The Real History of India Part 2 – Anthropological Plate Tectonics?

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.


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    Brilliant and original Sukumar- Plate Collisions. I am not able to bear suspense..what could be your new finding? My best guess – IVC is due to plate collisions of the three very important plates – Central Asian, Austonesian and Neolithic plates? And the ideas borrowed from all these form basis for IVC – Neolithic ideas like farming and tools, chinese philosohy refined in IVC and central asian popluace generally migrating down towards a flourishing civilization contributing in numbers Gives some boost to AIT roots?

    Or Am I blabbering here…

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    Wow, thats a lot of information Sukumar. I did search find out, what exactly is meant of neolithic settlements. I could make out from the term that it must belong to that era. Could you elaborate more on this – What are the characteristics of neolithic settlements.

    I loved the analogy of civilizations and Tectonic plates. Mother goddess cult is another subject which I find facinating. I am really looking forward to your next post. I hope you will do it soon.

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    Cool, Sukumar. Your post on anthropology has a cliff-hanger. Can’t wait for the next.

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    Ganesh Vaideeswaran said February 4, 2008, 1:58 am:


    Looking forward to your findings.

    I am extremely fascinated by Indus Valley Civilization and subsequent Aryan influence/invasion of that civilization. I believe this fascination started with the documentary “Indus Valley to Indira Gandhi”, that we were fortunate enough to watch – thanks to a free movie trip afforded by our school.

    I recently (a few months back) started reading “India: A History” by John Keays primarily to understand more about the Harrappan culture and more importantly gain an understanding of Aryan influence in India and how it originated. He starts from 5000 BC until Modern India. I only read the first few chapters (just the times I was particularly interested in) and it is pretty dry reading. Your chain of posts has encouraged me pick it up again.


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    pk.karthik said February 4, 2008, 2:53 am:

    Very Interesting Sukumar a fascinating post

    But imho all these findings along based on Jared Diamond is still skewed towards the Old world….I still belive that INCA ,Aztecs and Mayans could not have sprouted from the must have been a gradual evolution from a Neolithic life style…..I have tried finding information but Mayas but not much is available …We dont have much information on Europe too….

    If we look at fertile cresenct …a simliar landcape exists on western coast of South America from Chile to Meso America(Motorcyle Diaries Trail)..So there is a possiblty of similar settlements there too …But I am not able to find info that..I would like to

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    pk.karthik said February 4, 2008, 2:55 am:

    cont from the prev comment.

    I would like to state this example all these ctities are in Old World….

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    Karthik – Interesting point. Anthropologists have found distinct similarities between the Ainu tribes in Japan & the oldest settlers of the Americas. They are said to have crossed over an ice bridge created when the Bering Strait (that separates Asia & America) froze – say about 12,000 years ago.

    We’ve seen some burial mounds in the US, dating back to 8000 BC. Didn’t find anything earth-shaking from the Neolithic period though. But certainly worth checking out.

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    pk.karthik said February 4, 2008, 3:48 am:

    Thanks Priya…I didnt know of these relation between Ainu and American settlers….

    Actaully we have the Olmecs from Mexico who predate Mayans by atleast 1000 years..Not much is not about them…

    I have read about the Norte Chico Civilization in Peru which is was parallel to the Egyptian Old Kingdom,I was not able to find enough information on these…..Again the problem is the , we dont have enough info on these civlizations .I feel these civilisations should some orgins from the Neolithic period or atleast the Early Chalcolithic period.I dont have data to substantiate it I am just speculating on this theory.

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 4, 2008, 8:27 am:

    Thanks a lot for the kind words. I have setup the plates to show what exactly happens in these plates. So please wait for the story to unfold. Your points are interesting and i am looking at many data points for my research. It will be helpful to me if you find data points that support your views?

    Thanks a lot. I am happy that there is one more person that is interested in Mother Goddess worship. Here is a link that will help you understand Neolithic times better.

    Thanks Priya. I am glad you liked it.

    Ganesh, thanks. You have a great memory, i think i remember seeing that movie when we were both in grade school. The particular book that you refer to is not on my reference list. It will be tremendously useful, if you test my observations against that book and comment here, if that is not too much to ask.

    I love your questions, they always set me thinking. My main grouse with Jared Diamond’s otherwise brilliant work is the scant attention he pays to India and I think it is because of the problem of the definition of the Fertile Crescent itself which he did not create but James Breasted did. Not that he couldn’t have expanded the definition like I did (BTW, I am not comparing myself to Jared who is a genius in my opinion and i am just a armchair anthropologist), but he chose not to.

    Coming to the Norte Chico point you made, that is very well informed. Jared Diamond does cover these areas in quite some detail. Per Jared Diamond and also the Wikipedia, the Norte Chico as well as the Meso American (Maya, Aztec) got agriculture only in 3,500 BC. Interestingly, the agricultural package they developed is quite different from the Sumerian package that spread throughout the Neolithic Plate (as I defined it). In fact, Jared Diamond uses the point that agriculture reached so late in the Americas Plate (my definition) to support his theory.

