In conversation with R.K. Verma, Deputy Superintendent Archaeologist, working for Archaeological Survey Of India
Q1 From which college have you completed your graduation from, what were your favorite subjects?
I have completed my graduation from Ranchi University. I always had a hidden interest in history which I was not able to pursue and showcase till graduation, but after that I decided to give a fresh start and do what I always wanted to do.
Q2 What was your subject in graduation?
I was from a science background since plus 2 and pursued a degree in science even during graduation. But after that I completed my masters in history, after preparing for the entrance for master studies, from Ranchi University itself. After this I went for a post-graduation diploma in archaeology from institute of Archaeology at Archaeological survey of India’s Headquarter.
Q3 Why did you choose archaeology as your career?
(Laughs and gives that smirks before asking me that whether he should give me the sugarcoated right answer to this question or whether I wanted the honest answer from him)
The honest answer:
I am a live example of what circumstances in life can do to you. Never in my dreams have I ever thought that I’d become an archaeologist and achieve such a position with success. This happened for me by default. After completing my masters in history, as I always wanted to work in the government sector, I began giving the various competitive exams required for this. After appearing for all examinations I, by god’s grace got selected in 3 of them and then started working for state bank of India initially. But after the results, the archaeological survey of India offered me a position and since I had pursued masters in history and had that flair since childhood, at last my interest took me here after accepting the offer.
Q4 Initially have you worked as an apprentice with other senior archaeologists?
YES, of course yes, after I completed my PG diploma in archaeology, students were given various assignments for field work which enabled them to gain practical exposure from knowledge they learned in class rooms. So during this time we worked as apprentice archaeologists under our professors and other senior archaeologists of those times, in order to learn and gather experience.
Q5. Have you had a mentor or any kind of inspiration which has helped you come to this position?
You always need a creative mind to work according to your wish which in turn enables you to enjoy whatever work you’re engaging yourself in. I am a person who has always made his own ways in life and have had taken independent responsibilities. Normal working style has never attracted and enamored me. I have never been a follower and I have always done what my mind says. As you know I was in charge for the national museum also, I organized one dozen of international exhibitions where the objects found from several important excavations which took place within the national boundaries have been taken abroad and many national exhibitions also. During my stint many people influenced me and told me to work according to usual ways but I always did what I felt was right and emerged successful too. Never worked on papers as it’s a long process to send the letters for permissions and then later waiting for them to get signatures of various officials involved in the procedure, Instead I took to emails and did all the work on computers which my colleagues did not like. So, I have always devised my own strategy to work so I have never had any mentor.
Q6 How does the site formation take place, why do you select a particular area for your excavation?
This process is very difficult as it involves a lot of research which cannot happen overnight, it goes on for 2 3 years and then the government passes proposals which comes to us, asking us to dig that particular place. It’s a long process. Moreover this site which may have had a history of settlements or maybe agricultural fields are usually located near rivers and springs which was a primary requirement for the human beings. After several decades when the humans started acquiring sedentary lifestyle and started settling down at one place there requirement was to find fertile for cultivation. That’s how settlements thrive. But after a period of time, say 100-200 years due to various reasons such as climatologically fluctuations, flood, drought, overutilization of resources or clan revolts and tensions the settlement was left abandoned and people either dies or migrated. The objects are left behind, like the wattle daub houses, their utensils etc take the shape of a mound after they get perished over a lot of period of time. These are the various antecedents which enables us to choose a particular place to start our excavation.
Q7 You has done diggings at various places. What were your findings?
The objective of the excavation was to know the cultural sequence of the site which was found to be a mound encircled by the fort wall in the sixteenth century AD almost in similar fashion in which the Old fort was constructed around the ancient mound of Indraprastha, about 6 km towards its south. The fort wall of Salimgarh was constructed in 1546 AD by Islam Shah, son and successor of Sher Shah Suri.
