The Ancient Indus Civilization in India Adaptation to Climate Change

New research methods and technologies are able to shed light on climate patterns that took place thousands of years ago, giving us a new perspective on how cultures of the time coped with variable and changing environments.

A new article in the February issue of Current Anthropology explores the dynamics of adaptation and resilience in the face of a diverse and varied environmental context, using the case study of South Asia’s Indus Civilization (c.3000-1300 BC). Integrating research carried out as part of the Land, Water and Settlement project—part of an ongoing collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Banaras Hindu University—that worked in northwest India between 2007 and 2014, the article looks at how Indus populations in north-west India interacted with their environment, and considers how that environment changed during periods of climate change.

Lead author, Dr. Cameron Petrie of the Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge notes that “for most ancient complex societies, water was a critical factor, and the availability of water and the way that it was managed and used provide critical insight into human adaptation and the resilience of subsistence practices”.

Most early complex societies developed in regions where the climatic parameters faced by ancient subsistence farmers were varied, but not especially diverse. The Indus Civilization developed in a specific environmental context, where the winter and summer rainfall systems overlapped. There is now evidence to show that this region was subject to climate change during the period when the Indus Civilization was at its height (c.2500-1900 BC). The Indus Civilization therefore provides a unique opportunity to understand how an ancient society coped with diverse and varied ecologies and change in the fundamental and underlying environmental parameters.

In the early Holocene, the Indus Civilization was situated in proximity to Kotla Dahar, a deep lake, implying regular and consistent rainfall input to offset evaporation, which given its location, would have been primarily monsoonal. The lake showed evidence for two dramatic decreases in monsoon rainfall and a progressive lowering of the lake level. The second of these shows Kotla Dahar becoming completely ephemeral ca. 2200-2000 BC as a result of an abrupt weakening of the monsoon, and the weakening of the monsoon is visible in speleothem records in Oman and northeast India. The proximity of the Kotla Dahar record to the area occupied by Indus populations shows that climate must be formally considered as a contributing parameter in the process of Indus deurbanization, at least in the context of the plains of northwest India.

It has long been hypothesized that there was variation in the subsistence practices used by Indus populations and this fits with the theme of coping with diverse environments. Petrie comments that “we argue that rather than being forced to intensify or diversify subsistence practices in response to climatic change, we have evidence for the use of millet, rice, and tropical pulses in the pre-urban and urban phases of the Indus Civilization. This evidence suggests that local Indus populations were already well adapted to living in varied and variable environmental conditions before the development of urban centers. It is also possible that these adaptations were beneficial when these populations were faced with changes to the local environment that were probably beyond the range of variation that they typically encountered”.

How Did Ancient Pueblo’s (Anasazi) Possess Geometric Precision?

The ancient Pueblo people “the Anasazi “, of the Southwestern United States had no written language or numerical system, but the complexities of their architectural feats suggest they understood advanced geometry.

In a new study, published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, scientists at Arizona State University detailed the proof of the Pueblo people’s geometric sophistication.

Their abilities are exemplified at the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park, in Montezuma County, Colo. Sherry Towers, a professor at Arizona State, said in a news release. “I noticed in my site survey that the same measurements kept popping up over and over again. When I saw that the layout of the site’s key features also involved many geometrical shapes, I decided to take a closer look.”

While surveying the expansive layout, Towers and her colleagues found equilateral triangles, squares, 45-degree right triangles, Pythagorean triangles and the “golden rectangle.”

The golden rectangle and its eye-pleasing proportions is often employed in the arrangement of pieces of Western art — the positioning of figures and shapes within a painting, drawing or print. Mathematicians in ancient Greece and Egypt described the unique shape and its aesthetic qualities. Evidence of the golden rectangle has also been found among Mayan art and architecture.

But unlike the Egyptians, Greeks and Mayans, the Pueblos had no written words or numbers with which to make notes — no guides for building perfectly proportioned multi-room houses and multi-building complexes.

“This is what I find especially amazing,” Towers said. “The genius of the site’s architects cannot be underestimated. If you asked someone today to try to reconstruct this site and achieve the same precision that they had using just a stick and a piece of cord, it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to do it, especially if they couldn’t write anything down as they were working.”

BREAKING NEWS: New Discovery of Ancient Tree Rings Indicate Stable Predictable Sunspot Cycle Over 300 Million Years Period

I know your first instinct is to say something like “duh”. I would certainly support you in this analysis. However, setting this obvious notion aside, this new finding does attribute a great amount of credibility to the scientific discipline of cycles; furthermore, it provides a greater comprehension in regards to ‘time-linked’ measurements such as short-term, medium-term  and long-term cycles. Examples would be the 11 year sunspot cycle, the 26,000 year precession cycle, and the Milankovitch or Eccentricity cycle with a 100,000 and 410,000 cycle.

