the supposed Indus valley horse was shown, after comparison of the broken seal photograph with photographs of various similarlooking but more complete Indus seals, to be a ‘unicorn’ bull of a type commonly depicted in the inscriptions. The horse image had to be a hoax created by one of the authors, an engineer with experience of computer drawing (and a taste for Hindu nationalist propaganda), as he more or less admitted under questioning by Indian journalists. Despite this scholarly exposé, new Indian school textbooks introduced in 2002 referred to ‘terracotta figurines of horses’ in the ‘IndusSaraswati civilisation’, and continued to do so until the fall of the Hindu nationalist BJP government in 2004, when they were withdrawn by the incoming Congress government. More important, the idea that the language of the Indus civilisation is Sanskrit and of local origin continues to enjoy wide support in India. Until such time as the Indus script is convincingly deciphered, which will not happen without major new discoveries of inscriptions, this debate about the Indus civilisation’s true relationship with the later Vedic culture will surely continue. Rivers and climate, rise and fall Despite the controversy, the importance of the former river Saraswati, unrecognised in the 1920s, is beyond dispute. In this respect, the Indus civilisation (some archaeologists prefer ‘Harappan civilisation’) resembles ancient Mesopotamia, which developed between two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, rather than ancient Egypt, where civilisation was the ‘gift’ of a single river, the Nile. Its geographical environment was, however, more complex than either Mesopotamia’s or Egypt’s: a fact that influenced its evolution more than is obvious from the evidence of its cities alone. The city-states of Mesopotamia remained focused on the areas watered by these rivers. The Indus cities (or perhaps they were citystates), by contrast, exerted direct control, through both large and small settlements, over a far wider region, which supplied them with metals such as copper, semi-precious stones, minerals, and timber. Beyond the alluvial plains of the Indus valley, this region may be divided into the western mountains and piedmont border zone, the mountain ranges to the north, the eastern border zone and Thar desert, and peninsular India. The furthest-flung settlement, Shortugai, is on the northern border of Afghanistan with Tajikistan beside the river Oxus; it was established in order to obtain lapis lazuli from this sought-after mineral’s only known mine. The climate of this vast area would mostly have been beneficial to agriculture, if we permit ourselves to judge by today’s climate. Two different weather systems dominate today and sometimes overlap.
The Past | April/May 2021