Search This Blog

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cowboys of Karnataka

Was South India a part of Harappan Horizon?

It is a drive down the Bellary Road, now a dual carriageway all the way to Hyderabad. Three hours from Bengaluru Airport, near the town spelled Gooty, but pronounced ‘Gutty’, you take a turn into any potholed apology serving the heavy mining trucks; you don’t have to endure an hour before you find one of them.

The granite hills around this area still literally preserve the footprints of those cattle herders, who had lived in these windswept environs drained by the monsoon spill-offs from the Western Ghats converging into a great riparian system: Krishna.

The landscape is dotted with a profusion of likely hills with their characteristic outcrops. Many an archaeologist from India and abroad had staggered through the wild hillocks daring the thorn and bush and an occasional sloth bear: Bruce Foote, Sewell and the doughty couple, Allchins were followed by our own scientists Paddayya, Korishettar and an exciting crop of young graduates from the premier institutions of Deccan and recent yeoman effort of the South Deccan Prehistory Project, ably supported by Leverhulme Foundation.
If Deccan prehistory: hitherto a short perfunctory footnote in the most advanced textbook of history, takes its due place, its thanks to their efforts.

Ash Mounders?
The Deccan Neolithic sites in the Middle Krishna Valley were predominantly cattle herding communities. There is a strong evidence of some of them being sedentary, characterized by the presence of ‘Ash Mounds’.

What are these Ash Mounds?
They are large accumulations of vitrified material found buried under a layer of soil, usually at the base of a granite hillock.
They belong to an age parallel to the famous Indus Valley Civilization in its mature phase:

2500 to 1700 BC.

The material is very light resulting from intensive burning of cattle dung by our primitive ancestors. The refuge accumulated was burnt periodically creating huge mounds.

“Why did they burn the precious fertilizer … and an excellent coat for the walls and floors of their dwellings?”

These are not rhetorical questions, but puzzles which occupied the minds of many archaeologists who had encountered and studied these sites.
Probably those primitive fools didn’t know how to farm and had no need of a permanent home. But the ash mounds show accumulations over many hundreds of years.

The clue comes from a simple ratio:
‘The size of cattle pens to the human dwellings’

Utnur an Ash Mound site provided evidence of a six hundred head of cattle based on the area of the excavated cattle holding enclosure, whereas, evidence of dwelling spaces is almost negligible. Except in the sites - Kupgal and Budhihal, where the habitations sites are associated primarily with large tool-making / pottery workshops.

While the neighboring districts in the lower Krishna valley showed contemporary peoples cultivating millets and recycling the animal waste, why haven’t these people of the upper river learned that way of life, in spite of a more fertile environment?

It may be assumed that these cattle herders were homeless nomads, following a regular seasonal circuit, visiting the same places year after year and moving to other areas when there is no possibility of grazing.

Where did they come from? And, where did they go to?

Why was such a wide discrepancy in numbers – between cattle and human beings?

Where did exist a significant market for their cattle?

The Harappan Civilization certainly is a suspect – a large urban culture providing a huge consumer base.

But there is no connection. Period

Any speculation is frivolous.

The southernmost Harappan outposts had not extended beyond River Tapi in Maharashtra.
Technologies of the Neolithic cattlemen differed significantly from the highly advanced Harappans.
There is very little if any evidence of trade.


The Neolithic people of South India hadappreciated the value of gold, which they panned from the southern rivers and mined from Hutti and Kolar in Karnataka, but without even an iota of evidence of their using or hording it.

The large workshops of Chert and Dolerite at Budhihal and Kupgal, where a casual walk could accumulate a bagful of finished and unfinished tools even today, only served themselves.

Disc beads of Steatite paste found at Piklihal, another South Indian Neolithic site were a common commodity in Harappan towns, if exchanged for gold and stone tools, should have been found more widely.


Do we conclude that the South India was the Wild West of Harappans?

Harappan Carpetbaggers?

There is a traditional name for them from the various South Indian folk legends:


They were alchemists who made gold from the common rock.

Legends associate them with cattle herding communities.

Even today the area abounds with place names near the prehistoric sites with the prefix – Siddha.

The folk legend of Mariamma (the Small Pox Goddess of South) refers to a hundred forts of Siddhas.

Were these Siddhas the citizens of Indus Valley, the people of the Land of Attainment or a cognate for the Northern name for ‘River’, Sindhu?

I have warned you not to speculate!

Fortunately, until recently the rocky hill-slopes have not attracted the cultivators and they remained in their unspoilt state, preserving a record for any archaeologist. But with the availability of seasonal irrigation and the resultant spread of arable land, they are becoming extremely vulnerable.
There is a need for preserving the heritage.

If you care to comment, do so.


  1. If there was trade between traditional Harappan regions and the Deccan plateau, its possible that colonization followed.

  2. Unless we know who the harappans were nothing could be said conclusively.gene pool doesn't show any major movement. If you go by the dravidian theory, harappans themselves were of north dravidian genotype, speaking something akin to telugu / kannada. i mahadevan speculates that the most common terminal haraappaan sign ('U' with whiskers)could be pronounced as 'andu' or 'andru'.a honorific suffix to a name.
    who colonized whom?

  3. Who colonized whom? Good question.

  4. have you received my previous comment sai? Anyway i could sense the muscle in the narration despite my lack of archaeological knowledge. but buried so deep into archaeology, when r u planning to surface and make films buddy?
    prabhu, ongole

  5. cowboys of karnataka is the most accurate title. by the way how r u Danji?