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Seeds of urbanism: palaeoethnobotany

and the Indus Civilization


Palaeoethnobotanical evidence reveals that there was increasing emphasis on greater

varieties of species and cropping practices in the changing subsistence of the Indus
civilization: agricultural intensification is discussed in relation to social and
environmental changes.
Key-words: Indus, Harappa, Rojdi, botanical remains, food agriculture, cereals

Within the Harappan or Indus Valley Civiliza- persed throughout northwestern India and Pa-
tion located in northwest South Asia, a dra- kistan, ranging from village farming commu-
matic shift towards more localized cultural units nities and small towns to several fully developed
and away from urban complexes is thought to city complexes housing large populations, with
have begun at the end of the 3rd millennium tens of thousands of people (FIGURE 1). These
Be. The reasons for decentralization and locali- larger communities had houses with uniform-
zation are still debated, but explanations often sized bricks, granaries, massive city walls, gate-
assume that a changing agricultural system was ways, and extensive areas of craft production
a causal factor in these processes (Kenoyer 1991; (Kenoyer 1991; 1998; Possehl 1990; Jacobson
Jarrige 1985; Possehll986). This paper will focus 1986). Many of the craft products were stand-
on recently collected palaeoethnobotanical data ardized and distributed throughout the Indus
from two sites, Harappa and Rojdi, which allow region. The subsistence system consisted of food
us to examine changes in agriculture during this production with domesticated plants and ani-
critical time, and to understand how these changes mals, some hunting, fishing, and wild plant
are related to shifts in the socio-economic struc- gathering (Meadow 1991; 1996).Supplying the
ture. Analysis suggests that while the types of demand for raw materials, food and finished
plants at the two sites differed, the agricultural products was a major mechanism in integrat-
strategies in both places were changing in simi- ing the widely dispersed settlements (Kenoyer
lar ways. The argument to be proposed is that 1991). Similarities in pottery, weights and seals
the same socio-political and environmental is- are strong evidence for a shared ideology and
sues were affecting inhabitants at both sites, and suggest the existence of an administrative sys-
that even though Harappa and Rojdi represent tem to oversee the manufacturing and distri-
very differenttypes of occupation in differentkinds bution of goods (Kenoyer 1991; 1998;Glover &
of environment, their agricultural strategies were Ray 1994).
nonetheless modified in a manner not unlike one About 2000 BC, cultural integration begins
another. In turn, the way the agricultural strate- to break down. We see a rise in regional sys-
gies change suggests that they were a result of tems that were no longer held together by a
cultural change, and not its cause. single ideological or socio-economic system,
associated with an increase in settlements and
The Indus Civilization the abandonment of many larger urban sites
At its height, around 2600 BC, the Indus Civili- [Shaffer 1993; Possehl 1990; Kenoyer 1991).
zation included nearly a thousand sites dis- These fragmented, regional cultures, that are

* Department of Anthropology, Washington State University, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver WA 98686-
9600, USA. weberQvancouver.wsu.edu
Received 1 5 September 1998, revised 15 January 1998, accepted 1 8 February 1999, revised 4 March 1999.
73 (1999): 813-26

FIGURE1. The location of Harappa, Rojdi and other Harappan sites in northwestern South Asia
[Sources:Possehl8 Raval 1989; Weber 1991).

El400 El600 El800 E2000 E2200 E2400 El600 E280O

N2000 NZWO

N1800 N18W

N16W N1600

N14W N1400

YI200 N1200



El400 El600 El800 EZOOO E2200 E2400 E26W 2800

2. M a p of Harappa. {Map from HARP/dapted from Meadow et al. 1996.)


referred to as Late Harappan, occur at a time in moisture patterns (Kenoyer 1991; Allchin
when the inhabitants of the large urban cen- 1995; Chakrabarti 1997).These in turn may have
tres lost control of the trade networks that had caused changes in river patterns, resulting in
helped integrate this vast region (Kenoyer 1991; flooding and sedimentation. Crop failure would
1998; Glover & Ray 1994).Disruptions and shifts have been followed by settlement abandonment.
in agricultural production play a prominent role Population dislocations, disrupted trade net-
in explanatory models of the Late Harappan works and new agricultural strategies would
(Possehl 1993). It is argued that there was a have then produced new, localized political
decline in traditional crops which fed the large units (Kenoyer 1998).
population centres, at the same time as the
emergence of new agricultural techniques and The sites of Harappa and Rojdi
crop plants that spurred the development of Harappa and Rojdi are sites that span the
local, independent communities (Jarrige 1985; Harappan-Late Harappan transition and where
Kenoyer 1998). Although explanations for these excavations were systematic, extensive and
disruptions in the agricultural base tend to be interdisciplinary. Palaeoethnobotanical recon-
regional in nature, they point to widespread struction from these sites allows us to compare
causes such as tectonic movement or changes agricultural strategies from an urban and a ru-



