Just as modern nation-states struggle to manage the cultural and economic impacts of migration, ancient civilizations dealt with similar external pressures and set policies to regulate people’s movements. In one of the earliest urban societies, the Indus Civilization, mechanisms linking city populations to hinterland groups remain enigmatic in the absence of written documents. However, isotopic data from human tooth enamel associated with Harappa Phase (2600-1900 BC) cemetery burials at Harappa (Pakistan) and Farmana (India) provide individual biogeochemical life histories of migration. Strontium and lead isotope ratios allow us to reinterpret the Indus tradition of cemetery inhumation as part of a specific and highly regulated institution of migration. Intra-individual isotopic shifts are consistent with immigration from resource-rich hinterlands during childhood. Furthermore, mortuary populations formed over hundreds of years and composed almost entirely of first-generation immigrants suggest that inhumation was the final step in a process linking certain urban Indus communities to diverse hinterland groups. Additional multi disciplinary analyses are warranted to confirm inferred patterns of Indus mobility, but the available isotopic data suggest that efforts to classify and regulate human movement in the ancient Indus region likely helped structure socioeconomic integration across an ethnically diverse landscape.
Citation: Valentine B, Kamenov GD, Kenoyer JM, Shinde V, Mushrif-Tripathy V, et al. (2015) Evidence for Patterns of Selective Urban Migration in the Greater Indus Valley (2600-1900 BC): A Lead and Strontium Isotope Mortuary Analysis. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0123103. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123103