Gulf of Khambat Cultural Complex

From: S.Kalyanaraman
Message: 16681
Date: 2002-11-11

I will provide some background information and add my views: the
background information summarized by Dr. SP Gupta of Indian
Archaeological Society; a report on the seminar conducted by NIOT
given by historian Dr. Nandita Krishna, together with the views of
Asko Parpola, I. Mahadevan and S. Kalyanaraman who were together in
NIOT and discussed extensively with the scientists there and also
presented their views to Frontline editor.

Yes, further explorations are needed and are ongoing; this was the
principal thrust of the inter-disciplinary meet of NIOT who sought
guidance from experts on further steps which needed to be taken.
Some of the50 participants in the meet: Dr. Jagatpati Joshi, Dr. SP
Gupta, I. Mahadevan, Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, Dr. Shanti Pappu, Prof. KV
Raman, Dr. A. Sundara, Dr. V. Sridhar (Geology, MS Univ. Baroda),
Dr. SN Rajaguru, Dr. B. Sasisekaran, scientists from Physical
Research Laboratory, coast guard of Indian Navy, National Institute
of Oceanography, archaeologists from ASI.

My views are at:

Juha Savolainen, let me try to answer the questions raised by you.

JS: Some questions…First, have the findings already been published?
Second, will institutions professionally engaged with archaeology,
such as the ASI and the NIO, publish something on the findings?
Third, who were the international and Indian experts who
participated in the symposium? Fourth, how did they view claims
about "the oldest city in the world" etc.? Fifth, which institutions
are involved in the ongoing explorations and who is leading them?

Yes. Geological Society of India, Bangalore has brought out a
report. I will try to post more information from this separately.
Yes, ASI, NIO, coast guard, PRL, geologists from the academia are
part of the investigation team. Dr. B. Sasisekaran, archaeologist is
full-time seconded to this project. Their report will appear after
analyzing this season's work (commencing next week). There was no
discussion in the seminar about any city. There was consensus that
we have landed (sic) on archaeological sites on the banks of palaeo-
channels. There was unanimous agreement that we are at
archaeological sites which should be explored further and that what
is today the Gulf was once a continuation of the land linking
Bharuch-Surat on the east with Padri and other sites in Saurashtra;
the topography of Saurashtra should have been different before
tectonic events resulted in upheavals in the land formations and
incursion of the sea submerging the two river-extensions.
Geologically, the formation of the Gulf is dated to c.10,000 yrs.
BP. Together with the submergence of the rivers, the sites located
on the banks were submerged.

NIOT is the coordinating institution; project director is Dr.
Kathiroli; the members of the core team are: Dr. Sasisekaran,
archaeologist and Dr. Badrinarayan, geologist.

JS: Strange, I always thought that Surat is at the mouth of Tapti
and Bharuch at the mouth of Narmada…Anyway, did I get it right: are
you saying that archaeological sites have been found at the
riverbanks of modern Narmada and Tapti, or are you saying that
archaeological sites have been found at the banks of presumed
ancient paleo-channels, now submerged at the depths of the Gulf of
Khambat? If the first alternative is what you meant, what relevance
does all this have with the claims on the "oldest city in the
world", "ancient writing" predating Harappan seals by thousands of
years etc.? If the latter alternative is what you meant, what
concrete evidence can you present to establish its truth?
JS: Let us put aside for a while the controversy about naming
practice and the "mighty Saraswati river"; what you mean
by "Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization" is known by many others as
the "Indus Civilization" or the "Harappan Civilization". Now, it is
well known that sites as Mehrgarh were Neolithic precursors of the
Harappan civilization. When you write about the "Gulf of Khambat
Cultural Complex", do you mean that Mehrgahr was part of that very
complex or a parallel development to that complex? And where is
reliably dated and stratigraphically secure archaeological evidence
to establish such claims? (If the bangle is supposed to be such
evidence, a more detailed explanation would be welcome here)

