In the autumn of 1924 the scholar-archaeologist John Marshall made an announcement that, at one stroke, dramatically altered existing perceptions of South Asia’s antiquity: he proclaimed the discovery of ‘the civilization of the Indus valley.’ Within weeks, Marshall’s news was recognized as conveying one of the most monumental discoveries in the history of human civilization: the world over, it became apparent that this was on the same scale as the findings of Heinrich Schliemann (who unearthed Troy) and Arthur Evans (who dug out Minoan Crete).
The Troy and Crete stories have been well told, several times over. But a detailed, archivally rich, and completely accessible narrative of the people, processes, places, and puzzles that led up to Marshall’s proclamation on the Indus civilization has, like the civilization itself, long remained buried.
Now, for the first time in this book, we have the whole story, enchantingly told.
Nayanjot Lahiri has mined and deployed—as never before—bureaucratic memoranda, colonial noting, marginal letters, and piecemeal musings within the institutions and in the work of individuals who collectively discovered the Indian subcontinent’s earliest cities.
Spanning nearly a century, this is a tale of men such as the colourful collector-traveller Charles Masson, who first described Harappa; the archaeological pioneer Alexander Cunningham, Harappa’s first excavator; discerning diggers such as Daya Ram Sahni, Rakhaldas Banerji, and Madho Sarup Vats who uncovered Harappa and Mohenjodaro; the Italian linguist-turned-explorer Luigi Pio Tessitori, who unearthed Kalibangan but never lived to tell the tale of his exploits; government officials of all kinds who, as self-taught archaeologists, stumbled upon significant clues in their work arenas; and, presiding over the whole process, a Cambridge classicist brought by Lord Curzon to India as Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India—John Marshall—who finally pieced into place a maze of enigmatic data on the long forgotten Indus civilization.
Finding Forgotten Cities combines an astonishing amount of detail, hitherto undisclosed, on the lives and times of these men. It comprises a powerful narrative history of how India's antiquity was unexpectedly unearthed. It will interest every serious reader of history and anyone who likes to read an utterly fascinating story.
NAYANJOT LAHIRI is Professor, History Department, Delhi University. She is the author of Pre-Ahom Assam (1991) andThe Archaeology of Indian Trade Routes (1992); co-author of Copper and Its Alloys in Ancient India (1996); and editor of The Decline and Fall of the Indus Civilization (2000) as well as an issue of World Archaeology entitled The Archaeology of Hinduism (2004).