A new study by the University of Cambridge has found new evidence locked away in stalagmite formations in a Himalayan cave, suggesting that the downfall of the Indus megacities was caused by periods of prolonged droughts.
The Indus Civilisation was a Bronze Age culture from 3300 BC to 1300 BC, that emerged in the alluvial plains of the Indus River system. At its peak, the civilisation covered an area that spanned much of Pakistan, northeast Afghanistan, and northwestern India.
The large megacities of the Indus are noted for their advanced urban planning, baked brick houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, clusters of large non-residential buildings, and techniques of handicraft and metallurgy.
Researchers examined growth layers in a stalagmites collected from a cave near Pithoragarh, India, which enabled them to chart historic rainfall by measuring a range of environmental tracers — including oxygen, carbon and calcium isotopes.
The study revealed three protracted droughts, each lasting between 25 and 90 years over a period of 200 years that started around 4,200 years ago. During this period, the city builders took various steps to adapt and remain sustainable against the climatic strain placed on the populations which coincides with the reorganisation of the metropolis planning.
Prof Cameron Petrie, from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, said: “During this transformation, larger urban sites were depopulated in favour of smaller rural settlements towards the eastern extent of the area occupied by Indus populations. At the same time, agriculture shifted towards reliance on summer-crops, especially drought-tolerant millets, and the population transitioned to a lifestyle that appears to have been more self-reliant.”
“We find clear evidence that this interval was not a short-term crisis but a progressive transformation of the environmental conditions in which Indus people lived,” added Petrie.
The team also identified distinct periods of below-average rainfall in both the summer and winter seasons. According to the researchers, the evidence for drought affecting both cropping seasons is extremely significant for understanding the impact of this period of climate change upon human populations. The droughts during this period increased in duration, to the point where the third would have been multi-generational in length.
Alena Giesche, from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, said: “The findings support existing evidence that the decline of the Indus megacities was linked to climate change. But what’s been a mystery until now is information on the drought duration and the season they happened in. That extra detail is really important when we consider cultural memory and how people make adaptations when faced with environmental change.”
The team are now looking to expand their climate reconstructions to western parts of the Indus River Region, where the winter rainfall system becomes more dominant than the Indian Summer Monsoon. “What we really need are more records like this, from a west-east oriented transect across the region where the summer and winter monsoons interact — and, crucially, capturing the beginning of this arid period,” said Giesche.
“Currently, we have a huge blind spot on our maps extending across Afghanistan and Pakistan where the Indian summer monsoon and the Westerlies interact,” said Prof. Sebastian Breitenbach, co-author and palaeoclimatologist at Northumbria University. “Sadly, the political situation is unlikely to allow for this kind of research in the near future.”
Header Image Credit : Shutterstock
New chambers discovered in Ancient Egyptian pyramid of Sahura
An Egyptian-German archaeological mission has discovered several new chambers in the pyramid of Sahura, located in the Abu Sir Pyramid Field south of Giza.
Sahura, meaning “He who is close to Re”, was a pharaoh of Ancient Egypt and the second ruler of the Fifth Dynasty (2465 BC to 2325 BC). Sahure’s reign is seen as one of economic and cultural prosperity, opening new trading links to the land of Punt and expanding the flow of goods from the Levantine coast.
Choosing not to follow the tradition of being buried in the royal necropolises of Saqqara and Giza, Sahura instead chose for his pyramid to be constructed at Abusir. Although smaller in size than the pyramids of his predecessors, Sahura’s pyramid complex was decorated with over 10,000 m2 of finely carved reliefs, some of which are considered “unparalleled in Egyptian art.”
The interior chambers of the pyramid were extensively damaged by grave robbers during antiquity, making it impossible to precisely reconstruct the substructure plan.
Image Credit : Mohamed Khaled
A restoration project led by Egyptologist Dr. Mohamed Ismail Khaled of the Department of Egyptology at Julius-Maximilians-Universität of Würzburg (JMU) has discovered a series of storage chambers and passageways. The northern and southern parts of these chambers are badly damaged, however, remnants of the original walls and parts of the floor can still be seen.
Using 3D laser scanning with a ZEB Horizon portable LiDAR scanner, the team conducted detailed surveys to map the extensive external areas and the narrow corridors and chambers inside.
According to the researchers: “Careful documentation of the floor plan and dimensions of each storage chamber has greatly enhanced our understanding of the pyramid’s interior. During restoration, a balance between preservation and presentation was pursued to ensure the structural integrity of the chambers while making them accessible for future study and potentially the public.”
During the restoration work, the project was also able to uncover the floor plan of the antechamber which had deteriorated over time. Consequently, the destroyed walls were replaced with new retaining walls. The eastern wall of the antechamber was badly damaged, and only the northeast corner and about 30 centimetres of the eastern wall were still visible.
Header Image – Pyramid of Sahura – Public Domain
Archaeologists identify runesmith who carved the Jelling Stone runes
Archaeologists using 3D scans have identified who carved the Jelling Stone runes, located in the town of Jelling, Denmark.
The first of the two Jelling stones was erected by King Gorm the Old in honour of his wife Thyra. Following this, a second stone was raised by King Gorm’s son, Harald Bluetooth, to commemorate his parents and to mark his victorious rule over Denmark and Norway, as well as his role in converting the Danish people to Christianity.
Researchers from the National Museum in Copenhagen have conducted 3D scans to analyse the carving tracks of the runes. Similar to handwriting, the carving techniques are relatively unique to each runesmith, as each stonemason holds the chisel at a certain angle and strikes with a certain force with the hammer.
By studying the angle of the chisel grooves and the distance between them, comparisons can be made with other rune stones, such as the Laeborg Runestone which stands approximately 30 kilometres southwest of Jelling
The analysis has revealed that the Laeborg Runestone has the same carving technique, which also has the inscription: “Ravnunge-Tue carved these runes after Thyra, his queen”.
Queen Thyra is mentioned in the two Jelling stones as the mother of Harald Bluetooth, wife of Gorm the Elder and “penitent of Denmark”, but Thyra’s name is also mentioned in two other runestones, that of Læborg, carved by Ravnunge-Tue in honor of Thyra, his queen, and that of Bække 1, which bears the inscription “Ravnunge-Tue and Fundin and Gnyple, the three made the stop of Thyra.”
For many years, researchers have debated whether Læborgstenen’s Queen Thyra is the same as the Thyra mentioned on the stones from Jelling.
According to the researchers: “The discovery in itself is interesting because it can link another person to the Jelling dynasty, but it is especially interesting because the realization brings with it another startling revelation, explains Lisbeth Imer, runologist and senior researcher at the National Museum.”
“It is an absolutely incredible discovery that we now know the name of the rune maker behind the Jelling stone, but what makes the discovery even wilder is that we know Ravnunge-Tue’s boss. It is Queen Thyra from Jelling, i.e. Harald Blåtand’s mother, there can no longer be much doubt about that, and that puts the discovery in a completely different light,” says Lisbeth Imer.
Header Image Credit : Shutterstock
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