Sunga and Gupta period are found. Ahar or Banas culture is located east to the Udaipur town in Rajasthan. The study of the chalcolithic layers points out to a possibility of a mixed economy.

Here, agriculture and animal herding coexisted with hunting and fishing. Several impressions on the pottery sherds indicate to the cultivation of rice and millet. Vishnu-Mittre suggested that the factual history of millet was attested for the first time in the Ahar material culture. Sorghum, possibly bajra or bulrush millet was also cultivated.

The sites abound in faunal remains pertaining to turtles, fish, goat, sheep, deer, pig and cattle. In the Gangetic plains, the peasant, unlike the Indus culture, was no longer confined to the narrow strips of flood lands enriched by fresh doses of moisture and silt.

The generosity of monsoons allowed him to increase the yield by shifting to new reclaimed virgin lands from forests. Several Chalcolithic cultures like OCP (Ochre Coloured Pottery), BRW (Black & Red Ware), PGW(Painted Grey Ware) help us to understand the relationship between environment and crop pattern. The sites of OCP culture were generally located on the riverbanks.

Such sites are spread over eastern Punjab, western UP and eastern Rajasthan. Atranjikhera, one of the important excavated sites, remained flooded or waterlogged for a considerable period of time. The list of crops at Atranjikhera includes two cereals- rice (oryza sativa L, lathyrus sativus L) and barley (hordeum vulgare L), and two pulses – gram (hulled and six-row gram) and khesri.

Rice was cultivated as a summer crop and required plenty of water. Barley, a winter crop could produce good yield with modest irrigation. K.A. Chowdhury has suggested that the cultivation of gram was possibly the oldest record of its cultivation in India. Khesri was grown as a weed on dried up paddy fields. Both these pulses shared certain similarities; required small amount of water, cultivated as winter crops and belonged to legume family. These factors enhanced the fertility of the soil.

BRW culture is found in the upper Ganga-Yamuna and middle Gangetic Doab. Some of the important sites include Atranjikhera, Noh, Jodhpura and Narhan. At Atranjikhera, the crop pattern is basically similar to the OCP levels. At Noh rice impressions along with urad and kidney shaped seed of horse gram have been reported. The oryza sativa variety of rice is found from impressions at Jodhpura.

At Narhan, one finds a well developed agricultural regime. Hulled and six-row barley, rice (oryza sativa), club and bread wheat, mustard seeds, linseed and pulses (pea, moong, chickpea and khesri) are the main crops discovered here. The sites of PGW culture are located in Western UP, Punjab, Haryana and Northern Rajasthan. These sites were on riverbanks and the inhabitants utilised both the cultivable plains and pastures.

A sickle and hoe has been reported from Jakhera. The breeding of cow, buffalo, pig, goat, sheep and horse is indicated from the faunal remains. Wheat, barley and rice have been discovered at Atranjikhera. The cultivation of wheat by PGW people (wheat requires water supply at regular intervals) has led K.A. Chowdhury to speculate on the possibility of irrigation in the period.