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Archaeology as Historical Science (An Old and Rare Book)

Archaeology as Historical Science (An Old and Rare Book)
$16.80$21.00  [ 20% off ]
Item Code: NAG862
Author: Bruce G. Trigger
Publisher: Banaras Hindu University
Language: English
Edition: 1985
Pages: 78
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
weight of the book: 195 gms



India owes the discipline of archaeology and its rich results to British rule in the country. The glorious cultural heritage, which was unearthed by archaeologists and revived from oblivion, aroused the self-confidence of the Indian people. This was one of the major factors contributing to the Indian renaissance, which ultimately ushered in independence.


Every society has its own ways to preserve the memory of its past. In India popular stories and traditions fondly associate local mounds, monuments and ancient objects with either a character from the two epics, or some revered sage or saint, or some renowned historical personality. But the eerie traditions woven around these objects have prevented their objective exploration or analysis.


For the ancient period we have some very interesting allusions to the keen interest and curiosity which the historical objects of earlier periods aroused. We cannot know the feelings which moved Samudragupta when he chose to inscribe his own deeds on the Allahabad pillar, already containing the words of Asoka engraved some six hundred years earlier. We cannot guess the archaeological evidence which Kharavela used when he referred to the aqueduct dug by the Nanda king three hundred years back. The Chinese travellers, when they spoke with admiration about the Mauryan monuments, evidently relied on information supplied by the local people. The garbled tradition about the mysterious effects of the mound, which enshrined the prestigious throne of the legendary king Vikrarnaditya, speaks of its being dug out by Bhoja, another, illustrious king in Indian history. Bhoja is generally identified with king Bhoja of the Paramara dynasty of Malwa. But we cannot be sure about the historicity of all the details in different stories woven round his name. In any case a modern archaeologist will naturally look with disdain at Bhoja’s amateur and unscientific digging of the mound. Kalhana, the historian par excellence produced by ancient India, utilised ancient monuments as a source in reconstructing the history of Kashmir. But clearly he cannot be expected to have utilised any of the techniques employed by a modern archaeologist in studying ancient objects and monuments. Likewise, when Firuz Tughluq managed to carry huge Asokan pillars, to some central place, his curiosity in these antiquities could not have led to any scientific analysis.


Archaeology as a discipline is not of a high antiquity even in the West. Though ancient objects had attracted the attention of the people even earlier, their systematic study as a discipline, which is generally taken to commence with Christian Thomsen in the nineteenth century, implies as pre-requisites certain social requirements, intellectual approaches and scientific advancements which could emerge only a few centuries back. The fuller blossoming of archaeology as a distinct discipline has been the result of a long process, much of which could be possible through scientific advancements being pressed into its service in recent times. As all these conditions cannot be expected to have occurred in any ancient or medieval society, we cannot possibly criticise early India for not having practised archaeology.


Some of the philosophical beliefs in India did not favour the development of a discipline similar to that of archaeology. The cyclic notion about the four major ages implies that the-earliest age was the best with peace, prosperity and moral and spiritual excellence of the highest order. The gradual deterioration in moral values and cultural life has reduced the fourth or the present age to be the most decadent or deplorable one. A belief in evolutionism, or gradual improvement in material culture resulting from a control and more effective utilisation ~ of the natural resources and geographical conditions, is generally confirmed by evidence relating to the past. Archaeological information creates confidence in the future destiny or mankind and hence has a live relevance.


A belief in gods and goddesses assuming human forms and appearing on the earthly planet is quite deep-rooted in Indian thought. The Indian mind does not find anything incongruous in divine beings freely mixing with human beings. Parallel to this we find Indian social consciousness deifing its historical heroes and outstanding personalities. All this easily led to the obvious suggestion that the mounds and objects associated with a divine aura are not to be disturbed in any way. The popular mind, which is often governed by considerations other than those of reason and science, is convinced about the existence of semi-divine beings of good and bad types, who do reward or punish people, and would not like to get involved in any old monument or mound, which, we can easily understand, can acquire a notoriety of being haunted.


