- India, An Archaeological History: Palaeolithic Beginnings to Early Historic Foundations
Dilip K. Chakrabarti's ambitious goal for his book India, An Archaeological History is to create a continuous archaeological history from the Palaeolithic period up to and including Early Historic India. The study region is described as including the modern states of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, although the book focuses on the archaeological remains uncovered in India and Pakistan. In order to connect the many time periods and ancient cultures in this vast geographic expanse, Chakrabarti proposes to examine the relationships between human societies and the land. This is a fascinating idea, to use the history of how human societies lived in the diverse environments of South Asia to create an encompassing view of the past. The in situ landscape seldom changes, and the ways that cultures exploit their environments tend to be limited by persistent factors such as geography, climate, soil type, and water resources. Thus, focusing on how environments were used will give coherence to a long chronological sequence and to a widely varied geographic region. Interestingly, Chakrabarti's goal has a political motivation,
What we want to emphasize in the context of the ancient history of such a vast landmass as the subcontinent of India is that it is only through the reconstruction of the historical development of man-land interaction in different parts of the subcontinent that the framework of a past acceptable [End Page 380] to all segments of its population can emerge.(p. 3)
However, political discussion does not play a major role in the book and Chakrabarti hones in on the archaeological remains.
In order to meet his goal of creating a continuous history, he reviews the accumulated archaeological data per period and per region. Beginning with the Palaeolithic through the Mesolithic periods and early village communities, to the Early Historic period of India, Chakrabarti fills the chapters with archaeological data. Unfortunately, there is little overarching narrative to help the reader contextualize the details, and the short introductions and conclusions to each chapter are overwhelmed by the amount of detailed information in between. Another major drawback of the book is the inadequate use of citations and references. Other scholars' research is generally noted at the beginning of sections, but when it is described in the text there are no citations. Also, there are some uncited quotations and some studies are noted in the text without references.
Following an introductory chapter wherein the goals of the book are discussed and the region is introduced, Chapter 2 reviews the evidence of early humans in the subcontinent beginning with the history of Palaeolithic research. Sites are briefly described, chronology is discussed, and some controversies are noted, such as whether the cranial fragment found in the Narmada River valley belongs to Homo erectus or archaic Homo sapiens. In Chapter 3, Chakrabarti discusses only the Mesolithic data that falls into chronological position between the Palaeolithic remains and the early farming communities in the region. Hunting-gathering-foraging cultures of the subcontinent have existed from the Palaeolithic period until modern times, and Chakrabarti's chronological focus does not fully appreciate the adaptability of this human environmental strategy.
The focus of Chapter 4 is on the early villages of Baluchistan, the Indus Valley, and northwest India, the areas where the Harappan civilization emerged or at least had great influence in the third millennium b.c. Sites and topics that are well published in the specialist literature, such as the Mehrgarh excavations and evidence at this site for animal and plant domestication, are described in detail.
The Harappan or Indus civilization (Chakrabarti uses both terms) is the topic of Chapter 5 and the sites, chronology, materials, and trade of this cultural phenomenon are discussed, however some of the details in this chapter are confusing and misleading. For example, Chakrabarti describes his view of the political and social framework of the Harappan civilization as, "multiple kingdoms centred around the major...