Yes, you are right, Juha; Bharuch ( is at the mouth of
Narmada; Surat (the diamond town) is at the mouth of Tapati. I am
saying that the archaeological sites are found on the banks of the
submerged rivers about 30 kms. from the eastern coast-line and
buried about 30 to 60 m. deep on the surface of and below the sea-

There is inadequate information to state if Mehergarh was part of
the complex (say, for acquiring artefacts made of turbinella pyrum)
or a parallel development of the complex. Given the nature of the
spread of the culture along the river banks over a stretch of nearly
1500 kms., and given the maritime-riverine nature of the contacts
evidenced by the civilization, it may be hypothesised that the sites
in question now submerged in the Gulf of Khambat are neolithic
precursors of the sites such as Padri, Lothal, Dholavira, Surkotada,
Kotdiji, Rojdi, Rangapura, Chanhudaro where the early phases are
chaloco-lithic and lithic.

About, `writing': two triangular terracotta tablets-in-bas relief
have been discovered. According to I. Mahadevan and in my view,
these depict: 1) a person seated in a yogic posture; and 2) a
triangle with parallel lines running parallel to the base of the
triangle. Both 1 and 2 are glyphs of the Sarasvati-Sindhu
civilization epigraphs. See the comparable images of glyphs at:

My views are:

1. the Gulf of Khambat sites should be viewed as part of a Neolithic
complex which extends from Bharuch (mainland) to Padri (Saurashtra)
across the Gulf. See notes at:

2. The sites found in the Gulf on the seabed are Neolithic
precursors of the Sarasvati Sindhu Civilization.
Mehergarh bangle made of turbinella pyrum (dated to c. 6500 BCE)
could have been obtained from Makran coast or Gulf of Kutch or Gulf
of Khambat. Hence, I would suggest that Khambat complex together
with the Amri-Nal culture is a precursor of Mehergarh culture.

3. The early phases of the Civilization was maritime-riverine: Gulf
of Khambat, Gulf of Kutch, Makran Coast, Sarasvati river, Sindhu
river; and then, the moves towards the Persian Gulf and upto Tigris-
Euphrates rivers hugging the coast-line of the gulf. See the URL: I agree
with Kenoyer (JM Kenoyer, 2000, Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley
Civilization) who cites that the s'ankha industry was an early
industry. In fact, the PhD thesis of Jim Schaeffer was on the shell
industry from which Kenoyer cites the importance of the shell as a
raw material for production of artifacts (conch trumpet, conch
bangles, conch or shell beads and ornaments). Some photographs are
presented at the URL. What began in c. 6500 BCE (as seen from the
finds of a woman's burial at Mehergarh) continues even today in Gulf
of Mannar (Tiruchendur, Ki_r..akkarai); an industry thrives with an
annual turnover of Rs. 5 crores with the West Bengal Handicrafts
Development Corporation having an office there to procure the shells
(turbinella pyrum) which occur ONLY in this part of the world and
NOWHERE else (Makran Coast, Gulf of Kutch, Gulf of Khambat, Gulf of
Mannar); a left-twisting s'ankha sells for Rs. 10 and a right-
twisting (valampuri cangu in Tamil) sells for Rs. 25,000. No Bengali
marriage is complete without a shell-bangle being worn and a s'ankha
conch trumpet being blown producing the OM-ka_ra, the OM sound which
is the reason why on the banks of the confluence of Narmada-Kaveri
rivers there is a jyotirlinga pilgrimage site called Omkares'var. In
my opinion, the polished pillars of stone, rock-cut reservoir, stone
drain, stone-built fortifications at Dholavira are a follow-up of
the lithic tradition of Khambat complex. There are two streams:
masons working with large stones and lapidaries working with very
small stones (for making beads) – as is done even today in Surat.
I would thus posit a hypothesis for further testing as the
exploration results of Gulf of Khambat sites unravel further: the
archaeological site discovered in the Gulf of Khambat could be a
precursor of the Amri-Nal culture (along the coastline of Gulf of
Kutch and the Makran coast, 300 kms. South of Mehrgarh) and hence, a
neo-lithic precursor of the Sarasvati-Sindhu valley civilization.

