Past water systems and landscapes
Principal Investigator(s):
Dr. Anne CASILE

A programme on Past water systems and landscapes. In the climate monsoon system of India, vulnerability to water shortages has generated a large diversity of both surface and underground water harvesting structures over time. With a focus on past water systems and landscapes in Central India, the objective of this programme is to explore (1) the ways in which people and society coped with hydroclimatic constraints, disturbances, hazards, and insecurity in both rural and urban contexts, and (2) the impact of climate anomalies on societal development in medieval times.

Context and objectives:

For centuries, the management of water and risks associated with the monsoon climate system and its anomalies has been central to interactions between people, societies and their environment. It played a crucial and, in many ways, structuring role in cultural, socioeconomic, political developments and landscape transformations. In medieval times, this is made clear by a number of epigraphic documents referring to the construction and management of harvesting and hydraulic structures, and by the sheer quantity of archaeological remains associated with water bodies. These remains prove both long- and short-terms strategies to adapt to the regular seasonal contrasts and to the monsoon irregularity, in order to overcome water shortages, particularly in the semi-arid regions. Designed to meet the different needs of society, the development of these structures over time has been integral to the historical and ecological making of places, cultural landscapes, territories and farming systems.
With a focus on past water systems and landscapes, this programme tackle a period that is neglected in the social and climatic dynamics of India, i.e. the so-called medieval past (circa 700 to 1500 CE). Its objective is to explore (1) the ways in which people and society coped with hydroclimatic constraints, disturbances, hazards, and insecurity in both rural and urban contexts, and (2) the impact of climate anomalies on societal development in medieval times.


Research approach and field survey

Bringing together researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds, the programme aims at combining archaeological, historical, ethnological studies with environmental, palaeoenvironmental, and palaeoclimatic ones.  Its geographical focus is the site and region of Mandu, in Central India (Madhya Pradesh), where the signature of historical events is clearly inscribed and visible in the present-day landscape and waterscape.
Untouched by recent urbanisation, Mandu is a famous historical place built on the Malwa Plateau, by the Narmada River valley. It served as the capital of the Malwa Sultanate from the 15th century AD, and is now a vast rural area inhabited and cultivated by a majority of Bhil adivasis. Its history, however, is much older. Mandu’s area belongs to a semi-arid region of India, which makes its landscapes and watersheds particularly sensitive and vulnerable to hydroclimatic changes. It thus constitutes an ideal location to investigate Past water systems and landscapes, and the interplay between water resources management, human and societal activities, weather fluctuations and environmental dynamics, and to assess the relative importance of each of these factors in the historical production and transformation of the cultural landscapes.

External collaborators:

  • Claudio Rubini (Independent Researcher)
  • Christian Leduc (IRD, Montpellier)
  • Eloïse Brac de la Perrière (Université Paris Sorbonne – Paris 4)
  • Olivia Aubriot (CNRS, Centre d’Etudes Himalayennes)
  • Jason Hawkes (post-doctorate, The British Museum)
  • Premathilakhe R.
  • Michael Willis
  • Sylvain Massuel (IRD, UMR G-Eau)
  • S. B. Ota (Archaeological Survey of India, Delhi)
  • Fabrice Papa (IRD, UMR Legos)
  • Yanni Gunnell (Université Lumière-Lyon 2)
  • Yves Porter (Aix-Marseille Université)

Staff ( IFP & External )

CASILE A., Researcher
ANUPAMA K., Researcher
LEFRANCQ C., Post-doctorate
AUBRIOT O., Researcher
PRASAD S., Research Engineer
MUTHUSANKAR G., Head of GIS projects