Gandhara grave culture

Geography of the Rigveda, with river names; the extent of the Swat and Cemetery H cultures are indicated.
Archaeological cultures associated with Indo-Iranian migrations (after EIEC). The Andronovo, BMAC and Yaz cultures have often been associated with Indo-Iranian migrations. The GGC (Swat), Cemetery H, Copper Hoard and PGW cultures are candidates for cultures associated with Indo-Aryan migrations.

The Gandhara grave culture, also called Swat culture, emerged c. 1600 BC, and flourished c. 1500 BC to 500 BC in Gandhara, which lies in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has been regarded as a token of the Indo-Aryan migrations, but has also been explained by local cultural continuity.

Location and characteristics[edit]

Relevant finds, artifacts found primarily in graves, were distributed along the banks of the Swat and Dir rivers in the north, Taxila in the southeast, along the Gomal River to the south. Simply made terracotta figurines were buried with the pottery, and other items are decorated with simple dot designs. Horse remains were found in at least one burial.


The Gandhara grave culture may be an artifact of the Indo-Aryan migrations, but it may also be explained by regional cultural continuity.

Indo-Aryan migrations[edit]

The polished black-gray pottery of Gandhara grave culture during the Ghalegay IV period, considered to run from 1700-1400 BCE, has been associated with that of other BMAC sites like Dashly in Afghanistan, Tepe Hissar and Tureng Teppe. According to Asko Parpola, the presence of black-red pottery also suggests links with Cemetery H culture in Punjab. The burial of bodies, the metal pins used got fastening clothes and the terracotta statuettes of females, says Parpola, are similar to those found to the BMAC. The graves during the Ghalegay V period, considered to run from 1400-1000 BCE, are connected with those in Vakhsh and Beshkent Valley. Parpola adds that these graves represent a mix of the practices found in northern Bactrian portion of BMAC during the period of 1700-1400 BCE and the Fedorovo Andronovo culture.[1]

According to Upinder Singh, the Gandhara grave culture is similar to the one in the Ghalegay caves during their V, VI and VII phases.[2] Rajesh Kochhar says it may be associated with early Indo-Aryan speakers as well as the Indo-Aryan migration into the Indian Subcontinent,[3] which came from the Bactria–Margiana region. According to Kochhar, the Indo-Aryan culture fused with indigenous elements of the remnants of the Indus Valley Civilization (OCP, Cemetery H) and gave rise to the Vedic Civilization.[3]

Cultural continuity[edit]

Asko Parpola argues that the Gandhara grave culture is "by no means identical with the Bronze Age Culture of Bactria and Margiana".[4] According to Tusa, the Gandhara grave culture and its new contributions are "in line with the cultural traditions of the previous period".[5] According to Parpola, in the centuries preceding the Gandhara culture, during the Early Harappan period (roughly 3200–2600 BCE), similarities in pottery, seals, figurines, ornaments etc. document intensive caravan trade between the Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia and the Iranian plateau.[6] Tusa remarks that

... to attribute a historical value to [...] the slender links with northwestern Iran and northern Afghanistan [...] is a mistake[, since] it could well be the spread of particular objects and, as such, objects that could circulate more easily quite apart from any real contacts.[5]

Cremation urn

According to Kennedy, who argues for a local cultural continuity, the Gandhara grave culture people shared biological affinities with the population of Neolithic Mehrgarh. This suggests a "biological continuum" between the ancient populations of Timargarha and Mehrgarh.[7] This is contested by Elena E. Kuz'mina, who notes remains that are similar to some from Central Asian populations.[8]

Antonini,[9] Stacul and other scholars argue that this culture is also not related to the Bishkent culture and Vakhsh culture of Tajikistan.[10] However, E. Kuz'mina argues the opposite on the basis of both archaeology and the human remains from the separate cultures.[11]


Narasimhan et al. 2018 analyzed DNA of 362 ancient skeletons from Central and South Asia, including those from the Iron Age grave sites discovered in the Swat valley of Pakistan (between 1200 BCE and 1 CE from Aligrama, Barikot, Butkara, Katelai, Loe Banr, and Udegram). According to them, "there is no evidence that the main BMAC population contributed genetically to later South Asians", and that "Indus Periphery-related people are the single most important source of ancestry" in Indus Valley Civilization and South Asia. They further state that the Swat valley grave DNA analysis provides further evidence of "connections between [Central Asian] Steppe population and early Vedic culture in India".[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Asko Parpola, p. 80-1, The Roots of Hinduism: The Early Aryans and the Indus Civilization
  2. ^ Upinder Singh, p. 212, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century
  3. ^ a b Kochhar 2000, pp. 185-186.
  4. ^ Parpola 1993, p. 54.
  5. ^ a b Tusa 1977, p. 690-692.
  6. ^ Asko Parpola, Study of the Indus Script, May 2005 p. 2f.
  7. ^ Kenneth A.R. Kennedy. 2000, God-Apes and Fossil Men: Palaeoanthropology of South Asia Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 339.
  8. ^ "The origin of the Indo-iranians, volume 3" Elena E. Kuz'mina p. 318
  9. ^ Antonini 1973.
  10. ^ Bryant 2001.
  11. ^ E. Kuz'mina, "The origin of the Indo-Iranians, volume 3" (2007)
  12. ^ Narasimhan, Vagheesh M.; Patterson, Nick J.; Moorjani, Priya; Lazaridis, Iosif; Mark, Lipson; Mallick, Swapan; Rohland, Nadin; Bernardos, Rebecca; Kim, Alexander M. (31 March 2018). "The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia". bioRxiv: 292581. doi:10.1101/292581.


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