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date: 05 December 2023

Household Archaeology in South Asialocked

Household Archaeology in South Asialocked

  • Jaya MenonJaya MenonDepartment of history and Archaeology, Shiv Nadar University


The house has stood proxy for the household in South Asian archaeology. Houses belonging to various periods in South Asia’s past have been cleared and excavated since the early 20th century. Urban centers such as Mohenjodaro (Bronze Age), Bhita, Sirkap, and Indor Khera (early historic), as well as Vijayanagara and Sultan Ghari (medieval and early modern) have revealed a variety of patterns of house forms and settlement layouts. The form of the dwelling provides information about familial, household, and community precepts on housing, while access to and within houses tell us about those who used these spaces. In turn, house forms give hints toward less tangible aspects, such as inequality or privacy. Archaeologists have also used artifacts associated with these houses to understand the range of activities undertaken by the occupants of domestic spaces.

The spatial disposition of houses in relation to one another has enabled archaeologists to explore specific sociospatial entities such as neighborhoods. A distinct morphological type, at Mohenjodaro, Bhir, and Sirkap, were blocks, comprising houses built up against each other, which were separated from other similarly constituted blocks. These blocks were interpreted as neighborhoods, composed of close kin or those of similar ethnic origins, or may have constituted large, multiroomed, elite residences. Resources and infrastructure, such as shrines, wells, and drains, can be understood as provided, built, and shared at multiple levels of the household, the neighborhood, and the settlement.

Overwhelmingly, discussions of house forms at Mohenjodaro, and artifacts in context, have contributed toward an analysis of households and neighborhoods. The potential of this site arose from the extensive archaeological exposures of structures, labeled as houses, in the 1920s. The kind of archaeological work that has been undertaken at this site since the 1980s, using older excavated data, should point the way to investigating other sites. However, an archaeology of households and neighborhoods in South Asia requires the identification of hitherto untouched sites where focused work through horizontal exposures can enable comparisons between domestic spaces. It also needs multidisciplinary work that allows the site to be understood within a larger context. More important, the framing of new projects explicitly conceived within social archaeology is required, by posing new questions about communities, group identity, membership, and spatial location, as well as access to resources. Perhaps only then can it be said that South Asian archaeology has progressed to understanding critical social concerns of past communities.


  • Archaeology

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