What is Archaeology?
Archaeology is the scientific study of human history by analysing material remains and artifacts. History is totally dependent on sources; these are the building blocks of history. Sources are of various types, such as literary works, monuments, etc. Through these sources, archaeologists develop history, and history becomes an important subject to develop an understanding of the past. And it is not easy to understand these sources. Archaeologists have to be familiar with the style of writing, the time period, and the cultures and contemporary events taking place.
As we discuss sources, it is important to understand history. There are basically two types of sources: literary sources and archaeological sources. Literary sources, as the name suggests, are those that are related to literature. The Vedas and the Mahabharata, for example, And archaeological sources are those that archaeologists find during excavations.
For example, coins, bricks, drains, and so on. Literary sources are further divided into two categories: religious—the Vedas; tripitika (Buddhist works); and so on. Non-religious: Indica, written by Megasthenese (a foreign ambassador in Chandragupta Maurya’s reign), Arthshastra, written by Kautilya, etc.
And it is very difficult to interpret all sources and discover history. When it comes to religious history, there has always been confusion.
Importance of Storytelling
History is all about stories, but there is a difference between history and stories, as sometimes stories are based on truth but most of the time they are imaginary, whereas history is totally based on evidence and history is all about true events. We can’t create history in our imaginations; archaeologists first excavate the site, and then, based on sources, they tell us the history. And when we came to literary sources, it was not always true; sometimes the information was exaggerated.
For example, Prayag Prashasti is written for King Samudragupta and was written by his court poet, and archaeologists suggest that the whole information is not accurate. To impress the king’s court poets, they always exaggerate the information, which is then critically examined by archaeologists. To present true stories, our archaeologists put in a lot of effort. Now we will discuss Indian sites excavated by archaeologists and the difficulties they faced in doing so.
The first site to be discovered in the Indian Subcontinent was Harappa; that’s why this civilization is known as Harappan civilization. Many other sites derive from the same culture, including Mohenjo-daro, Dholavira, Lothal, Channudharo, Shortughai, and others. And this civilization is also known as the Indus Valley Civilization because it was located near the Indus River. The Indus Valley Civilization was divided into three periods:
- Early Harappan Phase, 3500 BCE–2600 BCE
- Mature Harappan Phase: 2600 BCE–1900 BCE
- Late Harappan Period, from 1900 BCE onwards
It was the time of the Bronze Age civilization. The ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) assisted in the preservation of these sites. Alexander Cunningham was the first director general of ASI, but when he got the seals of the Harappan Civilization, he was unable to fit them in the correct time frame; he was unable to find the time period of these seals because he thought the oldest civilization in India starts in the Gangetic area. It was John Marshall who realised the importance of these seals, and he gave the civilization the name Indus Valley Civilization. But he didn’t follow stratigraphy, due to which some valuable information was lost.
Then came REM Wheeler, who applied his military principles to archaeology. These were the difficulties, and after so many efforts, we got to know about our history in Harappa. The writing has not yet been deciphered after so many efforts. Archaeologists discovered that the Harappan Civilization was contemporaneous with Mesopotamia due to trade between the two. But how did they learn about trade? Archaeologists discovered trade between these two by discovering Harappan jars in Mesopotamia and some Mesopotamian items in Harappa. In order to find history, it became important for archaeologists to be familiar with the texts of that time, the writing style, contemporary civilizations, and much more.
What is the importance of history?
History is all about studying the past, and the past teaches us about the present. As history is all about continuity and change, Consider this example of continuity: during Akbar’s reign, his territory was divided into provinces, also known as “Subas,” and today we have adopted a federal structure in which our country is divided into states and union territories. This was the same case during Ashok’s reign, so we can say that history is about continuity, but there is also change, as in earlier times saddle querns were used, but nowadays there are mixers and grinders.
We can say that history is about continuity and change, or something that evolved as our society developed. This is all possible due to technological revolutions. It is our past experiences that help us solve bigger problems. As with untouchability, we learn from our mistakes and begin to correct them as we progress. It was a mistake that we made in the past, but now untouchability is abolished. It is through history that we have learned from our mistakes and are correcting them now.
Through history, we learned about the struggles of different societies and how our lives are different from those of our ancestors. We got to know about different cultures, their subsistence strategies, and much more. History is like solving a puzzle because archaeologists have to find out about places with which they are not familiar. And having to assemble documents and artefacts and place them in the correct timeframe—all of this is equivalent to solving a mystery.
Story telling- Oral tradition
Earlier, storytelling was part of an oral tradition. Oral traditions can be found in various civilizations; for example, the Vedas were part of an oral tradition, but they were written by Rishi-Munis between 1500 BCE and 500 BCE. In history, we learned about ethics, values, cultural norms, and differences.
So it became important for us to realise the importance of history. It’s not just a subject; it’s about our culture, our achievements, our conflicts, etc. History is a dynamic subject that is continuously evolving. History is much more than a subject.