Harappan Horse: Polemics and Propoganda

Editorial Comment

As the Aryan invasion version of history has begun to crumble, there are parties in Indian and Western academic circles that have a special interest in preserving it. It is unnecessary to go into reasons behind this beyond noting that considerations of politics and careers have much to do with it. This is not unusual in any field: whenever there is a paradigm shift, as is now the case with the Vedic-Harappan convergence today, the old order suddenly finds the ground shifting under its feet. A debate, at times acrimonious is natural and inevitable in the circumstances. But what was unusual in this case was the tactics adopted by a few of the participants, notably Michael Witzel, the Prince of Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard. He went beyond criticizing the work of N. Jha and N.S. Rajaram, to charging that they, in their book The Deciphered Indus Script had fabricated the image of a horse in order to show that the Harappan civilization was Vedic.

In all this, Witzel's central claim was that the horse was unknown in ancient India prior to the coming of the Aryan invaders who brought it with them. Thus, the Harappans had no horses. Further, the spoke-wheel was also unknown to the Harappans. But Witzel went further: he insisted that any data that suggested otherwise must perforce be a fabrication. This was the charge he leveled against N. Jha and N.S. Rajaram in the summer of 2000 when the book The Deciphered Indus Script reached the United States. He chose to ignore however that comments on the 'Harappan Horse' was limited to two partial footnotes in their book, which was about the decipherment and in no way dependent on the Harappan horse. Jha and Rajaram chose to ignore these charges other than issuing a press release that refuted Witzel's charge with the help of photographs. (Witzel was assisted in his work by one Steve Farmer with no credentials in the field other than making extravagant claims. He seems to have disappeared from the scene.)

The situation reached a climax when Rajaram, in an article that appeared in the national daily The Hindu (February 19, 2002) produced evidence from well-known sources showing that horse remains had been identified at Harappan sites going back several decades; he also highlighted other important evidence like the Vedic river Sarasvati that connect the Vedic and Harappan civilizations. This seemed to put Witzel in an awkward situation. First, it showed that his claim of "No Harappan horse," had no basis in fact. More seriously, it cast a cloud on his tactics, suggesting that he was indulging in suppression of evidence while simultaneously launching a personal attack on those who disagreed with him. In all this the assumption seemed to be that his position as an academic at a well-known university combined with aggressive propaganda carried out at a high decibel level was enough to override facts and logic. This predicament that Witzel found himself in--the collapse of his scholarly reputation together with the exposure of his unsavory tactics--may explain the ferocious tone of his article given in this section. This was noted by the distinguished archaeologist R. Nagaswamy who went on to systematically refute Witzel's claims and method--calling the latter an example of reductio ad absurdum.

While the Aryan invasion is dead, and the Vedic-Harappan connection all but a reality, the series of articles that appeared in The Hindu gives an idea of the 'debate' that is likely to be the last ditch effort to save the Aryan invasion. We begin with Rajaram's article that set the cat among the pigeons, followed by Witzel's response, culminating in Nagaswamy's refutation of Witzel's claims and methods.


A historical theory must account for all the evidence and not selectively accept and ignore data. Further, a man-made theory cannot substitute for primary data.

Albert Einstein once said: "A theory must not contradict empirical facts." He was speaking in the context of science, especially how historians of science often lacked proper understanding of the scientific process. As he saw it the problem was: "Nearly all historians of science are philologists [linguists] and do not comprehend what physicists were aiming at, how they thought and wrestled with these problems." When such is the situation in physics where problems are clear-cut, it is not surprising to see issues in a subject like history being much more contentious. This is particularly the case when trying to understand the records of people far removed from us in time like the creators of the Vedic and Harappan civilizations. As a result of some recent historical developments like European colonization and Western interest in Sanskrit language and linguistics, several myths and conjectures, through the force of repetition, have come to acquire the status of historical facts. It is time to re-evaluate these in the light of new evidence and more scientific approaches.

