Gulf of Khambat Cultural Complex

From: S. Kalyanaraman
Message: 16680
Date: 2002-11-11

Dear Juha and Piotr,


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. Asko Parpola, I. Mahadevan and S. Kalyanaraman were together in NIOT and discussed extensively with the scientists there and also presented their views to Frontline editor.


The action plan of the seminar was that further explorations were needed. These 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. Vasant Shinde, Dr. SN Rajaguru, Dr. B. Sasisekaran, scientists from Physical Research Laboratory, coast guard of Indian Navy, Marine Archaeology Dept., Andhra University, National Institute of Oceanography, archaeologists from ASI.


My views are at:


And about the language of the coastal people, in the Gulf of Khambat Cultural Complex: it could have been Nahali, which is a language not classified so far and found in Tapati valley, not far from the Bhimbhetka caves:


Juha Savolainen, let me try to answer the questions raised by you, in two clusters:


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-bed.


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 out.                   

                 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 India.


     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 Basin.


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 Dwaraka.


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, Chennai) (S'iva)

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