Ancient India: New Research.

Author:McHugh, James
Position:Book review

Ancient India: New Research. Edited by UPINDER SINGH and NAYANJOT LAHIRI. New Delhi: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2009. Pp. xiv + 306. $22.95.

This volume collects nine articles based on some of the papers delivered at a seminar on ancient history to honor the legacy of the Devahuti Damodar Svaraj Trust, which supports the study of Indian history, philosophy, and culture. The aim of the original seminar was in part to give a voice to a wide range of junior scholars of ancient India working in India today, and as such the contents of the volume vary greatly in method and subject matter, though archaeology and the history of archaeology loom large in many of the papers. As there is often a quite pronounced divide perceived between Euro-American and Indian scholarship on early India, the volume is valuable as a window on the sorts of work being produced by more junior Indian scholars.

A common theme of many of the papers is a concern to examine sources for evidence of political and social practice, and especially to develop a more socially inclusive historiography. Various tentative attempts to correlate archaeology with textual sources are notable, and are reminiscent of the ambitious work of Michael Willis (The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual). Many of the papers also contain thoughtful discussions of the legacies of major archaeologists of the colonial period.

In the first chapter Sanjukta Dutta presents a study of some important Indian pioneers of archaeology who were working outside the official sphere of the Archaeological Survey of India in colonial Bengal. The article is a rich source for the history of two Bengali literary/archaeological institutions and the figures connected to them, who played a non-official role in antiquarian research. Demonstrating the complex relations between colonial and unofficial institutions at that time, Dutta convincingly argues that "whilst it is convenient to categorize the archaeological enterprise ... as 'colonial' and 'native' ... in reality archaeological practice was a medley of things" (p. 32).

An example of contemporary archaeological work, Mudit Trivedi's paper, which is of somewhat specialist interest, describes his quite remarkable one-man surface survey of the prehistoric remains of the Delhi ridge. Moving to a larger scale, the third paper, by Shibani Bose, provides a detailed review (including a tabular database) of the archaeobotanical finds of the Middle Gangetic Plains, noting the presence of a...

To continue reading