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Refreshing Questions, Reassuring Answers

Kesavan Veluthat

Edited by Upinder Singh and Nayanjot Lahiri
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. xiv+306, Rs. 695.00


This collection of essays contains nine articles on different aspects of the archaeology and ancient history of the Indian subcontinent. Written by young scholars, they provide an indicator to the direction which Indian historiography, particularly in relation to the earlier periods, is taking in the twenty-first century. They raise refreshing questions and bring together new research reflecting certain approaches recognized as central to the study of ancient India. The questions are answered in a way which reassures us about the future of the discipline, cynical doubts about its relevance in a postmodern condition notwithstanding. The first essay by Sanjukta Datta is on the emergence of a nonofficial archaeological sphere in Bengal in the colonial context. Archaeology in India doubtless had its origin as a handmaid of colonial ideology and an aid to the exercise of power; but it should at the same time be remembered that that led not only to the uncovering of India’s past but also to training some of the first rate archae-ologists that the world has seen in the twentieth century. Datta shows how Indian scholars and learned societies took the lead and together paved the way for a systematic understanding of the archaeology and ancient history of Bengal. Mudit Trivedi’s piece reports the results of a courageous one-man exploration on the surface of the Delhi ridge, particularly the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University with 1500 acres of land full of vast archaeological potential. Trivedi’s archaeology goes beyond picking up a tool here and an artefact there: in a brilliant analysis, he tries to make sense of these by placing them in perspective. For him, it is also an attempt to understand the situation in which man interacted with nature. Trivedi’s analysis operates at two levels. At one level, he seeks to provide a summary of aspects of the geological past of the region from the earliest periods of rock formation to the deposition of the youngest Holocene sediments with a view to highlighting the archaeological implications of each of them. At another level, Trivedi examines the Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic horizons of this area. This piece deserves commendation for a variety of reasons: the hard work that has gone into its making, the meaningful interpretation of the data, the clear and cogent.presentation and the confidence with which it all is done. Shibani Ghosh provides an archaeological perspective of human-plant interactions in ...

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