When we come to these myths, none is more persistent than the one about "No horse at Harappa." This has now been supplemented by another claim that the spoke-wheel was unknown to the Harappans. The point of these claims is that without the horse and the spoke-wheel the Harappans were militarily vulnerable to the invading Aryan hordes who moved on speedy, horse-drawn chariots with spoke-wheels. This claim is not supported by facts: an examination of the evidence shows that both the spoke-wheel and the horse were widely used by the Harappans.    (The idea seems to be borrowed from the destruction of Native American civilizations by the Spanish and Portuguese 'Conquistadors'. The Conquistadors though never used chariots.)

As far as the spoke-wheel is concerned, B.B. Lal, former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India records finding terracotta wheels at various Harappan sites. In his words: "The painted lines [spokes] converge at the central hub, and thus leave no doubt about their representing the spokes of the wheel. ...another example is reproduced from Kalibangan, a well-known Harappan site in Rajasthan, in which too the painted lines converge at the hub. ...two examples from Banawali [another Harappan site], in which the spokes are not painted but are shown in low relief." ( The Sarasvati Keeps Flowing, Aryan Books, Delhi, pages 72-3). It is also worth noting that the depiction of the spoke-wheel is quite common on Harappan seals.

Horse and Vedic symbolism

The horse and the cow are mentioned often in the Rigveda, though they commonly carry symbolic rather than physical meaning. There is widespread misconception that the absence of the horse at Harappan sites shows that horses were unknown in India until the invading Aryans brought them. Such 'argument by absence' is hazardous at best. To take an example, the bull is quite common on the seals, but the cow is never represented. We cannot from this conclude that the Harappans raised bulls but were ignorant of the cow. In any event, depictions of the horse are known at Harappan sites, though rare. It is possible that there was some kind of religious taboo that prevented the Harappans from using cows and horses in their art. More fundamentally, it is incorrect to say that horses were unknown to the Harappans. The recently released encyclopedia The Dawn of Indian Civilization, Volume 1, Part 1 observes (pages 344 - 5): "... the horse was widely domesticated and used in India during the third millennium BCE over most of the area covered by the Indus-Sarasvati [or Harappan] Civilization. Archaeologically this is most significant since the evidence is widespread and not isolated."

This is not the full story. Sir John Marshall, Director General of the Archaeological Survey when Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were being excavated, recorded the presence of what he called the 'Mohenjo-daro horse'. Giving salient measurements, comparing it to other known specimens, he wrote: "It will be seen that there is a considerable degree of similarity between these various examples, and it is probable the Anau horse, the Mohenjo-daro horse, and the example of Equus caballus of the Zoological Survey of India, are all of the type of the 'Indian country bred', a small breed of horse, the Anau horse being slightly smaller than the others." ( Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization, volume II, page 654.) It is important to recognize that this is much stronger evidence than mere artifacts, which are artists' reproductions and not anatomical specimens that can be subjected to scientific examination.

Actually, the Harappans not only knew the horse, the whole issue of the 'Harappan horse' is irrelevant. In order to prove that the Vedas are of foreign origin, (and the horse came from Central Asia) one must produce positive evidence: it should be possible to show that the horse described in the Rigveda was brought from Central Asia. This is contradicted by the Rigveda itself. In verse I.162.18, the Rigveda describes the horse as having 34 ribs (17 pairs), while the Central Asian horse has 18 pairs (36) of ribs. We find a similar description in the Yajurveda also.

This means that the horse described in the Vedas is the native Indian breed (with 34 ribs) and not the Central Asian variety. Fossil remains of Equus Sivalensis (the 'Siwalik horse') show that the 34-ribbed horse has been known in India going back tens of thousands of years. This makes the whole argument based on "No horse at Harappa" irrelevant. The Vedic horse is a native Indian breed and not the Central Asian horse. As a result, far from supporting any Aryan invasion, the horse evidence furnishes one of its strongest refutations.

Man-made theories

All this suggests that man-made theories (like "No Harappan horse") and those in linguistics cannot be used to override primary evidence like the Vedic Sarasvati (described below) and the dominant oceanic symbolism found in the Vedas. To see this we may note that South Indian languages like Kannada and Tamil have indigenous ( desi ) word for the horse-- kudurai-- suggesting that the horse has long been native to the region. The same is true of the tiger ( puli and huli ) and the elephant ( aaney ). Contrast this with the word for the lion-- simha and singam --that are borrowed from Sanskrit, indicating that the lion was not native to the South. A man-made theory in linguistics, because it is not bound by laws of nature, can be made to cut both ways. It cannot take the place of evidence.

