The word “Archaeology” is derived from Greek `archaios’ meaning “ancient” and `logos’ meaning “knowledge”, it has been therefore variously defined as “the study of antiquity, the science of ancient things”. It is also defiend as `the study of everything ancient’, and hence archaeology takes every trace of human activity int account. But these definitions have only etymological (science of meaning of the words) significance. It can be more appropriately defined as the “science of ancient remains”. The function of the archaeologist does not end merely with the collection of the ancient remains, but must include an intelligent appreciation and interpretation of these remains. The word “remains” refer to the material relics that the ancient man has left behind. The term “ancient” generally refers to a period when we cannot have that abundance of written historical material.
The scope of Archaeology:
The main aim of archaeology is to aid in the reconstruction of human
past, especially when written records are absent. Even when written records are
available, they rarely deal with the activities of common man and his daily
life. India has the largest number of inscriptions in the world, but most of
these inscriptions are euological (praises) and more importance is given to
poetic attainments rather than recording the events for the posterity. They
often record land grants and other gifts, and rarely contain references to way
of life and the things as they were prevalent in those days.
Because of this fact most of the inscriptions were of no use in
reconstructing the social history, though they were useful in studying political
history. In such situation archaeologist comes to the aid by filling the gaps
with facts unearthed by his spade.
When the written records are totally absent, archaeology is the only
source by which we can know the past human activity. Though man’s cultural
past began more than 2 million years ago, when he started using stone artifacts
for the first time, written records are available only for the past 5,000 years
or so. To probe the human past beyond this 5,000 years, archaeology is the only
source. It has been aptly said `where ever man has
been on this planet for the last two million years, archaeology can be of
use’. Thus archaeologist can best be described
as `detective of the past cultures’.
Beginning of Scientific Archaeology:
About the beginning of the eighteenth century various scholars started a
systematic investigation of the ancient monuments, considering them as the
proper sources to supplement the historical evidence of written records. Its
pioneer in France was Nicolas de Fabri (1580-1637). Probably first systematic
excavation of a city site was undertaken at Pompeii from 1719 onwards, when
nobles employed people with the sole aim of collectioning antiquities. Pompeii
was buried by eruption of mount Vesuvius in A.D.79. Amaged at the state of
preservation, the antique hunters did more archaeological work than the work
they were assigned, By the middle of eighteenth century serveral institutions
teaching archaeology have come up in France, Germany, Rome, Italy, etc.
Archaeology a Science or Art:
Archaeology is both science and an art. It is a scientifically ordered branch of knowledge on a certain subject, namely the remains of ancient human activity. It is a science because it brings out some absolute indisputable fact. To that extent it is a science. But, as archaeology deals with human activity, there is possibility of objective and relative thinking, and hence there is possibility of interpretation, which makes it an art as well. Although archaeology can from time to time recover precise knowledge and can thus take its place among the exact sciences, this knowledge is always severely limited. Archaeology is also an art because archaeologist is required to expose carefully the buried remains of the human past.
As a Primary Source:
is the primary source of information for the long period of mans cultural
evolution in prehistoric times. It is only due to the sustained efforts of
archaeologists that the antiquity of man on the planet could be traced back to
two million years. By a systematic study of the tools and fossils embedded in
terraces, we are able to see the nature of mans habitat, his implements of
defense and offence, the tool techniques and his way of life. The environment of
the Stone Age man and his responses and adaptations to the climate have been
meticulously reconstructed. For Proto-historic period, though we have some
records, they are yet to be satisfactorily deciphered. Hence the proto-historic
cultures of India have largely been reconstructed basing on the archaeological
evidence. These archaeological studies have pushed back the Indian Civilization
back to about 3000 B.C, from the Vedic period. Thus the discovery of Indus
Valley Civilization put the Indian subcontinent on par with contemporary
Egyptian and Sumerian civilizations. For this the credit solely goes to
As a Supplementary Source:
Archaeology serves as a valuable supplementary source for historical
period. It fills in the gaps that are found in the written records. For example,
the information available about the Ikshvaku dynasty that ruled in central
Andhra sometime in the second half of 3rd century A.D. was extremely
scrappy, till the excavations at their capital Vijayapuri revealed their
religious patronage, secular structure, town planning etc. Similarly,
excavations at Arikamedu, Kaveripattanam and Satanikota have revealed trade
contacts with Romans in the early centuries of the Christian Era. The submerged
city of Dwaraka, mentioned in great epic Mahabharat could be identified only
because of consistent efforts of the archaeologists. Thus the information in the
written records could be verified by means of archaeology.
