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Mehrgarh is a Neolithic site near the Bolan Pass in Pakistan.

  1. I am wondering if the Neolithic site has simply been dubbed "Mehrgarh" or was it the actual name of the Neolithic culture itself?
  2. If it is dubbed "Mehrgarh", then what is the reason behind and when was it named so?
  3. Assyrian sources of the 7th century BC mention a certain "Mehranian" language in the western part of historical province of Media. If Mehrgarh is the actual name of the Neolithic culture itself, are there historians who relate the Mehranian language to it?
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  • 1. It is quite common to name excavation sites, and entire cultures associated with certain excavation sites, after modern features and place names. Especially if no ancient name can be known. E.g. when the excavated culture was illiterate. Examples are e.g. Hallstatt culture, Pazyryk culture, Çatal Hüyük or the Jiroft culture.
    – Jan
    Aug 25 '20 at 7:58
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    2. This is total (and uninformed) speculation, but Mehr is the modern name of the ancient Persian god Mitra, as used in e.g. the somewhat common first name Mehrdad. Garh seems to be a quite common component of Indian names, e.g. here: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehrangarh
    – Jan
    Aug 25 '20 at 8:08
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    3. Comparing names in foreign transcriptions and over several millenia is really really unreliable. E.g. when written in Bulgarian, Woody Allen's first name looks really similar to the latter part of Han Wudi's name.
    – Jan
    Aug 25 '20 at 8:52
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    If indeed the name was old, I think Jan's comment is correct. Mehr is the name of the God, and Garh means fort. Other places of Indian subcontinent too have similar names after Gods like Chandigarh.
    – user45361
    Aug 26 '20 at 1:27
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This reportage by Pakistani newspaper Dawn hints at a Balochi etymology for the name Mehrgarh:

In native Balochi, 'mehr' stands for love and 'garh' for heaven, translating Mehrgarh into ‘the heaven for love’

This suggests that French archeologist Jarrige simply used a local name given to the site.

If this is correct, then most probably "Mehrgarh" has no link to whatever name the local Neolithic people gave to themselves, since Baloch people are thought to have migrated to Pakistan in the 1st millenium CE, long after the collapse of the Mehrgarh settlement.

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    I like "for" better than "of" in the translation I found. I still think someone fluent in both languages could probably give us a better idiomatic translation.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 25 '20 at 15:24
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This isn't a definitive answer, so much as a research dump, but perhaps it may help someone else come up with one.

It appears that the site was "discovered" (archeologically that is) in 1974 by the late French Archeologist Jean-Francois Jarrige. Its possible there's an interview somewhere where he discusses the rationale for the name, or its in his first report about the site, but most likely that would be in French, which I am not fluent in.

The best English-language source about the discovery of the site itself I could find online was an Ancient Origins website that said this about the name:

In the native Balochi language, ‘mehr’ is said to mean ‘love’, and ‘garh’ means heaven. Thus, the name of the site may be taken to mean ‘the heaven of love’.

Putting this statement in there seems to strongly imply that the name was given by locals, but nowhere is this flat-out stated. (I'm also pretty dubious about the translation given in the second sentence, but probably nobody on earth knows the Balochi language less than I do, so I'm in no position to judge).

According to Unesco:

Following its abandonment it was covered by alluvial selts until it was exposed following a flash flood in the 1970s.

From this little bit of information, and what else I know about how sites tend to be "discovered", my best guess would be the following: The site was found by Balochi locals after said flash flood, and eventually Dr. Jarringe's team heard about it and went to check it out in 1974. The locals likely guessed it was some kind of ancient holy site, so amongst themselves they had already given it that "love-heaven" name.

Its possible the "love" part came from some of the figurines found there, pictures of which would be NSFW, as they seem to my prudish modern American eyes to be sexualized.

That's just a guess, based on incomplete information though.

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  • Especially these days it takes courage to admit one doesn't know something!
    – gktscrk
    Aug 25 '20 at 17:07
  • Your explanation provided me with a new perspective to look at things. Being an Indian myself, I have lived in the same culture where the word "Mehr" is used pretty often. "Mehr" is used in pretty much all the languages of North India and Pakistan, e.g., Balochi, Sindhi, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi etc. However, the word "Mehr" is a distortion of the Vedic common noun "Mitra" (friend). Vedic "Mitra" became "Mithra" in Avesta which in turn became "Mihr" in Middle Persian and Parthian and finally "Mehr" in New Persian. Aug 26 '20 at 4:56
  • However, going by this method, we cannot really deduce a clear cut reason for the naming of the site "Mehrgarh". There are so many questions that arise: Probably it was name of the site even before the flood washed away the land? Mehrgarh is located in the region near modern Sibi. Now, Sibi finds its first mention in Mahabharat as a flourishing Kingdom to the West of Sindh. So, if this is true then when did it became Mehrgarh? Aug 26 '20 at 5:01
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    @ReikiYamya - Yeah, it being an older name for the area would make sense. Archeologists like to name sites for the local name of the area they are located in.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 26 '20 at 14:11

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