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The Neolithic Settlement of Burzahom

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Jammu and Kashmir, Burzahom
Coordinates: N34 10 E74 52
Ref.: 5917
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Description

The Neolithic Site of Burzahom, in the district of Srinagar, India brings to light transitions in human habitation patterns from Neolithic Period to Megalithic period to the early Historic period.  From transition in architecture to development in tool-making techniques to introduction and diffusion of lentil in the north-western India, the site of Burzahom is a unique comprehensive story teller of life between 3000 BCE to 1000 BCE.

The remains of the site document the gradual change in the nature of dwelling spaces among early societies. From subterranean dwelling pits, the evidences in the site show the emergence of mud-structures, thereon mud-bricks constructions on level ground. The range of tools recovered from the site shows the evolution in tool making Neolithic men skilled hunters and their knowledge in applying the implements for cultivation.

The subterranean pit-dwelling of Neolithic men (Aceramic Neolithic/Period I) were cut into the natural soil usually dug out with long stone celts, the cuts-marks of which can still be traced. The pits were circular or oval in plan, narrow at the top and wide at the base having (wooden) post holes on the ground level suggesting a birch cover as a protection against the harsh weather. Some pits were shallower, with depth of about 91 cm (as opposed to 3.95 meters depth) and were possibly either storage pits or those used as dwellings during warmer period. Stone hearths have also been found at ground levels, near the mouth of pits, showing that habitation activities were also at the ground level. Ascribed to the same era are subterranean dwellings of quadrangular section, covered by a layer of birch, with a centrally placed stone or clay hearth and storage pit.

The several pottery shards of steel grey, dull red, brown or buff have been recovered from the pits as one of the material remain. Crude in finish, the continuity of these types of crude pottery can be seen in today`s Kashmir. Apart from pottery, bones and stone tools like harpoons,  needles with or without eyes, awls used probably for stitching skins, spear-points, arrow-heads and daggers for hunting game, scrapers for treating skins, stone axes, chisels, adzes, pounders, mace-heads, points and picks were used by the Neolithic settlers in this period. Apart from stone, antlers were also used for tool-production. This layer is marked by absence of any burial system as well as cultivation.

In the next stage (Ceramic Neolithic/Period II) structures in mud or mud bricks with regular floors made of rammed karewa soil, often reusing erstwhile pits by filling in with mud and finished by plastering a layer of mud, covered with a thin coat of red ochre as well as timbre showing evolution in construction techniques. This layer also yielded few copper arrowheads, black-ware pottery, a dish with a hollow stand, globular pot, jar, stem with triangular perforations, a funnel-shaped vase, a wheel made red ware pot with contained 950 beads, beads of areore, agate and carnelian and painted pots, the latter could have been an evidence of a trade. One of the unique finds of this layer is a red-ware pot with a horned figure painted on it. The stone and bone-wares of this period shows distinct development in finish. Of the implements recovered, the rectangular harvesters with a curved cutting edge with two or more holes on either side, double edged picks in stone, long sized needles with or without eye and the unique borer on a long hollow bone, like the cobbler's poker.

An instance of art-producing behaviour of Neolithic men is witnessed in the site where an engraved stone depicting a hunting scene, with human, a dog, the sun path diagram has been found.

The earliest remains of pit burial is ascribed to the Period II. Oval pits were dug into the house floor and were plastered with lime and bodies were placed with red-ochre on the bones. Skeletons were also found in crouched positions often without any grave furniture while in some instances accompanied with animal skeletal remains. Seven evidences of complete and four incomplete evidences of trepanning of human skulls have also been noted. One of the interesting burials recovered is that of five wild dogs and antler's horn.

The Neolithic period is followed by Megalithic culture associated with the erection of massive stones or menhirs, most probably as commemorative establishments. The material culture recovered constitutes of a gritty red ware pottery, manufactured in potters wheel, metal objects and few tools made of bone and stone continued. Rubble structures associated with the Megalithic men have also been found. The last level of activity at Burzahom is ascribed to the early historical period and is dateable to 3rd-4th century A.D. Mudbrick structures, pottery manufactured in a wheel and a few metal objects have been found from this era.

