The largest ancient burial site in India is 3,800 yrs old

Carbon dating tests have confirmed that India’s largest known necropolis in UP’s Sanauli — where 126 burials have been discovered until now — is 3,800 years old. The elaborate burials, which included underground chambers, decorated legged coffins and rice in pots buried with the bodies, belong to an indigenous warrior tribe which inhabited the region, according to the Archaeological Survey of India.

Excavations in Sanauli, 68 km from Delhi in UP’s Baghpat district, first started in 2005 and resumed in 2018, paving the way for discovery of horse-drawn chariots, burials, four-legged wooden coffins, pottery, a copper antenna sword, war shields.

ASI joint director S K Manjul, who led the excavations at Sanauli, said that carbon dating has now confirmed that the burials date back to 1900 BC. “Between 2005 and 2006, 116 burials were found while 10 more were discovered in the last two years, making it India’s largest known necropolis.” The burial pits had legged coffins along with systematically arranged vases, bowls and pots. One of the coffins was decorated with eight anthropomorphic figures.

A recent report submitted by the Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleosciences in Lucknow to the ASI had stated that there are two C-14 (carbon dating) dates — 3815 and 3500, with a margin of error of 130 years — for the Sanauli site. It added, “Carbon dating marks this site as an earliest history of a warrior tribe in the Indian subcontinent.”

While the Deccan College in Pune and a lab in Hyderabad conducted DNA tests of the human remains, samples were also sent to the Lucknow institute. Scientific techniques such as photogrammetry and ground penetrating radar survey were used while drones and magnetometers were also deployed.

The burials bear similarity to Vedic rituals, said officials. “What is startling is the impressions of cloth found on bodies that suggests purification of bodies similar to what we practice in Hindu religion,” said Manjul.

He added that three chariots found at the site “have a fixed axle linked by a long pole to the small yoke” and were run by a pair of animals. “The size and shape of the chariots indicate they were pulled by horses. The axle, chassis and wheels show similarities to contemporary chariots,” he said.

Upinder Kaur, who teaches history at Ashoka University, said that the discovery of elaborate burials and remains of chariots was “dramatic and unique”. She said, “Just how this evidence fits into the cultural jigsaw puzzle of the 2nd millennium BC drawn from texts and archaeology is something that has to be carefully examined. I am looking forward to reading the detailed report of the Sanauli excavations.”

Historian B R Mani, who oversaw excavations in Sanauli in 2005, said the site should be looked at “as an interaction of a period of practices of Ganga Yamuna Doab and Indus Valley cultures.

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