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date: 29 September 2023

Colonial Archaeology in South Asia: Epigraphic Researchlocked

Colonial Archaeology in South Asia: Epigraphic Researchlocked

  • Himanshu Prabha RayHimanshu Prabha RayDistant Worlds, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich


Interest in the material remains of the past in Europe dates to the early 17th century, though archaeology as a discipline developed only two hundred years later. It was transposed to the Indian subcontinent once British colonial rule was established in the region, in the 19th century. Archaeological practice has often been discussed in secondary writings as presenting a “scientific” approach to the study of the past, though from the 1990s onward its political implications have been highlighted bringing into focus the search for remnants of the Greeks and Greco-Roman civilization by British archaeologists such as John Marshall (1876–1958) and Mortimer Wheeler (1890–1976), who worked as director-generals of the Archaeological Survey of India. This reliance on models worked out in Europe had a significant impact on the study of the beginnings of writing in the subcontinent, the development of epigraphy, and collections of inscriptions and copper plates. To stress the bias that has crept into an understanding of the significance of the written word in the Indian past, writings on ceramics need to be brought into the discussion as these have often been used in the colonial period for establishing chronology or “Roman” influence as evident in Wheeler’s 1946 excavations at Arikamedu on the Tamil coast. The development of several new trends over the last seven decades in the subcontinent has challenged colonial constructs and helped provide a balance.


  • Archaeology

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