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Dig this work?

Love to connect with the past, and learn more about ancient people and civilisations? Discover the archaeologist in you, says Syed Amir Ali Hashmi

education Updated: Oct 01, 2009 09:59 IST
Syed Amir Ali Hashmi

In his student days, says KK Muhammed, superintending archaeologist (Delhi circle), ASI, he read Nehru’s Glimpses of World History and Balakrishna Pillai’s Through the Heart, both in Malayalam. That, he says, led to his fascination for temples.

Coincidentally for Muhammed, Pillai’s book was about Buddhism and Bihar, and the Bihar Circle was where he found himself later as an archaeologist, working amongst all those monuments he had read about and been inspired by.

Dr Alok Tripathi, superintending archaeologist, Underwater Archaeology Wing, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), describes this profession as a multidisciplinary activity that includes search, study and preservation of human history.

“Archaeologists”, adds Dr Tripathi, “irrespective of their specialisation or branch, are expected to conduct explorations of archaeological sites and remains. For the study of buried remains, these sites are excavated by field archaeologists.

“Experts from various branches collect and study remains pertaining to their specialised areas. For example, archaeo-zoologists study unearthed bones to understand fauna (animals) domestication, hunting practices, food, etc. in different periods; archaeo-botanists study the remains of flora (plants) to find out about agriculture, food habits, environment, etc; geo-archaeologists study rock and soil samples to study environment conditions and geological changes; physical anthropologists study human remains (skeletons); archaeologists would study different material assemblages to understand contemporary society, technological development, their contacts with other contemporary cultures, etc.”

To become an archaeologist, you have to spend years in training, writing exams, term papers and theses. Visits to excavation sites are mandatory for study of monuments and relics.

Qualified archaeologists can find work with ASI-run museums, cultural centres and the historical division of the ministry of external affairs. The option of research and/or teaching is open to students who have got a doctoral degree or have cleared SLET (State Level Eligibility Test) or NET (National Eligibility Test).

There is room for the government to do more, feels Muhammed. Apart from making today’s youth aware of India’s heritage, trained archaeologists need to be paid better, he says.

Things are improving, though. As science advances rapidly, archaeology has also benefited enormously. New-age technology — from satellite remote sensing to genetic studies — has been utilised in studying and understanding the past better. With the development of underwater engineering, archaeologists are now engaged in retrieval of historical remains from ocean floors.

Marine archaeologists can now study shipwrecks, graves, buildings, tools and pottery from past cultures engulfed by the sea, using the knowledge of archaeology and anthropology.

Inputs from Vandana Ramnani

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Archaeology basically is the analysis and understanding of history by studying excavated remains, e.g. utensils, weaponry, skeletons or fossils. To a trained archaeologist, a small bone or the fragment of a clay pot can speak volumes. It can be hard, dusty work on field or hard, tiring work in the lab. But the rewards can be huge, if not in terms of money then at least in fame. Some of the most exciting discoveries ever have been made by archaeologists, making them heroes for the entire planet. One such find was the gold-filled tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun aka King Tut, discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings

CLOCK WORK
For those not on site
9 am: Reach office
10 am: Look at the day’s appointments
11 am: Visit designated sites
1.30 pm: Lunch
2 pm: Write report on site visit, suggesting improvements, recommending changes
4 pm: Official meetings
6 pm: Leave for home

For those doing fieldwork
9 am: Reach site, start work
1 pm: Review work
1.30 pm: Lunch
5 pm: Take a round of the site
6 pm: Leave for residential accommodation (temporary in some cases)

THE PAYOFF
The basic pay scale of an assistant archaeologist employed with the Archaeological Survey of India is Rs 9,000 to Rs 15,000.

The salary scale of the director general varies from Rs 25,000 to 30,000. A doctoral degree in this field means a higher pay scale. A doctorate is a must if one wants to make a name as an archaeologist

Skills
. Knowledge of history
. Sportsman-like stamina, as one would be required to work long and gruelling hours on field, exposed to the elements
. A voracious reading habit, with a perceptive and probing mind

How do i get there?
Graduates in any discipline can pursue a PG diploma or degree in archaeology. Preference is given to graduates in history, social sciences like sociology and anthropology. Anyone interested in research must have a postgraduation degree in history. Some universities (like the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda) also offer archaeology as a subject at the graduation level. Benares Hindu University, Varanasi, Patna University and the University of Ajmer also offer a BA in archival science. Candidates for these courses are required to have history as a subject in 10+2

Institutes & urls
.
Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda
www.msubaroda.ac.in/
. Allahabad University
http://www.allduniv.ac.in/
. Benares Hindu University
http://www.bhu.ac.in/
. Patna University
http://www.patnauniversity.ac.in/
. Punjab University, Chandigarh
www.puchd.ac.in/
. University of Madras
www.unom.ac.in
. University of Mysore
www.uni-mysore.ac.in/

Pros & Cons
.
This is a dream career for those who love exploring ruins, monuments and relics
. Extremely exciting moments happen in the lives of archaeologists when an important discovery is made — ancient graves, a treasure trove... Your Indiana Jones moment without the villains
. Land sharks may try to stop you from excavating a site
. Too much travel, work in open air, remote, dangerous areas

It’s about Reading, observing, analysing

One has to have that uncanny instinct to make discoveries

How can one become a successful archaeologist?
Every aspiring professional should have strong feelings for one’s heritage. This work is meant for people who love reading and exploring. I discovered and excavated a stupa in Rajgir, Bihar. There was a reference in history books about the stupa, but opinions differed where its location was concerned. Once, travelling from Rajgir to Gaya, I saw a mound and something told me it was that mystery stupa.

Exploration of the site proved me right. So, being a successful archaeologist is about reading, observing and having an analytical bent of mind.

When an archaeologist goes to a historical site, stones at that place start narrating stories about their past. It is all about networking with the stones... the drama then starts unfolding.

Who hires archaeologists?
The Archaeological Survey of India is one of the largest employers. Then we have various universities and institutes that have departments of archaeology. Museums, too, employ archaeologists to study their antiques.

What do you think will attract more people to this field?
Salaries have to be made more attractive. Then, the government can think of holding examinations on the lines of the Indian Administrative Services. This will give a distinct identity to archaeologists.

An essential factor in attracting talent to archaeology is making the youth aware of our rich heritage. For this, we have to start working at the school level.