The Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) has always fascinated me. One of the main reasons why it is so fascinating is because all other neighboring areas in the Indian subcontinent were far less advanced. In other words, while the IVC had some fantastic features like the Great Bath, Manhattan-like street topology, covered sewers, complex weights and measures etc, the other sites had simple neolithic clay brick settlements. But my attempt to understand IVC better always landed me square in the ideological debate going on between Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) proponents and opponents.
That is when I realized that I must start to look at the whole ancient world from an anthropological perspective. As i read the various books on India as well as brilliant anthropologists like Jared Diamond and Mark Kurlansky, i understood that human cultures transmit their ideas and technologies in a package (a term Jared Diamond uses). I tried to convey in my earlier post about Gonds, that people also move with the package in tow – India was a recipient of the people and the package of the pleistocene era hunter-gatherers bearing the M* haplogroup DNA, and Gonds and other ancient tribes are vestiges of that package. It is not that IVC people were the only original inhabitants of India, but there were lots of other peoples who have come in over thousands of years and have created a set of people who have mixed-racial-profiles for the most part. The current era, we are in, is known as the Holocene Era in Anthropology which started 12,000 years ago (if you add 1 before the gregorian year, you get the holocene year, so 2008 is 12008 in the Holocene Era). I concluded that for me to do any meaningful analysis of the evidence, the pleistocene era with its hunter-gatherer culture, lack of writing etc would be extremely difficult if not impossible for a lay person like me.
So i decided to look at the Holocene Era to understand human civilizations. One of the first places i started is Sumer – the place where the wheel was invented, earliest agricultural societies were established, writing was invented (all the three predating the Egyptian cvilization by 2000 years approx).
The Sumerian agricultural package originates sometime in the year 8,500 BC and it starts fanning out of there. It reaches Egypt by 6000 BC and surprisingly it reached Indus valley by 7000 BC a full 1000 years ahead of Egypt. This data point is from Jared Diamond’s brilliant Guns, Germs and Steel book. He refers to the area occupied by Sumer and adjoining areas as the Fertile Crescent. Here is how the Fertile Crescent looks (from the Wikipedia)
Okay if the Sumerian package reached the IVC ahead of Egypt, how come IVC is not in the Fertile Crescent? Oh, may be it is a western conspiracy 😛
It turns out that an American Egyptologist by name James Henry Breasted coined the term Fertile Crescent sometime in 1900. Although, by then, we knew the existence of the IVC, the distance between IVC and Elam (the easternmost component of the Fertile Crescent) was large enough to, I guess, to exclude IVC from the Fertile Crescent. [please see the Fertile Crescent map above again for understanding this].
So i started looking at what was between Elam and IVC and I found that there were several neolithic settlements in Afghanistan (Deh Morasi Ghundai) as well as the famous Mehrgarh lies in this region. As I researched further, I found neolithic settlements in the Indian subcontinent, all the way to Burma and in the south all the way to Tamilnadu.
Therefore, clearly IVC and the entire Indian subcontinent belongs in the Fertile Crescent. Next i decided to look to the west of Sumer to see what we would find there. I landed on the Catal Hoyuk site in Anatolia (present day Turkey) – one of the oldest Neolithic sites. As I turned by focus further west, i landed at the Minoan Crete, which is another advanced civilization like IVC (Crete is in current day Greece). After that, as I looked further west, I found that the entire area all the way to Celtic, UK contained several neolithic sites. [BTW even the Catal Hoyuk site was discovered much later than James Breasted, so I guess his mistake is pardonable :P]
Now if you look at the sweep of the modified Fertile Crescent, it extends all the way to Celtic, UK in the West and to Burma and Tamilnadu in the Indian subcontinent. Wow! I am calling this whole area the Neolithic Plate, instead of Fertile Crescent, which I explain below.
Finally, I am ready to talk about the title of my post. Plate Tectonics is the geological model that explains how the movement of the continental plates creates earthquakes, volcanoes and other geographical features like the Himalayas. Essentially, most of the disturbances occur in the regions where the plates meet (San Andreas fault line is an example).
Now I started wondering, what if the civilizations were like plates and the collision of these plates causes upheavals and transformations in human societies. Based on this I divided the ancient world into a few plates – the Neolithic plate, the Central Asian Plate, the Americas plate, the Chinese Plate, the Austronesian Plate and the Australian Plate.
Another unifying feature of the Neolithic Plate is the fertility goddess/mother goddess worship, bull cult. These 2 are recurring features in the entire Neolithic Plate.
At this point, I came across the mention of 3 important places Sumer traded with Magan, Meluhha and Dilmun. Which are those places in the ancient world? My understanding of these 3 places led me to another startling understanding about the Neolithic Plate that I almost fell out of my chair. What is the finding I made? Stay Tuned.