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Archaeological Knowledge: Creation and Dissemination

Suchandra Ghosh

By Sudeshna Guha
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2015, pp. 1-273, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 2 February 2016

It is well known that the first Indian initiative at writing a history of Indian Archaeology was taken by Sourindranath Roy when he wrote ‘Indian Archaeology from Jones to Marshall (1784–1947)’ way back in 1953 which was largely a narrative of events relating to official archaeologists. On its publication and thereafter Roy’s narrative acquired a seminal status. However, beyond the official scheme of things there were initiatives of many individuals and institutions that played a significant role in understanding the past. In the recent decades many studies have come to light which dealt with the history of Indian archaeology in general or focused on the careers of the key individuals involved with the Archaeological Survey of India in the 19th century. Artefacts of History, Archaeology, Historiography and Indian Pasts by Sudeshna Guha is a welcome and necessary addition to this genre. The purpose of the book is to critically look at the way archaeological knowledge is configured, created and disseminated in Indian archaeology. The practices and scholarship of archaeology, traditions of historiography and claims about the pasts are, according to the author, all ‘artefacts’ of history. In ‘Histories, Historiography, Archaeology: An introduction’ Guha gives a first view of what one could expect in the subsequent pages as one proceeds with the reading. She emphasizes that celebrations of discoveries are not important, rather one should inculcate critical approaches towards an appraisal of archaeology’s pasts. The existing histories of antiquarianism within South Asia are interrogated in ‘Antiquarianism and South Asia: Questioning Histories of Origins’. The author feels that for investigating the uses of the antiquarian scholarship in creations of the colonial historiography it is imperative that one should take into account the agency of visualization. Guha strongly critiques the attitudes of many historians of archaeology who promote the importance of field surveys, field discoveries and the accompanying archaeological scholarship over the text based philological scholarship of the past. Here one is reminded of B.D. Chattopdhyaya’s seminal essay ‘Confronting Fundamentalisms: The Possibilities of Early Indian History’ where he categorically states that total bypassing of the text as historical evidence from the process of understanding early cultures is a kind of archaeological fundamentalism which is unlikely to improve our vision of the past. Nineveh (near Mosul, Iraq) is one of grandest and oldest cities of antiquity. It came to be from the period of the Assyrian Empire, and it became the capital ...

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