The entire village is involved in one or other aspect of the excavation, which began in 2009. By T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

IT is obvious they have a flair for drawing—be it the young tenth-standard passed Gayatri Patel or the middle-aged housewife Hemlatha Vaghela. In a big, airy tent they are seated opposite a drawing board and around them are stacked up hundreds of potsherds, including beautifully painted ware with wavy lines, chess-board designs, floral designs and occasional animal motifs. The geometric designs consist of crosses, spirals, loops, arches and broad bands. Gayatri casually picks up a potsherd painted with wavy lines, positions it on the drawing board and draws the outline of the potsherd. As she reproduces the wavy lines on the potsherd, N.B. Soni, Senior Draftsman, excavation branch, Vadodara, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), is pleased. For the genial Soni loves training people in the art of drawing. He has also trained Hemlatha Vaghela, who also sketches potsherds with an expert’s ease. Hemlatha’s husband, too, is pretty good at drawing sketches of excavated pottery. He was trained by Soni but he is not involved in sketching the potsherds this year.

“They [the villagers] have a natural talent for drawing. Soniji has single-handedly trained all of them,” says Jitendra Nath, Superintending Archaeologist, excavation branch, Vadodara, ASI. Four years of excavation at Khirsara in western Kutch have thrown up thousands of potsherds of different types of ceramics such as red ware, black and red ware, red slip ware, buff ware, chocolate-coloured slip ware, coarse red ware and so on. The artefacts themselves are pots, jars, basins, dishes, goblets, incense burners, bowls, tableware, and so on. After the local people engaged in sketching the potsherds or full-sized artefacts complete the drawings, Soni verifies them for accuracy. “Whether they are plan drawings, elevation drawings or sketches of pottery, they have to be checked and approved. Every evening, Soniji checks the drawings made,” says Jitendra Nath.

Khirsara village is small but looks prosperous with many cement-concrete single or double-storeyed houses that have spacious rooms with piped water supply and toilets. The landscape around the excavation site is barren and dreary, but where the land is cultivable, farmers have raised castor seeds and millets. Women dress in colourful clothes and their jewellery is ethnic but outsized, be it the superbly crafted necklaces, nose studs or earrings.

The entire village is involved in the excavation. The digging is done every season from December to May. The excavation in the current season began on December 6, 2012, and may extend up to June 15. The Frontline team was there on April 18, 19 and 20, when the temperature hovered around 39 °C. The people leave for the site, about 500 metres from the village proper, around 7 a.m. and start work even at 7-30 a.m. At noon they return to the village and resume work at around 4-30 p.m. and go on until 8 p.m. Since it is summer, there is enough light even at 7-30 p.m. to take pictures.

The villagers are involved in a variety of jobs—carefully digging the trenches, brushing the unearthed artefacts, unravelling the fortifications around the citadel, the industrial complex and the potters’ kiln, making drawings of potsherds, sorting out the plain ware from the painted ware, marking them with numbers, and so on.

Some distance away from the excavation site is a spacious open ground, where inside a tent Gayatri Patel and Hemlatha Vaghela are engaged in making sketches of potsherds. At a tap nearby, three tribal women were cleaning potsherds and sorting them out with practised ease. Another group of women, seated under a tree, was marking the pottery with coded letters, KRSR-T-35 (standing for Khirsara and the trench number). Their handwriting was superb. One of the women making the markings was Jayaben Patel, sarpanch of the village and Gayatri’s mother.

The Khari (meaning bitter or salty in Gujarati) river, which flows near the Harappan settlement, is a lesson in geology. A thin scrub jungle fills its banks, making them uninhabitable. There is an empty vastness around the river, in which water flows only during the rainy season. The riverbed is hard in places. Bipin Negi, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, pointed to marine fossils embedded in the river bed. They look beautiful with serrated ridges on them. “During the geological time period when the sea level was high, the Rann [of Kutch] or the sea must have extended up to this area. When some tectonic movement took place, the Rann or the sea must have receded and the marine organisms were fossilised,” Jitendra Nath said. Negi chipped in, “It means the Khari river must have existed prior to the Harappan civilisation.” That is, more than 4,600 years ago.