S'ankha is central to the a_gama tradition in the culture of
Bha_rata; Kr.s.n.a carries a conch trumpet, it is called
Pa_ncajanya. There are names for trumpets of other heroes of
Mahabharata which also describes in Mausala Parva the submergence of
Dwaraka (another shallow-coastline marine archaeological site) by
the incursion of the sea. The mu_rti-s of Vis.n.u and Bhairava carry
a s'ankha in one of their multiple hands. S'ankha is one of the nine
treasures (nava-nidhi) of Kubera. No wonder, it was and continues to
be an industry.

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman


The National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT),
Chennai of the Department of Ocean Development (DOD), Government of
India, had during the course of under water surveys in the Gulf of
Cambay, Gujarat come across a stretch of formations typical of a
riverine regime in the middle of the sea at 30-40 m water depth. An
area of almost 9 km. stretch west of Hazira in Gujarat appeared to
be well laid house basement like features partially covered by sand
waves and sand ripples. The Side Scan Sonar deployed for the survey
picked up images of several geometric objects, which resemble man-
made structures and artifacts. The acoustic images obtained
suggested the possibility of the existence of some human activity on
the present seabed. All these archaeological findings located by
Side Sonar were corroborated by Sub-bottom profiler findings wherein
the basement reliefs of the foundations have been clearly brought
This discovery of this major Marine Archaeological Site
in the Gulf of Cambay was made public to the nation in a press
conference by Honourable Union Minister for Ocean Development Prof.
Murli Manohar Joshi on 19th May, 2001. Hon'ble Minister had directed
that detailed investigations should be undertaken and there should
be independent evaluation of the findings.
Subsequently the site was surveyed in greater detail during
favourable weather conditions by deploying- various underwater
equipment and divers for photography and collection of samples
during November-December 2001. NIOT Scientists undertook a
confirmatory survey in the Gulf of Cambay area, by deploying a Side
Scan Sonar and a Sub-bottom profiler. These surveys were carried out
under the overall co-ordination of Dr. S. Kathiroli, Project
Director, NIOT using the Coastal Research Vessel (CRV) "Sagar
Paschimi". S/Shri S. Badrinarayanan, D. Venkata Rao, K. M.
Sivakholundu, E. Srinivasan and Dr. B. K. Jena were the other
scientists who participated in this recent survey.
It is well known that the Gulf of Cambay is a very rough
terrain, with macro tidal range up to 10m and high velocity currents
up to 6 knots. In addition, high velocity winds in the area also
make the sea very choppy resulting in pitching and rolling of the
vessel. The shallowness of the sea in the area and mixing of the
water due to these factors turn the colour of the water brown,
preventing penetration of light rays. Such a condition made
picturisation of the submerged structures by Remotely Operated
underwater Video Camera very difficult, as the camera could not
operate beyond 10m water depth due to turbulence and turbidity. The
area was criss-crossed by several transects of Side Scan surveys, to
reoccupy the earlier position and to relocate the various sites of
the submerged acropolis. The locations, which were reported earlier
were fixed during the present survey.
Samples were collected from the sites established by Side Scan
images by deploying dredger and Vibrocorer at 30-40 m water depth.
During slack tides, some grab samples were also collected at
specified locations. The samples could be collected from the top of
the stratigraphic column up to about 0.5 m below the seabed. About
1000 objects were collected, 250 among these of Archaeological
interest have been chosen for detailed scientific studies. These
probable artifacts include stone-tools, perforated stone pieces,
semi-precious stones, weathered pot-sherds, etc.
It would be of interest to note that most of the river
conglomerates appear to be in-situ indicating that these settlements
were located along the ancient river valley.

