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Fauna of Mewar from Copper Age to Iron Age

Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past, – T. S. Eliot

animalDating around 4000 years back, Ahar is one of the earliest known civilizations in India, contemporary to the Harrappan civilization. The only archaeological museum on the excavation site in Rajasthan stands in Udaipur city, on one of the long buried settlements of the ancient civilization of Ahar.

The first evidence of Ahar civilization determined by Carbon Dating dates back to 2000 BC. Romance of the past led to the discovery of some 90 sites of this archaic civilization on the banks of Banas River and its tributaries. First excavation took place in mid 1950s by R. Agrawal (Director of Archaeology, Rajasthan). Later it led to a series of excavations on different sites of this riverine settlement, revealing layer after layer of surprises and disclosures.

The first age of this civilization is known as the Copper Age that dates back from 2000 BC to 1200 BC. The period from 1200 BC to 300 BC is known as the Dark Age in which no evidence of civilization has been found.

Then is the Iron Age that dates from 300 BC to 200 AD when there was a marked change by iron coming into use.

Ahar site in Udaipur is situated on the banks of the river of the same name, Ahar, which is a tributary of Banas. A comprehensive excavation and study was undertaken in 1961-62 on the Udaipur site under H. D. Sakalia and a total area of 8700 sq. ft. was excavated.

The artefacts and other items excavated from the Udaipur site were properly marked, identified and dated with C14 Carbon Dating. But what was overlooked was the close scrutiny of terracotta toys and their relation to the fauna of the region of that era. The use and collection of horns and antlers by the people of that time was also not established analogically.

Methodology:

We have tried to decipher the fauna and flora of Mewar region, apart from what has been identified, between Copper Age and Iron Age. The help of terracotta toys, horns and antlers excavated from this site exhibited in the museum has been taken.

We have closely scrutinized the terracotta toys and considered that the mentor was an artist and not a naturalist. Therefore he took into account the most catching features of the animals, not going into minute details.

The literature published on the site of Udaipur and the paper ‘Animal Remains from Excavation at Ahar’ has been studied.

The figurines of bullocks are of different shapes, colours and with different types of humps. All of them have been identified as domestic cattle similar to Zebu, which might not be the case. E.g. it has not been considered that the upright posture, dark colour and massive structure could have been that of Wild Cattle or Gaur. The animal and bird figures have been compared with different books on animals and birds. Also a detailed study of characteristics of fauna written in the books of natural history has been carried out.

The utility of horns and antlers has been established by consulting the traditional Akhada and traditional medicinal books.

The faunal and floral history of Mewar region from Veer Vinod and pre-independent Shikar books written by British hunters and naturalists has been consulted.

Discussion and Result:

This 4000 years of history of Mewar region bears many geological and natural upheavals that might have resulted in the disappearance of several species.

From the excavation study it has been concluded that rice was the main agricultural product for food. This shows that in those days precipitation was very heavy and the area must have had sizable marshy land also which gradually vanished.

Studies were conducted on artefacts excavated from the site but the terracotta toys and some other artefacts were not so closely scrutinized. Most of the thrust was given to the bones and skulls. The study is mostly concentrated on domestic animals. Some of the animals identified in the excavation report are as under:

Class – Pisces

Sub-class – Osteichthyses

Order- Teleostei

(Bony fish)

……….

Class – Aves

Sub-class – Carinatae

Order – Galliformis

Species – Gallus gallus (Fowl)

……….

Class – Mammalia

Order – Perissodactyla

Family – Equidae

Species – Equus asinus (Domestic Ass)

……….

Order – Artiodactyla

Family – Bovidae

Species – Bos indicus (Domestic cattle of India)

……….

Sub-Family – Caprinae

Capra aegagrus (Gmelin) race indicus

The Indian Domestic Goat

……….

Species – Ovis Vignei (Blyth) race Domesticus

Domestic Sheep

……….

Family – Cervidae

Species – Cervus duvaucelli

(cuvier) Barasinga

……….

Family – Suidae

Species – Sus cristatus (Wagner) car domesticus

(Rolleston)

……….

Order – Carnivora

Family – Viverridae

Sub-family – Mungotinae

Species – Mungos auropunctatus (Hodgren) Mongoose

……….

Family – Canidae Canis Familaris (Linn)

Domestic Dog

……….

Canis lupus (Linn) Indian Wolf

One of the animals identified and reported in the excavation report is Swamp Deer (Cervis duvaucelli). At present, the distribution of this animal is in the swampy grasslands of Northern India. This indicates that large tract of this area was swampy with grassland. Cervis duvaucelli is now extinct from this region.

