Gold Digger Ants of India From the Records of Historian Megasthenes

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Giant Ants of India

A human being is always curious to know about their ancestors. How they lived? What was their culture and what kind of technologies they were using in day to day life? Like, future, it is also difficult to know about the past until any strong written evidence had been left by our ancestors. In the case of Egypt, they wrote many important events over the walls and Stones steles. In the case of Mesopotamia, they wrote on clay tablets. But in the case of India a lot of written evidence demolished by the foreign invaders. But still, there is one written proof which explains the India of 300-200 B.C.

Who was Megasthenes?

There was one person named Megasthenes were an ancient Greek historian, diplomat and Indian ethnographer, and explorer in the Hellenistic period ~300 B.C. He described India in his book Indika, which is now lost but has been partially reconstructed from literary fragments found in later authors.

Megasthenes and his Embassy

He must have been a learned man and a reputed officer, which explains his appointment as an ambassador to India. Megasthenes visited India sometime between c. 302 and 288 BCE, during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. Modern scholars generally assume that Seleucus sent him to India immediately after the treaty with Chandragupta.

His book Indika explains about the Indian Geography, Land, Harvesting, People and Animals.

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About the Giant Ants

Megasthenes gives the following account of these ants. Among the Derdai, a great tribe of Indians, who inhabit the mountains on the eastern borders (possibly  Deosai Plateau in Gilgit–Baltistan province of Pakistan) there was an elevated plateau about 3,000 stadia (555 KM), in the circuit.

sandy desert of SKARDU
Gilgit-Baltistan
Sandy desert of SKARDU
Gilgit-Baltistan

Beneath the surface, there are mines of gold, and here accordingly are found the ants which dig for that metal. According to Megasthenes records, those ants were so big in shape that one could compare with wild foxes. Their speed was amazing that perhaps they could catch hold of running man. They usually dig mines in the winter period. It makes more sense because possibly mine was comparatively hot in summers due to the presence of Gold.

They throw up heaps of earth, as moles do, at the mouth of the mines. The heap which they throw up consists of gold the purest and brightest in all the world. The mounds are piled up close to each other in regular order like hillocks of gold dust.  The gold-dust has to be subjected to a little hot.

People from the neighborhood come secretly to steal that gold dust. But stealing that dust was never easy due to the intelligence of ants. So, to effect the robbery without being observed to ants thief used to arrive at noon, a time when the ants have gone underground. Perfect time to rob the booty. Once seizing the Gold, thieves fled with their comrades at full speed. The ants, on learning what has been done, pursue the fugitives, and overtaking them fight with them till they conquer or die. In all the animals they are the most courageous. It hence appears that they understand the worth of gold, and that they will sacrifice their lives rather than part with it. Robbers sold that Gold to other traders they meet with while it is still in the state of ore. Because the art of fusing metals is unknown to them.

Real Translation of Megasthenes

Among the Derdai, a great tribe of Indians, who inhabit the mountains on the eastern borders, there is an elevated plateau about 3,000 stadia, in circuit. Beneath the surface there are mines of gold, and here accordingly are found the ants which dig for that metal. They are not inferior in size to wild foxes. They run with amazing speed, and live by the produce of the chase. The time when they dig is winter. They throw up heaps of earth, as moles do, at the mouth of the mines. The gold-dust has to be subjected to a little boiling. The people of the neighbourhood, coming secretly with beasts of burden, carry this off. If they came openly the ants would attack them, and pursue them if they fled, and would destroy both them and their cattle. So, to effect the robbery without being observed, they lay down in several different places pieces of the flesh of wild beasts, and when the ants are by this device dispersed they carry off the gold-dust. This they sell to any trader they meet with while it is still in the state of ore, for the art of fusing metals is unknown to them.

From the Account of Herodotus

Herodotus

This theory is supported by another Greek historian who was before the Megasthenes. In his Histories (Book 3, passages 102 to 105) Herodotus reports that a species of fox-sized, furry “ants” lives in one of the far eastern, Indian provinces of the Persian Empire. This region, he reports, is a sandy desert, and the sand there contains a wealth of fine gold dust. These giant ants, according to Herodotus, would often unearth the gold dust when digging their mounds and tunnels, and the people living in this province would then collect the precious dust.

From the Account of French Ethnologist

French ethnologist Michel Peissel says that the Himalayan marmot on the Deosai Plateau in Gilgit–Baltistan province of Pakistan, may have been what Herodotus called giant “ants”. Much like the province that Herodotus describes, the ground of the Deosai Plateau is rich in gold dust. 

Himalayan Marmot

Conclusion

Modern scholars considered Megasthenes Indika as a generally reliable source of ancient Indian history. But some scholars noted that Megasthenes visited only a small part of India, and must have relied on others for his observations. Is it possible that this record of Megasthenes also relied on others’ observation? We really don’t know. Some of these observations may be erroneous, but most of them could not be ignored by modern researchers.

I hope you read something new today. Share your views in the comments section below.

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DHEERAJ JAIN

Hello, My name is Dheeraj Jain. I am a software engineer by profession and hobbyist historian. I am trying yo write content that has not been explored in the past. More info about me @ https://tathastuu.com/about-me

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