Research into the effect of changing climate and environment on Indus Civilisation settlements

by Joanna Walker on 30 October 2017

Being an archaeologist can at times be difficult. Half the world seems to believe you are secretly gallivanting around the world in search of priceless artefacts or forgotten civilisations a la Indiana Jones or Laura Croft. The other half is convinced you are actually an architect, leaving you to answer questions about whether or not you like some new building in London (n.b. we prefer the really old buildings).

In actuality, most archaeologists spend a lot of time making holes and then sitting in them. We may get to travel all over the world for this privilege, but fundamentally, where ever we go there is likely going to be mud involved. As a geoarchaeologist (someone who uses earth sciences to answer archaeological questions), this is even truer than for most.

I have just entered the second year of my PhD and am researching how changing climate and environment affected Indus Civilisation settlements in northwest India. In particular I am looking to reconstruct the palaeo-landscape around several Indus sites to find out why people settled in these places and whether environmental changes could have had an impact upon these settlements. Having recently returned from 6 weeks of field work I wanted to share with you this photo diary of my time away.

1. This field work season was a season one of many firsts. My first time out of Europe; my first archaeological dig; and my first opportunity to collect original samples for my PhD. The flight to India is reasonably long lasting 8.5 hours when flying from Heathrow to Delhi, and the time difference on arrival is a fairly novel unusual GMT + 5.5 hours (only 11 countries use a non-integer offset)! We were treated to some great views over Iran and Pakistan on the flight.


2. Our first stop in India was the holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh to have register our visas registered. The city sits on the banks of the Ganges river and for Hindu’s it is the holiest of the sacred cities, with death in the city bringing moksha or liberation. It is also sacred to Buddhists as the Lord Buddha is believed to have given his first sermon at the nearby site of Sarnath in 528 BC.

On the left is the Department of AIHC and Aarchaeology department at Banaras Hindu University, our main partner University for the excavation. Palm trees don’t grow nearly so well in Cambridge!





3. During our brief Varanasi visit we were lucky enough to be able to take a boat trip down the Ganges one evening to see the aarti ceremony taking place on the Ghats (stairs) leading down to the river. Here devotional fire offerings are made every evening at sunset to Maa Ganga, with the most holy river in India being synonymous with the goddess.


4/4a. Having left Varanasi, we then traveled northwest of Delhi to Lohari Ragho in Haryana where our archaeological site was located. This was the view from our dig house roof. Accommodation was fairly basic, and the village reasonably remote, but our yard was shared with a friendly herd of water buffalo who were taken down to the village pond to bathe each day.


5. Nearby to where we were working was the important Indus site of Rakhigarhi. Rakhigarhi (also known as Rakhi Garhi) is a large Indus Urban settlement thought to be between 80-100 hectacres in size, and regionally important. Currently protected from development by the Indian Government, it is instead used by the village as a place to graze animals and store dung cakes (the conical and flat topped mounds above the sand dunesmounds). As one of the highest most elevatedion points in the otherwise flat landscape it is easy to see why this was once an important site.


6. My fieldwork involved doing a landscape survey of the area surrounding the archaeological site so I got to spend a lot of time walking around and seeing local farmers in their fields, as well as taking sediment samples for laboratory analysis over the next few months in Cambridge. I was very lucky to be assisted by local labourers who helped translate and take cores for me.



7. There are not often many foreign visitors to this part of Haryana, and our work was fairly unusual, so we attracted quite a lot of interest and became something of a tourist attraction during our time in the village. Entire extended families would come by to see what we were doing and take a photo!


8. Sunrises at site were particularly beautiful, as the dust in the atmosphere and low mists made the landscape look ethereal in the morning light. Because of the hot weather (day time temperatures fairly consistently reached 38°c) we tended to start early work in the morning and so saw a lot of sunrises!

Thank you for reading my photo diary! It was certainly a shock to return to Cambridge and have to wear a jumper again!

If you are looking to find me now I will either be on the river and getting to all our new Lucy rowers (as Captain of our rowing club), or back in the labs at Archaeology.

In this section