NEW DELHI: For about 600 years, Mleiha was the political centre of southeast Arabia before it was abandoned in the 3rd century CE. For decades, emergence of the tropical cotton plant in the arid Arabian peninsula has been a
have tried to answer. Oman, they had concluded, was the source of the ancient Arab cotton trade. But now, scientists from the Museum of Natural History in Paris have found that the earliest cotton in the Arab region came from
“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 wellestablished by early 1st millennium CE,” lead scientist Dr Saskia Ryan told TOI.
While their findings do not push back dates for the earliest known Indo-Arabian trade, which goes back to the 3rd millennium BCE, it shows that the exchange was much wider than earlier thought and how a plant of tropical origin appeared in the arid Arabian peninsula. The latter was the question with which they had started out.
The paper, published in Nature journal ‘Scientific Reports’, said a Greek handbook for merchants compiled by an Alexandrian sailor in the 1st century CE identified Ozênê (Madhya Pradesh), Masalia (Andhra Pradesh) and Abêria (Between Barygaza and Ozênê) as places where cotton was produced.
Just around that time, there was a proliferation of cotton in West Asia. But while archaeological evidence like peppercorns from
and Asian rice from western India at the burnt down building indicated trade with India, the fortress also had Egyptian amphorae, glass vessels and Nubian lamps. So, the cotton remains could have been from other places like Mesopotamia or
The irony, however, is that a fire that ravaged one of the most important buildings of Mleiha is also what preserved it for posterity. It’s a mud brick building with 15 rooms around a central courtyard with signs of a life hastily abandoned in forgotten objects and prized possessions carelessly thrown around, and, the evidence of the ancient Indian trade route, cotton — specifically, 31 whole seeds, 79 fragments and 7 raw fibre clusters.
When the scientists analysed the cotton at Mleiha, they found that it matched the range in mainland Gujarat and
. And so, the authors of the paper concluded that unlike wheat, barley and other modern plants, cotton was not from anywhere close but “most likely came from vast distances away, likely western Indian provinces”.