FIGURE 3. Map of
Rojdi. (Sources:
Possehl b Raval1989;
Weber 1991.)

ral community where the focus on particular space, through time and by context to counter-
plants differed, yet where the same natural and act the inherent biases in the data. Although
cultural processes that were affecting all of these two sites are our best source of consist-
Harappan society were at work. Most existing ent and unbiased data, obviously common pat-
reconstructions of Indus Civilization subsist- terns identified here will need to be tested, using
ence draw on data from a number of sites that similar methods and techniques, at other sites.
can be overlapped to produce an agricultural The site of Harappa (FIGURE 2) was the first
sequence (see: Costantini 1985; 1987; Kajale known city of the Indus Civilization, and cov-
1984; 1991; Meadow 1989; 1996; Jarrige 1985; ering 150 hectares, it remains one of the larg-
Possehll986; Saraswat 1992; Vishnu-Mittre & est. It is one of only five large urban centres
Savithri 1982; Lone et al. 1993). Unfortunately, identified within this civilization (Kenoyer
this means incorporating data from different 1998).The site was linked to both near-by towns
types of sites, excavated at different times us- and villages and the more distant cities by trade
ing different methods, or where varied collec- and ideology (Kenoyer 1998). The occupation
tion and analysis strategies were employed. at this site began at least as early as 3300 BC
Harappa and Rojdi not only span the time pe- and continues at present (Kenoyer 1998;
riod in question, but in both places a palaeo- Meadow, Kenoyer & Wright 1996). The most
ethnobotanical research design was used that recent excavations at Harappa began in 1986
included intensive and systematic analysis of and continue today. Though these excavations
the soil. In addition, quantitative techniques have exposed only a small portion of the set-
have been used to track plant frequencies across tlement, all of the major mounded areas of the

site have been trenched. Using modern tech- Rojdi lies in the southernmost region of this
niques and methods, a significant amount of civilization. Its location along the Bhadar River,
new information has been uncovered over these in the geographical centre of Saurashtra (Gujarat,
past 1 3 years that have provided new data on India) places it in a peripheral region of the
its formation, character, evolution and decline Indus Civilization, a region based on summer
(see: Meadow et al. 1994; 1995; 1996). crops such as millets (Weber 1991).
Centrally located between two major tribu- Based on its size of 7 ha, and the kinds of
taries of the Indus River, and based on a win- architectural features it exhibits, Rojdi was a
ter cultivation strategy using wheat and barley, farming community, trading and interacting with
Harappa served as a production hub and de- other sites in its region (Dhavalikar 1995).While
pot for both local and regional trade items, in- some sites in Saurashtra, like Lothal (Rao 1979)
cluding agricultural products. It lies in the and Rangpur (Rao 1963), contain artefacts and
highlands, a n environment in the northernmost demonstrate city planning that more clearly
area of this civilization. With good rainfall and places them within the socio-political system
fertile soils, this area can have abundant har- of this civilization, other sites are like Rojdi
vests. Over time, and with growth, the inhab- with a greater mix of local and regional styles
itants built new, walled neighbourhoods until, (see Possehl & Raval 1989). Based on the co-
at its height, Harappa became a fully devel- existence of local and Harappan styles of ma-
oped city complex, housing at points a popu- terial culture at these sites and others, there is
lation in excess of 35,000 people (Kenoyer clear evidence that the Harappans established
1998). Based on city layout, the styles of control over parts of Gujarat (Dhavalikar 1995;
painted ceramics, inscribed seals and weights, Allchin & Allchin 1982). Artefacts recovered
the inhabitants of this site shared the same from Rojdi clearly demonstrate the inhabitants
culture seen in other Indus civilization sites. were part of this larger regional culture, inter-
Harappa is not only the type site of this civi- acting with other local and regional settlements.
lization but it is one of the most important; Fortified cities like Dholavira (Bisht 1989; 1991),
any trends identified here have significance situated on a small island in the Rann of Kutch,
for the culture as a whole. probably controlled the flow of goods between
Due to the collection and dating of carbon peripheral regions like Saurashtra (including
samples over the last 1 3 years, a good chronol- sites like Rojdi) and the core areas of the Indus
ogy now exists for Harappa. The first identi- plain (Kenoyer 1998).
fied occupation at Harappa belongs to the Early All distinct areas of this walled town were
Harappan Period from 3300 to 2600 BC. The trenched, producing a comprehensive database
Harappan Period extends from 2600 to 1900 representing the full spatial and temporal range
BC and can be subdivided into building phases of activities occurring at Rojdi. Three ceramic
3A (2600-2400 BC), 3B (2450-2200 BC), and 3C phases (A, B and C), were distinguished accord-
(2200-1900 BC). This is followed by the Late ing to fabric, design and shape (Herman 1989).
Harappan Period which lasts till about 1700 Over time, a decrease in the quality of the ce-
BC. Changes in the artefacts, ecofacts and ar- ramic fabric (the appearance of thicker, cruder
chitecture have been documented that support ware) is accompanied by an increase in the
the perception that the Late Harappan period quality and refinement of the decorative ele-
featured a more localized and less integrated ments, indicating greater local influence
political-economic system (see: Kenoyer 1998; (Herman 1989).At the same time there is a se-
Meadow et al. 1996). ries of occupations or architectural levels, each
In contrast to Harappa, Rojdi was a town, with a range of structures, two for Rojdi A, two
whose planned architecture and Harappan-like for Rojdi B and one for Rojdi C. Though there
artefacts are found alongside localized charac- are some variations in the building style for
teristics in its material remains (FIGURE 3). The these levels, the overall pattern suggests an
artefacts found at Rojdi are stylistically diver- expansion in the settlement toward the south
gent from those representing other Harappan at the time of Rojdi C.
regional populations, yet still part of the larger The shifts in architecture and ceramics cor-
Harappan cultural whole (Possehl & Ravall989). respond nicely to the radiocarbon chronology
Located in an arid, shrub savanna environment, developed for this site. Multiple carbon sam-

