April 27, 2010


Archaeology, archeology, or archeology is the science that studies human cultures through the recovery, documentation, analysis, and interpretation of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, features, bifocals, and landscapes. Because archaeology's aim is to understand humankind, it is a humanistic endeavor. Furthermore, due to its analysis of human cultures, it is therefore a subset of anthropology, which contains: Physical anthropology, Cultural anthropology, Archaeology, and linguistics. The goals of archaeology vary, and there is debate as to what its aims and responsibilities are. Some goals include the documentation and explanation of the origins and development of human cultures, understanding culture history, chronicling cultural evolution, and studying human behavior and ecology, for both prehistoric and historic societies.

Of the archaeological sites in Bangladesh, the most important are paharpur (Pahadpur) in Naogaon, mahasthan (Mahasthan) in Bogra, and mainamati (Mainamati) in Comilla. Each is unique in its own way. Paharpur is the largest monastery and temple. Mahasthan is not only the one city site among the mostly religious sites in Bangladesh but also a city going back to the distant past (3rd - 2nd century BC). It is contemporary with the early historic cities of the Gangetic valley - Vaishali, Pataliputra, and Kaushambi - to name only a few. Mainamati's uniqueness lies in its being a complex of religious establishments - monasteries and temples of latter day Buddhism (of c 6th to 13th century AD) - extending over miles on the hill-top. Of these Buddhist remains, the only exception may be the Charpatra Mura temple, which may have been of Vaisnavite affiliation.

Sir Alexander cunningham's archaeological expeditions in areas now forming Bangladesh was carried out in 1879-80 and included Mahasthan and Paharpur. Cunningham also reported on bhasu vihara (Bhasu Vihara) near Mahasthan, Jogi Gupha near Paharpur, Ghatnagar, and Debar Dighi. Some other British administrators like EV Westmacott (1875), H Beveridge (1878), and CJ O'Donnel had already written on the ruins of Paharpur and Mahasthangarh. Owing to non-cooperation of the local zamindar, Cunningham could not investigate the site long enough to understand the real nature of Paharpur. Excavations carried out much later, however, proved that it was the remains of the biggest Buddhist monastery in the subcontinent (very recently Vikramashila has been claimed to be slightly larger).

However the outstanding achievement of Cunningham during his 1879-80 tour was his brilliant identification of Mahasthangarh with the city of pundranagar on the basis of huen-tsang's itinerary. At a later date (1931), a stone plaque discovered from the site, bearing an inscription in early Brahmi characters (mahasthan brahmi inscription), points to the site's probable association with the Mauryan empire, perhaps as a provincial capital.

Initial excavations at these sites, particularly Paharpur and Mahasthan, were begun by some private research bodies, the foremost being the varendra research society of Rajshahi, led by Kumar Sarat Kumar ray of Dighapatia in association with some enthusiastic gentlemen of Rajshahi town, notably Akshay Kumar maitreya, a lawyer and Ramaprasad chanda, a teacher in the local collegiate school, all of whom became famous later for their scholarly achievements. The society, established in 1910, made archaeological tours in areas around Rajshahi, undertook small excavations, wrote and published reports -all financed by Sarat Kumar Ray - and built up its collection of antiquities, particularly sculptures. These activities led to the Varendra Research Society Museum, established in 1919. The Society is now extinct and the museum, now called the varendra research museum, is part of Rajshahi University.

An earlier landmark in the rise of private initiative in the development of archaeological studies in Bengal was the establishment of vangiya sahitya parishad in Calcutta in 1893-94. The Parishad gradually built up a rich collection of sculptures. After 1905, its branches proliferated in such far-flung areas as Rangpur, Rajshahi, Dhaka, Sylhet and Comilla, each having its own collection of sculptures. It is also apt here to recall the significant contribution made by the indefatigable scholar NK bhattasali, curator of Dhaka Museum from 1914, whose many-sided genius and dedication enriched archaeological studies in Bangladesh. He was an epigraphist, a numismatist, both ancient and medieval, and also an art historian. He explored tirelessly sites mostly in the Dhaka area - savar, vikramapura, wari-bateshwar etc. But he also visited Mainamati in Comilla. Two of his works, Iconography of Hindu Buddhist Sculptures in the Dhaka Museum and The Coins and Chronology of the Early Independent Sultans of Bengal, are still important and widely referred.

Archaeologists are also concerned with the study of methods used in the discipline, and the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings underlying the questions archaeologists ask of the past. The tasks of surveying areas in order to find new sites, excavating sites in order to recover cultural remains, classification, analysis, and preservation are all important phases of the archaeological process. These are all important sources of information. Given the broad scope of the discipline there is a great deal of cross-disciplinary research in archaeology. It draws upon anthropology, history, art history, classics, ethnology, geography, geology, linguistics, physics, information sciences, chemistry, statistics, pale ecology, paleontology, pale zoology and pale botany.


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