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Monday, Oct 25, 2021
Outlook.com

History Of Archaeology

Tells the story of the ASI as a grand official enterprise, and it is no drab institutional history...

History Of Archaeology
History Of Archaeology
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53
Archaeology, or digging up History by scientific methods, yields three-dimensional clues about the Past, and then goes mute. It is accorded voice by the qualified diggers who sift through the disinterred ‘remains’ or decipher the stone and copper inscriptions to tell what these could have meant in times past, and their significance in the present. The most exacting of the historical crafts, it still requires a professional narrator—the Archaeologist, who second-guesses, surmises, collates, piecing together the shards and shreds to build a reasoned story. Yet precisely because of their possibility of yielding ‘treasure’, the State from ancient times to the present has sought to exercise proprietary rights over the buried parts of a country’s past, more so than over its relatively ephemeral scripted products—manuscripts, documents, books. Any digging in your backyard which yields more than the resident earthworm requires permission from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a state organisation dating back to the aftermath of the Mutiny of 1857.

Upinder Singh tells the story of theASI as a grand official enterprise, from its beginnings in the 1860s under Alexander Cunningham, an army engineer and antiquarian, to its institutionalisation as a separate department in 1871, charged with surveying, unearthing and preserving the historic past remains of colonial, and now post-colonial, India. And it is no drab institutional history, nor is it propelled by the desire to show the sahib master-diggers mired in prejudice at each step in their peregrinations across British India. There was a good deal of political and evangelical rhetoric in the first proposals so as to better elicit funding from the directors of the East India Company, but Cunningham and his two assistants had consciously set out to follow the trail of pilgrims from China, notably of the...

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