Indus Valley civilization predominantly had meat in their diet, preferred beef

The study was essentially done in five sites: four villages – Alamgirpur in Uttar Pradesh; and around five places in Haryana.
Indus Valley civilisation ruins
Indus Valley civilisation ruins
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A recent study has found that people who lived in the Indus Valley Civilisation in north west India had a high proportion of meat in their diet, with cattle/buffalo being the most dominant. The study, called ‘Lipid residues in pottery from the Indus Civilisation in northwest India’, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, studied the lipid residue to ascertain what kinds of foods were used in ceramic vessels in the Indus Valley civilisation. The analysis was done on 172 pottery fragments found in rural and urban settlements in northwest India. The study was essentially done in five sites: four villages – Alamgirpur in Uttar Pradesh; Masudpur and Lohari Ragho in Hisar, Haryana; Khanak in Bhiwani, Haryana – and one city, Farmana, in Rohtak, Haryana; and one town, Farmana, also in Haryana.  

Led by Akshyeta  Suryanarayan as part of her PhD thesis at Cambridge University, the research found that 80% of the “faunal assemblage from various Indus sites” belonged to domestic animal species. Faunal assemblage refers to a group of related animal fossils particular to a given geographical or geological setting. The study found that among domestic animals, cattle/buffalo were most abundant, accounting for 50 to 60% of the animal bones found. Sheep/goat made up 10% of remains. “The high proportions of cattle bones may suggest a cultural preference for beef consumption across Indus populations, supplemented by the consumption of mutton/lamb,” the study said. Further, pigs were found to make up about 2–3% of total faunal assemblages across Indus sites. Further, remains of deer, antelope, gazelle, hares, birds, and riverine/marine resources are also found in small proportions in the faunal assemblages. This suggests that “diverse resources had a place in the Indus diet.”

“The pattern is similar at the sites in northwest India, where domestic and wild mammals, and smaller proportions of birds, reptiles, riverine fish, and molluscs were consumed. In the study region, cattle make up the largest proportion of domestic species across sites, but not all excavated sites have information available,” the study said.

The people also kept the cattle for their dairy needs and consumption. Ninety percent of the cattle was kept alive till they were three to three-and-a-half years old, indicating that females were utilised for dairy production, and males for traction.

Apart from meat consumption, the study also found that both summer and winter based cropping was practiced and there is evidence of barley, wheat, rice and millets. “Apart from cereals, the archaeobotanical assemblage is extremely diverse, characterised by a range of winter and summer pulses, oilseeds and fruits. Starches of cereals, pulses, vegetables and underground storage organs have also been identified on surfaces of stone tools, pottery and human and cattle teeth from the site of Farmana,” the study adds. 

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