cropping tlement (see Chakrabarti 1997),it was occupied

plant taxon season Harappa Rojdi during the time periods in question (including
the transition to the Late period),the occupants
cereals were interacting with inhabitants of other sites
wheat (Triticum) W T- I -
in the region, and both the artefactual and
barley (Hordeum) W T-I T-I11
rice (Oryza) S T-111 - ecofactual records demonstrate significant shifts,
just as can be identified at the same time at
millets Har app a.
Eleusine S T-TI T-I
Panicum S T-I1 T-I Agricultural, change and the
Setaria S - T-I archaeobotanical record
Agricultural products are made by people who
pulses and vegetables select land, crops and production strategies they
peas perceive as appropriate (Hastorf 1993). These
Pisum W T- [I T-I1
T-I1 strategies can be reconstructed through proper
Cicer W -

Lathyrus W T-I1 T-I1

palaeoethnobotanical analysis (Pearsall 1989;
lentils (Lens) W T-I1 T-I1 Hastorf 1993; Gremillion 1997).
gram Two agricultural strategies occur in South
Dolichos S _. T-I1 Asia, and are believed to have been present in
Phaseolus S -. T-I1 the Harappan civilization (Meadow 1989; 1991).
Vigna S T-I1 T-I1 Each is represented, respectively, at Harappa
Medicago S T-.[II T-I1 and Rojdi (TABLE 1).One strategy involves crops
sown in the autumn, harvested in the spring
oilseed and fibre and fed with winter rains and is found in pre-
linseed (Linum) W T-I1 T-I1 history in northwest South Asia (Baluchistan,
mustard (Brassica) W T-I1 T-I11
cotton (Gossypium) S T-I1 -
Bannu Basin, Sind, Punjab, Swat, Kashmir).
Crops include barley, wheat, oats, peas, len-
fruits tils, chickpea, jujube, mustard and grass pea.
melon (Cucumis) S T-I11 T-I11 The second strategy centres on plants sown in
date (Phoenix) S T.11 - summer and harvested in the fall, making use
jujube (Zizyphus) W T-I1 T-I1 of summer monsoon rains. Prehistorically, the
grape (Vitis) S T-I1 - summer sown plants (millets, sorghum, rice,
cotton, dates and gram) were used most often
W = winter/spring-harvested; S = summc!r/fall-harvested; in Gujarat and western India (Saurashtra, Kutch,
T-I =tier I plants; T-I1 = tier I1 plants; T-111 = tier 111 plants.
Rajasthan, Maharashtra).
TABLE1. Main cultivated plants recovered from Cities in the Indus Valley, like Harappa, are
Harappa and Rojdi. thought to have been based on the winter strategy
(Meadow 1991; Kenoyer 1989). This strategy
ples from secure contexts were collected from is the older of the two, based on local or West
all areas of the site (Possehl & Ravall989). Rojdi Asian species and dependent on an irrigation
was occupied from about 2500 to 1800 BC.Both system (Costantini 1990; Weber 1991; 1996).
Rojdi A (2500-2300 BC) and Rojdi B (2300-2000 The summer strategy is, and was, based on a
BC) fall into the Harappan Period, while Rojdi variety of millets, plants regarded as very hardy,
C (2000-1700 BC) represents the Late Harappan drought-tolerant and capable of growing in poor
Period. During the Late Harappan period, shifts soils (Weber 1998: 267). This was the promi-
in architecture and ceramics point to an in- nent strategy in Gujarat and at sites like Rojdi.
creased influence of local, non-Harappan ele- The summer strategy was developed later than
ments at a time of settlement expansion and the winter strategy, and has been linked with
population growth (Possehl & Raval 1989). pastoralism (Weber 1998: 270; Mehra 1997). As
Most Indus civilization sites are small set- time passed, more sites in all areas incorporated
tlements like Rojdi, rather than large ones like both strategies, although the emphasis was often
Harappa. Although artefacts recovered from on the strategy better suited to the local environ-
Rojdi suggest it is not a typical Harappan set- ment.

