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Feeding the herds: Stable isotope analysis of animal diet and its implication for understanding social organisation in the Indus Civilisation, Northwest India


Lightfoot, E and Jones, PJ and Joglekar, PP and Tames-Demauras, M and Smith, E and Muschinski, J and Shinde, V and Singh, RN and Jones, MK and O'Connell, TC and Petrie, CA, Feeding the herds: Stable isotope analysis of animal diet and its implication for understanding social organisation in the Indus Civilisation, Northwest India, Archaeological Research in Asia, 24 Article 100212. ISSN 2352-2267 (2020) [Refereed Article]


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Copyright 2020 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

DOI: doi:10.1016/j.ara.2020.100212


The way that people manage their livestock tells us about their interactions with the landscape, particularly the nature of adaptation to specific environments, social organisation, resilience and long-term farming sustainability. Globally, there is considerable variation in how these practices are manifested, due to differences in water availability, levels of environmental diversity and aridity, and also the nature of cultural choices. South Asia's Indus Civilisation (c.30001500 BCE) provides an important opportunity for investigating how populations managed their animals, because the region shows considerable diversity in rainfall distribution, seasonality and intensity, which results in marked environmental variability that is susceptible to change over time. The latter is particularly significant when it comes to consideration of the impact of the 4.2 ka BP event and its relation to the deurbanisation of the Indus Civilisation.

This paper presents carbon isotope data from animal teeth from nine archaeological sites distributed across northwest India that are suitable for exploring how diverse practices were, and how animal management strategies changed through time. These data show clear differentiation in feeding practices between species, with cattle and water buffalo consuming very high proportions of C4 plants, while sheep and goat ate varying quantities of C3 and C4 plants. This pattern is generally consistent across sites and throughout different periods, suggesting that the strategy was adapted to a range of environmental conditions and settlements of different sizes. We suggest that humans controlled cow and water buffalo diets, and they were likely provided with fodder. In contrast, sheep and goats had a less controlled diet, and were presumably more likely to roam the landscape. These animal management strategies must have involved some separation of tasks, although it remains unclear if this was on a household, settlement or population level.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:archaeology, stable isotope analysis, diet, Indus Civilisation, carbon, serial samples, animal management, sustainability, adaptation, resilience
Research Division:History, Heritage and Archaeology
Research Group:Archaeology
Research Field:Archaeological science
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Understanding past societies
Objective Field:Understanding Asia's past
UTAS Author:Jones, PJ (Dr Penelope Jones)
ID Code:140828
Year Published:2020
Web of Science® Times Cited:5
Deposited By:Menzies Institute for Medical Research
Deposited On:2020-09-10
Last Modified:2020-10-27
Downloads:10 View Download Statistics

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