Secrets of the dead tumble out in Raichur’s Maski

Peek into past

Archaeologists digging in Maski, Raichur district, have unearthed evidence of “social inequalities” during the burial of the dead around 5,000-3,000 years ago

Opening a new window into Karnataka’s history, archaeologists digging at a site in Raichur district have unearthed evidence of “social inequalities” during the burial of the dead around 5,000-3,000 years ago.

Signatures of social inequalities in another era were also spotted starting around 3,000 years ago, when early inhabitants of the southern state expanded their settlement from rocky outcrops to fertile plains suitable for farming.

These are some of the preliminary findings on southern India’s socio-cultural history, unlocked by a decade of survey and excavation at Maski in north Karnataka, which is famous for being the site of an Ashokan edict.

Archaeologists Andrew Bauer from Stanford University and Peter G Johansen from McGill University have decoded several other clues that will help reconstruct the lives of people living there between 5,000-500 years ago.

They reported evidence of three mortuary practices— sarcophagus burial, fabric wrapped cremation and simple jar burial—at Maski.

“It is hard to say at this stage whether these burial differences at Maski are related to status or economic inequalities of some kind,” Bauer told DH.

“But those kinds of differences possibility existed during the period, especially during the latter part of the Neolithic period when new agricultural practices developed. The real point is that some burial variations that we see in the later Iron Age have much earlier origins.” 

Johansen said the differences were in the “style of the burial”.

“Around the same time (18-20th century BCE), we have evidence for extended burials in prepared terracotta sarcophagus. We have evidence for the burial of an individual who had been placed in an organic wrapping that appears to have been burned and the burial of an individual along with a simple jar (not an elaborate burial). We have evidence for at least three different types of burial practices that roughly date to the same time period,” he said.

Johansen said this was significant as we primarily associate significant burial variation to the Iron Age (1200-300 BCE) - the period after the Neolithic.

The duo also collected evidence on how human settlement spread from the rocky terrains to the more fertile plains with black soil and further to the red soil zones later.

They found that during the Iron Age (1200-300 BCE) and Early Historic (300 BCE - 500 CE) period, people who settled in the rocky hinterland began occupying the plains by camping on black regur soils that are the most fertile in the region. Pieces of broken pottery bears the sign of such transition.

The expansion of human settlement continues beyond the black soil areas. “The movement of farming into the red soil areas demonstrates some form of developing social and economic inequalities in which some members of medieval society had better access to the regur soils, potentially marginalising some others to work on red soils that have less productive capacity for crops like rice and cotton, especially in this semi-arid region around Raichur,” Bauer said.

The findings of the excavation – carried out in collaboration with Karnataka Directorate of Archaeology, Museum and Heritage – will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Current Science.

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