If archaeology in Pakistan is to be made a vibrant discipline, inter/cross/multi-disciplinary considerations shall guide it
In the present milieu of intolerance and nihilistic violence, archaeology may give us alternative models of mutual coexistence. But it depends on sound and sincere multidisciplinary researches about our pasts. Otherwise, the past has till now been abused under political expediencies.
Moreover, a new archaeology having multidisciplinary orientation can show the way out of economic crisis. We know that in Pakistan non-Muslim aspects of cultures have utterly been disowned. They are not part of official cultural policy, if there is any. Strong academic tradition can help change the phenomenon. Above all, these new beginnings in archaeology would warrant academic growth.
Archaeology is a subject which has fascinated different people in different ways since long. Its practitioners may be divided along two approaches. There are those who believe that archaeology shall purely serve the cause of historical inquiry. The other pole, which since the latter twentieth century dominates the scene, combines academic pursuits with a strong propensity and practice for the public utility of the discipline. This difference is sharp as it is underlined by conflicting epistemic structures. In what follows is an effort to start a lively debate in Pakistani context.
In Pakistan such a consciousness and understanding are strikingly absent. A partial reflection, though, in works of Ahmad Hasan Dani and Saifur Rahman Dar can be seen. We shall understand that a deep familiarity with these methodical-theoretical and philosophical perspectives and discourses is direly needed.
Coming to the debate of pure academic archaeology and public (or popular) archaeology, I would like to choose R.G. Collingwood and Sir Mortimer Wheeler for analysis. The former was a hardcore Oxford historian, philosopher and archaeologist. He is known for his work in the archaeology of Roman-Britain (different reports produced) and The Idea of History. From all his works some fundamental features of his philosophy emerge: philosophic idealism, interpretative approach and historical investigation guided by question-answer. All this found an embodiment in his archaeological researches.
His views about archaeology as a pure pursuit of historical knowledge are found in his An Autobiography, first published in 1939, a little before his death. A strong case in favour of problem-oriented research has been made in it. Collingwood observes that if scholars take it seriously, "the public will follow suit, and thus, the government officials responsible for looking after ancient monuments [would . . .] treat them not as objects of sentimental pilgrimage but as potential sources of historical knowledge."
On the other hand, Sir Wheeler was an archaeology celebrity. He popularised archaeology not only in academic space but across the general society. He used simple language and, simultaneously, addressed a larger lay audience. His publications may be termed ‘appropriate simplifications’ aiming at giving input to policy making, preparing informed people etc. For this purpose, Wheeler also trained others both in England and in India. His legacy is still valued and public archaeology now exists as a vital discipline.
All this needs to be related to Pakistani archaeology. That archaeology in Pakistan suffers from theoretical and epistemological poverty has been discussed by me previously in this magazine. Here I would offer suggestions for its rescue. In other words, if archaeology in Pakistan is to be made a vibrant discipline, inter/cross/multi-disciplinary considerations shall guide it.
As a first instance in this connection, I would like to outline here some basic readings not only for students but also for teachers and other archaeology personnel. They have been grouped into four categories.
1. Social theory: All knowledge may be termed social in nature. This understanding stems from the concept that reality is socially mediated. It follows that an objective knowledge does not exist. However, we may not ignore the fact that there has been a parallel philosophical tradition (positivism) with a belief that reality is outside there and that it is understandable. In order to get acquaintance with these debates, I would suggest these basic books: White Mythologies: Writing History and the West by Robert Young (1990/2003); Theories of Development: Contentions, Arguments, Alternatives by Richard Peet and Elaine Hartwick (1990).
2. Archaeological theory: Archaeological theory derives from theoretical conundrum of a number of other subjects. It ranges from evolutionism to humanism, romanticism, racism, colonialism, post-colonialism, post-developmentalism and so on. Two books are initially of utmost teaching/learning significance: A History of Archaeological Thought by Bruce G. Trigger (1989/2010); In the Beginning: An Introduction to Archaeology by B.M. Fagan, (7th ed., 1991).
3. Archaeological historiography: In plain words, historiography deals with the ways as to how historical knowledge is produced. Archaeological historiography is rather a recent development. The level of maturity a discipline has gained becomes obvious from the level of historiographical debates and discussions in it. Archaeology has come of age. From across the world valuable historiographical works are available. However, I would list here works in South Asian context: A History of Indian Archaeology: From the Beginning to 1947 by Dilip Chakrabarti ((1988/2001); Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India by Tapati Guha-Thakurta (2004); Outline History of the IsIAO Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan: 1956-2006 (East and West, 56,1-3, 2006, pp. 23-41) by Luca Maria Olivieri; Colonial Archaeology in South Asia: The Legacy of Sir Mortimer Wheeler by Himanshu Prabha Ray (2008); The Discovery of Ancient India: Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology by Upinder Singh (2004); Revitalizing Indian Archaeology: Further Theoretical Essays (2 vols.) by K. Paddayya (2016); Indian Archaeology and Heritage Education: Historiographical and Sociological Dimensions by K. Paddayya (2018).
4. Anthropological theory: Anthropological theory has greatly influenced archaeology across the world. If we talk about European archaeology and American archaeology, the former is history-oriented while the latter is marked by anthropological approach. However, a careful statement would be that nowadays people belonging to both persuasions could be abundantly found everywhere. In India, S.C. Malik first made a case for anthropological approach in Indian archaeology in early 1960s. Two books, therefore, are recommended: The Rise of Anthropological Theory by M. Harris (1968); Indian Civilization: The Formative Phase. A Study of Archaeology as Anthropology by S.C. Malik (1968).