Common Man’s History:
Another valuable contribution of archaeology is in the reconstruction of common man’s history. Most of the historical documents and inscriptions pertain more to the upper class of the society, whereas the excavations often bring to light the residences of the common man and the objects used by them. At Lothal, the entire workshop and the equipment of the bead makers was laid bare. At Nagarjunakonda goldsmiths work-shop with all the tools was discovered. The agricultural equipment, the carpenters tools and objects of kitchen and daily-life are found in the excavations which help us in reconstructing the structure and way of life of the society. We rarely find such information in written records.
Several remarkable sites and monuments have been recorded and preserved for posterity because of the efforts of archaeologists, from the areas threatened by submergence under dam areas and from modern town constructions. Even sits threatened by natural calamities also have been taken care of. To quote few examples the rescue archaeological work done in the submersible area under the Aswan dam project in Egypt and Nagarjunakonda or Srisailam projects in Andhra Pradesh are well known. Nagarjunakonda developed as a major tourist centre after the excavations done to salvage arcahaeological wealth threatened by submergence. The future generations will always be thankful for the transplantation of remarkable group of temlples at Alampur (Kurnool Dt.) threatened by submergence under Srisailam reservoir. Similar rescue archaeological work is now going on in the submersible area under the Narmadasagar project in Madhya Prades and Gujarat.
Since archaeology provides stratified account of the artifacts and
material achievements, we can have a fairly correct assessment of the progress
of technology and material culture.
Imaginary or exaggerated view of the written records give place to a more
factual account of the past cultures. When literature gives a glorified pictue
of the material prosperity of an ancient town or a kingdom, the archaeological
work may act as a corrective source to such distinctions.
AND OTHER SUBJECTS
Archaeology often greatly helps in reconstructing history. In fact it is the only source for the reconstruction of the human past in the prehistoric times. Though we find ample number of written records for reconstruction of the historical period, they may not always present a full view of the past happenings. There would be a number of missing links in the history, which have to be reconstructed for a better understanding of the human past. Archaeology comes to the risk by supplying information to fill these gaps. Apart from filling gaps in the information available, archaeology also helps in correcting the information obtained through the written records. Most of the written records contain euological phrases which many a time proved to wrong. For example most of the inscriptions describe a king as `Maha Rajadhi Raja’, `Raja Paramesvara’, `chakravartin’ etc., which on verification prove to be highly exaggerated. Apart from helping in the reconstruction of political history, archaeology also helps greatly in studying social history, providing an insight into the common man and his ways of life. Usually written records made by him. They do not mention anything about the common man and the failures of the rulers. In such situations information collected by archaeological means are very useful. Another advantage of the information obtained through archaeological means over the written records is the authenticity of the information. The archaeological information being direct evidence is indisputable. Thus archaeology greatly helps in reconstructing the human past both of prehistoric and historic times.
Both archaeology and anthropology are connected with human beings,
whether in the past or the present. Large quantities of bones of human
beings as well as of animals are found in the excavations.
Anthropologists are always associated with the archaeological excavations to
study the bones and assess the racial composition, age, sex, nature of death,
etc. A careful examination of the teeth at Mahurjhari in Vidarbha has revealed
smoking habit of the people residing there some 2500 years ago. Likewise
study of stature and wearing of the joints have
helped in understanding
their way of like. All these results could
be obtained only by associating anthropologists in the study of material
unearthed in archaeological excavations. The traditions and customs of the
people die hard. The traditions which are observed by many communities today
have their origins in the past. For example in central India, on a particular
day women worship rice shoots planted on a plaque of mud. A similar custom was
depicted on an Indus Valley seal which is more than 4000 years old, revealing
the continuation of this custom from those days to the present period. There are
scores of such customs especially in connection with birth rites, marriage
ceremonies and funerary customs. An archaeologist can understand the evidence
unearthed better by having knowledge of such customs and traditions as practiced
today. In fact, of these lines a subject known as `Ehnoarchaeology’ has
developed in recent years. These are only few examples, how anthropology and
archaeology are interrelated. There are numerous other aspects which could be
studied by archaeologists by associating anthropologists in the investigations.
