IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Evidence of dairy production in the Indus Valley Civilisation

28th October, 2020 Art & Culture

Context: The year 2020 marks 100 years of discovery of Indus Valley Civilisation, and a new study has shown that dairy products were being produced by the Harappans as far back as 2500 BCE.

  • By analysing residues on ancient pots, researchers show the earliest direct evidence of dairy product processing, thus throwing fresh light on the rural economy of the civilisation.
  • The studies were carried out on 59 shards of pottery from Kotada Bhadli, a small archeological site in present-day Gujarat.

Harappans civilization

  • Are known for its metropolitan cities and the big towns.
  • It had great urban planning, trading systems, jewellery making.
  • But there is no evidence about the parallel economy — agro-pastoral or rural and how the common masters were living, their lifestyle and how they were contributing in the larger network,”

Carbon isotope studies

  • Molecular analysis techniques is used to study the residues from ancient pottery.
  • “Pots are porous. So as soon as we put any liquid form of food, it will absorb it.
  • The pot preserves the molecules of food such as fats and proteins.
  • Using techniques like C16 and C18 analysis we can identify the source of lipids.
  • Traces were seen in cooking vessels indicating that milk may have been boiled and consumed.
  • Residues in a bowl showing that either heated milk or curd could have been served.
  • There are also remains of a perforated vessel, and similar vessels were used in Europe to make cheese. So it is possible that they were further processing milk into different forms.”

Animal husbandry

  • The team was also able to show which type of animals were being used for dairy production.
  • They studied the tooth enamel from fossils of cattle, water buffalo, goat and sheep found in the area.
  • Cows and water buffalo were found to consume millets, while sheep and goats ate nearby grass and leaves.
  • A preliminary study suggested that most of the cattle and water-buffalo died at an older age, suggesting they could have been raised for milk, whereas the majority of goat/sheep died when they were young, indicating they could have been used for meat.
  • “The Harappans did not just use dairy for their household.
  • The large herd indicates that milk was produced in surplus so that it could be exchanged and there could have been some kind of trade between settlements. This could have given rise to an industrial level of dairy exploitation,”
  • “The most fascinating thing about the Indus Valley Civilisation is that it is faceless — there is no king, no bureaucratic organisations, but there are these very close regional interactions between settlements, a symbiotic relationship of give and take that helped the civilisation survive for so long.”