The Bellary District Archaeological

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Geoarchaeology of Ashmounds

Another key aim of the project is to apply the geoarchaeological technique of soil micromorphology to the analysis of ashmounds in the Bellary district, in order to shed light on the processes that led to their formation.  Beyond verification that the ashmounds are indeed composed almost exclusively of burnt cow dung, little advance has been made in understanding their formation.  Three separate ashmounds were therefore selected for detailed examination in the first season (Kupgal, Kudatini and Toranagallu).  This involved the scraping of fresh sections and the recording of ashmound stratigraphy in unprecedented detail.  Intact block samples were subsequently carved out from selected layers or layer sequences
(see photo at right), and carefully wrapped.  The samples have been shipped to the University of Cambridge, where they await processing into 'mammoth' thin sections, and analysis using soil micromorphological techniques.

Kupgal ashmound
Kupgal ashmound has been partially destroyed
by the quarrying activities of local villagers

Another feature of the ashmound investigation was the creation of a small ashmound through experimental burning of cowdung.  This experimentation allowed us to consider the processes of ashmound formation, and to record and investigate the physical outcome of specific dung burning and trampling practices.  Two trials were conducted.  In the first, we attempted to set on fire a large pile containing several cartloads of dung purchased from a local farmer who had gathered the material to apply to his fields.  This trial was unsuccessful, however, since due to the inclusion of soil and cultural material (i.e. rubbish) within the manure, the dung mound would not ignite.  A second trial was thus initiated, using pure, dried dung collected from surrounding fields.  In this trial, ignition was successful, and the dung was converted to ash.  The ash was subsequently trampled, and then a new load of dung was added and burnt.  This sequence of dung collection, piling, burning, cooling and trampling was carried out three times, and the mound was then sectioned, drawn and sampled.  The findings of this experiment will be discussed with reference to the Neolithic ashmounds in a future paper.

micromorphology sampling
  Extracting intact sample of Kupgal
ashmound for micromorphological analyis

The geoarchaeological element of the Bellary district project was given high priority when it was realised that ashmounds are currently being destroyed at a very rapid rate in south India (Protection of sites and monuments).  Their recording and analysis are thus urgently required.  Soil micromorphological thin sections from ashmounds, which allow microscopic analysis of ashmound components in their original stratigraphic context, will provide an important record and on-going resource after ashmound destruction.  Two of the three ashmounds (Kupgal and Toranagallu) investigated will likely be fully destroyed within the next five years (see photo at right).  Kudatini, despite being probably the largest ashmound in the southern Deccan, is also being slowly destroyed due to activities by the Public Works department.

Experimental dung burning
Experimental burning of cattle dung