The excavation of ivory beads and terracotta toys depicting elephants shows that elephants were in plenty those days in Mewar region. A small population of these animals survived up till 1907 as mentioned in the British Gazetteer.

A terracotta toy exhibited in the showcase has a similarity with rhinoceros. Its long muzzle with ears far back on the top of the head, almost fused in the toy, resembles that of a rhinoceros. The mentor must have seen the animal in the surrounding jungles and tried to depict it in a toy form. The massive structure and awesome appearance must have inspired and attracted the mentor. The barrel shaped body, short and massive limbs, boat shaped muzzle, ears situated high on top of the head close together show clearly that the mentor is trying to depict a rhinoceros.

Several toys of bullocks with different structures are exhibited in the showcases. Two of them have a deep and massive body and black colour. The muscular ridge upon the shoulders ends abruptly at the middle of the back. Its grand and upright posture is strikingly similar to that of a Gaur (Bos gauras).

A Gaur has a high ridge along the anterior half of the back, terminating abruptly about half-way between the shoulder and the tail, caused by the spinous process of the dorsal vertebrae being long and those of the lumber vertebrae short, the change in length taking place suddenly when it raises its head to the maximum. The awe inspiring look of Bison (Gaur) standing over 6 feet tall with massive body and black colour might have inspired the mentor to depict these characteristics by building the massive body and not going into details of its anatomy.

On the west of Ahar high hills, clothed with thick bamboo dominated dry deciduous forests, show it to be an ideal habitat for Gaur. This may add to the possibility of the presence of Gaur in those days.

A terracotta bird is similar to parakeet. It can be inferred that men in those days used to keep caged birds as leisure pastime, especially parakeets. This shows that keeping caged birds is a very old hobby of man.

An inner core of Black Buck horn is also exhibited. This demonstrates that the inhabitants of that age used to hunt these antelopes and they were in abundance. The horns might have been used by the inhabitants for defence and offence. It has been mentioned in old Shikar books by the British that very large herds of Black Bucks were found in Mewar region.

My father also told me that he had seen the herds of Black Bucks consisting of 1500-3000 animals per herd as late as 1920s. Herds of 200-300 animals were very common till early 1950s as were seen by me. But now they have disappeared from the entire Mewar region.

A part of main beam of Sambhar’s antler is exhibited in the showcase. Its burr is intact. This reveals that the antler is a shed one. The other side of the antler is burnt. This reveals that in those days the people of Ahar used to collect shed or cast off antlers of deer. The burnt part shows that it had been used for medicinal purpose. Its use has been mentioned in the books of traditional medicines. The burnt out powder of antlers has antiseptic property and it stops bleeding. Rubbing the horn in water and drinking the blend is said to strengthen the bones.

The inference deduced from above analysis is that 4000 years back apart from the hilly and ravine forests the area consisted of vast stretches of grassland with sizable marshy land. It had dense undergrowth that harboured Rhinoceros, Swamp Deer, Sambhar, Black Buck, Bison (Gaur) and Elephants in sizable numbers. Apart from the other present day animals Swamp Deer, Rhinoceros, Gaur and Elephants are extinct from this area.

It is also noteworthy that the hobby of keeping caged birds is thousands of years old. The inhabitants of this civilization might have known the imitating ability of certain birds like parakeets, which they kept as caged pet birds for recreation.

The excavated bones of the birds are identified as that of domestic poultry. During the extensive study of the excavation site, the technology was not that advanced to decipher the bones by DNA technology.

The bones may also have been those of Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus murgi). The distribution of Red Jungle Fowl in India by and large, or rather strikingly coincides with that of Swamp Deer distribution. The presence of Swamp Deer, as identified and reported in Archaeological Report positively indicates that the distribution of Red Jungle Fowl might have extended till Mewar region in that era. At present the Grey Jungle Fowl (Gallus sonneratii) is found in this region. DNA study of the bones may reveal if the Grey Jungle Fowl and the Red Jungle Fowl were found side by side or not.

The DNA test of the bones of cattle and other animals excavated from the site would enable to precisely identify the species that the bones belong to. The use of this and other advanced technology may bring forth many surprises of the faunal history of Mewar.

Published in Cheetal (Journal of Wildlife Preservation Society of India)

The authors are wild life conservators, writers and researchers on Udaipur’s wild life and nature
1 year ago

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