Archaeological research and inquiry in India began in the early sixteenth century with a multitude of European travellers writing about the antiquarian wealth of the country.
What began as a purely amateur antiquarian activity by a band of enthusiastic scholars gained momentum with the establishment of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (now Asiatic Society) in 1784 in Kolkata by Sir William Jones. The objective of the Society was to build a body of knowledge around the history and antiquities, arts, science and literature of Asia. In the early years, the emphasis within the Society was almost exclusively on editing texts and deciphering ancient inscriptions. In 1838, James Prinsep unravelled the mystery of the Brahmi script. Around the same time, the Kharosthi script was also deciphered. Collectively, these discoveries brought home the understanding for early Indian epigraphs as a trustworthy source of ancient Indian history. Simultaneously, the significance of non-literary materials including archaeological discoveries in reconstructing the knowledge of India's historical heritage was acknowledged. The period witnessed a flurry of activities amongst surveyors, photographers, artists, scholars, historians and amateur antiquarians discovering and collecting antiquities. A significant body of writings on descriptions of monuments, temples, images, sculptures etc. were, published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society and other international journals.
The Archaeological Survey of India was established in 1861 and Sir Alexander Cunningham became the first Director General. However, the work of the Survey was till then limited to the description of ancient monuments, temples, discovery of coins, inscriptions, architectural archaeology and some unsystematic excavations.
John Marshalls tenure (1902-1928) as the Director General witnessed an all-round development of activities from explorations and excavations to conservation and museum developments. The important excavations at sites such as Kushinagara provided an archaeological basis for Buddhist history. A great discovery was that of the famous lion-capital at Sarnath which became a part of India's national emblem; urn burial site at Adichanallur brought to light the Iron Age in south India. In 1922, with the discovery of Mohenjodaro by Rakhal Das Banerji, the world awoke to the astounding knowledge of the existence of the Indus civilization. Further explorations and excavations in 1950's by A. Ghosh revealed the extent of this civilization from Baluchistan and Sindh to Rajasthan and Gujarat. Periodic conservation works of monuments were also taken up. The magnificent preservation works at the Brihadishvara temple at Thanjavaur, the Sun temple at Konarak, the Taj Mahal in Agra and the Gol Gumbad at Bijapur are the outstanding examples.
Over the years, numerous archaeologists, supported by surveyors, epigraphists, museum assistants and archaeological scholars have expanded and enriched the body of work undertaken under the Archaeological Survey of India. Their work in uncovering the past is the key to understanding the processes of changes in human societies across cultures. Their commitment and perseverance, standing tall in the face of hardships across a century of change, is inspiring. Building on the work of their predecessors and colleagues, adding their own new discoveries and inspiring their young successors, the archaeologists of the Archaeological Survey of India weave together the story of our country and its people, piece-by-piece, for now and for generations to come.
This book is a tribute to the extensive corpus of work of those departed archaeologists who had devoted their entire lives in pursuit of the past.
Bringing out this book involved through a variety of published works, journals, archaeological reports of various kinds and talking to specialists. Searching for information within a short period was not always rewarding. It is regretted that the contributions of some scholars could not be covered. The search is on and a separate volume dealing with those archaeologists will be brought out in the near future.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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