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The Indus Silk

Even though China formally started exporting it only after 119 BCE, silk, dated to much earlier period, has been found in Germany, Egypt, Mediterranean, and Central Asia. This silk, it was explained, came through contact with the Chinese. Now there is a new explanation: sericulture was known to other civilizations and a new paper reveals that the Indus people definitely knew about it.

The new evidence which comes from Harappa and Chanhu-daro show silk threads almost a millennium earlier than previously believed; the earliest find for silk in India was a thread found in Nevasa (1500 BCE). Now three silk fragments, which came from wild silk moth species, dated to the mature Harappan period (2600 – 1700 BCE) show that wild silk was used not just in China.

Previously it was believed that silk and the associated technologies — removing gum from silk and collecting silk strands on to a bobbin — were known only to the Chinese, but now we know that the Indus people too knew about it around the same time. The Chinese knew about silk weaving from 1600 BCE and had silk textiles a millennium back; the Indus discoveries are only few fragments used to connect copper-alloy bangles.

So for all the years of Mature Harappan, we have only three strands of silk. Does this mean that silk was not so important there or that it was not preserved well in the region or that the archaeologists were not trained to look for it specifically.? This finding, hopefully, is the beginning of new discoveries which will answer all those questions.

Reference: New Evidence for Silk in the Indus Valley

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6 Responses to The Indus Silk

  1. Vinod Khare February 25, 2009 at 1:35 am #

    Was there any contact between the Harappans and the Chinese at that time or later? Was the art of silk rearing developed independently or was it connected?

  2. jk February 25, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    Vinod,

    This sample is based on two silk moth species which are local to South Asia and do not seem have been domesticated in China. So it is a parallel development.

  3. froginthewell February 25, 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    Moreover, isn’t the existence of civilization in China at that time far from established?

  4. Raman February 27, 2009 at 11:54 am #

    Where is this Nevasa? In ancient China?

    • jk March 1, 2009 at 8:08 pm #

      Raman, a simple google search will tell you where Nevasa is.

  5. Trust in India March 1, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    It feels great to know that Indians also knew about the silk technology as well as Chinese people and at about the same time. The article makes an interesting read no doubt…

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