Royal "Chariot" Burials of Sanauli near Delhi and Archaeological Correlates of Prehistoric Indo-Iranian Languages

Another important and very recent (late October 2020) paper by Asko Parpola. He examines the 2018 finds from the Late Harappan site of Sanauli near Delhi in light of his research on early Indo-Aryan languages in the subcontinent and their origin in Central Asia. He uses the discussion to revise dates he had proposed in The Roots of Hinduism (2015) for the first wave of migrations into the subcontinent, and responds to some of the criticisms leveled at that work. Clearly evidence, including DNA evidence from 2019, is still accumulating, but it is exciting to have a scholar respond so quickly and completely.

Of the 2018 excavations, he writes that "several indications suggest that the Sanauli “chariots” are actually carts yoked to bulls, as in the copper sculpture of a bull-cart from the Late Harappan site of Daimabad in Maharashtra. The antennae-hilted swords associated with the burials suggest that these bull-carts are likely to have come from the BMAC or the Bactria and Margiana Archaeological Complex (c.2300–1500 BCE) of southern Central Asia, from where there is iconographic evidence of bull-carts. The ultimate source of the Sanauli/BMAC bull-carts may be the early phase of the Sintashta culture in the Trans-Urals, where the chariot (defined as a horse-drawn light vehicle with two spoked wheels) was most probably invented around the late twenty-first century BCE" (p. 175). The link to the Daimabad chariot, which was found far south in Maharashtra, is most interesting and Parpola offers a variety of evidence and arguments to link these chariot discoveries to larger linguistic, DNA and cultural analyses that are well worth reading. They may not be the final word, and there are probably a lot of discoveries to be made, but the picture that is forming of the period near the end and following the Indus civilization is becoming clearer and more consistent.

Image: Copper sculpture of a bull-cart from Daimabad, Maharashtra. 24 x 16 x 26.5 cm (9.8 kg). After Yule 1985: pl. 4, no. 39 a–c. For a very detailed description of the whole sculpture and metal analyses of its various parts, see Yule 1985: 30–31.