In a new study published in the scientific journal Geology, researchers Ludwig Luthardt, professor at the Natural History Museum in Chemnitz, and Ronald Rößler, professor at Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, describe how they found evidence in ancient tree rings, identifying a solar sunspot cycle that occurred millions of years ago and compared it to recent cycles . “The median tree-ring curve of that period revealed a 10.62 year cycle, the duration of which is almost identical to the modern 11 year solar cycle we see today,” said Luthardt.

Sunspot activity swings between a period known as ‘solar maximum’, at which time an enormous amount of radiation is released through the development of powerful streams of charged particles which is released in various forms such as solar flares, coronal mass ejections, coronal holes, and purging filaments.

When a percentage of these particles penetrate the Earth’s magnetic field and continue into the upper and lower atmosphere, the measured effects are captured in assorted forms of Flora such as tree-rings, lake bottom sediment, and deep ice cores. Such high-resolution records are commonly used for reconstructing climatic variations in the younger geological history.

The team discovered large wooded tree trunks from the early Permian Fossil Forest of Chemnitz, southeast Germany. This region had been covered by lava during a volcanic eruption during the Permian period, offering a historical record of Sun activity. “For the first time we applied dendrochronological methods (tree-ring dating) – to Paleozoic trees in order to recognize annual variations; says Rößler.

The team found that sunspot activity recorded 300 million years ago as reflected in tree ring archived analysis, matches almost identically with today’s caused fluctuations of cosmic radiation input to the atmosphere.


Computer Models Find Ancient Solutions to Climate Change at Chaco Canyon

From the perspective of this writer, I am pleased to witness the sciences of ancient text, archaeology,  and anthropology connect the cycles of new with the cycles of old. Now, we might just get a better understanding and ‘preparedness’ for natural cyclical events such as that of warming and cooling trends the Earth has seen all her life.

Washington State University archaeologists are at the helm of new research using sophisticated computer technology to learn how past societies such as Chaco Canyon responded to climate change. Their work, which links ancient climate and archaeological data, could help modern communities identify new crops and other adaptive strategies when threatened by drought, extreme weather and other environmental challenges.

In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jade d’Alpoim Guedes, assistant professor of anthropology, and WSU colleagues Stefani Crabtree, Kyle Bocinsky and Tim Kohler examine how recent advances in computational modeling are reshaping the field of archaeology.

“For every environmental calamity you can think of, there was very likely some society in human history that had to deal with it,” said Kohler, emeritus professor of anthropology at WSU. “Computational modeling gives us an unprecedented ability to identify what worked for these people and what didn’t.”

Kohler is a pioneer in the field of model-based archaeology. He developed sophisticated computer simulations, called agent-based models, of the interactions between ancestral peoples in the American Southwest and their environment.

WSU researchers also used crop-niche modeling to identify a viable alternative food source on the Tibetan Plateau. Rapidly rising temperatures make it difficult for the region’s inhabitants to grow cold weather crops and raise and breed yaks, a staple form of subsistence.

He launched the Village Ecodynamics Project in 2001 to simulate how virtual Pueblo Indian families, living on computer-generated and geographically accurate landscapes, likely would have responded to changes in specific variables like precipitation, population size and resource depletion.

By comparing the results of agent-based models against real archaeological evidence, anthropologists can identify past conditions and circumstances that led different civilizations around the world into periods of growth and decline.

Agent-based modeling is also used to explore the impact humans can have on their environment during periods of climate change.

One study mentioned in the WSU review demonstrates how drought, hunting and habitat competition among growing populations in Egypt led to the extinction of many large-bodied mammals around 3,000 B.C. In addition, d’Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky, an adjunct faculty member in anthropology, are investigating how settlement patterns in Tibet are affecting erosion.

Species distribution or crop-niche modeling is another sophisticated technology that archaeologists use to predict where plants and other organisms grew well in the past and where they might be useful today.

Bocinsky and d’Alpoim Guedes are using the modeling technique to identify little-used or in some cases completely forgotten crops that could be useful in areas where warmer weather, drought and disease impact food supply.

One of the crops they identified is a strain of drought-tolerant corn the Hopi Indians of Arizona adapted over the centuries to prosper in poor soil. “Our models showed Hopi corn could grow well in the Ethiopian highlands where one of their staple foods, the Ethiopian banana, has been afflicted by emerging pests, disease and blasts of intense heat,” Bocinsky said. “Cultivating Hopi corn and other traditional, drought-resistant crops could become crucial for human survival in other places impacted by climate change.”

