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Towards Understanding Larger Historical Trajectories


Upinder Singh


By Dilip K. Chakrabarti
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 570, Rs. 2250.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 3 March 2007

There are currently two parallel discourses on ancient India, one based on texts, the other on archaeology. Historians tend to use archaeological data selectively and sporadically, usually in order to support their text-based hypotheses. Archaeologists, for their part, do not often succeed in developing the long-term historical implications of the archaeological evidence. Dilip Chakrabarti’s Oxford Companion to Indian Archaeology is a major intervention towards breaking this impasse. Weaving together a vast range of archaeological data stretching from prehistory to the 13th century AD is a formidable task. Chakrabarti manages to do justice to it, maintaining a balance between specificity and generality, incisively pointing to the implications of the archaeological details for understanding larger historical trajectories.   This book gives the most comprehensive and up-to-date synthesis of archaeological data pertaining to the prehistoric, protohistoric, early historical and early medieval phases of the subcontinental past. Chakrabarti’s contribution towards the generation and analysis of this data is itself considerable. Over the years, he has written on numerous aspects of Indian archaeology and history and has produced a number of authoritative works including The History of Indian Archaeology from the Beginning to 1947 (1988), The External Trade of the Indus Civilization (1990), Ancient Bangladesh, a Study of the Archaeological Sources (1992), The Early Use of Iron in India (1992), Archaeology of Eastern India (1993), The Archaeology of Ancient Indian Cities (1995), India—An Archaeological History (1999) and The Archaeology of the Deccan Routes (2005). The hallmark of his writing include an unmatched, formidable mastery of the minutiae of the geography and routes of the subcontinent, a style of presenting archaeological data in meticulous detail and an ablity to get to the crux of its implications. In the Companion to Indian Archaeology, in some cases he reiterates his earlier stands, in other cases he presents his reconsideration of issues. This is necessary since the ever-growing volume of archaeological data demands a constant reassessment of conclusions.   In view of the meagre nature of the hominid remains in the subcontinent, the discovery of a hominid clavicle at Hathnora in Madhya Pradesh and a fossilized baby skull at Odai in Tamil Nadu assume great significance. Chakrabarti connects such evidence with the larger debates regarding human evolution and the dispersal of early human populations, namely the ‘out of Africa’ versus the multi-regional models of human evolution. He predicts that the key evidence of early hominid remains in the subcontinent is likely to come from the Siwaliks.   The ...


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