In any field it is important to take into account all the evidence, especially evidence of a fundamental nature. This can be illustrated with the help of what we now know about the Vedic river known as the Sarasvati. The Rigveda describes the Sarasvati as the greatest and the holiest of rivers-- as ambitame, naditame, devitame (best of mothers, best of rivers, best goddess). Satellite photographs as well as field explorations by archaeologists, notably the great expedition led by the late V.S. Wakankar, have shown that a great river answering to the description of the Sarasvati in the Rigveda (flowing 'from the mountains to the sea') did indeed exist thousands of years ago. After many vicissitudes due to tectonic and other changes, it dried up completely by 1900 BCE. This raises a fundamental question: how could the Aryans who are supposed to have arrived in India only in 1500 BCE, and composed their Vedic hymns c. 1200 BCE, have described and extolled a river that had disappeared five hundred years earlier? In addition, numerous Harappan sites have been found along the course of the now dry Sarasvati, which further strengthens the Vedic-Harappan connection. As a result, the Indus (or Harappan) civilization is more properly called the Indus-Sarasvati civilization.

The basic point of all this: we cannot construct a theory focusing on a few relatively minor details like the spoke-wheel while ignoring important, even monumental evidence like the Sarasvati River and the oceanic symbolism that dominates the Rigveda. (This shows that the Vedic people could not have come from a land-locked region like Afghanistan or Central Asia.) A historical theory, no less than a scientific theory, must take into account all available evidence. No less important, a man-made theory cannot take the place of primary evidence like the Sarasvati River or the oceanic descriptions in the Rigveda. This brings us back to Einstein-- "A theory must not contradict empirical facts." Nor can it ignore primary evidence.

[This article, which supplied evidence that demolished Witzel's claims once and for all, drew the following response from Witzel. It is not hard to see that Witzel was concerned mainly with negating all evidence--from equine data to the Sarasvati River! He also failed to note that the possible presence of the 'Siwalik horse' for millions of years is further evidence against his thesis of the horse as a late arrival in India. Further, contrary to his claim, the 34 ribs of Indian, Southeast Asian and some Arab horses is a genetically inherited trait that cannot be wished away. Also, it is not just the Rigveda that mentions the 34-ribbed horse, but the Yajurveda as well. Editor]


The horses found in the early excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa do not come from secure levels and such `horse' bones, in most cases, found their way into deposits through erosional cutting and refilling, disturbing the archaeological layers.

Michael Witzel

In the Open Page of February 19, N.S. Rajaram posits a truism "A theory must not contradict empirical facts," but he then does not deliver on the `empirical facts.' As a scientist, he must suffer to be corrected, bluntly this time, by a mere philologist and Indologist. Philology, incidentally, is not the same as linguistics, as he says, but the study of a civilisation based on its texts. In order to understand such texts, one must acquire the necessary knowledge in all relevant fields, from astronomy to zoology. It is precisely a proper background in zoology, particularly in palaeontology, that is badly lacking in Rajaram's, the scientist's, account. Instead, it is he, and not his favorite straw man, the Indologist, who has created some new "myths and conjectures ... through the force of repetition." Let us deconstruct them one by one.

Harappan horses?

To begin with, he claims that "both the spoke-wheel and the horse were widely used by the Harappans." He quotes S.P. Gupta, without naming him, from a recent book ( The Dawn of Indian Civilisation , ed. by G.C. Pande, 1999). According to Gupta the horse (Equus caballus) "was widely domesticated and used in India during the third millennium BCE over most of the area covered by the Indus-Sarasvati (or Harappan) Civilisation. Archaeologically this is most significant since the evidence is widespread and not isolated." Nothing in this assertion is correct, even if -- or rather because -- it comes from an archaeologist and inventive rewriter of history, S.P. Gupta. For example, the horses found in the early excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa do not come from secure levels and such `horse' bones, in most cases, found their way into deposits through erosional cutting and refilling, disturbing the archaeological layers.

