3/18/10: Monica Smith, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, scrutinized the multifaceted nature of ancient India’s civilizations in a recent talk on “Text and Context: The Archaeology of Ancient India” at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology.
The wealth of these civilizations attracts not only scholars, such as archeologists and the ethno-archeologists, who study the traditional technologies still practiced today. It also draws in the public, including tourists, school children, pilgrims, and the growing middle class. Politicians too cannot resist visiting these sites where the collective social memory was molded, said Smith. She then went on to trace the development of these civilizations. The Middle Paleolithic, which is the second subdivision of the Old Stone Age, witnessed the development and spread of human activity. The site of Mehrgarh, which begins in 7000 BC, has houses and artifacts that symbolize diverse activities ranging from pottery to craft making, said Smith.
The Indus culture was only recognized in 1922. Some of the major sites that encompass the Indus valley culture from 2500 to 1900 BC are Herappa and Mohenjo-Daro. At Herappa, one can witness the brick infrastructure and the way in which the construction reveals a fully functioning urban center. An artifact of the Harappan period is the “priest-king,” which is an image from Mohenjo-Daro that can be held in the palm of one’s hand.”We don’t have very large kinds of public structures that glorify public leaders,” Smith said referring to this artifact.
After the Herappa culture declined around 1900 BC, there was a return to “simple societies.” The Early Historic Period from 500 BC to 320 AC was characterized by Buddhism and Jainism, which rejected the previous hierarchical religious tradition.
It was also characterized by the practice of writing, which enabled archeologists to read the recorded development of cities. These elements worked together to bring about pilgrimages to Buddhist institutions, which were not limited to the elites but also included relatively ordinary people, said Smith. Buddhism is one of the links that paved the way for Indian activities to be adopted abroad in countries like China, Smith commented.
The ancient city of Sisupalgarh, where Smith has worked for ten years, was first excavated by the Indian archeologist Braj Basi Lal (known as B.B. Lal) in 1948. Sisupalgarh is part of the Early Historic Period, said Smith. Clay ornaments, clay pendants with elephants, and ceremonial deposits that are an element of an urban phenomenon were discovered in Sisupalgarh. Furthermore, archeologists found pottery that was ornamented in a way that did not strictly serve utilitarian purposes and revealed that fashion pervaded all social classes.
The lecture was sponsored by the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World and the Year of India.
By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Samura Atallah ’11