At both Harappa and Rojdi, thousands of litres Harappa Rojdi

of soil were systematically collected and floated
from a variety of locations and features, yield- no. of samples analysed 66 284
ing tens of thousands of carbonized seeds, rep- no. of seeds identified 23,231 6256
resenting dozens of species (TABLE2). The no. of edible taxa identified 33 29
average seed density per litre of soil 40 5
strategy was to sample as wide a variety of con-
texts as possible and to sample these contexts TABLE2. The archaeobotanical data base a t
multiple times. In order to maximize the value Harappa and Rojdi.
of the archaeobotanical material while mini-
mizing the inherent biases in this kind of data- intense the activity involving that type of plant
base, samples were systematically collected and or the more the activity involves fire, the higher
analysed from each phase and within each con- the density of seeds in the archaeobotanical
text. If activities relating to the manipulation sample (Pearsall 1988; 1989; Sullivan 1987;
of plant products can be assumed to have been Miller 1988). Harappa was the more substan-
distributed systematically with respect to con- tial occupation and therefore more likely to
text type, then the samples need to represent have had abundant, intensive and continu-
as many different structures and features as ous trash deposition. Seeds at Harappa would
possible (Hillman 1981). have experienced a more rapid burial, lead-
Like artefacts, seeds can be identified, their ing to a n enhancement of organic preserva-
spatial and temporal distribution determined tion and concentrations of specific species.
and their uses inferred. Combining existing This process may also account for why
knowledge regarding archaeobotanical data with Harappa yields a greater variety of species,
the context of the material to be analysed per- including most of those found at Rojdi as well
mits the palaeoethnobotanist to determine if, as those specific to Harappa.
how and when a plant was being used (Dennell At both Harappa and Rojdi the most com-
1974; 1976; Thomas 1983; Miller 1997; Hastorf mon crops were cereals, followed by pulses and
& Popper 1988). With additional information vegetables, and finally oil-seed, fibre and fruit
about plant morphology, place of origin, geog- plants. A three-tiered, hierarchical model of
raphy and growing requirements, the palaeo- plant-use can be constructed for each site (TA-
ethnobotanist can reconstruct what the BLE 1). The model can be imagined as an in-
surrounding habitat may have looked like and verted pyramid (FIGURE 4), with the topmost
what plants might have been available to the layerrepresenting the most abundant species,
sites inhabitants during each phase of occu- as well as those most critical to subsistence (re-
pation (Doggett 1989; Harlan 1976, 1992; ferred to as Tier I plants). At Harappa, wheat
Hillman & Davies 1990;Vavilov 1992).The basic and barley were the mainstay of the agricul-
assumption is that when a large, systematically tural system and top the hierarchy. Grains of
analysed sample that represents all occupations these winterlspring harvested cereals are found
equally is used (as has been done at these two in nearly every sample, implying extensive use
sites),then trends and regularities that are iden- of these species (TABLE 3). On average they make
tified for each period tend to reflect patterned up 80% of all recovered material from a given
behaviour for that period. sample. Their relatively high abundance within
The preservation of carbonized seeds and most assemblages suggests greater importance
seed fragments has been very good at both sites. than other taxa. The second tier of the hierar-
Seeds were recovered from most of the flota- chy at Harappa includes cultivated crops of
tion samples represented in each database. lesser importance. These include lentils, linum,
Fewer than 5% of the samples from either site grape, pea and grass pea, dates, zizyphus, cot-
failed to contain seeds. The average density of ton and some millets. The third level or Tier
seeds at the two sites is significantly different 111 plants consists mostly of wild species with
(TABLE 2). At Harappa, there was an average of a few minor crops like gram, rice and melon.
nearly 40 seeds per litre of soil, eight times that While rice phytoliths and a few carbonized rice
of Rojdi, with an average of 5 seeds per litre of grains have been recovered from each occupa-
soil. Density often reflects the intensity of ac- tion at Harappa, rice appears to have played a
cidents leading to seed preservation. The more minor role in their agricultural strategy. Rice

