(For information on my Indus Valley research project, see Pathology)

Deccan Chalcolithic Bioarchaeology Project

One of my research interests is understanding how past populations adapted to life the in semi-arid, monsoon climate of India. I am particularly interested in how human populations have responsed to climate uncertainty and changing environmental circumstances in the past and the relative success and failure of those strategies. My forthcoming book entitled, “Bioarchaeology and Climate Change: a view from South Asian prehistory” (University Press Florida) describes the results of the Deccan Chalcolithic Bioarchaeology Project. Here is the foreword by Clark Larsen (Distinguished Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Chair of Ahtropology Department, The Ohio State University).

In the second millennium B.C., hundreds of small communities were established in west-central India. This period, the Deccan Chalcolithic, was a time of successful adaptation to the semi-arid climatic circumstances of the peninsula. People grew drought-resistant barley and wheat, kept cattle, sheep and goats, and maintained hunting and foraging traditions. Their communities were prosperous, populations were growing, and regional centers began to form. After 1000 years, the majority of these small farming villages and their regional centers were abandoned. One village, Inamgoan, persisted into a phase that became known as the Late Jorwe (1000-700 B.C.). The skeletal populations from this and other Chalcolithic communities provide an opportunity for us to understand what changes occurred around 1000 B.C. that precipitated the collapse of so many settlements? What affect did these changes have on the human populations? How did Inamgaon persist where so many other communities failed? Why was this site too eventually abandoned?

Climate change is often invoked as an explanation for culture change in South Asia. Because of the dramatic impact of the monsoon system on human communities, it is expected that climate change is the impetus when a way of life ends. Although archaeologists suggested climate change was responsible for the demise of the Deccan Chalcolithi period as well, based on early paleoclimate studies in the 1970's and 1980's, a synthesis of recent paleoclimate research demonstrates that the semi-arid climate of west-central India was already well established when these communities were founded. While large-scale climate changes do not appear to have been responsible, development of unsustainable agricultural practices to feed the growing populations of the Early Jorwe phase (1400-1000 B.C.) may have contributed to the collapse.

Bioarchaeologists have long sought to understand how life changed for people during the Late Jorwe phase. In this analysis, I take a biodemographic approach to this question. This approach recognizes the link between growth of populations and growth of individuals. Demographic and pathological profiles for Deccan Chalcolithic populations suggest that the Early Jorwe was a stressful time at Inamgaon. However, the collapse of a major portion of the subsistence system at the end fo the Early Jorwe and the abandonment of many sites in this region after 1000 B.C. left the Late Jorwe population stressed by higher fertility, infant mortality rates and an increase in the proportion of emaciated children. These profiles are consistent with a population that is struggling to maintain itself until emigration and poor circumstances finally lead to collapse.

This book outlines a new way of understanding this period of Indian prehistory, addressing debates about how a subsistence transition "in reverse" would affect health status and providing an example of how body mass index can be used as an acute stress marker in the human skeleton. The book also challenges South Asian archaeology to move beyond the climate change paradigm that has been so widely applied to South Asian prehistory. By re-examining prehistoric populations within the context of a sustained semi-arid climate throughout the latter part of the Holocene, a more complex view of human-climate interaction will emerge.

The book will be published in August, 2011 in the book series entitled "Bioarchaeological Interpretations of the Human Past: Local, Regional, and Global Perspectives" (Clark Larsen, series editor).