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Monsoon hiatus spelled end of Indus Valley Civilisation

An artist's reconstruction of the gateway and drain at Harappa. By Chris Sloan

 

Last updated Wednesday July 06, 2016

Indus Valley Civilisation, Monsoon hiatus, Drought, Climate Change  
 
A recent research conducted by scientists and archaeologists found that the Indus Valley Civilization had collapsed due to monsoon hiatus that resulted in prolonged drought. Based on isotope data from the sediment of an ancient lake, the researchers believe that a series of droughts lasting some 200 years was probably responsible for the decline of the great Bronze Age urban civilization of Indus valley.  

Basudev Mahapatra

 
 

Ancient episodes of climate change led to collapse of some of world’s first great civilisations. While earlier findings suggested that long term draught that began in 2000 BC led to decline of Bronze-Age civilizations in Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia, recent studies conducted by scientists and archaeologists found that the Indus Valley Civilization had a similar fate, about the same time.

Based on isotope data from the sediment of an ancient lake, the researchers believe that a series of droughts lasting some 200 years was probably responsible for the decline of the great Bronze Age urban civilization of Indus valley.

The research was carried out by the University of Cambridge and India’s Banaras Hindu University and the findings were first reported in the journal 'Geology.'

 

The Indus Valley, in present Pakistan and northwest India, was home to Harappan Civilization characterized by large, well-planned cities with advanced municipal sanitation systems. “But the Harappans seemed to slowly lose their urban cohesion, and their cities were gradually abandoned,” a report in the Scientific American said.

“The link between this gradual decline and climate has been tenuous because of a dearth of climate records from the region,” the report added.

Yama Dixit, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and her colleagues obtained the new evidence from the dried up bed of Kotla Dahar, an ancient lake 40 miles east of the north-eastern edge of the Indus Valley area in Haryana, India.

“Our evidence suggests that it was the most intense period of drought – probably due to frequent monsoon failure – in the 5000 year-long period we have examined,” quoted The Independent (UK) as said by Palaeoclimate scientist Professor David Hodell of University of Cambridge.

Scientists and archaeologists detected the climatic conditions by examining isotopic evidence from the shells of snails that had lived between 6500 years ago and 1500 years ago.

The isotopic values of the calcium carbonate in the snails’ shells reflected the isotopic value in the water in the lakes at the time they lived.

Because water with oxygen 16 isotopes evaporates more quickly than water with ‘heavier’ oxygen 18 isotopes, the scientists were able to measure changes in evaporation rates over time. This allowed them to identify the start and end of a previously unknown 200 year-long severe drought in the north-west India region which lasted from around 2100 BC to about 1900 BC.

In that period, the Indus Valley 'megacities' – some with populations of up to 100,000 – rapidly declined. Populations shrank and an old urban civilization that had lasted nearly 500 years did collapse.

“Archaeologists are really in a unique position when investigating climate change in the past, because we hopefully get to see what people were doing in the ‘before, during and after’ phases. We therefore get an opportunity to investigate how ancient populations responded to climatic and environmental change. How did they cope with periods of water stress? Were their existing ways of life resilient? Were they forced to adapt in order to survive, and if so, precisely what did they do,” reported the Independent quoting archaeologist, Dr. Cameron Petrie of University of Cambridge.

“By investigating responses to environmental pressures and threats in the past, we can hopefully learn from the past to engage with the public, and the relevant governmental and administrative bodies to be more pro-active in issues such as the management and administration of water supply, the balance of urban and rural development, and even the importance of preserving cultural heritage in the future,” Dr. Petrie added.

As scientists largely relate the climate change phenomenon with green house gas (GHG) and carbon emission, Anil Gupta, Director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology in Dehradun, India, is quoted by Scientific American as questioning, “What drove this climate change 4,100 years ago? We don’t see major changes in the North Atlantic or in the solar activity at that time.”

The question raised by Anil Gupta certainly alerts climate scientists to think if rapid urbanisation that obviously causes environmental destruction has a bigger role in warming and climate change.

However, the apprehension that climate change at an extreme stage may collapse civilisations has become evident from the fact that lack of monsoon did spell the end of the Indus Valley civilization.

We must take lessons from this to ensure that our civilisation lasts longer.

[With inputs from The Independent (UK) and Scientific American]

 
   
 

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