About the Lecture
In South Asia, local communities most often live near or amidst archaeological places. Their lives are in many ways framed and structured by these places. At the same time, these places too are impacted by the communities that live nearby. This symbiotic relation is often a result of the high population density in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the Gangetic plain of North India. This story gets further complicated by legislative practices of preservation related to ancient monuments and archaeological sites, as well as the custodianship of antiquities and art treasures.
In order to bring out the complexities of these issues, I will, in my presentation, be focusing on the archaeological site of Indor Khera in the Upper Ganga Plains of North India, which was surveyed and excavated between 2004 and 2010. In the 19th century, the village occupied about one-fourth of the area, which has now expanded over two-thirds of the mound. While Indor Khera merited archaeological attention in its own stead, what is usually neglected, particularly in South Asia, are issues related to the current social contexts of archaeological sites. It, thus, becomes imperative to address questions such as (1) local perceptions to the mound, and the daily negotiations of the local residents with the mound; (2) the challenges of undertaking archaeological research at mounds that are still inhabited by local communities and; (3) difficulties and hindrances in enforcing regulations and protection of archaeological places, such as Indor Khera.
There may be many reasons for the preservation of archaeological places in different parts of the world. The most obvious is where the archaeological remnants can be commercialized through tourism. In other cases, there may be an emotional connect between local communities and archaeological sites, where the latter are seen as ancestral places. However, when these factors are not present, local communities are often not vested in preserving archaeological sites, and for the state, it becomes a challenge to enforce their regulations. I argue that this is particularly relevant in the case of Indor Khera and many other archaeological sites in the subcontinent. The challenge, thus, lies in formulating ways of involving local communities in the preservation of archaeological sites in South Asia.
About the Speaker
Supriya Varma teaches archaeology at the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been the Co-Director of several archaeological projects in India including the Indor Khera Archaeological Project (IKAP) and the Rohana Khurd Archaeological Project (ROKAP). She has also carried out an ethnoarchaeological study of ceramic production in the Upper Ganga plains. She has published articles on themes ranging from settlement archaeology, social archaeology, ethno archaeology, historical archaeology, and early historic urban centres to archaeological practices in India. Her most recent publication includes a forthcoming co-edited book The Archaeology of Early Medieval and Medieval South Asia: Contesting Narratives from the Eastern Ganga-Brahmaputra Basin.