The practice of agriculture has been established through the tools and finding of palaeo-botanic analysis. Periods I and II provided evidence for wheat, barley and lentil cultivation. The presence of lentil in the Burzahom Neolithic further explains that the people of Burzahom had wide contacts with Central Asia, a critical evidence of the human movement through mountain passes into the Kashmir valley.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Neolithic Site of Burzahom, in the district of Srinagar, India brings to light transitions in human habitation patterns from Neolithic Period to Megalithic period to the early Historic period.  From transition in architecture to development in tool-making techniques to introduction and diffusion of lentil in the north-western India, the site of Burzahom is a unique comprehensive story teller of life between 3000 BCE to 1000 BCE.

The Neolithic property at Burzahom provides a detailed insight into the material equipment of the Neolithic people when they even did not have invented technique of pottery manufacturing. The results of excavations have provided dynamics of interchange of ideas between central Asia and South West Asia through the valley of Kashmir which acted as  a bridge between higher Himalayas and beyond on the one hand, and Gangetic plains and peninsular India on the other hand during the third millennium B.C. The interaction of local and foreign influences are demonstrated by the art, architecture, customs and rituals as also possibly by the language as demonstrated by some graffiti marks on pottery and others.

The core aspects of the Burzahom Neolithic seem to have originated and organically evolved on the soil of Kashmir, and bear an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition which has now largely disappeared. The nominated property with its entire cultural equipment range has potential for future excavation and other avenues of research which is surely ripe with new set of information throwing a welcome light on the formative stages of culture and civilization in this part of the world.

Sometime at the turn of the fourth millennium BCE, the Neolithic Burzahom appears to the major centres of pre-historic man’s activity in Kashmir. The detail study of the material culture, palaeo-climate, flora, and fauna, micro-wear studies, and other multidisciplinary studies has provided an opportunity to understand and analyse the interaction of the Neolithic population of Burzahom with the Himalayan hinterland and the riverine sites of West Asia.

The remains in the Neolithic site of Burzahom narrates the cultural sequence of human habitation from 3000 BCE to 1000 BCE (Periods I and II belong to the Neolithic period, Period III to the Megalithic period, and Period IV to the Early Historical period (or Post-megalithic period)).

The entire site retains its physical integrity and is still set in a landscape that is reminiscent to the natural setting of the Neolithic men approximately in 4th millennium B.C. Each pit is protected and retains its physical stability, demonstrating types of spaces devised by Neolithic society.

The property and Buffer zones are protected and managed by the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Department of Archaeology under the Ancient Monuments and Sites Remains Act’ 1958 (Amended in 2010).

Criteria (ii): The Neolithic property at Burzahom provides a detailed insight into the material equipment of the Neolithic people when they even did not have invented technique of pottery manufacturing. The results of excavations have provided dynamics of interchange of ideas between central Asia and South West Asia through the valley of Kashmir which acted as  a bridge between higher Himalayas and beyond on the one hand, and Gangetic plains and peninsular India on the other hand during the third millennium B.C. The interaction of local and foreign influences are demonstrated by the art, architecture, customs and rituals as also possibly by the language as demonstrated by some graffiti marks on pottery and others.

Criteria (iii): The core aspects of the Burzahom Neolithic seem to have originated and organically evolved on the soil of Kashmir, and bear an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition which has now largely disappeared. The nominated property with its entire cultural equipment range has potential for future excavation and other avenues of research which is surely ripe with new set of information throwing a welcome light on the formative stages of culture and civilization in this part of the world.

Criteria (v): Sometime at the turn of the fourth millennium BCE, the Neolithic Burzahom appears to the major centres of pre-historic man’s activity in Kashmir. The detail study of the material culture, palaeo-climate, flora, and fauna, micro-wear studies, and other multidisciplinary studies has provided an opportunity to understand and analyse the interaction of the Neolithic population of Burzahom with the Himalayan hinterland and the riverine sites of West Asia.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: The remains in the Neolithic site of Burzahom narrates the cultural sequence of human habitation from 3000 BCE to 1000 BCE (Periods I and II belong to the Neolithic period, Period III to the Megalithic period, and Period IV to the Early Historical period (or Post-megalithic period).

Integrity: The entire site retains its physical integrity and is still set in a landscape that is reminiscent to the natural setting of the Neolithic men approximately in 4th millennium B.C. Each pit is protected and retains its physical stability, demonstrating types of spaces devised by Neolithic society.

Comparison with other similar properties

The site could be compared to inscribed properties like - Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps of Europe, Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes (Mons) of Belgium, Choirokoitia of Cyprus, Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda of Gabon, Brú na Bóinne - Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne of Ireland, Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: The Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara Caves of Israel, Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley of Malaysia and the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites of United Kingdoms among others.