Indeed, not one clear example of horse bones exists in the Indus excavations and elsewhere in North India before c. 1800 BCE (R. Meadow and A. Patel 1997, Meadow 1996: 405, 1998). Such `horse' skeletons have not been properly reported from distinct and secure archaeological layers, and worse, they have not been compared with relevant collections of ancient skeletons and modern horses (Meadow 1996: 392). Instead, well recorded and stratified finds of horse figures and later on, of horse bones (along with the imported camel and donkey), first occur in the Kachi plain on the border of Sindh/E. Baluchistan (c. 1800-1500 BCE), when the mature Indus Civilisation had already disintegrated.

Even more importantly, the only true native equid of South Asia is the untamable khur (Equus hemionus, onager/half-ass) that still tenuously survives in the Rann of Kutch. Both share a common ancestor which is now put at ca. 1.72 million years ago (while the first Equus specimen is attested already 3.7 mya.). The differences between a half-ass skeleton and that of a horse are so small that one needs a trained specialist plus the lucky find of the lower forelegs of a horse/onager to determine which is which, for "bones of a larger khur will overlap in size with those of a small horse, and bones of a small khur will overlap in size with those of a donkey." (Meadow 1996: 406).

To merely compare sizes, as Rajaram does following the dubious decades old Harappan data of Marshall, and then to connect the long gone "Equus Sivalensis" with the so-called "Anau horse", resulting in the "Indian country" type, is just another blunder, but Rajaram, the scientist, is not aware of it.

Proper judgment is not possible as long as none of the above precautions are taken, and when -- as is often done -- just incomplete skeletons or teeth are compared, all of which is done without the benefit of a suitable collection of standard sets of onager, donkey and horse skeletons. Rajaram and his fellow rewriters of history thus are free to turn any local half-ass into a Harappan horse, just as he has already done (see Frontline , Oct./Nov. 2000) with his half-bull.

Further, the archaeologists claiming to have found horses in Indus sites are not trained zoologists or palaeontologists. When I need to get my teeth fixed I do not go to a veterinarian or a beauty salon. Typically, S.P. Gupta (1999) does not add any new evidence, and just repeats palaeontologically unsubstantiated claims that are, to quote Rajaram, "myths and conjectures... through the force of repetition."

The Siwalik equid

In addition, Rajaram conjures up another phantom, the Siwalik horse: "fossil remains of Equus Sivalensis (the `Siwalik horse') show that the 34-ribbed horse has been known in India going back tens of thousands of years." Standard palaeontology handbooks (B.J. MacFadden, Fossil Horses, 1992) would have told him that the Siwalik horse, first found in the northern hills of Pakistan, is not just "going back tens of thousands of years" but is in fact 2.6 million years old. However, it has long died out during the last Ice Age, as part of the late Pleistocene megafaunal extinction of about 10,000 years ago (i.e. at the end of the Late Upper Pleistocene, 75-10,000 y.a.: it is reportedly found in middle to late Pleistocene locations in the Siwaliks and in Tamil Nadu, and recently, as a "Great Indian horse" in Andhra, 75,000 y.a.). But there is, to my knowledge, no account of a Siwalik horse that even remotely approaches the date of the Indus Civilisation -- nor does Rajaram quote any authority to this effect.

Nevertheless, in order to bolster his claim for the antiquity of the "Vedic horse (as) a native Indian breed", he connects this dead horse with the Rigvedic one, which is described as having 34 ribs (Rigveda 1.162.18). But, while horses (Equus caballus) generally have 18 ribs on each side, this can individually vary with 17 on just one or on both sides. This is not a genetically inherited trait. Such is also the case with the equally variable (5 instead of 6) lumbar vertebrae, as found in some early domestic horses in Egypt (2nd. mill. BCE) and in the closely related modern Central Asian Przewalski horse (which shares the same ancestor, 620-320,000 years ago, with the domestic horse/Equus ferus).

As for the number 34, numeral symbolism may play a role in this Rigveda passage dealing with a horse sacrificed for the gods. The number of gods in the Rigveda is 33 or 33+1, which obviously corresponds to the 34 ribs of the horse, that in turn is speculatively brought into connection with all the gods, many of whom are mentioned by name (Rigveda 1.162-3). But this is mere philology, not worthy of "scientific" study...