TIER-I PLANTS: Most abundant species recovered and

those most crucial to the subsistence system.

TIER-I1 PLANTS: Cultivated crops

of lesser importance.

FIGURE 4. Three-tiered
TIER-I11 PLANTS: model demonstrating
A mix of cultivated
the importance of
food plants in

prehistoric South
subsistence. Asia. See TABLE1 for
reference to species
that represent these
categories for
Harappa and Rojdi.

cropping was probably not well suited to the tinuity in the cropping strategy for their par-
environment surrounding Harappa, just as it ticular region over the last 4000 or so years.
is not the prominent plant cropped today. This is not to say that the dietary system has
At Rojdi, millets are the dominant cereals not undergone some change. Both sites show a
and are at the top of the hierarchy. These sum- continuous process of incorporating new spe-
mer/fall harvested plants were recovered in over cies into the cropping system, but new species
half of the samples and make up the largest neither suddenly appear in large numbers, nor
category of crop plants [TABLE1).Barley was do they significantly alter the existing subsist-
less important and takes its place in the third ence strategy (Weber 1998). Whether it is the
tier. No wheat or rice was recovered from Rojdi. summer-cropped plants being incorporated into
As a whole, the second and third tiers at Rojdi the system at Harappa [e.g. gram, linseed and
are similar to those at Harappa, and involve millets), or the winter-cropped plants at Rojdi
most of the same taxa. A multi-cropping strat- [e.g.peas and lentils), all initially played a minor
egy is discernible at each site from the earliest role in the dietary system. Over time, most of
occupation, although the emphasis was on the the new species increase in number, implying
season that better suited their particular envi- a greater role in the diet, yet the process seems
ronment, and multi-cropping intensifies over to have been gradual. Further, existing species
the course of each occupation. are not greatly reduced with the introduction
This inverted pyramid model also works for of these new crops. There seems to be an over-
the agricultural practices found in each region all pattern throughout the Indus Civilization
historically. In the Punjab, where Harappa is toward gradually broadening and intensifying the
located, and in Gujarat, where Rojdi is located, agricultural system by cropping plants more in-
the types and proportions of species have re- tensively throughout the year and by using a greater
mained fairly stable over time with little vari- variety of plants during any given season.
ation from what has been identified during While neither site shows any sudden or rapid
Harappan times. Both Rojdi and Harappa dem- change in its use of plants, some significant
onstrate that there has been a great deal of con- changes were taking place during the transi-

Harappan Period Late Harappan Period

Harappa Rojdi Harappa Rojdi

wheat (Triticum) 85 - 90 -
barley (Hordeum) 85 - 88 -
wheat (Triticum)
barley (Hordeum)
Eleusine - 6 - 0.1
Panicum - 0.8 - 0.1
TABLE3. Crop
production of the
Setaria - 0.1 - 0.9
main cereals from the relative percentage
Tier-f plant category wheat (Triticum) 44 - 34 -
at Harappa and barley (Hordeum) 35 - 41 -
Rojdi. The table millets
presents the shifts in Eleusine
plant occurrence Panicum
within this category Setaria
during the transition
from the Harappan Ubiquity is the percentage of samples from which a specific taxon was recovered.
period to the Late Density is the number of seeds per litre of soil. Percentage is the relative abundance of a
Harappan period. specific taxon in a given assemblage.

