Copper Hoard Culture
Broadly dated to the second millennium BCE, during the Chalcolithic Period, the Copper Hoard Culture is a cultural sequence named after copper implements discovered across northern and central India. The range of the discoveries extends predominantly over the Upper and Lower Gangetic Valley and the Chota Nagpur plateau, covering the modern Indian states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Rajasthan. In comparison, fewer discoveries have been made in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
The culture was first described in 1822, following the discovery of a harpoon in Kanpur district, Uttar Pradesh. Since then, nearly 1500 objects have been identified as part of the culture and recovered as hoards. These objects include harpoons, various types of celts — a tool with a chisel-shaped edge — antennae swords, axes, ingots as well as anthropomorphic figures. Rather than being discovered during formalised archeological expeditions, most of these objects were accidental discoveries that took place during agricultural work, and a few objects were also retrieved from scrap metal markets.
Scholars have identified variations in typology across areas where the hoard artefacts were discovered. For instance, flat, shouldered and bar celts and axes were the dominant artefacts in Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar, whereas in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, antennae swords, anthropomorphic figures and harpoons were predominant, in addition to celts and axes. The artefacts commonly found in Rajasthan were bar celts.
The anthropomorphic figures are considered the most significant artefacts of Copper Hoard Culture. The objects vary between 25 and 45 cm in length and 30 to 44 cm in breadth, with some weighing up to 5 kg. While there is a diversity of form and size among the figures, most figures featured a head, two arms curved inwards and two outstretched legs. The largest hoard of such figures, numbered thirty-one, was found in Madarpur, Uttar Pradesh, where they were discovered stacked in situ. The purpose of these figures is debated. Some scholars have suggested that they may have been hunting implements, complementing hoard objects such as harpoons and swords. However, the weight of the figures as well as their unstandardised form is likely to have made them inefficient for hunting. Alternately, other scholars suggest a ritual or religious purpose for these figures, citing similarly shaped objects currently used in northern India in the worship of the Hindu god Shani. A similarly dedicatory or ritualistic function has been ascribed to other Copper Hoard objects, such as harpoons and axes, based on their size, use-wear and utility.
The dating of Copper Hoard objects and the identity of the people who made them are also widely debated. Most of the discovered hoard objects were found without stratigraphic contexts, making it difficult to date them. At the Saipai site in Uttar Pradesh, copper implements were found at the Ochre Coloured Pottery Culture level, but there is little other stratigraphic evidence to suggest how the two cultures are linked. Several copper implements, including antennae swords and copper sheets, have been found during excavations at the burial site of Sinauli in Uttar Pradesh, which is dated to between 2200 and 1800 BCE. Archeologists conducting the excavations have linked the Sinauli site to the Ochre Coloured Pottery Culture and the Copper Hoard Culture, suggesting a commonality between the two cultures. However, the Copper Hoard Culture is also believed to be contemporary with the Ochre Coloured Pottery Culture, although they may not be culturally linked.
The makers of the artefacts are believed to be either Indo-Aryan migrants or people of the Indus Valley Civilisation who may have migrated eastwards during the Late Harappan Phase. Another theory suggests that the artefacts were made by Proto-Australoid peoples of the eastern region of the Upper Gangetic Valley. The valley was known as a copper manufacturing area between the third and second millennia BCE, but it is unclear if the Copper Hoard Culture was an associated culture or an independent centre.
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