In sum, even S. Bokonyi, the palaeontologist who sought to identify a horse skeleton at the Surkotada site of the Indus Civilisation, stated that "horses reached the Indian subcontinent in an already domesticated form coming from the Inner Asiatic horse domestication centers" -- just as they were imported into the ancient Near East about 2000 BCE. Any zoological handbook would have told the scientist Rajaram the same (MacFadden 1992).

In addition, the identification the Surkotada equid as horse by S. Bokonyi is disputed by R. Meadow and A. Patel (1997). Even if this were indeed the only archaeologically and palaeontologically secure Indus horse available so far, it would not turn the Indus Civilisation into one teeming with horses (as the Rigveda indeed is, a few hundred years later). A tiger skeleton in the Roman Colosseum does not make this Asian predator a natural inhabitant of Italy. In short, to state that the "Vedic horse is a native Indian breed and not the Central Asian horse" is just another fantasy of the current rewriters of Indian history.

Nevertheless, Rajaram even repeats some of his own "myths and conjectures, (which) through the force of repetition, have come to acquire the status of historical facts," namely the old canard that "depictions of the horse are known at Harappan sites, though rare" -- a case of fraud and fantasy that has been exploded more than a year ago in Frontline (Oct./Nov. 2000). Apparently, he thinks, along with other politicians, that repeating an untruth long enough will turn it into a fact.

Spoke-wheeled chariots

Rajaram, in dire need of `Rigvedic' horse-drawn chariots for the Harappan period, then introduces spoked wheels into the Indus Civilisation: "terracotta wheels at various Harappan sites. ... The painted lines (spokes) converge at the central hub, and thus leave no doubt about their representing the spokes of the wheel."

The handful existing specimens of such terracotta disks may indeed look, even to a trained archaeologist, like a spoked wheel -- especially when he wants to find Aryan chariots, just like Aryan fire altars, all over the Indus area. But, they may just as well have been simple spindle whorls, used in spinning very real yarn, not wild Aryan tales. Further, "spoked wheel patterns" occur in cultures that never had the wheel, such as pre-Columbian North American civilisations. In other words, all of this proves nothing as long as we do not find a pair of these "spoked wheels" in situ, along with a Harappan toy cart. Normally, the wheels of such toy carts are of the heavy, full wheel type (that is made of three interlocked wood blocks).

Rajaram then asserts, for good measure, that the "depiction of the spoke-wheel is quite common on Harappan seals." This refers to the wheel-like signs in Harappan script. Unfortunately, these "wheels" can easily be explained as unrelated artistic designs (like in the N. American case). Worse, they mostly are oblong ovals, not circles. A Harappan businessman using a cart with such wheels would have gotten seasick pretty soon. They are unfit for travel -- and for the discerning reader's consumption.

Instead, the rich Rigvedic materials dealing with the horse-drawn chariot and chariot races do not fit at all with Indus dates (2600-1900 BCE) and rather put this text and its chariots well after c. 2000 BCE, the archaeologically accepted timeframe of the invention of the spoke-wheeled chariot in the northern steppes and in the Near East. Again, Rajaram's fantasised "Late Vedic" Indus people have scored a "first": they invented the chariot long before archaeologists can find it anywhere on the planet!

"Aryan" chariots

There is no need to go deeply into his building up the straw man of Aryan invasions (i.e. immigration of speakers of Indo-Aryan), involving a need to "prove that the Vedas are of foreign origin." No one today maintains such a theory anyhow. Instead, the Rigveda is a text of the Greater Punjab, indicating a lot of local acculturation but using a language and poetics that go back to the earlier Indo-Iranian period in Central Asia (c. 2000 BCE).

