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Past masters

Archaeology is about studying and understanding the past so that we can fathom our present better. It’s a study of ancient human societies and behaviour through material ruins such as fossils, foodgrains, texts, utensils, tools, weapons, ornaments, terracotta art, etc acquired systematically through excavation of ancient sites and analysis.

education Updated: Jun 19, 2012 17:25 IST

The lowdown
Archaeology is about studying and understanding the past so that we can fathom our present better. It’s a study of ancient human societies and behaviour through material ruins such as fossils, foodgrains, texts, utensils, tools, weapons, ornaments, terracotta art, etc acquired systematically through excavation of ancient sites and analysis. In this discipline, you can learn about museology, epigraphy, numismatics (study of coins), archives, inscriptions, and manuscripts as well. There are numerous career options for archaeologists in India and abroad. You can work as archaeologists, heritage conservators, numismatists, archivists, epigraphists, site guides, curators or lecturers. “A field archaeologist spends as much as 90% of his time in the field collecting what is called material culture which includes artefacts, ecofacts (biological remains), etc. Ten to 15% of his time goes in the lab, library, interpreting the data and writing reports and papers,” says VS Shinde, joint director, Deccan College (Post-Graduate and Research University), Pune.

Clockwork
The typical day of archaeologists is as follows:
For those not on site
9am: Reach office
10am: Finish administrative or teaching work
11am: Visit designated sites
1.30pm: Lunch
2pm: In the laboratory, analyse data on ‘material culture’ gathered from the site. Go to the library for research work. Write report on site visit, suggesting improvements, recommending changes
4pm: Official meetings and review of work
6pm: Leave for home
For those doing fieldwork
8am: Reach site; start work; supervise digging by labourers; take photographs of the excavation; carefully pick and pack excavated material (fossil, utensils, coins, clothes, etc) in cotton and transport them to the lab
1pm: Review work
1.30pm: Lunch in the camp
5pm: Take a round of the site
6pm: 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 a month. A doctoral degree in this field means a higher pay scale. A doctorate is a must if one wants recognition as an archaeologist. An assistant professor in a Central university draws about Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 45,000 a month
Skills/TRAITS
* A deep interest in and knowledge of history
* Sportsman-like stamina, as you would be required to work long and gruelling hours on the field, exposed to the elements
* You should be a voracious reader, with a perceptive and probing mind

Getting there
Graduates in any discipline can pursue a postgraduate diploma or degree in archaeology. Preference is given to graduates in history, and other social sciences like sociology and anthropology. Anyone interested in research must have a postgraduate degree in history. Some universities in the country (such as the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda) also offer archaeology as a subject at the undergraduate level. Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi; Patna University, and the University of Ajmer also offer BA courses in archival science. Candidates for these courses are required to have history as a subject in Class 12 or equivalent level

Institutes and URLs
* Deccan College (deemed university for postgraduate teaching and research), Pune
www.deccancollegepune.ac.in
* Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
www.bhu.ac.in
* Patna University
www.patnauniversity.ac.in
* Panjab University, Chandigarh www.puchd.ac.in
* Maharaji Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara
www.msubaroda.ac.in

Pros and 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
* Some work might be politically or culturally sensitive
* Land sharks might try to stop you from excavating a site
* Too much travel, work in open air, remote, dangerous areas

To understand modern scientific developments, you need to understand their roots which go back 5000 years. You need to know the past to understand the present and work for future development, VS Shinde, joint director, Deccan College (deemed university), Pune