Since the Neolithic Age
Excavations over the last century have unearthed (pardon the pun) quite a few details about the lives of the inhabitants of this region since the neolithic age. We don’t quite know what was happening here around that time, but we do know how they liked to bury their dead. What we now know as Hyderabad has probably been inhabited for 4,000 years.
Discovery of megalithic burial sites
Excavations starting in the late 19th century and continuing well into the 20th, led to the discovery of many cairn circles/megalithic burials across the Deccan. One man, Robert Bruce Foote, was responsible for over 50 of the earliest discoveries. Others such as Philips Meadows Taylor and Ghulam Yazdani were instrumental in the discovery and conservation of some of the sites closer to home. These include sites in Moula-Ali, Begumpet, Bowenpally and Kompally. Later finds in the city include those in Kothaguda, Hashmatpet and most recently, Gachibowli in 2004 and Hayatnagar in 2008. The sites in Hyderabad were eventually dated to the Iron Age (around 500 BC) and that set the city’s age to 2,500 years; but earthenware found at the Gachibowli site was later dated to 2000 and 1995 BC. The city suddenly became officially older by 1,500 years.
Representation of the burial site at Moula-Ali | Image Source: Hyderabad Cairns (Their Problems) by E.H. Hunt
The Burial Sites
Similar burial sites are scattered across the Deccan and share all the major characteristics. They are typically located on high ground, in this case, near granite outcrops where the soil is not fit for cultivation. These sites typically have stone circles, packed with rubble to a depth of 1-4 ft and are 18-20 ft across (the one in Mouli-Ali, though, is 42 ft in diameter) with the stones placed at equal distances. Under these circles were cists where marked earthen ware, iron tools, copper ornaments and beads of Lapis Lazuli, quartz and carnelian were buried along with the dead. This, of course, differed from site to site based on its age. The Mouli-Ali site, for e.g., contained quite a few examples of marked pottery and early metal work but the Gachibowli one, on the other hand, did not.
What do these burials tell us about the earliest known inhabitants of Hyderabad?
- They weren’t “Rakshasas”: Locals apparently believed that the graves belonged to Rakshasas and that the archaeologists would find 20 ft bones. That, unfortunately, did not happen. The bones belonged to the ordinary H. Sapien.
- They were settlers: They had settled areas of habitation and they farmed. They were skilled potters and the later inhabitants also enjoyed the occasional pottery painting/ marking their property/leaving warnings on earthenware. It must be mentioned that we don’t exactly know what they’re for.
Markings on the pottery | Image Source: Hyderabad Cairn Burials and their Significance (1924) by E.H. Hunt
- They worked with metal: Later inhabitants (500 BC-ish) were reasonably skilled with metal work – iron and copper, mostly.
- They knew their stars: Evidence from the Gachibowli site apparently suggests the use of astronomical observations to plan the orientation and structure of these burials. This is not as far-fetched as it seems. In 2006, a 2,500 year old etching of Ursa Major was found in Mahabubnagar. Go here (pdf) for analysis on the significance of astronomy in the arrangement of other megalithic burials in Mahabubnagar.
- They believed in The Afterlife: The cists were equipped with everything they thought was important enough to carry to the Other World. Breakfast included.