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Promising future in the past

With growing global interest in India’s ancient heritage especially in the fields of holistic medicine, natural healing and tourism, the demand for qualified archaeologists is outrunning supply

I
f you have an interest in history
and antiquity and a penchant for outdoor life, archaeology might be the right career choice for you. With humanities education having re-established itself and growing interest in India’s ancient heritage especially in the fields of holistic medicine (ayurveda), natural healing (yoga) and tourism, the demand for well qualified archaeologists who unearth evidence to interpret the past is outrunning supply.

Archaeology is best described as the study of lifestyles of the distant past. Archaeologists research material remains such as buildings, pottery, coins, plaques, tablets, metal tools, weapons and fragments of bone culled from the remnants of ancient civilisations to derive conclusions about the lifestyles, customs and beliefs of our ancestors. Sophisticated labo-ratory techniques, instruments and computers are used to date such evidence, excavated from ancient sites known as digs.

Archaeology study programmes are offered by 25 universities across the country. Among the more reputed ones for undergrad programmes in archaeology are University of Kolkata; University of Pune; University of Allahabad; Banaras Hindu University (BHU); MS University, Baroda; University of Mysore; Nagpur University and School of Archaeology, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi. MS University, Baroda; Barkatullah Vishwavidhyalaya, Bhopal; Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi; Marathwada University, Aurangabad offer postgraduate programmes. The Master’s programme is a two-year course with the first year focussing on the study of modern, medieval and ancient history, followed by specialisation in either pre-history or epigraphy (deciphering of ancient texts) with the option of further specialisation in the Arabic/ Persian, Devanagari or Dravidian scripts. You could also specialise in numismatics, which is the study of coins, paper money etc.

Of the postgrad study programmes, the most reputed is at the Archaeological Survey of India, which offers a two-year diploma in archaeology after a Master’s degree in ancient or medieval Indian history or MA/ M.Sc in archaeology or anthropology. Admission for the 20-25 seats on offer annually is through a written test and interview held every September. Those selected receive a monthly stipend of Rs.2,000 plus free hostel facilities.

The National Museum of India, New Delhi has promoted a Museum University which is recognised by the Union ministry of human resource development. It offers Master’s and Ph D programmes in history of art, conservation and art restoration and museology. The Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management also offers Masters in archaeology, heritage management and conservation.

"There’s been a rapid growth in job opportunities with general and specialist museums like the rail, arms and stamp museum and the yet to be named Tata Archives, in various stages of completion. Moreover with auction houses and private collectors hiring archaeologists and the number of educational and research institutions increasing, there’s no dearth of jobs in this field. Archaeology is like an ocean; you are always discovering something and you get a certain high in discov-ering antiquities," observes Sabyasachi Mukherjee, assistant director of archaeology and conservation at the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai.

An enthusiastic history student from his school days, Mukherjee graduated with a BA (Hons) degree in history, Sanskrit and political science from the University of Burdwan, West Bengal. In 1989 he was awarded his Masters in ancient Indian history, culture and archaeology from MS University, Baroda, where he acquired another Masters in museology.

Armed with these impressive academic qualifications, Mukherjee literally walked into the job of curatorial assistant at the Prince of Wales (PoW) Museum, Mumbai, in 1990. His brilliant record also won him the Jawaharlal Nehru and Charles Wallace (six month) fellowships for further studies at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

"Most archaeologists study museology which facilitates preservation and maintenance of listed artefacts and protected sites and monuments. The PoW Museum is one of the few progressive institutions in India supported by the public, donors and sponsors for day-to-day activities," says Mukherjee, who is also a visiting professor of museology at MS University.

Contrary to popular belief, an archaeologist’s job is far from mundane. Only six years on the job and Mukherjee has participated in six major international exhibitions. "In 1995, we organised the Jain Art Exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum. The same year I participated in the St. Francis Xavier Exhibition in Japan organised by the government of India, where objects from our museum, the Goa and other museums were displayed. Moreover we’ve just sent a 16th century painting by an Italian artist to Provence de Ferrera, where it will be displayed for two months. I’ll be going there to bring it back," says Mukherjee.

Quite evidently, there’s a promising future in digging up the past.

Indra Gidwani (Mumbai)

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