Situated 16 kilometres North-east of Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir State of India is one of India’s major archaeological sites – Burzahom. It’s geographical coordinates are 34° 10' 5" North, 74° 52' 40" East and 1800 metres above sea level. It is located off the Naseem - Shalimar Road between the Dal Lake and Zabarvan Hills.
Burzahom – meaning Birch Trees in Kashmiri dialect, gets its name from the burnt Birch Trees’ remains that were found on site.
Burzahom is the first archaeological site in the country which revealed the existence of a Neolithic Settlement in Kashmir region. Radio-carbon dating dated this settlement back to 2375 BC.
Neolithic Era was the greatest Era known to man. During this era, humans changed from ‘hunting-gathering nomadic mode’ to ‘agricultural-settlement mode’. The implications are huge. So huge that it changed the DNA of evolution of human life on Earth that followed in the Eras to come.
The highlight of the Neolithic Era was the invention of Agriculture which grounded nomadic people to a geography; gave them food round the year till the next crop harvest; structured the life and lifestyles of humans around ‘work and rest’; developed calendars to schedule farming of crops; domesticated horses and cows which were used for farming as well as ‘consumable food’ group. With farming, people then stopped their nomadic ways, settled in lands around water bodies like a river or lake to use that water for irrigation. Scientists found seeds of wheat, barley and lentils on site. With structured and seasonal farming, Pottery was invented to store the harvests. So the concept of prolonged storage started here.
The Neolithic Era also developed copper tools and sharpened the previous era’s stone tools to a pointed edge which were used for hunting, farming, and carving living spaces in clay grounds for human dwelling. The tools that were unearthed are harpoons for fishing, needles for sewing, and hunting-oriented tools, such as arrow-heads, spear-heads and daggers. Sewing various hides together was also discovered to have emerged during this period.
This Era was marked by the life-changing invention – the Wheel.
And to be able to unearth this magical Neolithic Era in Burzahom is truly an honour. Otherwise, imagine life devoid of agriculture or tools or storage units? Imagine life today without the concept of wheel? If people in the Neolithic Age had not evolved to more advanced life and technologies, we would not have had most of what we do today.
On behalf of Archaeological Survey of India, T. N. Khazanchi and his associates conducted excavations at Burzahom in 6 phases between 1960 and 1971 though the first excavation at Burzahom was in 1929 AD under the British regime.
10 human skulls, pottery and many bones, stone and copper tools were excavated at this site. Red Ochre – a pigment derived from clay which contains minerals, was found to be smeared on the bodies before burials.
The Surgical practice of human trepanation was discovered on the Neolithic skull which states that during the Neolithic Age, even human surgery had emerged. However, the reasons for this kind of surgery where holes are drilled into human skulls are unknown. One theory purported by Basu and Pal is that trepanation was done in order for the circular skull-cutouts to be used as amulets or for a ritual or religious practice.
The excavations revealed that the Neolithic people made underground dwelling places. These were series of circular pits in the clay ground which were dugout by the sharp stone tools to a depth of about 3 metres. The pits are narrow at the opening and broad at the base. Holes were found around the pits where wooden poles were erected in order to support the roof above made of branches of trees. Grinding-stone and clay ovens were discovered in these pits. A pot filled with beads of semi-precious stones was also unearthed in one of these pits.
At this site of Burzahom, buried animals were also unearthed. Animal remains of wolves, ibex and antlered deer, dogs, horse, sheep and goats were found.
Another intriguing discovery at this site is that of an engraved rock on which a hunting scene was carved of two hunters hunting a deer with one long spear and one arrow under two shining suns in the sky. With this carving, it was revealed that though Agriculture had taken over this Era, hunting was still a part of the Neolithic life. And a theory around the two suns was that it was indicative of the duration of the hunt.
After the discovery and excavation of Burzahom, archaeologists and scientists explored the entire region of Kashmir and discovered similar such sites at Begagund, Gofkral, Hariparigom, Olchibag, Pampur, Panzgom, Sombur Waztal, and Brah.
This habitation at Burzahom came to an end in 1400 B. C.