Showing posts with label civilization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label civilization. Show all posts

Sunday, February 9, 2014

History mystery: Olmec Civilization

The Olmecs were the first people in the Americas who developed monumental architecture of sophisticated style stone sculpture. The Olmec civilization originated in the lowlands of south eastern Mexico between 1500 and 400 BC, it’s heartland lying on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, an area measuring around 275 km east to west and extending about 100 km inland from the coast within the states of Veracruz and Tabasco.

This civilization was considered to be the first civilization which developed in Mesoamerica with its heartland being one of the six cradles civilizations worldwide, while the others were Chavin culture of South America, the Shang culture of China, the civilization of Ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization of South Asia and the Sumerian civilization of ancient Iraq.

It was only the Olmec civilization which developed in the setting of lowland tropical forest. Evidence of Olmec writing was found in the first decade of 21st century with the earliest findings of Olmec hieroglyphs dating around 650 BC. Some script has also been found on roller stamps as well as stone artifacts where the text was short and partially deciphered based on the similarity of other Mesoamerican scripts.

Moreover the evidence found on complex society developed in the Olmec heartland has given rise to the belief that the Olmec were regarded as the Mother Culture of Mesoamerica though this remains to be controversial The Olmecs developed cities as early as 1200 BC which were defined as population centers with political and cultural influence and significance. The major urban area of the Olmec in early times was San Lorenzo, the largest city in Mesoamerica at that time and was probably a political and a ritual place which housed thousands of inhabitants with elaborate drainage and water systems.

The influence of talented traders and artists are seen in later cultures of Aztec and the Maya. The Olmec cultures which developed in the 1200 BC and declined around 400 BC have very few written records relating about their culture. The Olmec artifacts at first were thought to be Mayan where they were presumed to be the first great culture in that area. They also had very talented artists portrayed through their colossal heads which are intriguing, leaving behind a lasting artistic legacy.

These colossal heads indicate the head and face of a helmeted man having indigenous features with most of the heads taller than an average human man. The biggest colossal head found at La Cobata stands around 10 feet tall weighing around 40 tons and while the heads are flattened at the back, they are not carved all around indicating that they could be viewed from the sides and the front. Evidence of some plaster and pigments on one such head at San Lorenzo indicate that some paint could have been used on them. A total of seventeen Olmec Colossal heads have been located, with ten such heads discovered at San Lorenzo, four at La Venta, two in the area of Tres Zapotes, and one in the vicinity of La Cobata.

The Olmecs carved stone, jade and volcanic rock basalt and these were quarried as well as imported. Basalt boulders and blocks which were located around 50 miles away were used to carve the heads and archaeologists suggest that it was a tedious process of moving the stones slowly with the combination of manpower, sledges and the possibility of rafts on rivers. When the stones reached a work place, they were usually carved with the help of crude tools like stone hammers since they did not have any metal tools, making this sculpture all the more intriguing and unique.

Once the head reached completion, they were moved into position though there were possibilities of them being occasionally moved around for creating scenes with other Olmec sculptures. The exact meaning of the heads is unknown though there have been several theories related to them. The size and majesty suggest that they could have represented gods but this seemed invalid since Mesoamerican gods in general were depicted more gruesome than human beings.

Moreover the head dress or the helmet portrayed in their carvings suggest that they could be ball players but archaeologist believe that they represented individual rulers since there is some evidence on the faces with distinct look and personality indicating individuals of great power and importance. The ancient Olmec is often remembered due to the massive stone heads that have been found and they developed many things culturally as well as religiously which were later used by the Aztecs and Mayan as well as other cultures.

They had a rich society, ate a variety of food and traded with far away people. The most accepted presumption is that the culture rose from people in that area though some believe that the Olmecs may have come from Africa.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

HARAPPA, A Dravidian civilization Part.VI

By 1600BC the great cities of the Indus valley had been abandoned. Quite why the people left is uncertain. Perhaps repeated flooding or shifts in the river beds destroyed the harvests and wrecked the once buoyant economy. The gradual drying up of the great Saraswati River caused a serious decline in agricultural productivity. There is also evidence of malaria and probably cholera, which must have taken their toll. The arts of city life, such as writing, disappeared. Although some regions continued to prosper, notably Gujarat in the south west, many areas saw a decline in their population.
Eventually, indo-Europeans from central Asia invaded the valley and settled among the existing population. Many farmers and pastoralists moved into adjacent regions in the south and east, and, slowly, sand silt buried the ruins of the cities. But the Indus culture did not die.
Although the Indo Aryan languages of the new settlers from the west eventually prevailed, the indigenous Dravidian languages had a strong influence on their vocabulary grammar and pronunciation. The Hindu religion that crystallized in the 1st millennium BC combined elements introduced by the Indo Aryans with the earlier beliefs of the inhabitants of Indus Valley settlements such as Harappa. Today, many features of modern Indian life have their roots in the Indus civilization- the first great flowering of culture in the subcontinent.