Trenches were laid and excavation was carried out in a limited area. Digging continued down to the depth of 11 m from the top surface and the natural soil could not be reached due to seapage of water. It was observed that during the time of construction of the fort, the undulated area was leveled by 6m thick filling, composed of earth mixed with sand and stone chips. After filling up of the area the surface was made even over which the fort buildings were constructed. The rammed floor belonging to the middle of the 16th century Ad was found spread all over in the first Quadrant which must have been apart of huge country yard of some building complex of original construction at Salimgarh. A part of random rubble wall constructed over the rammed floor datable to the Mughal period was also noticed. Remains of 2 more floors were noticed belonging to the successive phases of late Mughal pd., the earlier having remains of a hearth. The top levels were found containing debris of the building material of Mughal Pd. And antiques and pottery of the 19th century belonging to the Anglo Mughal phase of Indian history.
After removing the thick filling, below the rammed floor, was encountered the loam deposit containing washed out rolled potsherds of red ware, grey ware, and painted grey ware. Below this was encountered the habitational deposit containing some pottery and animal bones which did not show signs of water borne rolling of potsherds. The antiquity of such pottery takes back the date of this site to the early 1st millennium BC. The PGW shreds were found in late deposits also, possibly because of pit activities and leveling of the mound. Besides PGW shreds, Black slipped ware, Black and Red ware, Grey ware and red ware were also found. 2 copper coins of Sultanate period were found just below the rammed floor of which one belonged to Sultan Balban. The Mughal ceramics included Local glazed ware, Chinese porcelain, red ware containing typical decorated pottery. Evidence of Mughal glass ware was also noticed. Glass bangles, semi precious stone beads, painted terracotta figurines, belonging to Mughal period, were also found. Among the important antiquities of 19th century, lead pendent with stud glass and tobacco pipes of white plastic clay were important. One of the pipes with human face inscribed English legends- Glasgow and Helmet. Thus the small scale excavation provided evidence of occupation at the site from about 900BC to the early historical age and after the gap again during the medieval period of Indian history to the present times.
Q8 What has been your one of the exciting discoveries?
The most exciting discovery of my career was in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karkabhar, Durg district. During that time we were just provided a Topo sheet for excavation design. With the help of this we found the site and excavated pre-historic tools which included spearhead, white collar tools and many kinds of hand axes were found. After excavating these, we were in a group of 4 people and lost our way in the forest with no water. It was getting dark by the time and we were not able to find the way out. Somehow we reached the highway after spending hours in the forest and boarded the truck to our camp where our fellow mates were very worried about us. This was a very adventurous and exciting experience for us.
Q9 How do we get to know about the time frame of the objects found?
Since I belong to a science background, I have knowledge of scientific as well as other methods involved in this procedure. One of the most common methods I have used is the carbon dating method where the atomic weight of the carbon atom falls after every 5730 years and that how we can gather the time period of the particular material which we have found. Other widely used
• Potassium argon dating – for dating fossilized hominid remains
• Radio carbon dating – for dating organic materials (Maximum 50,000 to 60,000 years old)
• Rehydroxylation dating – for dating ceramic materials.
• Thermo luminescence dating – for dating inorganic material including ceramics
The objects excavated are then sent to various laboratories at the same time and the then evidences received by these labs are corroborated to produce accurate and definite results.
Prior research works have been conducted on the dating techniques which have now reduced the level of difficulty in gathering data about it. Like the Ochre coloured pottery was a contemporary and successor to Indus valley civilization, 2nd century BC. (during kushana period)
Black and red ware- was an Iron Age archaeological culture of north India between 12th-9th century BCE.
Painted grey ware- fine grey pottery painted with geometric patterns in black between 1200-600BCE (during Mauryan period)
Northern black pottery ware found between 700-200bce, luxury style of burnished pottery
Glazed pottery- 12th Century , white background with blue green patterns found during sultanate Mughal period.
Q10 Can you describe what is included in an archaeological research design?
