Recent Past Human Habitation in Sunderbans

Gautam Kumar Das

An incident of excavation of a pond and found of ancient clay pots and mangrove tree trunk-peat at the village of Debnagar under Namkhana police station in Sunderbans strikes me towards rethinking of human habitation in the recent past. The house hold used clay pots are found at the depth of 230 – 240 cm from the land surface i.e. below modern land level. These clay pots and mangrove tree trunks act as the evidences for computation of years of their occurrences which ultimately tell of the existence of human habitation in the recent past in Sunderbans. The occurrence of such clay-pots and mangrove tree trunks at such depth and their sinking are due to long-term tectonic subsidence at the rate of 4.1 mm/yr, sediment compaction, accumulation at the rate of 2 – 4 mm/yr inclusive decay of the peat and eustatic sea-level rise at the rate of 3 mm/yr (excluding extraction of ground water through deep tube well) as reported by Till Hanebuth. Till J. J. Hanebuth takes initiatives for experiments on the process of coastal subsidence, sea-level rise etc in the Sunderbans and interprets that the human habitation existed about 300 years back in the Sunderbans. Hanebuth, a geologist, reported after thorough experimentation through the uses of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and radio carbon dating (14C) techniques upon the samples collected from the submerged kiln-wall last fired and mangrove trunk exposed at riverside of the Sunderbans. Samples of the kiln-wall including charcoal remained inside it are collected from the place of erosion continuing for last 50 years of river flood plains in Sunderbans and the age of those samples of the kiln-wall last fired are calculated about 305±35 years. This periodicity of the occurrence of the human habitation obtained through OSL method has supported almost the same age of the mangrove tree trunk collected from the same site of the submerged kiln for salt preparation and computed by radiocarbon dating (14C). All those above noted data found for the Sunderbans consider the periodicity of the last human habitation in the recent past during 1690 – 1700 in the Sunderbans and this is too supported by SAARC Meteorological Research Centre (SMRC) who reported of a tropical cyclone in the Sunderbans which had at least 50,000 casualties in 1699.

The last human habitation in the Sunderbans in the recent past probably destroyed after the 10 years arrival of Job Charnock, the founder of Calcutta, in 1690. The super cyclone of 1699 destroyed the Sunderbans led to the entire area resourceless and indesuetude. People, in majority, died of that super cyclone and the rest destitute families left Sunderbans. After such a natural shock, the destroyed and void area has gradually become full of tidal vegetations and greens i.e. mangroves swamp and marshes during the period of about 80 years till 1783 when Tillman Henckell, the Collector of Jessore, started reclamation of the Sunderbans converting mangrove forest into the agricultural land in order to earn more revenue for the East India Company. Anyway, coming back to the perspective of the lost and last human habitation in the Sunderbans, a desire to resist calamity is implanted in the nature of man, but when natural calamity destroyed almost the human habitation, the Sunderbans had been deserted leaving entire region a desolate and solitary, having no inhabitants about 300 years before present. Thus, the devastating super cyclone blown in 1699 is a signature of commencement of climate change in Sunderbans.

Mar 16, 2019

Gautam Kumar Das

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