Equally misleading is his caricature: "without the horse and the spoke-wheel the Harappans were militarily vulnerable to the invading Aryan hordes who moved on speedy, horse-drawn chariots with spoke-wheels." As has been mentioned here a few weeks ago, nobody today claims that the Indo-Aryan speakers arrived on the scene when the mature Indus Civilisation still was flourishing and destroyed it, it in whatever fashion. Instead, there is a gap of some centuries between the two cultures, as the descriptions of ruins and simple mud wall/palisade forts (pur) in the Rigveda indicate. Vedic texts tell us that the pastoralist Indo-Aryan nobility fought from chariots, and the commoners on horseback and on foot, with the local people ( dasyu ) of the small, post-Harappan settlements who, like the Kikata, are said not even to understand "the use of cows." Next to warfare there also was peaceful acculturation of the various peoples in the Greater Punjab, as is shown by the Rigveda itself.

As for a chariot use, a brief study of ancient Near Eastern warfare would have done the `historian' Rajaram some good. It is clear to even a superficial reader that after c. 1600 BCE the Hyksos, Hittites, etc., used such chariots, not just for show and sport but also in battle, such as in the famous battle of Kadesh between the Hittites and Egyptians in 1300 BCE. Chariots were in fact used as late as in Alexander's battle with Poros (Paurava) in the Punjab, or by the contemporary Magadha army with its 3,000 elephants and 2,000 chariots. Why then all this diatribe about the "Aryan" use of chariots in favorable, flat terrain? (Not, of course, while "thundering down the Khyber Pass"!)

Foray into linguistics

Mercifully, Rajaram has spared us, this time, his usual assaults on the "pseudo-science" of linguistics, and instead tries his own hand at it, and teaches us some Dravidian: kudirai `horse,' which should prove that the horse has been native to South India forever. However, his foray into linguistics is incomplete and misleading.

First, Tamil kutirai, Kannada kudire, Telugu kudira, etc. have been compared by linguists, decades ago, with ancient Near Eastern words: Elamite kutira `bearer', kuti `to bear.' The Drav. words Brahui (h)ullii `horse' and Tam. ivuLi are derived from `half-ass, hemion' (T. Burrow in 1972). Both words, far from being `native South Indian', thus were coming in from the northwest.

Second, other Indian language families have such `foreign' words as seen in Munda (Koraput) kurtag, (Korku) gurgi, kurki, (Sabara/Sora) kurtaa, (Gadaba) krutaa, which are all derived from Tibeto-Burmese, for example Tsangla (Bhutan) kurtaa, Tib. rta. We know that Himalayan ponies have always been brought southwards by salt traders and with them, of course, their names. There also is the independent and isolated Burushaski (in N. Pakistan) with ha-ghur, cf. Drav. gur- in Telugu guRRamu, Gondi gurram, etc., and the Austro-Asiatic Khasi (in Shillong) kulai, Amwi kurwa', etc., -- all of which again point to a northern origin. (For details see: EJVS 5-1, Aug. 1999, http://users.primushost.com/india/ejvs, or: International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics , 2001).

Far from magically proving, with one Dravidian word, that the "native Indian horse" has been found in the South since times immemorial, the "man made theory" of linguistics --just as the hard facts of palaeontological science -- rather indicate that the words for `horse' were imported, along with the animal, from the (north)western (Iranian) and northern (Tibetan) areas. Genetics now add another facet. The domesticated horse seems to have several (steppe) maternal DNA lines (Science 291, 2001, 474-477; Science 291, 2001, 412; cf. Conservation Genetics 1, 2000, 341-355), which fits in very well with the several northern Eurasian words for it mentioned above. The Eastern Central Asian words must be added; they all probably derive from Proto-Altaic *mori (as in Mongolian morin, Chinese ma, Japanese uma, and as surprisingly also found in Irish marc, English mare).

The Harappan Sarasvati

The case of the Vedic Sarasvati river (the modern Sarsuti-Ghagghar-Hakra) is complex and cannot be dealt with in detail (see, rather, EJVS 7-3, section 25). It must be pointed out, however, that the Rigvedic Sarasvati is a river on earth, a `river' in the sky (Milky Way), and a goddess, and as such Sarasvati is described in superlative terms, once as flowing `from the mountains to the sea' ( samudra ). However, this word has several meanings that must be kept apart: `confluence, lake, mythical ocean surrounding the earth'; the sky, too, is called a `pond'! To commingle all of this as samudra `Indian Ocean' is bad philology.

