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Early rice agriculture in South Asia. Identifying cultivation systems using archaeobotany

Kingwell-Banham, EJ; (2015) Early rice agriculture in South Asia. Identifying cultivation systems using archaeobotany. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

South Asia saw the cultivation of rice perhaps as early as c.6500 BC. Domestic rice agriculture had spread across the Indian subcontinent by c.1500 BC, and to Sri Lanka by c.500 BC. The initial spread of rice outside the core zone of the central Gangetic Plains is thought to have been limited by climatic constraints, particularly seasonal rainfall levels. The later spread of rice into the dry regions of South India and Sri Lanka is largely supposed to have relied on irrigation, which would have contributed significantly to global methane levels. The identification of early irrigation within the South Asian archaeological record has largely focused on dating irrigation structures such as tank walls and damns. The results support historical texts and places the initial phase of damn and tank construction in Central and South India at around 600-200 BC and link it to the desire of rulers of early states to gain fame as beneficent kings by improving agricultural yields. However, no investigations into the establishment of irrigated agriculture have been conducted using archaeobotanic data. This project looks at macrobotanical and phytolith evidence from six early rice producing sites from across South Asia: Tokwa, Golbai Sasan, Gopalpur, Perur, Kodumanal and Mantai. Traditional analysis of the weed flora and correspondence analysis of the phytolith data has allowed the rice field systems of each of these sites to be recreated and placed within the wider South Asia context. This shows that, contrary to accepted narratives, rice agriculture in South India was not supported by irrigated paddy fields but may have relied on seasonal rainfall as elsewhere in the subcontinent. Equally, the evidence from Sri Lanka does not support irrigated paddy field cultivation but rather rainfed cultivation, perhaps supplemented by irrigation. This project was funded by NERC as part of the Early Rice Project (www.ucl.ac.uk/rice).

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Early rice agriculture in South Asia. Identifying cultivation systems using archaeobotany
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: Archaeology, South Asia, Archaeobotany
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1470410
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