This book present archaeological history from the palaeolithic beginnings to c.AD 300’ when early historic India assumed its basic from. It lucidly reconstructs the historical development of human-natural resource interaction in the subcontinents using maps, illustration, and tables. The second edition update the research to include new ideas and discoveries – of tools from the palaeolithic and mesolitshic ages and human fossil finds – in Indian archeology between 1998 and 2008. This comprehension and up to date book will be an essential reading for students and teachers of archaeology and ancient Indian history.
Dilip K. Chakrabarti is Emeritus professor of South Asian Archaeology and Senior Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeology Research, Cambridge University.
The Indian subcontinent has been an area for archaeological research for over 200 years. Since Independence the pace of this research has increased manifold, and despite some major lacunae, we have reached a stage of knowledge where it is possible to offer a connected account of the history of prehistoric and early historic India primarily, if not exclusively, on the basis of archaeology. The present volume aims to do that. It is much more than a compendium of ancient Indian archaeological data, bringing out, as it does, the flow of 'India's grassroots archaeological history in all its continuities and diversities. Beginning with the first stone tools in the subcontinent, the book weaves its archaeological history in all the areas and multiple strands of development till the early historic foundations. Among other things, it discusses the basic significance of Indian prehistoric studies, the variegated pattern of the beginning of village life in India, the various issues related to . , the Indus or Harappan civilization and how the transition to, and consolidation of, the early historical India took place.
This was written in the academic year 1997-8 and the formal invitation to do so came from OUP, New Delhi. I would like to thank them for this privilege.
Dr Sylvia Lachrnann kindly found time to read all its chapters, some of which were also read by Reverend G. Seevalee, Christopher Bayliss and Corinna Bower. My thanks are due to all of them. Dr Nayanjot Lahiri gave me a copy of Indian Archaeology-A Review, 1992-93 and helped in other ways.
The 'India' of this book is the Sanskrit Bharatavarsha, the subcontinent as a whole. In a major Bengali literary piece-Aranyak ('forest-dweller')- the author, Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay, enters into an imaginary dialogue with Bhanumati, a tribal princess who lived in a forest village called Chakmakitola.
Have you heard the name of Bharatavarsha? Bhanumati nodded to say that she had not heard the name. She had never been out of Chakmakitola. In which direction could one find Bharatavarsha?
If at the end of this book one is left with a sense of the archaeological direction to Bharatavarsha, I shall consider this humble endeavour of mine successful. . This book is dedicated to Mr v.c. Joshi, who played a significant role in the development of archaeological research in the subcontinent in the 1980s. As a consultant of the Ford Foundation, Delhi, he was instrumental in shaping the Foundations' interest in South Asian archaeology. In India this interest led, among, 9Jh.el:.things, to the sanction of major grants to the Indian Society for-Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies for its journal Man and Environment and the. archaeology sections of the Banaras Hindu University, Deccan College, Pune, and M.S. University, Baroda. In Bangladesh, the Foundation initiated the process of establishing archaeology in one of the universities, with Mr Joshi closely working with Bangladeshi colleagues. Those of us who came in contact with him will always remember his kindness and grace and deep commitment to duty.
There are two reasons why a historical study of ancient Indian cannot realize its full potential in the basis of textual sources alone. First, the sources which have been used, beginning with the Rigveda, were not meant to be historical sources, and whatever historical information has been gleaned from them is not free questions regarding their chronology, geographical applicability and even content. Except for the history of the king of Kashmir, written by kalhana in the twelfth century, there is no proper historical chronicle dating from the ancient period of Indian history. As H.C. Raychaudhuri wrote: ‘No Thucydides or Tacitus has left for posterity a genuine history of Ancient India.’ K.A.N. Sastri wrote of ‘the utter impossibility of basing any part of the ancient history of India solely, or even primarily, upon literary evidence.’
The problem of source is not limited to the texts. It affects in good measure inscription, coins, sculpture, painting and architecture as well, although in these cases geography and chronology are not among the problems. The number of early inscription is severely limited. They increase in number only in the tenth-twelfth centuries, more in the south than in the rest of the subcontinent. But inscriptions are not textual compositions, and like other textual composition, devote a lot space to conventional descriptions rather than to the first place. Coins come mostly from ‘hoards’—accidental, non-contextual discoveries which very often end up with the coin-dealers. A framework of the study of coins has no doubt emerged, but on many occasions the study of ancient India coins has not been to able to proceed beyond a study of their design. The same is true of the specimen of art and architecture. They are concerned much more with individual authorship and patronage, precisely the issue which would have made them exciting as historical documents.
Over the last two centuries or more, scholars have certainly mapped out the different areas of ancient India history, but in many cases this has been no more than a preliminary sketch of the terrain. It is doubtful I f they could do any better. When one remember that there is no fine chronological grouping of the early Buddhist literature and that the whole of it can be out only in a board period from the sixth to the second century BC, the generalized version of ‘Buddhist India’. Further, because the geographical perspective of these texts is limited mainly to the middle Ganga plain, this generalized version can apply not to India as a whole but only to the region which it invokes. This situation is true not merely of Buddhist India but virtually of all the epochs and geographical regions that we can think of in the context of ancient India. In fact, behind its academic curtain, there are vast stretches of darkness and too many loose ends. Under the circumstances, the pioneering modern historians of ancient India could only lay the outline of the subject, moving from epoch to epoch and giving us a general scaffolding which somehow holds together. It could also be only a story of historical development in a more or less single line which, in fact had the effect of blurring the multiple regional strands of India’s historical growth, at least for the early period.
Such basic limitation of the available sources cannot be wished away, nor can the situation improve by rephrasing the historical question in the language of the social sciences. Whatever cloak a modern historian of ancient India may wear—that of an old-fashioned or of a modern social scientist—one cannot shed the burden of proof , and historical proof, as well all know, lies basically in the sources.
Archaeology can greatly expand the nature of the sources in the context of ancient India. Even in the areas with a much larger mass of detailed and rigorous textual documentation, archaeological research often leads to hitherto unperceived dimensions of the historical landscape. In the case of ancient India , where the basic quantum and the rigour of textual documentation are comparatively limited, archaeological research becomes more than ordinarily significant.
Archaeology can also greatly change the nature of historical questions, and it is here that the second reason of the significant of archaeology in ancient Indian historical research is rooted. Although modern archaeology is not afraid of handing multitude of issue ranging from environment and subsistence to symbolism and cognition, it is primarily in the reconstruction if the story of man-land relationship through the ages that subject excels . what we want to emphasize in the context of the ancient history of such a vast land mass as the subcontinent that the framework of a past acceptable to all segments of its population can emerge.
The past is a hotly contested arena of modern times, and the fact that it has become so is in a large measure due to a sense of monolithic, racist past that we have inherited as a colonial legacy in a large part of the world. In the case of India, one immediately realize that since beginning of research on the history of ancient India, the story of its conquest by a carefully constructed ‘superior’ recial and linguistic group called the Aryans has been an overwhelmingly dominant theme and that this conquest and the subsequent assimilation of the various indigenous strands of culture by the conquering Aryans have been said to constitute the very basis of ancient Indian society and history. Even if this theme and approach are true—and we shall see in a later section that they are not –why should those who are considered beyond the Aryans pale accept this reconstruction of the past as their own?
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