tion to the Late Harappan Period. A similar age of food crops relative to other kinds of plants
percentage decline in seed density occurs at declines nearly 5% during the Late Period (TA-
both sites, with a 62% decline at Harappa and BLE 3). At both Rojdi and Harappa, a signifi-
a 70% decline at Rojdi. This is closely related cant shift from one existing taxon to another
to the changing richness of edible plants found within the cereals category can be identified
at each site. Richness is the number of differ- as occurring during the transition to the Late
ent edible plant taxa found in a flotation sam- period. It is worth noting that at neither site
ple and hence measures the diversity of food does rice, a crop long associated with the Late
plants (Rocek 1995). At Harappa and at Rojdi, Harappan period, become a prominent plant
the overall average was almost three times as (see Kenoyer 1998). Rice can be found quite
many edible taxa per total number of edible early at a number of sites, including Harappa.
plant fragments recovered per flotation sam- But it is never found in large quantities, even
ples during the Late Harappan Period than the at Lothal (Rao 1963) and Rangpur (Rao 1979),
earlier periods. A wider range of crops was being suggesting it played only a minor role in the
cultivated at both sites during the Late Period. subsistence system of all regions (Weber 1991).
If we focus on only the main cereal grains The shift to rice as a primary food grain, mainly
found at each site, those taxa that account for found in environments associated with sum-
the majority of the recovered seeds in most mer monsoon rains, occurs after the beginning
samples and top the hierarchy in each model, of the onset of the Late period (see: Jarrige 1985;
an interesting pattern emerges (TABLE3). At Weber 1992; Kenoyer 1998).
Harappa, the wheat and barleys account for over At Harappa the shift from one taxon to an-
70% of the recovered food plants. At Rojdi, the other is seen in the wheat-barley record. There
millets account for over half of the recovered is a gradual increase in the number of wheat
crop plants. At both sites these cereal crops and barley species cultivated at Harappa, but
remain relatively stable, though the percent- the majority of the wheats are consistently shot

wheat (Triticum sphaerococcum) and bread or have drastically altered the way people lived,
club wheat (T. aestivum/compactum), while driven them to another area or dramatically
most of the barleys are either 6-row naked shot affected access to productive resources. Climate
barley (Hordeum sphaerococcum) or 6-row and environment of the subcontinent during
hulled barley (H. vulgare). At the earliest oc- the Harappan times have drawn interest and
cupation, barley is the dominant grain. During provoked controversy since the earliest exca-
the Harappan Period, wheat increases in ubiq- vations in the Indus Valley (Misra 1984; Misra
uity, density and percentage until it becomes the & Rajguru 1989; Possehl 1997). Environmen-
most common species at Harappa (TABLE 3). Yet tal change has played an important part in many
during the Late Period, wheat declines and bar- theories about Harappan society (e.g. Raikes &
ley once again becomes the dominant cereal. Dyson 1961; Possehl 1986; 1997). Based on a
At Rojdi, like Harappa, there is an increas- combination of palynological lake-bed studies
ing variety of cereal grains, though in this case (Singh 1971; Singh et al. 1972; Singh eta1.1990)
it is millets (Table 3). Many of these species - and ancient vegetation reconstruction based on
like Sorghum, which is introduced near the end charcoal analysis (Thiebault 1988; Seth 1978),
of the Harappan occupation - never account it appears the vegetation was not that different
for a significant portion of the archaeobotanical from today. The beginning of the 2nd millen-
record (Weber 1998). In fact, three millets, fin- nium may have ushered in an overall drying
ger millet (Eleusine coracana), little millet trend in South Asia (Possehl 1997), although
(Panicum sumatrense) and foxtail millet (Se- there are indications that some regions may have
taria italica), make up the majority of the food experienced an increase in the amount of rain
grains representing both the Harappan and Late in the summer months (Kenoyer 1991; Weber
Harappan Periods. Yet such measurements as 1992; 1993). Although there is no firm agree-
ubiquity, density and percentage of seeds per ment on what the climate was like, or how it
sample all show a shifting pattern of occurrence might have changed during the course of the
(see Weber 1991 for a detailed account of Rojdi Indus civilization, there does seem to be a con-
archaeobotanical record). Finger millet and little sensus that the decentralization and localiza-
millet, which figure prominently during the tion of Harappan society displayed in the Late
Harappan Period, decline in the Late Period, Harappan Period were closely related to changes
while foxtail millet is the dominant plant in going on in the environment - the results of
this Late Period but appears in very small num- both natural events and human activity (Shaffer
bers in the earlier periods. There is clear evidence 1993; Weber 1996;Possehll993; 1997; Kenoyer
that, as in the case of Harappa, a significant shift 1998).A combination of shifts in river systems
in plant usage or crop-processing activiteis oc- and in climate led to many Late Harappan settle-
curred around 2000 BC amongst existing species. ments being established along newly stabilized
Continuity and change in the agricultural river systems (Kenoyer 1991).Yet these new set-
strategy are patterned similarly at each site. Is tlements depended on crop plants already incor-
this similarity related to the breakdown in the porated into their agricultural strategies.
socio-political system that led to the decentrali- While environmental conditions may have
zation seen in the archaeological record at had a direct impact on Harappan settlement
around 2000 BC? And if it is related, how is it systems, their effects on agricultural produc-
related? tion at Harappa and Rojdi are less evident. All
the shifts in plant use at these sites are toward
Explanations for continuity and change species that grow in similar environments. No
Similar shifts toward agricultural intensifica- significant climatic shift is necessary to explain
tion at both Harappa and Rojdi, at about the them. Although the emphasis on certain plants
same time, suggest that region-wide events were changes over time, at neither site do plants dis-
at work. A common cause of agricultural shifts, appear from the archaeobotanical record, im-
one that can affect all aspects of society, is change plying that whatever was acquired or used was
in the climate and environment. Climate, for kept in the dietary repertoire. This tendency
example, influences site location and tends to may reflect a style of decision-making particu-
delimit the parameters of subsistence and set- larly suited to matters of agriculture, in that
tlement patterns. Any change in climate could once a plant is added to the cropping system,

