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  • Glass in Ancient India: Excavations at Kopia by Alok Kumar Kanungo
  • James W. Lankton
Glass in Ancient India: Excavations at Kopia. Alok Kumar Kanungo, with 22 additional contributors. Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala: Kerala Council for Historical Research, 2013. 475 pp., 597 figures, 144 tables. Hardback, US $50. ISBN 81-85499-46-2.

Glass in Ancient India: Excavations at Kopia by Alok Kumar Kanungo (AKK) is a substantial work, reporting on five excavation seasons from 2004 to 2009 at the north Indian site of Kopia, which as early as 1891 was suggested to have been an ancient glass manufacturing site. Excavation in 1949 provided more evidence of glass production, including glass beads and other glass fragments, as well as fragments of reddish brown ceramic vessels thought to have been used as crucibles. Limited chemical analyses of the glass showed soda glass with high alumina and lower lime and magnesia (Roy and Varshney 1953). Based on this preliminary work, the author planned a new and more extensive excavation intended to focus particularly on the glass evidence, in order to know: the antiquity and history of glass use and production in India; the technological development of glass; the glass furnaces of ancient India; how glass study could be integrated with that of other material [End Page 185] culture remains; and how India participated in the Asian trade network (p. 9). Following Kanungo’s introductory chapter on ancient glass and vitreous materials in India and a second introductory chapter, “Kopia in History and Folklore” by R. Tewari, there are an additional 40 chapters with contributions from 22 other authors. (In spite of their quantity, the chapters are not numbered, making it difficult to refer from one to another; I have labeled the chapters sequentially for the purpose of this review.) Twenty-one of the additional chapters were written by Kanungo alone, eight in collaboration with others, and eleven by other contributors. By any measure, Glass in Ancient India represents years of work by many people. It is a great tribute to the efforts of all the contributors, particularly Dr. Kanungo, that the present work has been published.

The Foreword by J.M. Kenoyer and the Introduction by P.J. Cherian both deserve mention. We can only agree with Kenoyer that Glass in Ancient India is a major contribution to the field of glass research, “setting a new standard for how to study glass production in South Asia” (p. iii). In his Introduction, Cherian, who as Director of the KCHR also deserves credit for the publication of the volume, links the work at Kopia with his own at Pattanam, far to the south, and highlights the multi-disciplinary approach used for both excavations.

Following the general introduction outlined above, Kanungo’s chapter 3 provides a single page description of the trench layout, along with photographs of the site and a contour map. Chapter 4 might logically have preceded the trench layout, since it presents geomorphological observations including processed satellite imagery. To this reader’s great frustration, nowhere in these chapters nor indeed the entire book is there a single, clear, map of the site including trench locations. A few of the individual maps, some showing detailed views of particular trenches, are helpful, as is the aerial photograph (chapter 5, fig. 1) in which Localities I and II are outlined and some of the trench areas indicated, but without individual labels.

Chapter 5, “Radiocarbon chronology of Kopia” (AKK and V.N. Misra), moves immediately to the 30 conventional or AMS radiocarbon dates from four different laboratories. The chapter follows the general outline of an earlier publication of 20 of these dates. In any case, successfully obtaining 30 radiocarbon dates for an excavation in India is, to my knowledge, a first, and great credit goes to Kanungo for what must have been a Herculean effort. The dates, with their laboratory code numbers and 2s calibrated ranges, are listed in Table 1. Only three of the four laboratories are identified in the text and there is no distinction between conventional and AMS dates, however; even the standard deviations are not adequate for distinguishing the methods, since several dates elsewhere identified as AMS have standard deviations well over 100...


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