Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Expedition to North Gujarat, India: Beyond the Indus

A colleague of mine is working for a great archaeological project studying the archaeology of Gujarat. The project has recently begun a blog as part of an outreach programme. The blog discusses the work as well as the travel experiences of the team as they conduct field research in Gujarat.

It should be of interest to those who would like to know more about archaeology in India and how archaeologists go about their day-to-day work!

Adam Hardy: Temple, Template, Text

If you are in or around Cambridge, the Cambridge Asian Archaeology Group has an upcoming talk.

Professor Adam Hardy (Cardiff University) will be giving a talk entitled

Temple, Template, Text: Making temples in medieval India

Abstract: At Bhojpur in central India where a gigantic temple attributed to the renowned Paramara king Bhoja was left unfinished in the mid-eleventh century. Quarries and incomplete architectural parts are scattered around the temple, and engraved on the rocks are numerous architectural drawings which have been documented for the first time. Ascribed to the same monarch is the Samaranganasutradhara, a Sanskrit treatise on architecture. For the first time its prescriptions are being translated into architectural drawings, a necessary first step for discussing the relationship between a canonical text and the practice of architecture. The talk will discuss how medieval Indian temples were designed, bringing together the drawings, the text, and the evidence provided by buildings themselves.

4.00-5.00pm, South Lecture Room, Division of Archaeology, Downing Site

Open to all.

Image: Bhojpur Mandir. Taken from Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons and can be freely distributed.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

In Memoriam: Raymond Allchin (1923-2010)

I haven't been updating this blog for a while, and so there are some things I'd like to cover that are very very (very...) belated. Two of those things are obituaries for archaeologists in the field who passed away in 2010 and 2011.

Frank Raymond Allchin was born in England in 1923. He developed an interest in Indian archaeology, history, and culture while stationed there from 1944. He went on to complete a degree in Hindi and Sanskrit and a PhD in Indian Archaeology at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, London). He then stayed at SOAS to teach.

He went on to teach South Asian Archaeology in Cambridge from 1959. He inspired many students to go on to work in the field, trained many students from South Asia, and continued to do fieldwork across India and Pakistan.

While at Cambridge, he also co-founded the Ancient India and Iran Trust in 1978, along with Prof. Joan Van Lohuizen, Dr Jan Van Lohuizen, Sir Harold Bailey, and his wife Bridget Allchin, also a celebrated South Asian archaeologist. Today the organisation provides a home for research on India and Iran, houses an impressive library, and hosts regular talks by distinguished speakers.

He was also one of the founders of the European Association for South Asian Archaeology (EASAA), that hosts the biennal South Asian Archaeology conference. The 21st conference is this summer in Paris.

Raymond Allchin was prominent and influential enough that he was honoured by obituaries in the Times, the Times Higher Education Supplement, and the Guardian, among many other news media.

I won't go on about his many achievements, his teaching and publications, and how he went on to shape the field through his research and the creation of forums for South Asian Archaeology. All I can say is that this is the man who taught the people who lectured me as an undergraduate. Some of the first academic literature I read was his writings. As an early career researcher I'm presenting a paper on my PhD at the EASAA conference that he founded. He was one of the early archaeologists who brought South Asian Archaeology to the world. His influence in the field was phenomenal, and ours is a tremendous loss.

Images: Ancient India and Iran Trust logo, Book cover for The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan by Bridget and Raymond Allchin

'Mother Goddess' Image found in Andra Pradesh

A full-size (150cm/4'9" high) sandstone statue of a seated 'Mother Goddess' figure has been found associated with a temple in Andhra Pradesh. The archaeologists estimate that it dates to the 3rd century BC, which would make it the oldest such figurine found in the country/South India (the article is really not clear). However, there is no explanation in the linked article of how they dated it.

As you can see from the photos in the article, which I couldn't copy here, the statue is not in the best condition, but certainly exhibits steatopygy, or prominent hips, thighs and buttocks. Along with prominent or exaggerated breasts, many archaeologists maintain these features indicate an emphasis on fertility, and are related to ideas of the Mother Goddess.

Such figurines are found around the world, with some of the more famous examples including the Venus of Willendorf, a much older (24,000-22,000 BC) statue found in Austria. The Venus of Hohle Fels, found in Germany, is another example. As you can see, in the European tradition these statues are much older, and are often named for the goddess Venus.

The prevalence of the Mother Goddess idea comes from the research of prominent archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, who wrote a deeply influential series of books on the role of women and matriarchy in Neolithic and Bronze Age European cultures. Her work has more recently come under criticism for simplifying the association between these figures and themes of fertility and matriarchy, and for perhaps imposing modern feminist theory on early societies.

That's a whole different story however, and these Venus statues are much older. The Indian statue, which as I mentioned has been dated (tentatively?) to the 3rd century BC, is much younger. It is also associated with a Hindu temple and hence has been found in a religious context, which suggests some religious function. Hence it has the potential to indeed be a female goddess, but whether it is related to fertility or not is yet to be seen. The archaeologists also say that she appears to be holding grain in her lap, which would also suggest fertility, plenty, bounty, harvest or spring/summer.

It is unclear whether this 'Mother Goddess' is a Hindu deity; there is a rich tradition of Hindu goddesses, and certainly there are fertility deities such as Bhumi, but this statue is unusual in its representation- which is why the archaeologists are excited about it! It's certainly a very interesting find, but more research is needed to understand the meaning and context.

Image: Venus of Willendorf. Taken from Wikipedia and hence licensed to freely share.