especially in the marginal environments that being brought in to Harappa were more likely
abound this civilization, it is unlikely to be for human consumption than for fodder. These
removed. Changes in agricultural strategies and grains were probably stored centrally and then
patterns of plant use, while subject to climatic redistributed to the inhabitants of the city un-
and hydrological constraints, are generally too der the direction of 6lites.
complex to be reduced to shifts in the envi- In contrast, the agricultural strategy during
ronment. An increase in weedy species and a the Late Period at Harappa involved a greater
decline in crop-seed density may be more closely variety of plants at a time when fodder crops
related to an increase in population and a denser like barley were increasingly important. There-
network of villages and towns, producing some fore, the transition to the Late Period may have
form of environmental degradation, like over- been associated with the increasing importance
grazing, overwatering of fields and deforestation. of cattle, or the practice of herding closer to
The cereals found at both sites were being the city, or even, possibly, increasing use of dung
grown for both grain (for people) and straw (for for fuel, a practice that often leads to the char-
animals), and are the key to understanding ring of seeds in archaeological contexts (Miller
changing agricultural strategies. The environ- & Smart 1984).
ment constrains which crops are grown and Similarly, the choice in millets at Rojdi may
when they are planted, but it is the cultural be related to increasing importance of fodder
factors leading to crop choice that are more likely plants. Finger millets, which are so common
to provide an explanation of changes in plant at the early levels of Rojdi, are more often grown
occurrence at each site. for human use, while foxtail millet, the domi-
Barley is a more drought-resistant plant need- nant grain of the Late Harappan Period, is com-
ing less water than wheat, it has a shorter grow- monly grown as a fodder. Samples from the early
ing season and can grow in a more saline soil levels contain mostly cleaned charred seeds,
(Miller 1986; 1997). Further, barley has softer which are often taken to represent a single food
straw, and requires milling to remove the husks, plant, with a few wild, weedy species mixed
meaning that it is better suited for animal fod- in. This seems to indicate that their deposition
der than for human consumption (Miller 1997). was related to food processing activities. In
When given a choice, people in South Asia tra- contrast, samples from the Late Harappan Pe-
ditionally grow wheat or rice for human con- riod show an increase of wild grasses mixed
sumption and barley for fodder. Wheat was most in with the millets and a greater variety of taxa,
common at Harappa between 2600 and 2000 all suggesting that these grains were being grown
BC, during the period of integration. This was as a fodder and entered the site as part of a
when the city was most densely populated and fuel. At Rojdi there appears to be an increase
when agricultural and herding activities may in both cattle and in agricultural activity, evi-
have been occurring farther from the site. In dent in the fact that more nearby land was dis-
fact, there may have been greater reliance on turbed. During the shift to the Late Harappan
food products coming in from outlying areas Period, we see far less arboreal pollen (imply-
just as there was on long-distance trade goods. ing fewer trees), less charred wood in hearths,
Storage areas like the central granary found more weedy species, more crop variety and an
at Harappa would have been in use at this time increased dependence on millet-cropping (We-
(see Vats 1940). In an urban setting, with more her 1991).
people living in close proximity to one another, There is good evidence that over-exploita-
agricultural fields may have been located far- tion of resources was affecting the landscape
ther from the site. Settlements in areas like and environment of Rojdi, and possibly even
Cholistan along the ancient Hakra River (FIG- Harappa. Yet there is no evidence for any dra-
URE 1)may have contributed grains of wheat matic or sudden shift in plant occurrence or
and barley to the large urban sites like Mohenjo- use. Rather than being a direct cause of social
Daro, Ganweriwala and Harappa (Kenoyer 1991; change as proposed by some scholars (see
Mughal 1997). Because greater distances were Wheeler 1953; Fairservice 1971),it seems more
involved, fewer varieties of plants were being likely that human-induced degradation to the
exploited, or at least fewer varieties were be- environment simply increased the rate at which
ing brought into the city. The grains that were the local habitat was being exploited. With

