Bishnupriya Basak

Bishnupriya Basak

Understanding the antiquity of mankind: Interpretation of past human behaviour from archaeological artefacts with special reference to stone tools

Assistant Professor, Department of Archaeology, Calcutta University.

The Nehru Trust award allowed me to visit the archives and manuscript collections of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, and Indian Collections housed in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. The ambition of my project was to better consider the beginnings of prehistoric archaeology in the Indian sub-continent with special reference to eastern India.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of this work was in trying to understand the colonial mind from many fragmentary sources that very seldom spoke about personal inclinations and emotions that provoked many to make wild ventures into the unknown, in retrieving a prehistoric artefact or a tribal totem that became an item of circulation. What united all these travellers, colonial scholar-officials was a passion to collect and piece together a universal history of ‘mankind.’

The trip offered the enriching experience of working with two separate institutions. The displays at Pitt Rivers Museum have been purported to highlight and maintain the typological scheme of end-nineteenth century when it was founded. As one enters the main gallery one is transported back to the time when archaeology and anthropology were emerging as twin disciplines in Great Britain. The Museum computer database—a virtual treasure house—revealed information about a sizeable collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects appearing in the network of collections during the late nineteenth-early twentieth century.

The Royal Anthropological Institute provided the experience of working in a very small archive of an Institute, now struggling to survive, but which had played a phenomenal role in the evolution of the discipline. I would consider my coming across W.E.Crooke’s private papers a very important discovery.

The study visit expanded my knowledge base, aiding me in not only to pursue my personal research, but also refining my teaching skills.