Harappan horse – R. Nagaswany

There is an urgent need to jettison from our textbooks the unproved statements on Indian civilisation and consign them to academic polemics, and keep the power mongering self-seeking Taliban politicians out of educational field.

Harappan horse

Mar 12, 2002

THE READERS have been following closely the debate on Harappan civilisation, published in The Hindu in its Open Page. The latest article by Michael Witzel (March 5) seems to be taking a partisan view. Archaeologists have found certain artefacts and scholars are trying to infer the meaning of the findings and in the process express divergent views. Such debates are welcome to advance our knowledge academically, no matter where it comes from. Unfortunately, Witzel’s present article reads personal rather than an academic presentation. For example, he ridicules the other writer N.S. Rajaram personally by repeating his name time and again, with personal digs in every mention. Witzel is not free from the same fault that he attributes to Rajaram, as in the example of horse in Harappan sites. He states the horse bones found in the early excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa do not come from secure levels, and such horse bones “found their way into deposits through erosion cutting and refilling, disturbing the archaeological layers.” Neither does he say how he arrived at this conclusion nor has he cited any report in support of his view.

What ever the case may be, it only shows that horse bones were actually found in the excavations at Harappan sites. In order to justify his stand he writes that Marshal’s Harappan data are “dubious and decades old.” One cannot throw away the data presented by Marshal as it is the earliest available archaeological report and it is not possible at this point of time to say suddenly that Marshal has not reported that layers that were eroded and disturbed in places where horse bones have been found. One may ask Witzel to state on what basis he says that the layers that yielded horse bones in more than one site as at Mohenjodaro and Harappa were eroded and disturbed and the bones got mixed up? Does he want us to believe that in both the sites, the same layers yielding horse bones got mixed up in eroded layers? There are three major excavations conducted at Mohenjodaro and Harappa namely by Marshal, Mackey and Mortimer Wheeler.

Reports of excavations

George F Dales, who was the last in the series to investigate the sites, published his findings “Some unpublished, forgotten or misinterpreted features on Mohenjodaro” in the book Harappan Civilisation, published by the American Institute of Indian Studies, 1982. He has stated that the reports of all the three great excavations including that of Wheeler are “incomplete and suffer from serious losses.” Dales states that there is “no end to speculation that these claims have aroused but it is impossible to reach objective conclusions with the published details.” It is not at all possible to assess that the layers were disturbed unless other factual evidences are shown to approve the disturbed conditions.

Michael Witzel also states that conclusions cannot be arrived at with incomplete bones. Yes. However there cannot be two sets of standards in dealing with the matter. For example, he questions the views of Rajaram, but does not show whether R. Meadow, whose conclusions he supports, based his views on “a full skeleton or full sets of onager, donkey, or horse skeletons.” Further it is known that there are very rare examples where the full skeletons of animals have been found in excavations. Are we not aware that most of the reconstructions of dinosaurs are based not on full skeletons? Archaeologists reconstruct several cultures with broken pottery. At one place he admits that clear examples of horse bones are found in Harappan civilisation after 1800 BCE, which still falls in the late Harappan period. Witzel has a dig at archaeologists that they are not zoologists or palaeontologists to comment on animal bones. This would apply equally to Witzel who is not a trained archaeologist to comment on this science. No archaeologist is expert in all fields but certainly consults experts before expressing his comments on which he has no expertise.

Problems are complex

To sum up Witzel’s arguments proceed on the following lines: (1) No horse bone has been found in Harappan sites. (2) When pointed out that they are found in some instances, it is said they are only fragments and not full skeletons. (3) When pointed out they were found in more than one site it is said the layers in which they were found ought to have been eroded ones or disturbed. (4) When pointed out that the reports of horse bones were not by present day archaeologists but by the early pioneers it is said that those are dubious and decades old. (5) When pointed out they were reported by archaeological excavators then comes the argument that archaeologists are not trained zoologists and palaeontologists to comment on horse bones (though by the same argument no credence can be placed on Witzel’s opinion as he is neither an archaeologist nor a palaeontologist). Such arguments are brought under reductio ad absurdum by logicians. More examples of wilful rejections of points can be cited throughout the article but suffice to say that for an unbiased reader, the whole article reads purely a personal attack on an individual writer and exhibits certain amount of impatience to listen to other view. This does not mean that I agree with either of the views on the Aryan problem except stating that we are yet not in a position to go with either of the views for lack of evidence and would prefer to wait for further discoveries.

The debate has undoubtedly focused on one aspect of Harappan civilisation: the problems are complex and the data available are inadequate to come to any conclusion. The vital question that is not in the debate by the general reader is that in the past 50 years of India’s independence, the unproved inferential views of these scholars, some of which have been proved totally wrong as in the case of “the total massacre of the Harappans by the invading barbaric Aryans”, are fully incorporated in our school textbooks, right from the third or fourth standards. Wheeler dramatised this theory vehemently that invading Aryans destroyed the Harappan civilisation and within ten years he was proved totally wrong by new finds of several Harappan sites spread in space and time. And yet millions of children of India have been indoctrinated and brainwashed with these views for the past five decades, and that has caused immense damage to scientific knowledge. Is there any one party in India today which will repent for this incalculable damage? Are we justified in continuing to brainwash our generations of children? Is it not time that we remove these from school books and confine such debates to post-graduate community of the country and our children are told only the factual history. A perusal of the books would show enormous imbalances in representing regional and dynastic histories. It may be seen, for example, that South Indian history receives inadequate representation. The rule of the Pallavas, Cholas or Chalukyas that lasted for over four hundred years each and had glorious achievements in all fields gets summary representation, when compared with Mughal rule and the Colonial rule that did not last even half that period. South India has witnessed exemplary democratic institutions at the village level for several centuries in the medieval period that is yet to be brought to the notice of the children. Surely there is no proportionate representation.

While the Western history gets exalted position in all fields, the history of South East Asia like Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and even China does not even get a cursory mention. There is clearly an urgent need to jettison from the books the unproved statements on Indian civilisation and consign them to academic polemics, keep the power-mongering self-seeking Taliban politicians out of educational field, and seek a proportionate place for Indian civilisation in our textbooks. In fact Witzel has agreed to the need to revise Indian history in his earlier article, which should be entrusted to a body of unbiased and balanced academic body free from racial, religious or political bias.


Former Director of Archaeology,
Tamil Nadu

%d bloggers like this: