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Gulf of Cambay Cradle of Ancient Civilization
By Badrinaryan Badrinaryan

For decades archaeologists have argued about the origins of the mysterious “Harappan” (Indus Valley) civilisation that flourished across what is now Pakistan and north-west India from about 3000 BC. Now new findings by Indian scientists working in the Gulf of Cambay suggest that the Harappans were descended from an advanced mother culture that flourished at the end of the last Ice Age and that was submerged by rising sea-levels before history began. Report by BADRINARYAN BADRINARYAN, chief geologist with the scientific team from the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) responsible for the underwater surveys in the Gulf of Cambay.

It was generally believed that well organized civilizations could not have existed prior to 5500 BP. Many were reluctant to accept that the flood myths mentioned in many ancient religious writings. The recent discovery made in the Gulf of Cambay, India, shocked many and made some to sit up and watch with interest. It clearly established the existence of an ancient civilization that was submerged in the sea. The methodology adopted was novel and different, wherein advanced marine technologies and most modern scientific applications of various disciplines were put to best use. The traditional but conservative archaeologists found it hard to accept that a major discovery could have been made by hitherto unapplied, unheard of techniques. Some observed and understood the importance of the discovery and came out in open support. Initially when the sidescan sonar images of underwater structures were shown, some called it a magic of computer software. When hundreds of artifacts were collected and shown, they opined that it could have been transported by the ancient river! Again detailed scientific studies were undertaken to prove that the artifacts are insitu. The criticism has driven us to adopt most modern technologies and scientific methodologies available in the world which have completely substantiated our findings and the results were published as research papers in reputed international journals. Now several authors are quoting the Gulf of Cambay work as a standard and a bench mark methodology for modern marine archaeological surveys and investigations. The discovery has clearly established the possibility of ancient civilizations that were submerged due to flooding by rising sea waters, after the last ice age.

Figure – 1
Figure – 1

The oldest civilization of city states is thought to be in Mesapatomia datable to 5500 years BP. An extensive hitherto oldest mature civilization occurs in the North-western part of India adjoining Pakistan and Afganisthan. This is the well-known ‘Harappan’ civilization which lasted between 5300 and 2800 years BP. This includes major ruined cities like Mohanjodaro, Harrappa, Dholavira and villages, craft centers, camp sites, river stations, fortified places, Ports, etc. The cities had well lined streets, arranged in straight line, proper drainage, sanitary arrangements and excellent water conveying systems including check dams for storing water. Usage of variety of artifacts, metallic objects, many types of potteries, construction of huge structures, etc. could not have happened overnight. So obviously there was a major missing link between the ancient hunter gatherer group of people and ‘Harappan’ civilization. In India, there were many Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic stone-age cultures. But none of them have any remote resemblance of the type of civilization found in the Harappan sites. It is possible that the missing link between the two is either under cover or has been submerged due to major sea level rise caused by melting of ice-sheets. It is a well established fact that during the Last Glacial Maxima (ice-age) the seas all over the world have shrunk and the sea level around 18000 years BP was about 130m below the present day sea level. So, it is logical to look for such submerged civilization near areas surrounding the present day Indian coastal areas especially along the palaeo channel of various rivers.


Figure – 2

National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), a Govt. of India undertaking has been carrying out several multi-disciplinary marine surveys along the Indian coastal areas for various purposes. During the course of few geological surveys in Gujarat (Fig.1) in the Gulf of Cambay, (Fig.2), NIOT came across palaeo river channels in the sea. These were seen to be the extension of the present day major rivers of the area.

In a similar marine survey, in a Coastal Research Ship during 1999-2000 when the author was the Chief Scientist, several unusual frames of Side Scan Sonar images were encountered. These had square and rectangular features in an arranged geometric fashion which are not expected in the marine domain. Such features are unlikely to be due to natural marine geological processes. This made the author suspect that human workmanship must have been involved here. The surveys were followed up by the author in the following years and a couple of palaeo channels of old rivers were discovered (Fig. 3 &4) in the middle of the Cambay area under 20-40m water depths, at a distance of about 20 kms from the present day coast.


Figure – 3

Figure – 4

The Gulf of Cambay forms a funnel shaped entrant of the Arabian Sea sandwitched between the mainland Gujarat and Saurashtra Penninsula in the west. This gulf is 135 km long in a N-S direction and is more than 100km at its widest part. It is one of the roughest and most complicated seas of the world and covers an area of about 3000 sq.km. Several major rivers including the Narmada, Tapi, Sabarmathi, Mahi, Chathranji, etc. drain into it. It has a macro tidal range of 12m and the currents are up to 8 knots. The sea is often subjected to severe winds resulting in very rough conditions. These types of turbulence churn the seabed and produce enormous quantities of silt, making the sea water brownish and turbid, with the result that is that it is impervious to light rays. The combined effect of these conditions makes this part of the country unfit for diving and underwater operations and operating underwater videography impossible. Hence, only instruments operated on principle of sound, like sonar equipments and magnetic equipments could work here. This includes the Side Scan Sonar, Sub-bottom Profiler, Multibeam ecosounder, apart from marine magneto-meter.

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