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0058 Innermost Asia : vol.1
Innermost Asia : vol.1 / Page 58 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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Abandonment of former cultivation.

Possibility of extended irrigation.

Deceptive evidence regarding ' desiccation '.


Chindrs and fruit trees in the orchards ensconcing the ruined fort immediately below us was very impressive.

Fortunately I could turn to Captain Daukes for competent local information, and the explanation received from him was as simple as it was conclusive. Until 1893, when Childs territory

passed under the protection of the Pax Britannica after the fighting previously referred to,

practically the whole of its population had been obliged to keep their permanent homesteads within or close to their central settlement, the village of Childs proper, for the sake of safety from internal

or external attack. All the land capable of irrigation in the immediate vicinity was kept under a cultivation as intensive as conditions would permit. But since British occupation had rendered life in scattered small settlements secure, the Childsis had been attracted more and more to life in the higher portions of the side valleys, where cultivation before had been spasmodic or altogether neglected. The Childsis were described to me as having a great and innate dread of the heat that prevails for a great part of the year under the high barren mountains confining the Indus valley, and likewise of its periodical plague of mosquitoes. Thus this permanent removal to what land was available for cultivation in the higher valleys becomes intelligible enough.

Those owning land round Childs fort neither needed nor desired to cultivate it any longer, though their old rights to it are being maintained. Even when a re-allotment of these lands, carried out in 1912 under the direction of the Assistant Political Agent, had facilitated agricultural work by giving each owner a compact plot, cultivation was resumed only on small patches and entirely by the labour of indigent tenants. These alone, at the time of my visit, composed the scanty population of the village. It was fully in accord with this changed condition of things that the volume of water now carried by the canal from the Buto-gdh stream was far short of the supply that could be made available if the walls, &c., supporting the channel were strengthened. There was direct evidence of the possibility of greatly extended cultivation in the abundant volume of water I saw running to waste in the stream bed. Nor could there be any doubt about the existence of sufficient arable ground on which to use it. To the west of the area below the fort marked by abandoned terraces there stretches a wide glacis-like peneplain close on three miles long from east to west, judging from the map. This, according to tradition, was cultivated in old times and evidently could again be brought under irrigation from the Buto-gdh stream without any engineering feat beyond the reach of local resources.

I have thought it useful to record these facts in some detail ; for they throw an instructive light on questions of desiccation' so prominent in connexion with the physical conditions of Central Asia during historical times. Let us assume that in the course of the next thousand years the volume of water received from the high mountains by the Buto-gdh and other Childs streams was greatly reduced through some climatic or other change. It would then be only natural for any future investigator of the geography of the Hindukush region to point to the large abandoned cultivation terraces of Childs—supposing that they had for some reason never been reoccupied and that their traces still survived—as conclusive proof of a desiccation' that had taken place within a definite historical period. He would next set out to find chronological indications of this period and would, let us suppose, succeed in securing them in the shape of coin finds reaching down to the latter half of the nineteenth century. He would naturally be tempted to ascribe the abandonment of this big ` site ' directly to the cause of ` desiccation ' and to treat the archaeological fact of the coin finds as a proof of the exact period when that phase of ` desiccation ' set in. Yet such a conclusion would evidently be fallacious. The abandonment of those cultivation terraces was, as we happen to know from contemporary evidence, entirely the result of the extension of the Pax Britannica, a human factor in no way connected with climatic change. The ` desiccation '