Ancient History

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOURCES OF HISTORY

Archaeology : The scientific study of historic or prehistoric peoples and their cultures by analysis of their artifacts, architecture, monuments and other such remains especially those that have been evacuated like biofacts and cultural landscapes.

ARCHAEOLOGY AND SOURCES:IN INDIA

Lord Curzon, the British India’s Viceroy had remarked the ancient India had “the greatest galaxy of monuments in the world”. The Archaeological Survey of India was established in 1861, by the British with Sir Alexander Cunningham as the first director general known as the father of Indian archaeology, he set the ball rolling on Archaeological studies in India. Sir John Marshall, appointed as director general in 1902, was instrumental n identifying the ancient Indus Valley Civilization with the help of his deputies Daya Ram Sahani and R.D. Banerji.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGS

Of all the archaeological sites and digs, none has been amazing as the excavations at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. These brought to light the existence of an ancient urban civilization- The INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION or HARAPPAN CIVILIZATION that existed about 5000years ago. Dubbed as the prehistoric discovery of the 20th century, the discovery pushed the history of the subcontinent back by a further 2500 years.

Kumrahar and Bulandibagh (in modern day Patna) are two of the archaeological sites linked to Patliputra, the capital of Mauryans(4th-2nd century BC). While the former has remains of a pillared hall, the latter exhibits ruins of fortification. The majestic edict bearing Ashoka Pillars are testimony to the attempt to spread imperial ideologies of emperor Ashoka Maurya among the common people.
The archaeological site at Sanchi includes Stupas, Pillars, Shrines and Sculptures, dating from 3rd century BC to 12th century AD and gives extraordinary insight into the history of Buddhism. The site at Sarnath too provides knowledge on Buddhism as well as on Ashoka Maurya.

The Buddhist Stupa-Monastery sites all over India were built over many centuries. They uncover the trail of evolution of religious thoughts and practices over the period and the development and changes in architectural and Sculptural Styles.

The Ajanta Caves (5th century AD) have rich Sculptures and paintings, providing a glimpse into the societal life of those times.

The ruins of Basarh (ancient Vaishali) reveal it to be an important administrative headquarters during the period of the Gupta’s. The site gives information related to the economic and commercial aspect of the times.

The great Raja Rajeshwara (Brihadishwara) temple in Janjore, built during the 11th century AD, was the monument which helped historians piece together the history of the Cholas of TamilNadu.

The Vishnu temple of AnkorVat, Cambodia and the Buddhist Stupa at Borobudur, provide evidence of the spread of Buddhist Influence to South-East Asia.

INSCRIPTIONS

The study of Inscriptions has been a very important source of Indian history from the time of Ashoka till the Delhi Sultanate Period.

The earliest inscriptions are those on the seals from the Indus Valley civilization site, dating back to the 3rd Millennium BC. They are written in some form of pictographic script (as the collection o Pictures but have not yet been deciphered.

The earliest deciphered inscriptions have tracked back to the 4th – 3rd century BC. Most have been issued by Ashoka as edicts-inscription on Pillars and rocks spreading his concept of dharma. These inscriptions were in the Brahmi script, except for those in the north-western corners of his empire, which were in Karoshthi script. The thirteen rock edict of Ashoka expresses his remorse after the Kalinga War and indicates his change of heart away from the warpath towards peaceful relations. The Lumbini Pillar inscription is a Commemorative inscription recording Ashoka’s visit to lumbini which helped historians identify the birth place of the Buddha.

Apart from edicts, inscriptions may take the form oh prashashtis. The Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman and the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta are examples. The prashashtis give details about the dynasties and the Kings, although they do tend to exaggerate.

From the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta (composed by his courtier Harisena), we get an idea of Samudragupta’s conquests and the extent of his empire. It also conveys, for the first time, a new kind of political strategy employed by Samudragupta for the far reaches of his empire in which the vanquished kings retained their kingdoms in return for services like tributes. Incidentally, the Allahabad Pillar also contains an edict from Ashoka.

Examples of donatives’ inscriptions are the copper plate’s inscriptions of land grants of the cholas and Vijayanagara kingdom of the South, providing valuable information about those dynasties. But the initial knowledge about the existence of the cholas themselves, as well as their rivals, the Pandyas and the Cheras, had come from rock inscriptions of Ashoka.

Inscriptions have been useful in informing about the political, administrative and revenue systems, particularly for the medieval period (6th- 13th century AD). They have also helped to identify and date historical structures like sculptures.

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