nearly 6600 sq. km of available farm land around agricultural activities would more intensively
Harappa (Fentress 1982) and a decrease in trade have affected the local environment. Smaller
or introduced food goods during the Late pe- communities, less dependent upon imported
riod, more nearby land would have been ex- goods, would probably have been more suc-
ploited. Over time, though after the transition cessful.
to the Late period, this would dramatically af-
fect the landscape and any cultures residing Conclusion:a model for change
in the area. Just as we see the culturally integrated Harappan
Of course, the patterns I have identified at civilization fragmenting into decentralized re-
each of these sites may only coincidentally seem gional cultures, the sites of Harappa and Rojdi
similar, and by themselves only represent lo- are demonstrating change of their own. Not only
cal processes. But when the data-sets are viewed can shifts in the material record and settlement
together, a case for region-wide patterns is data be identified at these sites, but agricul-
strongly suggested. Similar patterns of change tural strategies can also be seen to be evolving.
at two far-flung Harappan sites, involving dif- While the palaeoethnobotanical data suggests
ferent plant species, in contrasting types of that there was a long history for multi-crop-
environments and representing such different ping involving the same species found in each
kinds of communities, is a circumstance that respective area today (Weber 1992; Kajale 1991),
should not be ignored, but tested and debated. there was a continuous, though gradual, effort
The data from these sites suggest that changes to broaden and intensify the cropping strategy
in the agricultural system that occurred around through an increased dependence on more spe-
2000 BC were similar throughout this civiliza- cies grown more regularly throughout the year.
tion, regardless of the region in which settle- While there was a greater variety of species being
ments were located, or whether they were urban grown, the intensity of use of most crops was
or rural. At both sites, shifts in cereal use were declining. The most significant change in crop
associated with continued efforts at broaden- use occurred within the cereals category, con-
ing and intensifying agricultural strategies. sidered Tier I plants. Rather than being associ-
While the identification of a pattern involving ated with a major environmental or climatic
agricultural intensification has been developed event where survival was the underlying goal,
for the Kachi Plain, where a sequence from the changing proportions of existing species in the
sites of Mehrgarh, Nausharo and Pirak shows archaeobotanical record reflect the kinds of
a shift toward multi-cropping in the Late Pe- choices people make as a result of an altered
riod (Jarrige 1985; Kenoyer 1998; Chakrabarti socio-economic situation. The data from these
1997), it is only from the sites of Harappa and two sites suggest that the agricultural strategy
Rojdi that shifting dependence of existing crops in the Late Harappan period was one better
has been identified. This may be due to the suited for local consumption needs and less
kinds of analysis being employed at different based on regional systems of the Harappan
sites. Crop choice at Harappa and Rojdi inclined period. While changes in agricultural produc-
in all periods toward species better suited for tion and cropping strategies are linked to cor-
their environment. In the Late Harappan pe- responding shifts seen in the material record
riod, as the socio-economic system became less at both sites, these changes should be seen as
centralized, a greater range of economic, food- an indicator of, rather than as an instigator for,
oriented activities occurred in each commu- cultural change. While the trends identified here
nity. Though there is at present little are based on only two sites, they demonstrate,
archaeological evidence for patterns of grain first, the complexity of the agricultural strate-
storage and redistribution, it is predicted that gies employed by the Harappans and, second,
further excavation will reveal they were also that significant though subtle changes were
changing at this time. A shift from large cen- occurring during the transition to the Late pe-
tral storage facilities to the more traditional mud- riod. It is only through continued, careful work
plastered bins associated with individual houses at these sites and others like them, that this
would likely be associated with an increasing proposal of shifting crop choice a n d its
emphasis on local farming in the Late period. relatonship to cultural a n d environmental
In the end, the increase in local herding and change can be understood and better explained.

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