Archaeologists from Cambridge University and scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) have teamed up to discover the archaeological heritage of agriculture in Telangana and Punjab.
The study is part of a larger project (TIGR2ESS) Transforming India’s Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable Food Supplies. “We are looking at the archaeological and historical evidence over a 5000-year period to understand water use in the region and diversity of crops and cropping patterns,” informs Cameron A. Petrie of Cambridge University.
“We have discovered that the tank irrigation system predates the Kakatiya rule. Prior to the Kakatiyas, tanks were built by elites and kings in the region. The Kakatiyas just scaled up the enterprise,” says Adam Green, another researcher for the project, who uses historical cartography and GIS information for the research.
The study is an important facet of food security as mono-cropping of water intensive crops like wheat and rice are being blamed for extreme water depletion in most parts of India. “The research will help us understand aspects of the archaeological and agronomy evidence over the historical period to a more modern period. Wheat, barley, millets and pulses were cultivated earlier but now there is a reduction in crop diversity,” says Mr. Petrie.
The researchers discovered that the control and management of tanks was left to the community though the water bodies were commissioned by the rulers. “We have noticed a huge reduction in the number of tanks and water bodies over the past 100 years. We are trying to find maps and archaeological evidence to find out the location of those water bodies. Late 19th century maps have information about including maximum tank size and minimum tank size,” says Mr. Green. “We are trying to create a systematic map of all the tanks, different types, sizes, chronology and locations. We want to put a number to how many tanks might have been lost. We want to understand the scope of rejuvenation of these tanks which is the goal of Mission Kakatiya,” he adds.
The researchers are also trying to understand impact of soil scooped from the tank beds and used as topsoil in agricultural fields as part of Mission Kakatiya. “Though we are getting reports about positive impact on agricultural output, we are carrying out soil or silt analysis to find a scientific explanation for rise in productivity,” say the researchers at ICRISAT.