Investigating Possible Links Between Holocene Environmental Changes and Cultural Transitions Across India

Parth Chauhan & Diptimayee Behera

1Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Mohali, India

From about 10 Ka the Indian subcontinent witnessed the development of later Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and their subsequent regional transitions to pastoralist (Neolithic) and agricultural (Chalcolithic) lifeways. Detailed evidence of Holocene environmental change indicates that these transitions in human economic and social behaviour occurred during periods of pronounced climatic fluctuation, with many cooling periods recognised, occurring at ~1500±500 year intervals. These climatic shifts appear to be linked to surface ocean circulations in the subpolar and subtropical regions. In order to further understand Early Holocene climatic variations across the Indian Subcontinent, this project divided the region into six major geographical zones (Himalayan region, the Thar Desert region, the Indo-Gangetic plains, central India, eastern and northeastern regions, and peninsular India) and analysed available paleoclimatic records. We broadly correlate general monsoon patterns throughout the Holocene period of India with regional cultural dynamics. The results indicate that changing climatic patterns, including the development of a geographically variable monsoon directly impacted these various cultures, including the Harappans and their contemporaries throughout the Holocene, as well as younger Historical and Medieval empires across India, to varying degrees. The temporal variation of human habitation and respective adaptive responses suggest broad linkages to the varying climatic and physiographic features at a regional scale. In some regions, environmental changes led to uneven cultural transitions, geographic migrations, and the development of regionally-distinct material cultures, once sedentary lifeways became established. Learning how communities responded to climate change in the past helps us better understand the impacts of the current climate crisis, and how lessons learned can be implemented in the present, as well as the future.