Early Historic Landscapes of the Tungabhadra Corridor
In this project we examine continuity and change in economic, social, and political organization in northern Karnataka (India) between c. 3000 BC-AD 1500, focusing on material patterning at multiple spatial scales. While the temporal research of the project extends from the Southern Nelothic to the Middle period, at present we are focused on the Iron Age and Early Historic, a time of remarkable change in peninsular India. These changes include the development and expansion of regional polities and formalized relations of social inequality as well as the intensification of specialized craft production and long distance trade. Around the same time, the introduction and expansion of rice agriculture and its integration with existing strategies of dry farming, herding, and foraging led to the emergence of complex new agricultural regimes and transformed regional landscapes.
While there is no doubt that Early Historic centuries differed in important ways from the preceding Iron Age (c. 1000-300 BC), existing frameworks which posit population replacement and diffusion as primary mechanisms of change ignore continuity in existing local practices such as megalith-building, dry farming, herding, and stone tool production, or of the ways in which both continuity and change were negotiated and materialized in settlements, mortuary sites, and regional landscapes. Here we investigate the ways in which introduced political and religious forms, cultigens, and trade objects enlarged and transformed South Indian worlds and, at the same time, how such objects and organizations were themselves made local.
Although southern India became increasingly integrated with the north at this time, variability in the nature of this integration has not been fully investigated. Buddhism, for example, never became as important in this area as it did elsewhere in the south in spite of the expansion of South Asia’s first empire, the Mauryans, into this region. Associated with both writing and Buddhism, this polity was based on the distant Gangetic plain and yet made some claim to authority over our region through the erection of “minor rock edicts,” inscriptions promoting a vision of both rule and Buddhist dharma. At this same time, both the material and the new text-based record indicate that the entire peninsula was involved in long-distance exchange networks extending from the Mediterranean to East Asia. Ultimately, we seek to understand both the nature of external political claims as well as the structure of local polities, though in this initial phase of work we begin with more proximate questions of material production, circulation, and consumption: how production of craft goods such as iron and ceramics were locally organized and how local residents interacted within larger spheres of circulation.
The expansion of rice agriculture, which appears to have begun in earnest during the Early Historic, worked to transform local diets, vegetation dynamics, hydrology, labor organization, ritual practice, and even soil structure. We will investigate the initiation and nature of rice agriculture, as well as rice consumption patterns and the integration of paddy production into existing regimes of production and use. Some changes associated with changing settlement and production regimes were probably unintentional, and we are also concerned with processes of landscape anthropogenesis associated with deforestation and erosion, two probable consequences of the expansion and intensification of rice farming, iron smelting, and settlement nucleation.
On a smaller spatial scale, we are interested in documenting aspects of newly-emerging economic and social stratification in detail, especially as these relate to people’s everyday life and consumption. We will accomplish this by close excavation of domestic contexts, evidence for diet and food processing, and by comparing artifact assemblages and layout between houses, between different areas of larger settlements, and between the residents of larger and smaller settlements occupied at the same time. Finally, we plan to extend our previous work on the structure of regional landscapes through additional survey and close documentation of the construction, modification and use of megaliths and other features. Although we maintain an interest in new and non-local political forms, text, cultigens, artifacts, and religious practices, we are primarily concerned to investigate the ways in which these are (or are not) adopted, how such forms and materials are remade and articulated within complex political economies and ecologies such as that of the Early Historic Tungabhadra corridor.
cite as: Morrison, K.D., C.M. Sinopoli, and R. Gopal, Late Prehistoric and Early Historic Landscapes of the Tungabhanadra Valley: Report of the 2009 Season, Report Submitted to the Archaeological Survey of India, Delhi.