Climate change may have wiped out Saraswati river, Harappan city of Dholavira: Study

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These changes also led to the collapse of Dholavira, one of the most advanced cities of the Harappan era, which was located in western India, within present-day Gujarat.

Almost 4,000 years ago, climate change may have triggered a severe drought that wiped off the Saraswati river, which is believed to have once flown through present-day Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, according to a recent study.

These changes also led to the collapse of Dholavira, one of the most advanced cities of the Harappan era, which was located in western India, within present-day Gujarat.

According to archaeologists, the city had a sound architectural design, as its remains have revealed the presence of a citadel, a bailey, as well as ‘lower and middle’ towns. The city thrived between 5,500 and 3,800 years Before Present Era (BPE), said archaeologists. These observations have been noted in a recent study — Did the Harappan settlement of Dholavira (India) collapse during the onset of Meghalayan stage drought? The study was led by Anindya Sarkar and Torsa Sengupta, researchers from IIT-Kharagpur, in collaboration with their counterparts at the city-based Deccan College and Post Graduate Research Institute, and the Archaeological Survey of India.

The team carried out carbon dating of archaeological carbonates like molluscs, gathered from the unearthed remains of Dholavira. The fossils of these shell creatures traced at the site indicate that the city could have thrived due to the abundant mangroves that grew in the Rann of Kutch, which has turned into a white desert today. Brackish water, a saline mixture of fresh water and seawater, helps in the growth of mangroves.

The team believes the river that supplied fresh water to Dholavira has to be Saraswati. Analysis of the fossil samples has led researchers to believe that during the 1,700 years of its existence, the city may have witnessed regular monsoon, with the inhabitants consuming shells as one of their foods from the river.

Archaeologists managed to trace the remains of abundant mangroves growing around the Great Rann of Kutch, from which the researchers concluded that molluscs survived in the region.

“The gastropod shell suggests seasonal mixing of some depleted river water during summer or monsoon months that periodically inundated the present-day desert. But importantly, the mixing happened through river Saraswati or Indus tributaries,” said researchers from Deccan College. During dry months, evaporation from this semi-enclosed water body enriched these seashells, the researchers noted.

But the decline of this city and its ecosystem occurred when a mega drought hit the coastal city at the onset of Meghalayan stage, approximately 4,300 to 4,000 years ago.

“The decline and collapse of Dholavira is a classic case of how climate change can increase drought risk in the future, which has been predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change,” states the study, published in the Journal of Quarternery Sciences.