WSU researchers also used crop-niche modeling to identify a viable alternative food source on the Tibetan Plateau. Rapidly rising temperatures make it difficult for the region’s inhabitants to grow cold weather crops and raise and breed yaks, a staple form of subsistence.

In a paper published in 2015, d’Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky found that foxtail and proso millet, which fell out of cultivation on the Plateau 4,000 years ago as the climate got colder, could soon be grown there again as the climate warms up.

“These millets are on the verge of becoming forgotten crops,” d’Alpoim Guedes said. “But due to their heat tolerance and high nutritional value, and very low rainfall requirements, they may once again be useful resources for a warmer future.”

With hundreds of years of anthropological data from sites around the world yet to be digitized, scientists are just beginning to tap the potential of archaeology-based modeling.

“The field is in the midst of a renaissance toward more computational approaches,” Kohler said. “Our hope is that combining traditional archaeology fieldwork with data-driven modeling techniques will help us more knowledgeably manage our numbers, our ecosystem interactions and avoid past errors regarding climate change.”

Significant Bronze Age city discovered in Northern Iraq

Archeologists from the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES) at the University of Tübingen have uncovered a large Bronze Age city not far from the town of Dohuk in northern Iraq. The excavation work has demonstrated that the settlement, which is now home to the small Kurdish village of Bassetki in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan, was established in about 3000 BC and was able to flourish for more than 1200 years. The archeologists also discovered settlement layers dating from the Akkadian Empire period (2340-2200 BC), which is regarded as the first world empire in human history.


Scientists headed by Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen and Dr. Hasan Qasim from the Directorate of Antiquities in Dohuk conducted the excavation work in Bassetki between August and October 2016. As a result, they were able to preempt the construction work on a highway on this land. The former significance of the settlement can be seen from the finds discovered during the excavation work. The city already had a wall running around the upper part of the town from approx. 2700 BC onwards in order to protect its residents from invaders. Large stone structures were erected there in about 1800 BC. The researchers also found fragments of Assyrian cuneiform tablets dating from about 1300 BC, which suggested the existence of a temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian weather god Adad on this site. There was a lower town about one kilometer long outside the city center. Using geomagnetic resistance measurements, the archeologists discovered indications of an extensive road network, various residential districts, grand houses and a kind of palatial building dating from the Bronze Age. The residents buried their dead at a cemetery outside the city. The settlement was connected to the neighboring regions of Mesopotamia and Anatolia via an overland roadway dating from about 1800 BC.

Bassetki was only known to the general public in the past because of the “Bassetki statue,” which was discovered there by chance in 1975. This is a fragment of a bronze figure of the Akkadian god-king Naram-Sin (about 2250 BC). The discovery was stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2003, but was later rediscovered by US soldiers. Up until now, researchers were unable to explain the location of the find. The archeologists have now been able to substantiate their assumption that an important outpost of Akkadian culture may have been located there.

Although the excavation site is only 45 kilometers from territory controlled by the Islamic State (IS), it was possible to conduct the archeological work without any disturbances. “The protection of our employees is always our top priority. Despite the geographical proximity to IS, there’s a great deal of security and stability in the Kurdish autonomous areas in Iraq,” said Professor Peter Pfälzner, Director of the Department of Near Eastern Archaeology at the IANES of the University of Tübingen. The research team consisting of 30 people lived in the city of Dohuk, which is only 60 kilometers north of Mosul, during the excavation work.

In another project being handled by the “ResourceCultures” collaborative research center (SFB 1070), Pfälzner’s team has been completing an archeological inspection of territory in the complete area surrounding Bassetki as far as the Turkish and Syrian borders since 2013 — and 300 previously unknown sites have been discovered. The excavations and the research work in the region are due to be continued during the summer of 2017. “The area around Bassetki is proving to be an unexpectedly rich cultural region, which was located at the crossroads of communication ways between the Mesopotamian, Syrian and Anatolian cultures during the Bronze Age. We’re therefore planning to establish a long-term archeological research project in the region in conjunction with our Kurdish colleagues,” says Pfälzner. The excavation work is being funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Cave Art Trove Found in Spain 1,000 Feet Underground

Spanish archaeologists say they have discovered an exceptional set of Paleolithic-era cave drawings that could rank among the best in a country that already boasts some of the world’s most important cave art.

