The release of a recent Bollywood flick, with the ruggedly handsome Hrithik Roshan as the male lead, seems to have rekindled a sharp interest in the Indus Valley civilization (3300–1300 BCE) and early Indian history. The timing for such an interest in our historic and archaeological heritage couldn’t have been better; last week the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) released a report stating that it has discovered a camping site in Ladakh which is about 10,500 years old. The discovery of artifacts, bones, and remains of human activity from ancient India at a height of 14,000 feet came as a surprising discovery.
The camping site discovered by the ASI in Ladakh is located near the Karakoram Pass in the Ladakh region; it was found on the way to Saser La in the Nubra Valley. The discovery was made quite by chance by a team of archaeologists led by the Joint Director-General of ASI, Dr Simadri B Ota. The ASI team exploring the Nubra Valley observed both the hillside and the deep valley from a vantage point. Some 22 kilometres ahead, beside the long winding road that runs along the Saser stream, a section of earth had been exposed due to some construction work in the vicinity. The team stopped to explore the remains. Closer study revealed successive layers comprising old residue of burnt items.
Charcoal samples collected from the site were sent to BETA lab in Florida in the USA, for radiocarbon determination. Radiocarbon determining is a method used for dating or ascertaining the age of objects which possess organic material content using radiocarbons. Radioactive carbon isotopes in organic matter when put under the carbon 14 dating process undergoes halving every 5,370 years helping us to determine the age of the sample.
The results of the determination greatly stunned the archaeologists of the ASI. The lab report said the charcoal samples could be dated back to 8500 BC. “The outcome, i.e. 8500 BC (10,500 years ago), was beyond even the ASI’s expectation. Such an early antiquity on the basis of a scientific date was the very first for that region”, said the ministry’s statement.
With the results from the lab in Florida bringing in unexpected news of a discovery, another team of senior archaeologists from the ASI accompanied Dr. Ota in July 2016 and studied the area to assess the possibility of the existence of an ancient site. Once again, the team collected charcoal remains and bones from various layers of deposits. These two charcoal samples came back with corroborating results. The lower deposits were dated back to about 8500 BC (10,500 years ago) while the upper deposits dated back to some 7300 BC (9,300 years ago). Apart from confirming the earlier radiocarbon date determination results, this report also proved that human activity in the area lasted over 800 years (in the Neolithic age).
Insights Into Neolithic Man
The camping site as mentioned in the release by the Ministry of Culture is dated to 8500 BC, and is likely to provide unprecedented insights into human migration in the Neolithic Age. Dr. Ota explained the significance of his discovery thus, “The discovery is significant because the site is known as a ‘dry snow desert’, an area where temperatures sway between -30 to -40 degree Celsius. There’s barely any vegetation and survival is difficult. The discovery is historical because it proves that man could negotiate such a difficult terrain, while we thought otherwise”.
This is certainly not the first part of Ladakh to have thrown up remains of the Neolithic Age. Other parts of Kashmir such as Burjuman too have revealed cave paintings from the same era. This points to a migration of ancient men along the Himalayan passes. The real question now is where did these people come from and where were they headed. According to leading archaeologists and experts, there is no proof of housing at the time. This means that man was still a cave dweller. The period was one when man was making a transition from being a hunter-gatherer to a rudimentary farmer.
Leading bio-archaeologist from Deccan College in Pune, Professor Pramod P Joglekar who carried out tests on charred bone remains from the region believes that the organic matter found in this indicate the presence of gorals and yaks. This could also mean that some level of domestication of these animals was to be found during the period. More discoveries need to be made about the epoch and the ASI is keen to undertake more digging expeditions in the region. The ASI admitted that it will indeed be a difficult task to undertake such excavation at an altitude of over 14000 feet, and in such a inimical. Those, who love archaeological work, however, shall find passion in the prospect of new discoveries, though.
The discovery is a significant one but it is also testimony to humankind’s love of nature since ancient times. The reason this site may have been chosen as a camping site could be due to its natural beauty. The ministry statement described the area as “a small flat area with snow-covered peaks on one extreme, dry barren land with loose rocks all around and gushing stream within the deep western gorges, an ideal place for camping in a picturesque setting”.