In 2017, the TwoRains project will be starting its fieldwork to investigate the degree to which human choices in the past were resilient and sustainable in the face of variable weather conditions, and when confronted with abrupt events of climate change. To investigate these issues, we are using the case-study of the Indus civilisation (c. 2600-1900 BC), which was home to some of the earliest cities in the world and the first cities in South Asia.
South Asia’s Indus Civilisation was unique amongst early civilisations in that it developed across a range of distinctive environmental and ecological zones, where the distribution of westerly winter rains overlapped with the rains of the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM). Although Indus populations were dispersed across an area that was larger than contemporary civilisations in Egypt or Mesopotamia, only a relatively small proportion of the Indus population inhabited urban centres. These cities (Dholavira, Mohenjo-daro, Ganweriwala, Harappa, and Rakhigarhi) were, however, complex entitles, with distinctive forms of social complexity manifested in planned streets, coordinated drainage systems, massive buildings, and sophisticated technologies, including copper-based metallurgy, standardized weights and measures, and intricately engraved stamp seals. The varied settings in which Indus settlements were located suggests that populations are likely to have employed distinctive techniques to adapt to the diverse environment. The Indus civilization persisted until c.1900 BC, by which time its cities were largely depopulated and smaller rural settlements predominated.
Indus de-urbanization appears to have coincided with a significant change in rainfall: a weakening of the Indian Summer Monsoon that appears to have occurred c.2100 BC. While such an event would have threatened food security and necessitated dramatic changes in water management and subsistence strategies, Indus response unfolded over generations. To test hypotheses regarding the relationship between climate change and the Indus civilisation, the TwoRains project will expand the extensive program of environmental and archaeological analysis we began in 2016. We have begun to assemble new models that reconstruct the past environment of northwest India and re-create its archaeological landscape, and these models provide valuable tools for investigating the archaeology of northwest India.
In 2017, the TwoRains team will head to the field to build on the foundational investigations conducted by the previous Land, Water, and Settlement project and ground truth the models we have begun to develop. The Land, Water, and Settlement project produced data that have raised critical questions about the Indus civilisation’s subsistence strategies, and underscored the importance of varied agricultural and food production techniques. TwoRains will return to these sites and visit many new ones, aided by new analyses of satellite imagery and environmental reconstructions based on computational modelling and proxy data. This work will sharpen understanding of how people in the Indus reshaped their landscape, and built resilient new ways of life in the face of a changing climate. We will be updating this blog regularly to share our approaches and findings, and will also post updates from the field. Check this space, or follow us @TwoRains on Twitter.