11th-century bodies near Meerut give new archaeological twist to history

Excavation unearths 13 bodies that roughly date back to 11th century AD; discovery leads to calls for a deeper examination because people of the region in that period were known to cremate the dead.
By Jeevan Prakash Sharma | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON APR 26, 2018 01:41 PM IST

An excavation by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) near Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, has unearthed 13 bodies that roughly date back to 11th century AD, according to people familiar with the developments. This has sparked interest among experts and led to calls for a deeper examination because people of the region in that period were known to cremate the dead.

Historians have defined the era between the 7th century AD and the 12th century AD as the Rajput Period, and archaeologists say that this is the first time that any excavation has revealed the burial of bodies from that period in north India.

“We have found extended burial of 13 persons which include a male, a female, children and a handicapped person,” said Sanjay Manjul, director at the Institute of Archaeology, who is overseeing ASI’s Barnawa excavations.

“While twelve bodies were placed in a particular direction, with the head facing the North, one body was found placed in the opposite direction,” Manjul said.

He said that burial pots were recovered with the bodies, suggesting that people of that era may have believed in life after death.

“Since this is the first discovery of burials which seem to be from the later Rajput period, we need to further examine it scientifically and arrive at an exact time period,” he said.

Manjul feels that the discovery is significant as it will throw light on death rituals and cultural aspect of people of that era living in this area.

“Since Muslim Turks, who used to follow burial practices, arrived in India after the 12th century, it would be interesting to determine who these people were and why were they not cremated,” Manjul said, adding that burials were practised in the Harappan and Later Harappan periods, and also among certain Hindu tribes before the Raput Period.

Other archaeologists and historians feel that these burials might unravel some mysteries of the cultural aspect of life of people.

Dr Buddha Rashmi Mani, Director General, National Museum, says that though he doesn’t have first-hand experience of the excavated materials, the recovery of burial pots suggests the body doesn’t belong to members of the Muslim community.

“The Veerashaiva community in southern India practice burying the dead, so there is a possibility of existence of a similar community at the excavation site in UP,” said Mani.

“However, it is also possible that these bodies were of people who died due to some dangerous disease or some calamity and buried at one place in a group. Both possibilities require through investigation.”

Noted archaeologist KK Muhammed, who is credited for discovering Mughal emperor Akbar’s Ibadat Khana (House of Worship), from where the Mughal king propounded the religion Din-i Ilahi, said that that during wars people would bury bodies due to lack of time and resources in the war field. It’s a notion that historian Kapil Kumar agreed with, but both said that it would be too early to determine the identity of these people and the reasons for such graves, and called for a thorough examination.

According to historian Makkhan Lal, “It’s a good thing that we are paying attention to the excavation of the Rajput Period sites which has not been done so far.”

HT had reported earlier this month that the excavations at Barnawa, which started last December, also tried to determine the existence of the Lakshagriha episode mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. Archaeologists had said that artefacts found there bore strong a cultural resemblance to those found at sites such as Hastinapur, Indraprastha, Kurukshetra and Mathura -- places that find mention in the epic.

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