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Dr Cameron Petrie awarded British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship

Trinity Fellow, Dr Cameron Petrie, has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship. The award recognises outstanding academics who are excellent communicators and champions of their field.

For the past 10 years Dr Petrie, who is Reader in South Asian and Iranian Archaeology at Cambridge, has been exploring how South Asians lived in north-west India between 2000 and 300 BC under the auspices of the Land, Water and Settlement project. This innovative initiative involved archaeologists and geographers from the UK and India who investigated the rise and fall of civilisations around the Indus and Ganges rivers.

As well as enabling him to publish collaborative research from the project, Dr Petrie and colleagues from Banaras Hindu University are planning public lectures in India and Pakistan. Dr Petrie will speak at the Festival of Science in Cambridge on 23 October 2017.

Local visitors inspect the excavation of ancient Indus buildings – now in the grounds of a school – in Khanak, Haryana. Photo: Cameron Petrie

The groundbreaking research from Land, Water and Settlement provides evidence that climate change impacted the Indus region and may have played a role in the decline of cities of the Bronze Age Indus civilisation. Traditionally, environmental changes were assumed to have played a pivotal role in this process, but now has it been possible, using the different tools and approaches of geographers and archaeologists, to dig up the evidence and analyse the data to prove it.

Dr Petrie said:

We have demonstrated that the Indus region was extremely variable in terms of climate and ecology. This suggests that the Indus populations made various choices that enabled them to adapt to this diverse landscape, particularly in terms of growing crops, but also cultural behaviour.

We have direct radiocarbon dates for the use of rice and a range of other summer cereals and pulses, which demonstrate that Indus populations had a much more varied diet than previously known, which was comprised of crops selected to grow in a diversity of environments.

Understanding how and why ancient societies adapted to environmental threats resonates with today’s debates about how to respond to climate change. ‘The project gives us an ideal opportunity to learn from past examples of success and failure in the face of a variable and changing climate,’ Dr Petrie said. 

Land, Water and Settlement was funded primarily by the British Council’s UK India Education and Research Initiative, and also received support from the Isaac Newton Trust, the British Academy, the Natural Environment Research Council, and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

From it has emerged another project, Two Rains, which delves deeper into human responses to environmental challenges in a unique region where winter and monsoon rains overlapped. Funded by the European Research Council, Two Rains is investigating the resilience and sustainability of the Indus Civilisation, 3000-1500 BC.

Dr Petrie explained:

We are investigating the question of whether climate change causes collapse. To do this we are using a variety of different types of evidence including remote satellite imagery, rainfall weather modelling, palaeoclimate reconstruction. We are also doing detailed archaeological surveys in India, looking for evidence of what people ate and how they ate it, as well as the types of material they made and used in their daily lives.

We hope that by looking at the different sorts of evidence and integrating that we can build up a holistic picture of how people were adapted to their environment and how they modified their behaviour if the environment changed.


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