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Studying On A Staple Fibre…

Well, it is about a soft, fluffy stable fibre, which is pure cellulose, growing in plants of the genus Gossypium… the plant itself being a shrub native to tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world, including the places in the Americas and Africa. The greatest diversity in their wild species is found in Mexico, followed by Australia and Africa. These have been independently domesticated both in the Old and New Worlds, and their extensive use in Human Civilisation is seen from ancient times, especially in Egypt and India. Its bane has reportedly been derived from the Arabic word Qutn.

Long ago, the climate in West Asia prompted archaeologists to find how the tropical cotton plant had arrived in the arid Arabian Peninsula. Initially, they thought that Oman was the centre of the ancient Arab cotton trade. They also claimed that Mleiha was the political centre of southeast Arabia for at least six centuries, before it was abandoned in the 3rd Century CE. However, scientists from the Museum of Natural History in Paris recently found that the earliest cotton had arrived in the Arab region from northwest India!

Lead Scientist Dr Saskia Ryan has said: “This, along with archaeological and textual evidence of developed cotton production centres in Indo-Pakistani regions show that long-distance sea-borne trade between the Oman Peninsula and western India was well established by early 1st millennium CE.

While it has been established that India had close economic ties with the Arabian Peninsula, especially the Gulf region along its eastern shores. The first historically recorded maritime trade route in the world was, in fact, between the Indus Valley Civilisation and the Civilisation of Dilmun, located on the Island of Bahrain and the adjacent shore of Saudi Arabia. By 2000 BCE, Dilmun – reportedly – acquired a monopoly on trade between the Indian Subcontinent and the Civilisations of Mesopotamia. Records and historical artefacts also demonstrate that traders from Dilmun stayed for extended periods in South Asia and vice versa. Goods not available in the Middle East, including cotton and spices, were acquired by merchants from Dilmun.

Earlier, Scientists were of the opinion that the Indo-Arabian Trade was established in 3rd Millennium BCE. However, the latest study shows that the bilateral trade ties were much older than earlier thought. Now, the scientists are trying to explain how a plant of tropical origin appeared in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Study, published in Scientific Reports nature journal, has stated that a Greek handbook for merchants, prepared by an Alexandrian sailor in the 1st Century CE, clearly mentioned that cotton was produced in Ozênê (the central Indian Province of Madhya Pradesh), Masalia (the southern Indian Province of Andhra Pradesh) and Abêria (between Barygaza and Ozênê). From the handbook, the researchers came to know that there was a proliferation of cotton in West Asia at that period of time. Later, they collected archaeological evidences to reach a final conclusion in this regard. According to Dr Ryan, peppercorns from southern Indian Province of Kerala and Asian rice from western part of India at the burnt down building hinted trade with India. In fact, the Indian fortress also had Egyptian amphorae, glass vessels and Nubian lamps. So, there may be a possibility that the cotton remains could have been from Mesopotamia or Egypt or other places.

It has further been stated that later on trade between India and the Arabian Peninsula was mostly dominated by Arab traders from Yemen and Oman. In Roman times, Yemen was the conduit for some highly valued types of incense, both natively sourced and traded from India. At the same time, Oman was dominating the Indian Ocean trade between India, the Middle East and East Africa, and by the end of the 1st Millennium CE, trade between India and Arabia became the Economic Backbone of the Arabian Peninsula.

Interestingly, a fire that ravaged one of the most important buildings of Mleiha also preserved many historical evidences for the researchers. They found ancient Indian cotton, especially 31 whole seeds, 79 fragments and seven raw fibre clusters, in a destroyed building made of mud bricks, having 15 rooms and a central courtyard. There, signs of a life were hastily abandoned in forgotten objects and prized possessions carelessly thrown around.

After analysing the cotton at Mleiha, scientists found that it matched the range in mainland Gujarat, the western Indian Province, and Kachchh. Hence, the researchers concluded that cotton, unlike wheat, barley and other modern plants, was not from anywhere close but “most likely came from vast distances away, likely western Indian provinces”.

Dr Ryan explained that human beings used to cultivate two kinds of cotton, a variety from the Indian Subcontinent and another from the African Continent, in the Old World, a pre-American conception of Africa, Asia and Europe. The Lead Scientist claimed that the Indian variety, called Gossypium Arboreum, was produced in north-western part of India between the 6th and 4th Millennium BCE. Later in the 3rd Millennium BCE, it spread in the southern part of the country. “Plants and crops have Strontium Isotope values (ratio of strontium isotopes, or variants of the element) that reflect the region in which they grew. These values are recorded in plant tissues and can be preserved over millennia under the right conditions,” stressed Dr Ryan. He further said: “If a plant (such as cotton seeds) or its products (such as cotton fabrics) were traded in the ancient past from their original place of origin to an isotopically distinct location, measurement of their strontium isotope values can reveal that the material was not grown in the local area where they have been uncovered.

Talking to the Indian media, Dr Ryan stated: “Cotton seeds and, to a lesser extent, cotton fibres are generally only found in charred form in archaeological contexts. They withstand burial for thousands of years because exposure to heat results in a chemical reaction that transforms the material into a more robust structure that is resistant to biological breakdown over time.

Saudi King with Indian PM

One can hope that the new discovery would help strengthen India’s ties with West Asia amidst the situation that is currently prevailing.

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