65 graves point to largest Harappan burial site next door to capital

Archaeologists from three universities have been at work since the beginning of this year in Haryana's Sonepat district, digging for what may turn out to be one of the most significant breakthroughs in the study of South Asian protohistory.

Evidence of 65 burials has been unearthed over the past month at the site in Farmana, 60-odd km from Delhi, making it the largest Harappan burial site found in India so far.

The digging is in its third season now. Evidence of seven burials was discovered last year, and should the work continue into another season, experts say Farmana may throw up evidence of a larger number of burials than even Harappa, the Pakistani Punjab town from which the civilisation of the Indus valley (c. 3300 BC-1300 BC) takes its name.

The discovery holds enormous potential, said Prof Vasant Shinde of the Department of Archaeology, Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune, the director of the excavation project.

"With a larger sample size it will be easier for scholars to determine the composition of the population, the prevalent customs, whether they were indigenous or migrated from outside," Prof Shinde said.

A century-and-a-half after the great civilization was discovered, historians still have no definite answers to a number of questions, including where the Harappans came from, and why their highly sophisticated culture suddenly died out.

"For the first time, we will conduct scientific tests on skeletal remains, pottery and botanical evidence found at the site, to try to understand multiple aspects of Harappan life," Prof Shinde said.

"DNA tests on bones might conclusively end the debate on whether the Harappans were an indigenous population or migrants. Trace element analyses will help us chart their diet ¿ a higher percentage of zinc will prove they were non-vegetarians; larger traces of magnesium will suggest a vegetarian diet."

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