The carbonised wood pieces recovered were taken up for dating
using C14 technique in the Birbal Shahni Institute of Palaeo Botany,
Lucknow and in National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad.
Preliminary results of the analysis of samples have revealed that
the age range was between 8150 and 7680 years before present (BP)
(by the Birbal Shahni Institute) and 9910-9330 years BP (by the
National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad). Further
confirmatory tests/analysis are being undertaken by using
radioactive counting measurements.
The authenticity of the findings and the artifacts as
well as various Side Scan Sonar and Sub-bottom profiles records were
evaluated by some of the eminent Archaeologists such as Dr. S.R.Rao,
Former Director, Archaeological Survey of India, Prof. S.N.Rajaguru,
Former Jt. Director and Head of the Department of Archaeology,
Deccan College, Post Graduate and Research Institute, Pune, and Dr.
B.Sasisekaran, Research Associate, Indian National Science Academy.
In the opinion of Dr. S.R.Rao, it appears that there might be a
pre-historic site near the palaeochannel.
Dr. Sasisekaran has commented that probably there was an
existence of river valley Proto-Historic civilization in India pre-
dating Harappan civilization. He has further stated that the 14C
dating obtained from the wooden piece recovered from the site
changes the earlier held view that the first sites appeared in the
horizon around c.3500 BC.
Prof. S. N. Rajaguru who has many years of experience in the
Coastal Archaeological sites particularly in Saurashtra such as
Gopinath, Bhavnagar and Padri, after examining several litho logs,
calcareous sand stones, Pebbles and gravel bearing conglomerates and
antiques such as potsherds, etc., has opined that these collections
were exciting and a breakthrough in offshore Archaeology probably
dating these collections to be older than Harappan periods and
beyond 7000 years BP. These indicate the existence of landmass
between Padri and Hazira in the ancient times.
These investigations established that the sea bed at a depth of
30-40 metres below the present sea level was of riverine origin and
was exposed to continental processes for sometime. This is indicated
by the partial cementation by ground water carbonate of the upper
part of the sea bed and by the presence of calcified root casts
(known as rhizo-concretions and rhizoliths).
In future we need to date a few potsherds by thermo-
luminescence method and establish contemporanity of C14 dates
obtained on woods. We also plan to date marine shells found in the
layer capping the artifact bearing conglomerate and sandstone. This
dating will help us in dating precisely the age of human activity
and the burial of the same by sea water in post 7000 yrs period.
The objects were also examined by Dr. S.P. Gupta, Chairman,
Indian Archaeological Society, B-17, Qutab Institutional Area, New
Delhi - 110016. He was accompanied by J.P. Joshi, former Director
General, Archaeological Survey of India and Alok Tripathi, Head of
the Underwater Archaeology Wing of the Archaeological Survey of

Their views are as follows :

The pottery pieces seem to belong to the early two centuries of
the Era establishing the fact that there was a settlement here which
was engaged in the Roman Trade. There are several such sites on the
Gujarat Coast, the pottery from which also indicate the same.

The piece of wood dated to 7500 B.C. or so shows some marks of
chiselling hence the human hand seems to be there in shaping it.
Belonging to the same date are some sites, such as Mehrgarh on the
river Bolan in Baluchistan, now in Pakistan. These are Neolithic
sites with evidence of domestication of cattle and cereals as well
as granaries of rows of rectangular rooms of mud and mud-bricks.

We gathered that a large chunk of coral was also formed at some
distance, the coast therefore, may have been in those days far
inside the sea. In fact, geological studies have shown that
anciently there were coastal terraces from the depth of 100m. which
means around 7500 B.C. the coast was much inside the present sea,
bridging the Bhavanagar region and Khambat as a land mass.

Marine archaeology and the study of the past
Author: Nanditha Krishna
Date: August 17, 2002

The National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Madras, who
discovered the archaeological relics in the Gulf of Cambay, recently
organised a National Workshop on Marine Archaeology in the Gulf of
Cambay (or Khambat), which I was privileged to attend. Privileged
because it was one of the most well- organised and focused workshops
I have attended recently. It was inter-disciplinary, with
participation by scientists, archaeologists, geologists, engineers,
epigraphists, historians, etc.