The first step in an archaeological project generally requires detailed historical research in the library. This enables us to produce an Archaeological Research Design, which summarizes the known history of the site in question and sets forth specific questions and objectives to be addressed by the archaeological field research. The government of the India sends us a proposal and the budget in which we have to do the digging. This stage is followed by field investigations trial excavations – the actual digging of the site – where the archaeologist attempts to answer the research questions that have been formulated during the construction of hypothesis. When the field investigations have been completed, the data and artefacts that have been recovered are analyzed and interpreted in the laboratory. Sometimes detailed scientific studies – like listed above are conducted during this phase of the work. Then, the data and conclusions of the project are all brought together in the form of a written report, or publication. Finally, sometimes a museum exhibit is created using the artifacts that have been collected and analyzed.
Q11 When you find artefacts from your excavated areas, what happens to them? Where do they go?
The objects excavated are then sent to various laboratories at the same time and the then evidences received by these labs are corroborated to produce accurate and definite results. When these objects come back from chemical testing are then send for numbering and registration and then later after labeling are delivered to the site and state museums for people to see and there these artifacts are properly conserved also.
Q12 How are the objects found preserved?
The main objective to preserve the artifacts is from human intervention, air pollutants which usually change the original color of the object, pests, humidity. A proper arrangement is done in controlled settings for maintaining a certain light and temperature for them and protecting them from UV rays.
While incandescent and fluorescent lights do not give off UV, they can emit a significant amount of heat. Therefore, incandescent lights should not be placed inside or near exhibit cases. Usage of the lowest wattage possible and making sure areas surrounding the incandescent bulbs are well ventilated is important. A properly regulated museum environment will include controls for light, temperature, relative humidity, air pollutants and pests.
Q13 How does the archaeological survey of India publicizes their findings and create awareness through them?
the centralized system functions in a way in which after the excavations the assigned archaeologists have to produce reports of their methods, artifacts found and other discoveries whether small scale or big scale. These reports can be found in libraries as well as the Delhi circle office at INA. Moreover the findings are at display in most of the museums present which also helps to gain knowledge.
Q14 How has the new digital age helped your work?
Most of the work which takes place in India is mostly manually done and not a lot of machinery is used in the process. This includes meticulous work (layer by layer) which is mostly accurate and also ensures that while working not much of information is lost from the area being worked upon. That’s why digital age has not affected this organization much. Both because of the coming of computers, yes I would agree that paper work has become less and methods of communicating have become easy.
Q15 What are the projects that you’re currently working on?
Currently I am working with the Swatantrata Sanghram Shaghralaya, Mumtaz Mahal and War memorial museum at Red Fort Delhi where I deal maintenance and organizing the funding of these museums.
Q16 What advice would you offer women considering a career in archaeology?
I would advise women to ignore anyone who attempts to discourage them, not to listen to anyone who tells them they might be unsuited to a career in archaeology. Archaeology is a great field for women. Women, often very persistent and hard-working, tend to do well in long-term research. Women, often not integrated into traditional power structures, may be more independent than men . Women also can initiate conversations with local, rural people.
Q17 What do you see as the major challenges facing archaeology at the millennium?
Archaeology needs to get its information out to the public and to other scientists. The danger I see is that the value of their information is not being recognized. Thus, systematic studies of human remains are being ignored. Less people want to take up this profession as they thing that in this age there’s less scope to find something new as everything has been already researched upon which is wrong. Archaeology is a forever living science.
Q18 What can archaeology offer future?
Archaeology’s great usefulness is that it offers a view into the process of history, of change through time. So many fields operate with theories and find based on undocumented and documented assumptions about what happened in the past in relation to today. What archaeology can do is test those assumptions. It can show what certain regions were like at certain times and what earlier peoples were like, in this way checking the principles of important theories that are being used to guide the future. Through archaeology, the past can contribute to useful knowledge for the future of the world.