HARAPPA, A Dravidian civilization Part.V

The prosperity of the Indus merchants was based not on military superiority all the evidence shows that they were peaceful people – but on intellectual sophistication. The cities used a written language for example. Excavators have discovered numerous square seals, mainly of soap stone, engraved with animals and other symbols. The seals were used as signatures, stamped onto bales of merchandise to identify the owners or issuing authority. Most scholars believe that the symbols derive from an early Dravidian language, from the same family as Tamil and other languages of southern India.
The keenly observed animals pictured on the seals offer the most impressive surviving examples of the Indus people’s artistic skills. The most common motif is a one horned antelope. It is shown in profile and could represent a two horned creature with one horn hidden. More probably, it represented a unicorn terracotta figures of this mythological creature have been found. Some seals show a grotesque animal with a man’s head, a bull’s horns, an elephant’s trunk, a ram’s forequarters, and tiger’s hind legs.
One bizarre image has fascinated archaeologists; a man seated in a yogic position, wearing horned headgear, he has been identified as a prototype of the god Shiva, a deity known as the Destroyer but also a lord of fertility. The goddesses that feature on some seals closely resemble the forms take by Shiva’s consort- variously known as kali, Parvathi or Durga.
The Indus cities also used standardized weights and measures. The basic unit of weight was equivalent to just under 14 grams; linear measurements were based on a ‘cubit’ of about 53 cm, from the length of a man’s forearm. Archaeologists found a bronze ruler at Harappa marked with cubits.

HARAPPA, A Dravidian civilization Part.IV

Nothing is known for certain about the social system of Harappa and the other Indus cities. A class of priestly rulers probably governed the communities.  Peasant farmers, fishermen, and nomadic pastoralists were the backbone of society. Artisans such as carpenters, metal workers, potters and workers of gemstones would have occupied the next level up in the social order. Craftsmen shaped tools from stone, copper or bronze- iron was unknown; bowls and jars were created mainly from clay or wood. Other crafts, notably spinning and weaving, would have been practiced in every household.
 Rich merchants may have comprised an elite class above the artisans, trading with the other cities of the Indus Valley and, according to ancient texts from Mesopotamia, with places as far away as Sumer in modern Iraq. Indus merchants established trading communities in Sumerian towns, and Indus ivory, gold, carnelian, and agate beads, timber, and other goods had an important place in Sumerians’ import business; in return they may have exported fine textiles, perfumed oils, and other perishable of which no traces  survives.
 The Indus people also traded with neighbouring hunter gatherers and the fishing communities of Gujarat and the Aravalli hills, south of the river valleys- regions that supplied ivory, carnelian, agate, copper, tin, and many other raw materials. Goods were carried between settlements in ox carts with solid wheels; for longer journeys, the merchants used pack animals or river craft resembling today’s Indus house boat.
 The towns of the Iranian plateau to the west and Tukmenia to the North West had long been trading partners of the Indus people and their ancestors. This trade took a new turn when the Indus authorities established au out post at Shortugai, far to the north, to control the supply of lapis lazuli- the most valued commodity in west Asia, which at that time came only from Badakshan in Turkmenia that is in present day Afghanistan.

HARAPPA, A Dravidian civilization Part.III

The most astonishing aspect of all Indus cities was their advanced system of town planning. Within the thick outer walls- probably a defense against flooding-large blocks of houses were separated by a grid of broad roads. Houses were terraced; they varied in size, but were all designed around an inner courtyard, usually with a staircase leading to an upper floor. Much of the daily life of the citizens took place in the courtyard, as it does in Indian homes today.
  The people were fastidious about personal hygiene. The houses contained bathrooms, and often brick lavatories, which were connected t a system of drains which followed the routes of the streets, punctuated by the manholes, gutters, and wells. The houses contain slight traces of elaborate woodwork, and the plastered walls and floors may have been painted or covered with mats and hangings. Finds of jewellery, vivacious figurines, and lively painted pottery show that the Indus people did not lack artistic imagination or colour in their daily lives. But there seems to have been little room for more permanent secular or even religious art, only sparse evidence of which has survived.
Apart from a few elaborate sculptures, no large statues have been discovered in the region only a vast quantity of clay figurines. Some figurines represent naked, bearded men, but most of them are well rounded female forms, full breasted and wide hipped- probably images of the great mother goddess who was worshiped in various guises throughout the Middle East at the time. Their bodies are adorned with heavy necklaces and fantastic bulging headgear in which lamps could sometimes be mounted. Other figurines include a large number of toys such as ox drawn carts. Some of these models may have been intended as religious offerings rather than as mere playthings.
The climate in Harappa was probably as hot and dry then as it today, and the crops- with the exception of rice and millet, which were not cultivated until around 2000BC, the bounty of the Indus was matched or exceeded by another river system running parallel to it to the south- the ‘lost Saraswati ‘which survives today only in the form of minor rivers such as the Hakra. The area watered by this mighty river was probably the breadbasket of civilization.
 The Indus people certainly ate fish from the rivers and hunted big game- wild ox, elephant, tiger, and rhinoceros- which was more plentiful then than now. Some farmers kept chickens, cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats; others specialized in herding animals, driving them between seasonal pastures.