The subjects were chosen with a view to broadbasing NIOT's efforts
in the Gulf of Cambay, so that their scientists would have a better
background for their underwater archaeological work. Accordingly,
papers were presented on geoarchaeology in the Gulf of Cambay and
its environs, geochronology, the use of remote sensing in underwater
archaeology, the paleo climate of the Gulf of Cambay region, the
sedimentation process, and the geological evolution of the Cambay

Marine archaeology is a new subject and a little-explored one,
mainly due to the lack of funds, scientific and other necessary
equipment and even trained divers, besides a dearth of qualified
marine archaeologists. A pioneer in this field is Dr S R Rao,
formerly of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and now with
the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa. With all the existing
limitations, he has done considerable work in the Bet Dwaraka
region, where he found an entire submerged city, with rubble and
masonry structures, several shell and pottery items and seals. The
Mahabharata and Harivamsha describe Krishna's capital Dwaraka and
how it was submerged by the sea in great detail, a description that
coincides in many ways with what the divers found. Unfortunately,
the doubting Thomases of our historical world, a school of Indian
historians who regard Indian literature as "myth", do not want to
acknowledge this interpretation, in case it gives credence to the
story of Krishna, whose capital was submerged by the sea. It is
ridiculous not to correlate archaeology and literature. Mythology
is "the science of primitive man, his manner of explaining the
universe". Records of natural phenomena and historical events —
invasions, migrations, etc. — are stored as myths. If literature and
archaeology had not been correlated, we would never have known the
history of ancient Greece. And how many people are aware of the fact
that the only (ancient) temple for Matsya — Vishnu's incarnation at
the time of the great flood — is to be found at Shankhodhara in Bet

Structures have also been found off the Poom Puhar coast, but South
Indian history is nothing more than a footnote in Indian history
books. So two major archaeological finds whimpered into oblivion
after a few magazine articles. Any other country would have
celebrated them.

NIOT's discovery would have also, probably, died a similar death if
the Minister of Ocean Development, and Human Resource Development,
Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, had not chosen to announce it publicly.
Immediately, there was a chorus of voices clamouring that it should
have been first presented as a scientific paper. That would have
been an excellent way to destroy the story. Why should the rest of
India not learn about these discoveries? They belong as much to the
cart puller as to the scientist and archaeologist.
What was found in the Gulf? Several rectangular to round pieces made
of rock and mortar with perfectly shaped holes (some rectangular),
obviously man-made; stone cylindrical rods with vertical holes,
probably used as necklaces (as in Harappa); rolled rods and well-
turned cylindrical rock pieces; fused rock articles; thin triangular
and round rock pieces; chert blades, cut into long flat pieces;
macro tools resembling axes, stone blades, choppers, chisel, etc.
and micro tools made of basalt, chalcedony and chert, besides a
pestle and fish hook; ladle-shaped objects made of agate or
steatite; semi-precious stones and beads made of opal, agate,
carnelian, steatite, quartz, malachite, and topaz; potsherds,
including sun-dried gray and kiln-baked red.

But these were not all. Human and animal (deer and duck) figurines,
a hand with what appears to be a carving of a bangle, a few
fossilised human bones and a flat rock piece with a sort of script
have made the finds more exciting.

Paleo channels 20 to 40 metres deep and over 9 kms long, adjoined by
basement-like features of major structures in a grid pattern,
resembling an urban habitation site, were observed. These include a
40m x 24m tank-like depression with steps leading to a deeper
portion (like the Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro?), a 200m x 45m
platform-like structure, a 79m x 50m buried structure and what
appears to be a 41m x 20m wall, with a relief of about 3m above the
seabed. Most important, a chunk of carbonised teak wood was picked
up, which was dated using 14C (Carbon dating) methodology by the
Birbal Sahni Institute of Paleo Botany, Lucknow, and the National
Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, gave an interim
calibrated age of 8150-7650 BP (before present). This is the
information that came in for much public flak and acrimony, with
some historians and media stories even casting doubts on the
authenticity of the scientific testing and the results, an untenable
accusation. Foreign laboratories upheld the results, a certification
which should not have been necessary, and about which there has been
no response from the doubters. Another reason given for doubt was
that the wood could have floated into the area from anywhere else.
But the scientists present at the workshop debunked that objection,
showing how the current patterns meant that the water circulates
within the Gulf and is not exchanged with the Arabian Sea.
Having seen these artifacts myself, I believe they belong to a pre-
Harappan culture. Ladles, figurines, beads (including the
cylindrical stone pieces) and chert blades, made of terracotta, have
also been found in Harappan sites. If the rock with the script on it
belongs to the same period as the carbonised wood, it would be the
earliest known writing.