Paleolithic-era cave drawings

Chief site archaeologist Diego Garate said Friday that an estimated 70 drawings were found on ledges 300 meters (1,000 feet) underground in the Atxurra cave in the northern Basque region. He described the site as being in “the Champions’ League” of cave art, among the top 10 sites in Europe. The engravings and paintings feature horses, buffalo, goats and deer, dating back 12,500-14,500 years ago.

But Garate said access to the area is so difficult and dangerous it’s not likely to be open to the public.

The cave was discovered in 1929 and first explored in 1934-35, but it was not until 2014 that Garate and his team resumed their investigations that the drawings were discovered. Experts say while it is too early to say if the discovery ranks alongside Spain’s most prize prehistoric cave art site, the Altamira Caves – known as the Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art – Atxurra looks promising.

“No one expected a discovery of this magnitude,” said Jose Yravedra, a prehistory professor at Madrid’s Complutense Univesrsity. “There a lot of caves with drawings but very few have this much art and this much variety and quality.”

Altamira and other major sites in Spain and France have several hundred cave-art images.

Garate highlighted one buffalo drawing, which he said must have the most hunting lances stuck in it of any such drawing in Europe. He said most hunting drawings have four or five lances but this had almost 20 and it is not clear why.

Yravedra said given the cave’s hidden location and the number, variety and quality of its drawings, the site was being classified as a “sanctuary,” or special Paleolithic meeting ritual place, like those at Altamira or Lascaux in France.

Regional officials hope to set up a 3-D display of the art so that the public can appreciate it.

Archaeologists and Geographers Team Predict Locations of Ancient Buddhist Sites

For archaeologists and historians interested in the ancient politics, religion and language of the Indian subcontinent, two UCLA professors and their student researchers have creatively pinpointed sites that are likely to yield valuable transcriptions of the proclamations of Ashoka, the Buddhist king of northern India’s Mauryan Dynasty who ruled from 304 B.C. to 232 B.C.


In a study published this week in Current Science, archaeologist Monica Smith and geographer Thomas Gillespie identified 121 possible locations of what are known as Ashoka’s “edicts.”

Ashokan edicts

First they isolated shared features of 29 known locations of Ashokan edicts, which were found carved into natural rock formations in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They then harnessed species-distribution modeling tactics – which includes examining sophisticated geographic information systems datasets along with Google Earth images – to overlay those unique characteristics against a geological and population map of ancient India. They believe they have identified locations that hold the same characteristics as proven sites and are significantly accurate markers for future discovery.

Predictive modeling can be a powerful new tool for scholars and researchers, Smith said. The known edicts and other archaeological discoveries have previously come about through random discovery or comprehensive surveys of whole regions.

“With the realities of looking for artifacts on a continental scale, we need more effective tools, and a search mechanism like predictive modeling is a high-priority development,” said Smith, emphasizing that many nations are facing the challenge of balancing preservation with much-needed development.

The Ashoka monuments in particular are of huge importance, especially in India, Smith said. They constitute the earliest known writings in the region. The national symbol of the modern nation of India is a sculpture that dates to the time of King Ashoka.

Ashoka’s edicts are also considered to be internationally significant as evidence of the power of an ancient political regime and as tangible expressions of religious practices related to Buddhism.

An excerpt of Ashoka’s edicts from Romila Thapar’s “Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas.”


“I consider that I must promote the welfare of the whole world, and hard work and the dispatch of business are the means of doing so. Indeed there is no better work than promoting the welfare of the whole world…For this purpose has this inscription of Dhamma (dharma, righteousness) been engraved. May it endure long.”

Smith’s fieldwork has long taken place on the Indian subcontinent. For this study, and with the support of a transdisciplinary seed grant from the UCLA Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, she partnered with Gillespie, whose expertise lies in determining the presence or absence of ecological and biological species in a given geography, with a special focus on the plants and trees native to Hawaii.

Gillespie, who has also visited India, said the project captured his imagination.

Gillespie and his team of UCLA doctoral candidates combed through data and images to check off a list of environmental consistencies in the known edict sites. Three factors in particular helped provide a reliable prediction of where more might be found – the specific kind of rock the text is carved in, the estimated population density of the area in A.D. 200-300 and the slope of the rock bearing the text

“The models really give a high probability of occurrence in the sites we identified,” Gillespie said. “Looking at the data of the existing sites, their placement certainly appears to be non-random. The scribes tasked with carving these edicts really seemed to think about the geology of the chosen space, the towns that were nearby, even the low level of the rock face they carved upon.”

Gillespie and Smith hope that their predictive model will allow local students or teachers in India and Pakistan and Afghanistan to make the next discovery of Ashokan edicts.