Archaeobotany of South India

Authorship and Copyright Notice: All Rights Reserved: Satya Sarada Kandula

Hanuman, Angada and the rest of the Vanaras Mooka (gang) raided Sugriva‘s Madhuvana (Honey forest) with the glee of having found Sita and drank as much honey as they liked! (61st Sarga Kishkinda Kanda of Valmiki Ramayanam).

Reference for the information below : The Archaeobotany of South India (Agricultural Origins)

Brachiaria ramosa, Vigna radiata, Macrotyloma uniflorum, Setaria verticillata

Above: Archaeological examples of the most common seeds on Southern Neolithic sites, clockwise from top left: Brachiaria ramosa, Vigna radiata, Macrotyloma uniflorum, Setaria verticillata.

In Northern and Eastern Karnataka, there are two important categories of Neolithic sites.

  1. Permanent habitation sites, where agriculture was practised, were often located on the peaks of granite hills that punctuate the plains of Karnataka.
  2. The enigmatic ‘ashmound’ sies which consist of large, heaped accumulations of burnt cattledung, the largest some 8 meters in height and some 40 meters in diameter.
  3. Archaeological evidence from a couple of the ashmounds indicates that they are sites of ancient cattle penning where dung was allowed to accumulate and periodically burnt, perhaps in seasonal rituals.
  4. Archaeobotanical sampling and analysis has been carried out by Dorian Fuller since 1997, and continues, including research by students and post-doctoral colleagues.
  5. Subsistence focused on the cultivation of small millet-grasses (including browntop millet, Brachiaria ramosa, and bristley foxtail grass, Setaria verticillata) and pulses (mung bean, Vigna radiata, and horsegram, Macrotyloma uniflorum)
  6. These crop species are native to Southern India and were probably domesticated in the wider region, although within the actual granitic landscape of the Ashmounds.
  7. While horsegram and the millets can be found in the savannah environments like that of the ashmounds, with wild mungbean is restricted to moister forests such as in the Western Ghats and parts of the Eastern Ghats.
  8. This evidence raises the likelihood that South India was an independent centre of plant domestication in the middle Holocene, perhaps ca. 5000 years ago

Kabanda asked Sri Rama and  Lakshmana to pass and eat in a grove, on the way to Rsyamukha mountain, which had Jambu (rose apple) priyala, jack-fruit, banyan, plaksha, tinduka, peepul, karnikaras, mango , kadmaba, karavira, agnimukhya, asoka, red sandalwood and mandara trees. then he asked them to pass the Chaitraratha grove belonging to Kubera and eat there.  Then he asked them to feed the swans, ducks, kraunchas and osprey birds as well as Rohita, Vakratunda and Nalamina fishes on the bulbs of roots.  He described the Tilaka and the Naktamala trees of the forest. Then he asked them to go to Matanga Asrama where Sabari would serve them with all kinds of fruit. (73rd sarga of aranyakanda). (Kabandha asks Sri Rama to go West to Pampa. Flora and Fauna description.)

  1. During the course of the Neolithic a number of other crops deriving from other regions were introducted.
  2. The chronology of these introductions is now supported by direct radiocarbon dating of grains.
  3. Introductions include Wheat (Triticum diococcum and free-threshing wheat) and Barley (Hordeum vulgare), derving from the northwest, were adopted 2000-1900 BC.
  4. Crops of African origins, the Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus) and Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum), by ca. 1500 BC.
  5. The beginnings of tree cultivation towards the end of the Neolithic, 1400-1300 BC, including Citrus (probably the citron), and mangos.
  6. Charcoal from sandalwood testifies to the beginnings of trade in this important aromatic timber, which has long been important in South India.
  7. Seed finds of the bengal madder (Rubia cordifolia) suggest exploitation of plants for dyes which may be linked the the emergence of textile production after 1700 BC.
  8. This is indicated by finds of spindle whorls, while charred seeds of cotton and flax have been found at the site of Hallur from 1000-900 BC.

Archaeological Connections

Authorship and Copyright Notice: All Rights Reserved: Satya Sarada Kandula