    Also Priya is correct about Ainu. If you look at the NG Genography Project that i linked to in my previous post, you can look at the Haplogroup B which reached the Americas from China/Japan a few 10s of thousands of years ago.

    Priya, thanks for the points about the Ainu. I still remember the Indian settlement we saw in Georgia which has been dated to something like 10,000 BC. That was a great moment for me to actually have set foot in an area where human beings built a culture (although not advanced as you say) that is so old.

    So coming back to Karthik’s 2nd point. Genography shows that humans moved out of Africa in waves in the Pleistocene Era and populated most places on the planet including the most inhabitable areas like the Arctics.

    Mostly these were hunter gatherer people with their package and they were gradually either overrun by the Neolithic people or they developed their own Neolithic package indigenously as in the case of the Americas Plate (this is the commonly accepted theory, the plate designation is mine).

    On the whole the commenting on this post is at a new level. I am enjoying this conversation a lot.

    Thanks a lot.

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    As always your posts provoke me to do my own research to enrich my knowledge and this time since you stopped at suspense, I read more about it. May be Meluhha means a early settlers from South India or IVC. I also found that Meluhha first referred to Ethiopia and later IVC. But the Meluhha identity is still in hot debate.


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    Thanks Subba. I am glad my post is making you dig up information. I would urge you to do some more digging up so that you can critique my findings better.

    I missed your question on Europe. What i thought i had shown is that almost all of Europe was also Neolithic. Celtic people are in the UK and we find neolithic sites all the way there. This is my whole point, that it is not just the Fertile Crescent but the entire Neolithic Plate has to be considered as a whole. We will see more data on why this is the case as my series advances. stay tuned.

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    Sukumar – In our Egypt trip, didn’t they say writing was invented there? At that time, we were a bit taken aback, since we thought writing was invented in Sumer.

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    pk.karthik said February 5, 2008, 1:17 am:

    Thanks Sukumar.

    What i meant about Europe is that we have had Neolithic sites there..but do we find cities of the Magnitude of Catalhyuk,Harappa or UR or Jericho …..

    One more thing that intrigued me was that Jericho not being mentioned here ,I am just curioius on its importance with respect to Anthropolgy .

    As for Mleha tribes ..The are mentioned in the Bhagavatahm too ..that they came from west to attack Dwarka and Krishna leads them into a back to Mountainous terrain..Assuming this bit of information right ..I would put Meluhha at some please between Elam and IVC…so my guestimate it s they must be from Afghanistan may be Bacrtia ….( Came to know from Wiki that Balkh is one of the oldest cities in the world)..
    One more interesting thig whcih I came across is that the first maps we made in Catalhyuk (phew)

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    Karthik – I think the term in Bhagavatham was “Mlecha” meaning “foreigner”. Please correct me if I’m wrong. That could have originated from Meluha, though not sure.

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    pk.karthik said February 5, 2008, 1:36 am:

    Yes Priya you are right …in Bhagavatham it says the Mleccha .There is one theory which mentions that Meluha could be a corruption of Mlecha…
    And it mentions that they came from West that was basis of my assumption 🙂

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 5, 2008, 7:47 am:

    Good question on Europe. You will see the answer to your question in my next post. I want to create a bit of a suspense.

    I did check the old cities link you gave. That is an interesting list. Jericho is already included in the fertile crescent. Because it has been rebuilt so many times, it is hard to associate it with any one culture. This may be a problem common to many old cities because they have all been invaded, sacked, destroyed, rebuilt etc. To me being the oldest per se is not that important, what culture were they following is more important. This is because there have been several claims including Indian claims that they have discovered some very old city and that pushes back human civilization a few millennium back and that India should be the original cradle of civilization. The discovery of Mehrgarh was also tom-tomed in the same way. The problem is if you look closely at Mehrgarh, it is another Neolithic clay brick settlement. So i want to be careful about using data from such old city claims.

    Priya, you are right. Mleccha means foreigner in Sanskrit and it has been used extensively to designate many kinds of foreigners over the years.

    you are right about the theory that Meluhha is a corruption of Mleccha. You will see in the next post more explanations for that term. Just one more element in the suspense. Stay tuned.

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    Sukumar (subscribed) said February 5, 2008, 9:56 am:

    Here is a link for the writing question you asked.
    You can see that many people have claimed that they had the earliest writing. In my view, for a valid writing claim, there should be a non-trivial corpus of writing. If you go by that and the earliest one of that, you land up in Mesopotamia, the real cradle of civilization.

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    pk.karthik said February 6, 2008, 1:27 am:

    Thanks Sukumar…

    I guess i need to be patient till the next post 🙂

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    Pl check the series by Jeroid

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