ARCHAEOLOGY AND OTHER SCIENCES:
The responsibility of archaeologist does not end with the collection of
few antiquities from an excavated site. The real task of piecing together the
past stars with the analysis and study of the material thus collected in the
field, with the help of other scientists, anthropologists, botanists, zoologists
and all other branches of sciences and humanities. Hence archaeology has
intricate and unalienable relationship with
several other subjects.
Archaeology concerns with every past human activity. So it has to take
into consideration every aspect and evidence, however trifle it may be. The
reconstruction of human past by means of archaeology is similar to investigating
a criminal case with the meagre clues available. In the process archaeology has
to depend on so many other sciences. It is not wrong to say that almost every
scientific and technological breakthrough has some of the other application in
archaeological investigations. Nuclear Physics in dating, photography in
recording, aerial photography in exploration, chemistry in cleaining and
preservation are some of the few aspects where sceince come to the aid of
archeological study. Even the recent advances in the computer electronics are
helping greatly the archaeologists the information obtained in the field.
PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY:
Archaeology greatly depends on the principles and methods of Physics and
Chemistry. For examples photography which is a combination of physics and
chemistry helps to a large extent in archaeological studies. It is the easiest and most
reliable method of recording. Another aspect of physics principles coming to
the aid of archaeology is in conservation of the old mountains where the
stress aspects on the lines of physical principles have to be studied. Most
important contributions of this studies to archaeology is dating the objects by
physical (nuclear) and chemical methods like C-14, Potassium-Argon,
Thermoluminescence, Archaeomagnetic dating techniques. We cannot underestimate
the role of chemistry in cleaning and preservation of antiquities and ancient
monuments. In fact a branch known as `archaeological chemistry’ has developed
in recent years. Apart from this X-rays, electronics, aviation and almost all
advances made in science have contributed greatly in archaeological studies.
GEOLOGY AND GEOGRAPHY:
Archaeology greatly depends on the geology and geographical studies in the investigations. The study of prehistoric cultures up to the Mesolithic age greatly depend on geological Ice ages and terrace formations for evolutionary and chnological estimations. In fact the principles of stratigraphical dating method universally applied in archaeological investigation have been borrowed from geology.
Geology and geographical factors greatly influence the people of the
region and their ways of life. Knowledge of different rocks and minerals is
essential to understand the use of these different material in the production of
tools, ornaments, and house-hold articles. An archaeologist should be able to
distinguish different materials like granite, sand stone, quatizite, limestone,
laterite, chalcedoney, agate, chert, jasper, carnelian, steatite, etc. Whereas
quartzite was more preferred in the Palaeolithic period, chalcedoney, chert,
agate, jasper etc were preferred in the Mesolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
Similarly dolerite, dike and trap rock was preferred in the production of
Neolithic period. Preference for different rock material also varies in house,
temple and grave construction. For example in Cuddapah, Kurnool and Chittoor
districts, where lime stone slabs of Cuddapah series are available in plenty,
the houses are constructed using this slabs
and we find less use bricks. Similarly in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil
Nadu we come across more cist burials of megalithic period utilising slabs in
the construction. But in Vidarbha, in the same period pit burials were more
prevalent as material for slab production was not available.
The archaeological features effect the physical features of the living
organisms including human beings. For example, the mongoloid short features of
the Tibeteans are brought about by the hight altitude of the Himalayan montain
system. Similarly, the way of life of the people is also greatly influenced by
the geological and geographical features. For example people living in the
coasts consume more fish while the people in the interior lands depend
mor on game items. Similarly, the coastal people cultivate rice extensively due
to the availability of water whereas the people in the mid upper lands cultivate
pulses and cereals which are rain dependent. An archaeologist should have a good
background of such factors which are influence d by the geology and geographical
features, to have better understanding of the ancient cultures.