Marine archaeology is an essential tool for the study of the past.
Our limited knowledge and lack of facilities should not make us turn
a blind eye to what has proven to be an important source of
information elsewhere. Ancient shipwrecks indicate the items traded
across the Mediterranean. Cleopatra's bust was a recent discovery
off the Egyptian coast, and tales of American shipwreck hunters —
including the Titanic — are legion. The seabed preserves its
treasures carefully. Marine archaeology in India is still at its
infancy. It needs up-to-date scientific equipment, such as remote
controlled robots, and trained divers and diving equipment. All this
costs money.

The Gulf of Cambay project involves three disciplines. The
archeological investigations map the area of interest, trace the
paleo-river course, collect artifacts and videograph underwater
archaeological material. Geological investigations investigate the
structure, tectonics and buried channels, sand wave movements, and
locations of depressions and basins. Engineering investigations
include sonar imageries and remote sensing.

The Gulf of Cambay extends over 3000 sq km in the state of Gujarat,
with the rivers Narmada, Tapi, Sabarmati and Mahi draining into it.
The rivers form an estuary with islands above and submerged below
the water. Rivers of today superimpose older river channels, and cut
across materials deposited earlier. The sea is made up of
alternating clay and sand formations, the latter making shoals that
migrate periodically. Tectonic activity in the area would have
influenced sedimentary deposits and underwater structures. However,
scientific geochronology and geochemistry can give very accurate
dates today.

Gujarat is an archeologically rich site. Paleolithic remains of the
low sea level periods of the middle and late Pleistocene ages have
been found in Junagarh and Bhavnagar districts (adjoining the Gulf
of Cambay). Around 14,000 B.P. the sea level started rising, while
the period between 9000 and 5000 B.P. saw strong summer monsoons.
Mehergarh (in Pakistan), the oldest known pre-historic site in the
subcontinent, existed at this time. Pre-Harappans occupied the area
around 6000 B.P., developing into the mature Harappan phase. Not far
from the Gulf is Padri, an important pre-Harappan site. While the
lower levels had rectangular and square structures of mud, the upper
levels were made of mud-brick. Similarly, the earlier coarse pottery
was replaced by fine and well-made pottery in the upper levels.
Harappan script, pottery and copper artifacts appear towards the end
of this phase. The best examples of Harappan culture are to be found
at Lothal and Kuntasi, both Harappan ports. Lothal is the site of
the world's earliest dockyard, besides which a warehouse and bead
furnace have been found here. At Kuntasi, a jetty for anchoring
small boats was discovered. Several inland settlements of the
Harappans have been excavated, besides the sites of Rangpur and
Prabhas Patan. By the third century B.C., the historical phase had
begun, and Hathab near Bhavnagar is referred to as Hatrab by the
Periplus of the Erythrean Sea. Along with the excavations at
Dwaraka, the area is rich in early material artifacts, and the
prospects are exciting.

Prof M Ravindran and Prof S Kadhiroli, Director and Project Director
respectively of NIOT, have worked very hard to do their homework and
cover all aspects of the proposed investigations in the Gulf of
Cambay. The discoveries in Dwaraka and Cambay have proved that the
Indian coastline contains rich treasures that could unlock secrets
of our past history and pre-history. The east coast has a tradition
of lost cities and archaeological treasures. If we could find more
money for marine archaeology, we could learn so much more about
ancient cities like Mahabalipuram and Poom Puhar.
(Nanditha Krishna is Director, The C P Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation,