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Harappan people ate multigrain “laddoos”, used them in rituals on the banks of River Saraswati, says new ASI study

An analysis by senior BSIP scientist Anjum Farooqui revealed that the "laddoos" were composed of barley, wheat, chickpea, and a few other oilseeds.

According to a new scientific study of material found at a Harappan site, 4MSR Bijnore, in Rajasthan, the Harappan people used to consume high-protein multigrain “laddoos” around 4,000 years ago. The study was jointly conducted by the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences (BSIP), Lucknow, and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), New Delhi, and published in the ‘Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports’ by Elsevier, a world-renowned publisher of science information. The study also points to these “laddoos” being a part of some sort of ritual on the banks of the now-extinct River Saraswati.

A scientist working for BSIP, Rajesh Agnihotri, said, “Seven similar big-size brown ‘laddoos’, two figurines of bulls and a hand-held copper adze (a tool similar to an axe, used for cutting or shaping wood) were excavated by the ASI at the Harappan site in Anupgarh district of Rajasthan.”

“These laddoos, dating back to around 2600 BCE, were found well preserved since a hard structure had fallen in such a manner that it acted as a roof over them and prevented them from getting crushed. Had they been broken, the ‘laddoos’ would have decayed entirely but since these were in contact with the mud, some of the internal organic matter and other green constituents remained protected.” the scientist added.

According to the scientist, the most peculiar aspect about the “laddoos” was the purple slurry it formed through coming in contact with water.

The “laddoo” samples were excavated by the ASI in 2017 and were given to the BSIP for scientific analysis. The BSIP scientist Rajesh Agnihotri explains further, “At first, we thought that these laddoos, excavated near the banks of Ghaggar (erstwhile Saraswati), had some connection with occult activities since figurines and adze were also found in close proximity. We were intrigued by their shape and size as they were clearly man-made. This curiosity led us to explore their composition. We initially presumed it could be a non-vegetarian food.”

However, an analysis by senior BSIP scientist Anjum Farooqui revealed that the “laddoos” were composed of barley, wheat, chickpea, and a few other oilseeds. “These laddoos had cereal and pulses, and moong dal dominated the ingredients,” added Anjum Farooqui. As the Harappans were agriculturists, the high-protein multigrain composition of these “laddoos” makes sense.

A team of consisting of nine scientists from both the BSIP and the ASI concluded that the presence of seven laddoos along with typical Harappan tools/items hinted that Harappan people made offerings, performed rituals and consumed multi-nutritive compact ‘laddoos’ as a food supplement for instant nutrition.

The scientist team further concludes that the presence of bull figurines, adze and a Harappan seal in the vicinity of these seven food balls signifies that humans revered all these items due to their utility and importance to them.

Use of the “laddoos” in rituals on the banks of the River Saraswati

The archaeological discovery of the “laddoos” in concert with figurines of bulls and copper adze gives rise to the suggestion that the Harappan people used these instruments for the purpose of performing rituals.

According to the Director (Excavations) of the ASI, Sanjay Mujul, these “laddoos” are a milestone discovery. “After the scientific study, we can say that this is the first evidence to show that Harappan people performed some rituals on the banks of river Saraswati (now extinct). Though the nature of the ritual is not clear, it could be akin to ‘pind daan’ (offering of homage and food to ancestors).”

“When we found the food balls at 4MSR Bijnor, it appeared to be a site where rituals were performed. We found terracotta bulls, painted pots, bones, and adze from there,” Manjul added.

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