Programmes > Par auteur > Chattopadhyaya Umesh C

Revisiting Symbolic Archaeology in Search for a Theory of Connectedness
Umesh C Chattopadhyaya  1@  
1 : University of Allahabad

Professional archaeology, in general, and theoretical archaeology, in particular, constitutes an academic gift of the West to world cultures. There has been enormous progress in archaeological theory in western circles over the past six decades. All of it was largely rooted in Western modernity with two striking points of focus – ‘identity' and ‘nationality' (i.e. bounded regionality) that have only added to cultural fragmentation leading to sufferings rather than connectedness. According to Frank Ankersmit, trauma and suffering constitute one of the forgotten sources of Western historical consciousness, later ignored in both historical and archaeological discourses. Can we not introduce debates in archaeological theory to such universal issues that connect all human beings?


The phenomenological moment in the 1990s-2000s, re-evaluating themes of post-processual archaeology from ‘within', has been a welcome departure towards re-introspection and incorporation of ideas from diverse cultures. Despite adopting Western modernism with doubtful success, Indian culture has had a strong prehistoric/Pagan foundation. The four-fold logical system in ancient Indian Classical civilization, wider in scope than what one finds in modernity, has the potential to improve upon ‘symbolic archaeology' that is prone to some interrogations from ‘without'. An attempt is being made here to incorporate ideas, within the wider framework of phenomenology, on routine human experiences from prehistoric past – periodicity of movement (outgoing-homecoming; action-rest) – which got reflected in a simple sign of crossroad (+) in prehistoric paintings world over. It will be argued with illustrations how this powerful sign with four arms (having spatio-temporal dimensions) meeting at a dimensionless point of intersection was the foundational idea or ‘archetype' behind the architectural shrines of Buddhism, Jainism and different sects of Hinduism in ancient India and other parts of Asia, thus showing the common phenomenological roots of apparently diverse sets of belief systems; in short connectedness. The ‘dynamic' crossroad symbol is also related to the problem of human suffering in the world and ways to overcoming it; it also symbolizes existential philosophy. Thus, any ‘theory for future' has to focus on cultural connection between West and East; North and South – to ensure a brighter future of mankind. It will be argued in the end, in the light of David Bohm's interpretation of the famous EPR experiment in modern physics, that ‘connection' is inbuilt in nature; it is certain cultural forces that deny it for socio-political purposes. Archaeology cannot be part of that disruptive force.

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