In addition, far from emptying into the Rann of Kutch then, the Harappan Sarasvati (`having lakes'), disappears as Hakra in the dunes around and beyond Ft. Derawar in Bahawalpur, after showing signs of a delta (playa) and of terminal lakes, just like its Iranian namesake in the Afghani desert, the Haraxvaiti (Helmand) with its Hamun lakes.

Further, simple satellite photographs also do not show when a river dried up, as the Ghagghar-Hakra has indeed done several times in its different sections in recent millennia. This was shown in detail for the Indus and Vedic periods by the former director of Pakistani archaeology, Rafique Mughal, in his book Ancient Cholistan (1997). Rajaram again is simply wrong as a scientist in asserting that the river conveniently "dried up completely by 1900 BCE." Reality is much more complex.

Actually, much of this has been known since Oldham and Raverty (1886, 1892). (Thus, I myself have printed a Sarasvati map, based on a lecture of 1983, before the overquoted satellite photos of Yash Pal et al. were published in 1984). However, we need many more close observations such as Mughal's, with archaeologically vouched dates for the individual settlements along the various sections and several courses of the river.

Finally, the "oceanic descriptions" of the Rigveda imagined by Rajaram and many other rewriters of history (such as S.P. Gupta, Bh. Singh, D. Frawley) are based, again, on bad philology: their "data" are taken from Vedic mythology, floating in the night time sky, and the like! Or was Bhujyu abducted on another first, a Vedic airship?

[Witzel's article drew the following response from Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology in Tamil Nadu. It appeared in The Hindu, March 12, 2002. Particular attention is to be paid to the section 'Problems are Complex' where Mr. Nagaswamy dissects Witzel's methodology of trying to negate evidence, and shifting arguments. Editor]


There is an urgent need to jettison from our textbooks the unproved statements on Indian civilisation and consign them to academic polemics, and keep the power mongering self-seeking Taliban politicians out of educational field.

R. Nagaswamy

THE READERS have been following closely the debate on Harappan civilisation, published in The Hindu in its Open Page. The latest article by Michael Witzel (March 5) seems to be taking a partisan view. Archaeologists have found certain artefacts and scholars are trying to infer the meaning of the findings and in the process express divergent views. Such debates are welcome to advance our knowledge academically, no matter where it comes from. Unfortunately, Witzel's present article reads personal rather than an academic presentation. For example, he ridicules the other writer N.S. Rajaram personally by repeating his name time and again, with personal digs in every mention. Witzel is not free from the same fault that he attributes to Rajaram, as in the example of horse in Harappan sites. He states the horse bones found in the early excavations at Mohenjodaro and Harappa do not come from secure levels, and such horse bones "found their way into deposits through erosion cutting and refilling, disturbing the archaeological layers." Neither does he say how he arrived at this conclusion nor has he cited any report in support of his view.

Whatever the case may be, it only shows that horse bones were actually found in the excavations at Harappan sites. In order to justify his stand he writes that Marshal's Harappan data are "dubious and decades old." One cannot throw away the data presented by Marshal as it is the earliest available archaeological report and it is not possible at this point of time to say suddenly that Marshal has not reported that layers that were eroded and disturbed in places where horse bones have been found. One may ask Witzel to state on what basis he says that the layers that yielded horse bones in more than one site as at Mohenjodaro and Harappa were eroded and disturbed and the bones got mixed up? Does he want us to believe that in both the sites, the same layers yielding horse bones got mixed up in eroded layers? There are three major excavations conducted at Mohenjodaro and Harappa namely by Marshal, Mackey and Mortimer Wheeler.

Reports of excavations

George F Dales, who was the last in the series to investigate the sites, published his findings "Some unpublished, forgotten or misinterpreted features on Mohenjodaro" in the book Harappan Civilisation , published by the American Institute of Indian Studies, 1982. He has stated that the reports of all the three great excavations including that of Wheeler are "incomplete and suffer from serious losses." Dales states that there is "no end to speculation that these claims have aroused but it is impossible to reach objective conclusions with the published details." It is not at all possible to assess that the layers were disturbed unless other factual evidences are shown to approve the disturbed conditions.

