Sunday, November 11, 2012

Is there ample evidence on the ancient civilizations and their origins?

From an Indian perspective, the sites at Harrappa or the Indus Valley, which flourished across what is now Pakistan and north-west India, for long provided the earliest evidence of organized community living in this part of the world. Yet, even though they are accepted by general consensus as among the oldest of mature civilisations, the evidence that has been unearthed at the main and the proximal areas still remains relatively scarce to create an exegetical argument base for itself.

Like for instance, there is no evidence of the primary economic subsistence base, the system of government and rule, the degree of social stratification or the extent of the cultural sphere that governed the communities inhabiting the Harappan settlements. All that we have is some indication of the geographical extremity, the reasonably affluent lifestyles, the well-laid out civic amenities and some inter-regional trade.

Beyond the sub-continent, we find that the civilization that flourished in Mesopotamia also stretched back by a considerable stack of years and the first such traces in the region emerged during the Ubaid period between 6500 and 3800 BC. Now even during the pre-Harappan period, it is believed, purely on the basis of evidence unearthed, that civilization flourished in some form in the region of Mehrgarh (the Kachi plains of Baluchistan) during 7000-6500 BC. So, the earliest urban sites may have existed simultaneously in the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. Another thing that was common to the two was the creation of scripts, indicative of intellectual advancements even then. While the Mesopotamian cuneiform writing has been deciphered somewhat, the Harappan script which is essentially ‘logographic’, is yet to be decoded.

Another discovery was in 2001, when an ancient submerged settlement in the Gulf of Cambay off the West coast of India, was traced back to around 7500 BC. Based on the study of the artifacts, Indian scientists propounded the theory of a ‘lost river civilisation’ and that the Harappans were descendants of an advanced mother culture that was submerged after the last glacial (ice) age by rising sea waters. What gives credence to this is that the last glacial age coincided with the Mesolithic period that pre-dates both Harappa & Mesopotamia, when the sea levels had fallen considerably and had then risen by several hundred metres, submerging many a flourishing civilization in the process. This was because after the glacial age, the continental ice sheets that had expanded, exhibited a reverse trend and gradually melted away leading to a rise in oceanic levels.

Some archaeologists have countered the genuineness of these artifacts as they have been recovered using the ‘dredging’ technique instead of being excavated by conventional means. Thus, there is no general consensus on whether the Gulf of Cambay is actually the ‘Cradle of Ancient Civilisation’ and not Mesopotamia, as is believed to be.

Thus, arguments and counter-arguments abound but the fact remains that civilization in its incipient stage, relating to the first ever organized urban community living, is yet to be identified with irrefutable evidence to support.