In 1942, the archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein described his lengthy journey through regions that are now shared between Pakistan and India. His trip had taken more than two years to plan. In the process, he helped strengthen diplomatic interconnections between the numerous cities and states along his proposed route. Deeply interested in transforming environments, he believed he could map now-dry watercourses by identifying the locations of past human occupations. What he found helped set the stage for TwoRains. His words are abridged below (p173):

Field work promptly started enabled me within less than six weeks to examine the large series of ancient mounds along the Ghaggar within Bikaner territory over a total distance of some 110 miles and to test two interesting sites by trial excavation… Within Bahawalpur territory still more numerous ancient sites, mainly prehistoric, were traced and surveyed for 150 miles along the dry bed of the Hakra, as the continuation of the Ghaggar is known here… Heat stopped fieldwork by the middle of March.

In northwest India, survey after survey reinforced the notion that the areas of Punjab, Haryana and northern Rajasthan were home to numerous ancient sites. Suraj Bhan conducted path-breaking explorations in the region, shedding light on Mitathal, which was almost certainly a major economic hub for the Indus civilisation, and discovering the Indus urban site of Rakhigarhi. In 1984, future Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India, J.P. Joshi, and his collaborators Madhu Bala and Jassu Ram, compiled hundreds of site location reports and geographical coordinates to many of these ancient mounds, which enhanced researchers’ ability to consider the distribution of settlements in the landscape. Work continued in Pakistan as well, particularly through the surveys of M. Rafique Mughal (which we’ll consider in a later post). Site discoveries soared as archaeologists became more familiar with Indus material culture and began using GPS to report site locations with precision. New remote sensing analysis by Hector Orengo and the TwoRains team has added even more features of interest to this growing list.

Northwest India’s ‘large series of ancient mounds’ has never been larger. Patterns are emerging from this complex and varied dataset. It is clear that northwest India’s distinct and diverse climate, with its winter rains and summer monsoon, played an important role during the Indus civilisation’s de-urbanisation. What is less clear is how that climate affected the location of specific settlements and shaped interrelations among them.

That is where our fieldwork comes in. In March, the TwoRains team will head to northwest India to revisit and reassess a sample of the ancient mounds our predecessors have identified. We hope to learn more about these sites by mapping their location in the landscape. In time we will systematically survey the artefacts exposed on their surfaces by erosion and other site formation processes. Along the way, we will try to fill in the gaps by checking areas that have not previously been surveyed and determining if mounds identified through remote sensing are in fact archaeological sites. These data will help us understand the social choices people made when they built Indus settlements and allow us test hypotheses about how they interacted with each other and with their dynamic environments.

Figure 1: Ancient mounds near Sulchani in Haryana, India. These sites were surveyed during the Land, Water and Settlement project