The British association with the origin and early history of archaeology in India has vitally affected its nature and subsequent history. Principles formulated and methods fashioned in Britain have been applied in India. The job of archaeologists in India has generally been confined to a faithful implementation of British theory and technique as they were enunciated or improved from time to time. Besides the richness in details and fresh information about new topics, periods or areas, the development in Indian archaeology has been mostly in terms of an effective application of newer techniques and methodology introduced by British archaeologists. There has been no significant effort to discuss archaeology as a discipline, its nature and scope, or to determine its aims and objectives, and to identify its tools and techniques. We cannot mention any noteworthy contribution to the theory and principles of archaeology made by Indian archaeologists. Like- wise, in earlier periods there were very few attempts at theorising or generalising about the information received from archaeology; Subbarao being among the noteworthy exceptions.’ It is to be noted that in the earlier phases, down to the years when Sir R. E. Mortimer Wheeler personally supervised Indian archaeology, historical archaeology and the Indus valley civilization were the main obsessions. The attention given to pre-history and what has come to be designated as proto-history in the Indian context is largely a post-Independence feature.


It is against this context that we have the pleasure of offering to the archaeologists in India the present monograph by Prof Trigger. He has himself practised archaeology and has added to our knowledge of the past. What is more significant, he is in the select band of archaeologists who have made significant" contributions to the theory and principles of archaeology as a discipline.


In America archaeology, particularly the phase of pre-history, has assumed a distinctly new form. , In juxtaposition to the norms and practice of archaeology in England and other European countries, designated as Old Archaeology, archaeology in America has come to acquire the attractive and prestigious sounding name of New Archaeology. The allurement of the fashionable name approach has infected some young archaeologists even in England, who, in their new zeal, have tended to decry and give up the long established traditions of British archaeology. Prof. Trigger has attempted the creditable task of demonstrating that the two archaeologies are not mutually irreconcilable and that they have their own merits which require to be fused into a harmonious blending.


In this process Prof. Trigger has emerged as a champion and defender of the traditions 0 f Old Archaeology. In an autobiographical note he attributes it to temperamental reason and accident. His early initiation into the writings of Gordon Childe and Grahame Clark has had a lasting impression. But, evidently he has deeper academic reasons and facts for the position he has taken.


Anthropology is a useful aid for archaeology. But the two can neither be equated nor can archaeology be placed as a subdiscipline under anthropology. The peculiar nature of archaeological and anthropological evidence· in America favoured the bracketing ‘of archaeology with anthropology. When applied to other countries the new approach is bound to create complications. If information about a living contemporary community is, applied to explain the unknown behaviour of an ancient society, .a number of provisos have to be under- lined. The .geographical distance can be one of the differentiating factors in such cases. The process of evolution or change, however slow it may be, has to be recognised. This development need not be a unilineal one. Many forces, including the one of borrowing and adoption, can be vitally-effective. As in any other social ‘science, the ‘freedom’ of man in choosing one particular action out of a wide variety of possibilities renders the task of generalising about the behaviour of man or society tricky indeed.


Archaeology axiomatically has to deal with the past. As the past has to be recreated through the chance survival of the material remanents, the archaeologist in dealing with the pre-historic period has to play the role of a historian with extreme caution, handicapped as he is by the absence of any written record whatsoever. In recreating the past he cannot afford to go beyond the limited task of explaining the available material or facts. This is to be done by a proper appreciation of their context. His work is facilitated, if he finds material in a similar situation, but he has to keep in mind the parallelism in terms of geography and chronology. Within the limitations of his material, he has also to attempt the task of delineating the process of development. It does not require much arguing to establish that any fact, event or society can best be understood, if it is placed in its correct historical sequence.


Any branch of knowledge, to have a meaning for its reader, should enable him to ‘predict’. In it there has to be initially some form of ‘induction’, which later can be used for ‘deductions’. A social scientist may not be able to predict with the exactness of a science, but his studies are expected to advise men and societies for facing present problems and improving future situations. But, evidently an archaeologist-historian can list this as a remote objective and not his immediate and direct concern. In explaining the past he should be able to retrodict and his understanding and knowledge should enable him to foresee the possible behaviour of any people or the possible course of occurrence for events.


In presenting the present publication of a renowned authority, I am sure it will provoke the archaeologist to ponder about the nature of his discipline to be able to fulfil its objective more effectively.


I take-this opportunity to express my sincere thankfulness to Prof. P. Singh, Dr. Achhe Lal and Dr. Makkhan Lal of the Department for the great pains they have taken in the neat publication of the monograph.


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