Michael Witzel also states that conclusions cannot be arrived at with incomplete bones. Yes. However there cannot be two sets of standards in dealing with the matter. For example, he questions the views of Rajaram, but does not show whether R. Meadow, whose conclusions he supports, based his views on "a full skeleton or full sets of onager, donkey, or horse skeletons." Further it is known that there are very rare examples where the full skeletons of animals have been found in excavations. Are we not aware that most of the reconstructions of dinosaurs are based not on full skeletons? Archaeologists reconstruct several cultures with broken pottery. At one place he admits that clear examples of horse bones are found in Harappan civilisation after 1800 BCE, which still falls in the late Harappan period. Witzel has a dig at archaeologists that they are not zoologists or palaeontologists to comment on animal bones. This would apply equally to Witzel who is not a trained archaeologist to comment on this science. No archaeologist is expert in all fields but certainly consults experts before expressing his comments on which he has no expertise.

Problems are complex

To sum up Witzel's arguments proceed on the following lines: (1) No horse bone has been found in Harappan sites. (2) When pointed out that they are found in some instances, it is said they are only fragments and not full skeletons. (3) When pointed out they were found in more than one site it is said the layers in which they were found ought to have been eroded ones or disturbed. (4) When pointed out that the reports of horse bones were not by present day archaeologists but by the early pioneers it is said that those are dubious and decades old. (5) When pointed out they were reported by archaeological excavators then comes the argument that archaeologists are not trained zoologists and palaeontologists to comment on horse bones (though by the same argument no credence can be placed on Witzel's opinion as he is neither an archaeologist nor a palaeontologist). Such arguments are brought under reductio ad absurdum by logicians. More examples of willful rejections of points can be cited throughout the article but suffice to say that for an unbiased reader, the whole article reads purely a personal attack on an individual writer and exhibits certain amount of impatience to listen to other view. This does not mean that I agree with either of the views on the Aryan problem except stating that we are yet not in a position to go with either of the views for lack of evidence and would prefer to wait for further discoveries.

The debate has undoubtedly focused on one aspect of Harappan civilisation: the problems are complex and the data available are inadequate to come to any conclusion. The vital question that is not in the debate by the general reader is that in the past 50 years of India's independence, the unproved inferential views of these scholars, some of which have been proved totally wrong as in the case of "the total massacre of the Harappans by the invading barbaric Aryans", are fully incorporated in our school textbooks, right from the third or fourth standards. Wheeler dramatised this theory vehemently that invading Aryans destroyed the Harappan civilisation and within ten years he was proved totally wrong by new finds of several Harappan sites spread in space and time. And yet millions of children of India have been indoctrinated and brainwashed with these views for the past five decades, and that has caused immense damage to scientific knowledge. Is there any one party in India today which will repent for this incalculable damage? Are we justified in continuing to brainwash our generations of children? Is it not time that we remove these from school books and confine such debates to post-graduate community of the country and our children are told only the factual history. A perusal of the books would show enormous imbalances in representing regional and dynastic histories. It may be seen, for example, that South Indian history receives inadequate representation. The rule of the Pallavas, Cholas or Chalukyas that lasted for over four hundred years each and had glorious achievements in all fields gets summary representation, when compared with Mughal rule and the Colonial rule that did not last even half that period. South India has witnessed exemplary democratic institutions at the village level for several centuries in the medieval period that is yet to be brought to the notice of the children. Surely there is no proportionate representation.

While the Western history gets exalted position in all fields, the history of South East Asia like Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and even China does not even get a cursory mention. There is clearly an urgent need to jettison from the books the unproved statements on Indian civilisation and consign them to academic polemics, keep the power-mongering self-seeking Taliban politicians out of educational field, and seek a proportionate place for Indian civilisation in our textbooks. In fact Witzel has agreed to the need to revise Indian history in his earlier article, which should be entrusted to a body of unbiased and balanced academic body free from racial, religious or political bias.

[ What Witzel has to do with this is unclear. His record so far does not inspire confidence in his unbaisedness. His scholarly contribution is also negligible-- he is known more for his personal attacks on Indian scholars, especially Rajaram than any substantial contribution. Also, are there not enough Indian scholars capable of writing Indian history? Is it necessary to go to someone who struggling to save what is left of his reputation, both as a scholar and as a human being? Editor]