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  • The Archaeology of an Early Historic Town in Central India
  • Himanshu Prabha Ray
The Archaeology of an Early Historic Town in Central India. Monica Smith. BAR International Series 1002. Oxford: John and Erica Hedges Ltd. and Archaeopress, 2001. vi + 163 pp. 48 b/w maps, drawings, and photos. Paper. U.S. $60.00. ISBN 1841711977.

In South Asian archaeology, as elsewhere, the objective of surface survey and collection programs has moved beyond just discovering sites to addressing questions of wider social and cultural significance. Starting in the 1980s the number of publications that adopt this methodology has grown steadily, and Monica Smith's monograph is a welcome addition to this list.

The principal focus of her survey project over two field seasons in 1994–1995 was the site of Kaundinyapura located on the banks of the river Wardha in the Vidarbha region of central India and a smaller contemporary settlement at Dhamantari. During the course of two seasons' work she collected more than 35,000 ceramic sherds as well as objects of stone, metal, and shell. It is the results of this survey work that are discussed in Chapters 5, 6, and 7 and form the core of the study, while the five other chapters attempt to place this material within the wider perspective of trading activities and social organization.

According to the excavator of the site in the 1960s, M. G. Dikshit, settlement began at Kaundinyapura in the Iron Age Megalithic phase and continued until A.D. 250, after which the site was reoccupied between A.D. 1300 and 1600. Within this long time span of the site's history, Smith focuses on the Early Historic period defined as extending from third century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. A caveat is necessary at this stage; because ceramic typologies for the later periods are not rigorously established, it may often be difficult to separate Early Historic pottery from that of the later period.

Site surface surveys are good for providing details of site function, habitation size, the location of elite and non-elite areas, and special purpose areas of site use. Based on an analysis of artifacts from her survey, Smith identifies types of goods that came into the area and lists them as iron, salt, sandstone, mica, rice, and sugarcane, while goods that moved out were cotton, wheat and other grains, beads, lac, dyes, and forest derivatives. At the same time, the study of ceramics shows a wider shared material culture in the greater Vidarbha region. Of the 1531 identifiable rims from Kaundinyapura, 71 percent of the collections matched Early Historic rim forms from other sites in the Vidarbha region. An analysis of archival data relating to the resources of the region led the author to suggest a household-level production of durable goods made from locally available materials, such as chert, coinciding with surplus production of agricultural and forest products.

Another issue on which the site surface survey provides interesting data is the intrasite distribution of artifacts. The high density of building material, such as bricks and tiles on the northernmost and southernmost mounds at Kaundinyapur, has been taken to indicate residential areas, whereas a high concentration of irregular basalt blocks at the very far south suggests a lookout post. The southern mound contained a higher density of tiles and was associated with elite residence as compared to the northern mound, a suggestion further supported by the presence of the lookout post. In contrast, building materials are scarce in the middle area of the site suggesting a nonresidential use of the site.

Based on the distribution of ceramics, several activity zones were demarcated at the site. Thus, the northern and southern residential mounds were associated with [End Page 405] storage functions, while the density of fine ceramics from the central area was linked to marketing functions, which did not require a high level of architectural investment. Tables, illustrations, and maps further supplement the discussion and analysis of the site surface survey results and indicate a valid research design.

In contrast, Chapters 2, 3, and 4 strike a discordant note on several counts and clearly there is a mismatch between practice and theory. Chapter...