The Indus Valley Civilization remains one of the most enigmatic events in human history. It was truly a paean to the desire for human excellence, even in those times, bringing in its wake several important inventions which mankind has derived progress from.
But in 1963 when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) discovered Rakhigarhi, a village in Hisar District in the state of Haryana, they realized what they had found was a site, more ancient and much larger than Harappa and Mohenjo-daro sites. Dr. Shinde, 59, the vice chancellor of the Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, a deemed university in Pune, is heading the excavation in Rakhigarhi, and is in pursuit of genetic material.
In April 2015, four complete human skeletons were excavated at Rakhigarhi. These skeletons belonged to two male adults, one female adult and one child. As the skeletons were excavated scientifically without any contamination, Dr. Shinde and his team believe that with the help of latest technology, the DNA of these skeletons can help determine how Harappans looked like 4500 years ago. He tells us more in this interview:
Rakhigarhi has the potential to open doorways to Harappan culture with the latest discovery earlier this year, any progress on this aspect so far?
With Rakhigarhi coming into the picture, Harappan culture covers the largest area compared to the others that existed around this time period. We have successfully detected DNAs and teams from India and South Korea are working on developing it further. The conclusion of this study would tell us what a Harappan man looked like: His origin, relationship with the contemporary man, whether they were indigenous or if they came from outside (descendent of some other civilization).
All the remains that were excavated before this were from 4000BC or after. This has been a major breakthrough in the biggest civilization that ever existed. It traces this civilization to as early as 5500 BC. There are three stages of any civilization: Formative, Developed and Decline stage. So far only the developed stages were studied, but in this case, we are also developing new aspects of study, we are exploring the alpha: The Formative Stage – How the civilization came into being, development or changes in culture, DNA etc.
How could the site be promoted, to ensure that the research is financially sustained?
We have been receiving financial support from ASI, but with such a large scale project, it is not enough to carry out the research on such a shoestring budget. This place is of high historic significance, we are building museums at Rakhigarhi where the artifacts recovered from here can be stored and viewed by general public. It is a major breakthrough into the world history, and once people begin to understand that, the funds will flow in naturally. We are trying to spread awareness about the monumentality of this discovery. It has been proposed to be added among the likes of other civilizations that exist in the UNESCO list today.
With such a large number of ancient cities being discovered in the past decade, where can we trace the origin of Harappan culture from?
India, and specifically Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, parts of Rajasthan and also a large part of Pakistan. It is the biggest civilization that ever existed and it gradually aggrandized to other areas. There are traces of this culture in Mesopotamia but it can be safely concluded that it was only on a trade basis, there is no direct supplement of this culture that associates it with likes of others.
With Rakhigarhi being nominated to be listed among the other heritage sites in UNESCO list, it is very likely to attract a lot of tourism. Is it a wise idea to open it to public without the risk of contaminating this work in progress?
On the contrary, we are looking forward to it. The on-site research takes place for only 3 months in a year. There are separate areas of sensitive excavation which will be closed to general public. Although, it will be a good idea if we let others open and the tourists witness the work in progress and observe how the work is carried out.
Rakhigarhi is listed as one of the 10 most endangered heritage sites in the world, what are the threats that this site faces today?
Earlier, there had been instances of looting and selling of precious artifact, parts of the sites were encroached by private houses; we tried our best to safeguard these evidences. But now, as the local authorities are beginning to understand the significance of their soil, we are receiving a lot of local support and helping hands in our project.
We are talking about cities that were constructed over 4000 years ago, hypothetically do you think present day cities have any chance of surviving and being studied about 4000 years later? When our ruins are discovered, will it be of any value at all or what can we do to make it valuable?
Well, we have a lot to learn from these civilizations first, Harappan civilization is the most advanced civilization to have been discovered. It has contributed immensely to present day science and technology and are the foundation stone of today’s architectural (city planning), civil engineering, agricultural (crop rotation, double cropping, water harvesting) scenario. And while we learn about them, we forget to apply those values in our lives today. So, it is very likely, that when our ruins are discovered, we may not contribute to the development in that age but just remain as a link from the past.
For more pictures of the excavation site, click here.
As told to: Vedika Singhania