HARAPPA, A Dravidian civilization Part.II

Harappa’s most prominent feature was its citadel, built on an artificial hill to the west. Its outline remains, enclosing an area of about 396meter by 198 meter. Indus citadels contained ritual structures and public buildings, but no palaces. The Mohenjo-Daro citadel  housed a structure now known as the Great bath’- a rectangular pool of 12m long and 7m wide and 2.4m deep which may have hosted immersion ceremonies- an intriguing precedent for the bathing rituals of later Hinduism
At the foot of the citadel in Harappa were workshops and brick paved floors, some of which may have been used for husking grain. North of these is a structure once identified as a granary, now thought to have been a large public building. In the small Indus town of Lothal, near the western coast in Gujarat, the citadel held a large warehouse containing clay seals which bore the imprint of the cloth packaging to which they had been fastened.
Spacious residential quarters stretched out beneath the Harappan citadel. Recent surveys have revealed the staggering size of the Indus cities, much of which lay hidden beneath deep layers of alluvium; Harappa covers more than 370 acres; Mohenjo-Daro sprawls across 618 acres.
South of the citadel at Harappa lay the Cemetery. The graves of the Indus valley people were built on the same generous scale as their cities. The average size was 3.3m by 1.2m, though some were as large as 4.5mby 3 m. recent work at Harappa has now revealed new information about burial practices. The dead lay on their back or sides, their heads towards the north, and were sometimes wrapped in a textile shroud. Objects buried with the bodies included copper rings, stone and shell necklaces, and mirrors of polished copper. Pots were the main offering usually filled with food and drink; frequently, they were placed in the grave first and covered with soil, and the coffin was placed on top of them.

HARAPPA, A Dravidian civilization Part.I


    Harappa is an advanced planning on a vast scale. More than 4,000 years ago, a merchant people built great cities of brick at Harappa and elsewhere in a valley of what is now Pakistan. They developed a written language that remains an enigma, and left an indelible mark on Indian culture.
In 1856 two British engineers the brothers john and Robert Brunton, where contracted to build a railway link between Lahore and Multan in what is now in Pakistan. They were immediately faced with a problem. The alluvial soil of the Indus Valley through which the proposed railway was to run was rich landscape for cultivation crops, but almost completely lacking in stone to act as ballast for the railway tracks. The Bruntons solved this problem in a way that must have impressed their employers, but which created an archaeological disaster. Near the village of Harappa in the north, they had discovered huge deposits of ancient, baked mud bricks. These would make perfect ballast for their building project, the Bruntons decided, and they laid 160 kilometers of track on the ancient bricks.
After the brothers plunder, Britain’s then director general of archaeology in India, Sir Alexander Cunningham, carried out a small excavation at Harappa. He concluded that little was left, but he did publish details of an inscribed seal found earlier at the site which bore a picture of a bull and sic strange symbols. More than half a century elapsed before this enigmatic clue to India’s early history was pursued.

In 1921, under a newly appointed director general, Sir John Marshall, detailed excavations began at Harappa. Marshall’s team uncovered the scant remains of a large city- a find that turned out to be the first of a series of epoch making discoveries proving the existence of a hitherto unknown culture, the Indus Valley civilization, which flourished more than 2000 years before the birth of Christ.
A year later, excavations began on a second city near the railway at Mohenjo-daro, the ‘Hill of the Dead’, and 640 km to the south. The discoveries here shed light on the mysteries of Harappa. Further investigations uncovered the remains of smaller settlement over the vast area, from present day Karachi to the mouth of the Narmada River, and eastwards as far as modern Delhi.
The earliest settlers in the Indus valley arrived in the 4th millennium BC. Between 2700 and 2600 BC, uniformly planned towns and cities emerged and the entire Indus region became culturally unified. The massive city walls of Harappa were constructed during this time of transformation. Since the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, other ancient Indus cities have been found, such as Dholavira in Gujarat and Ganweriwala in Cholistan, giving archaeologists further insight onto the urban lifestyle of the Indus civilization.