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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Human Skeletal Remains from Ancient Burial Sites in India: With Special Reference to Harappan Civilization

Astha Dibyopama,1 Yong Jun Kim,1 Chang Seok Oh,2 Dong Hoon Shin,2 and Vasant Shinde1
1Department of Archaeology, Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute, India.
2Department of Anatomy, Institute of Forensic Science, Seoul National University, Korea. Correspondence to: Vasant Shinde. (Deccan College, Post-Graduate & Research Institute (Deemed University)

Harappan Civilization is well known for highly sophisticated urban society, having been flourished in extensive regions of northwestern part of Pakistan and northeastern part of Afghanistan as its heyday around 4500 years ago. Most archaeologists agree on the periodization of this civilization as three different phases (Early, Mature and Late), which represent its cultural process of origin, development and decline. From the Harappan sites, one can note that there were about more than fifty burial sites discovered so far related with the civilization. In this article, we are trying to introduce the brief picture of the Harappan burials from the archaeological as well as anthropological perspectives.
Debates on Harappan People
From the perspective of anthropology, nothing is more important than studies on who were the inhabitants of Harappan civilization. Therefore, concerning biological affinities of the Indus valley inhabitants during Harappan period , we must note that there have been very hot debates among the related archaeologists and anthropologists. By anthropological researches over skeletal remains, some researchers claimed that two to four races might have been co-present in Harappan society. Any variation from these idealized types of races was explained as the result of admixture between pure races.  
However, we could not make an easy conclusion on this hypothesis because researchers like Brian Hemphil and J. R. Lukacs thought differently. By research on cranial features of the skeletons from Harappan burial sites, they tried to assess the biological continuity or discontinuity among the peoples in regions. About the subject, they can give following speculation: early chalcolithic inhabitants of Mehrgarh and late Harappan inhabitants of Cemetery H in Harappa share close biological affinity. In fact, they could not deny the long period of in situ continuity of Harappan peoples' biological traits .
Although we agree the viewpoint of Hemphil and Lukacs in general, it could not be easily denied that the biological continuity also coupled with the occasional pulses of genetic input from outside either. We speculate that the genetic input might have been conditioned by frequent trade of India, which could be further cemented by marriage alliances between the peoples in different areas. The first genetic exchange must have occurred from Neolithic period, between the Indus valley and the Iranian Plateau. During the 1st millennium B.C., the secondary genetic exchange based on seaborne trade could be identified. The trade routes appear to have shifted to a gradual introduction of new genes into the Indus valley and then neighboring lands . In fact, the origin and continuity of ancient Indian people has been the one of the main subjects anthropologists worldwide have discussed about; and it will remain as such, for the time being in the future.
 Burials in different Harappan sites. (A) and (B) Burials at Mehrgarh site. (A) Burial in clay box (B) Mehrgarh burials, pit with side chamber closed up with mud bricks. (C) and (D) Burials found at Kalibangan site. (C) Pot Burial without Skeleton. (D) Kalibangan brick-lined grave. (E) A burial at Lothal site. A double burial inside brick lined grave.

In this article, we attempted to project brief picture of burial tradition followed by the health and diet of the people of Harappan civilization. In fact, excavated Harappan burials are scanty in India and not much in-depth scientific research has been carried out on them, comparing with the Harappan habitation site. But still the data available to us till date about the Harappan burial practices is quite helpful in reconstructing the different aspects of Harappan population, their life style, socio economic status etc.
We note that the evidence of human remains and burials of Harappan civilization provided substantial amount of information about the society. And forthcoming studies on human remains from Harappan sites will provide invaluable information on the health and disease status of the people from one of the oldest ancient civilizations around the world. In fact, considering that archaeological and anthropological information was always significant to each other, for getting the comprehensive knowledge about the ancient Harappan society, interdisciplinary collaboration between two research fields would be still necessary in the future.