Megaliths in Changing times

 

The area chosen for this study, Cherrapunjee is a small town located on the southern edge of Khasi Hills, a dissected plateau at an altitude of about 4823 feet (1484 m) above mean sea level. It is the headquarters of Sohra Civil Sub-Division and falls in East Khasi Hills District of the Indian State of Meghalaya. The people of Cherrapunjee and surrounding villages on the tableland have been resorting to mining of coal, limestone and sand.  The ravaged sides of the hills stand mute testimony to the unplanned and unscientific methods of mining adopted. Large areas are being brought under mining and with the construction of roads and development of transportation networks this activity is further increasing. As a result of this megaliths, like menhirs and dolmens strewn over the landscape are uprooted due to mining in the vicinity.
People have gained easy accessibility to remote areas, where the megalithic fields are because of the construction of good roads. Various other activities like erection of transmission towers for mobile telephone network, electricity transmission lines and poles, house building etc. are also affecting the megalithic fields.  These are developmental activities which cannot be stopped. Good roads, electricity, telephone networks are almost birth right of people now. But, it is also true that if the megaliths disappear from the landscape, a very strong part of their identity will also go with it. They are part of a prehistoric cultural tradition which was intricately woven with their socio-cultural life till the last century. They can help in tracing back a link from an uncertain present to a past whose achievements are seen as significant and remarkable. These relics have contributed a great deal in building up pride in Khasi art, technology and traditions. It affirmed the historical continuity of the land and cultural continuity of their traditions.

For the present generation who are exposed to the consumerist culture reaping economic benefits from the land is most important. There are no immediate economic benefits from the megaliths. In this changing situation even if the megaliths are not threatened they are ignored.

Cherrapunjee was always known to the world as the wettest place on earth. The breathtaking scenic beauty and the popularity of Cherrapunjee as the rainiest spot in the world has been attracting a sizeable flow of tourists from the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Gujarat and others and from around the world over the years.  With the abolition of Restricted Area Permits for foreign nationals, western interest in the minuscule ethnic communities with exotic cultures and unexplored virgin terrain with pristine natural beauty untouched by pollution with abundant scope for adventure activities is picking up at a quick pace.  Tourism is now beginning to attract the people of Cherrapunjee as an income generation avenue and as a means for gainful employment for the youth of the area. Thus the place is an ideal tourist destination just beginning to unfold its charm. In this changing scenario by showcasing these ancient relics there can be immediate economic gains. But tourism is harmful for conservation. If these megalithc clusters are regularly visited by tourist refuse left by the visitors, signboards put up by tour operators can spoil the ambience of the landscape forever. Thus, development of tourism is beneficial economically for the people of the area but it might cause immense harm to their cultural landscape.

Some academics argue that real material changes in the nature of society and the economy in the latter half of the twentieth century have resulted in new identity formations and undermines some of the presumed certainties of cultural identity (Carter et al., 1993). One of the objective of this study will be to ascertain if economic changes have resulted in the formation of new identities for which the importance of the megaliths is undermined. This can aid in developing heritage awareness programmes for the area and a legislative basis for conservation.
2 seasons of field work have already been completed. Photographic documentation of megaliths has been undertaken. Approximately 500 individuals consisting of students, teachers, entrepreneurs, housewives have been interviewed with the help of a prepared interview schedule. Questions asked were mainly on heritage and the attitude of the people towards heritage.

2) Virtual Anthropology Laboratory, A Project of the Ministry of Human Resource Department under National Mission on Education through ICT, Govt. of India.

This project is being undertaken with my co-investigators S. R. M. Prasanna,                        from the Dept. of Electronics and Communication Engineering and S. Nandi
from the Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering.

The main objective of this virtual laboratory is to develop laboratory modules in the area of Anthropology to help under-graduate students in understanding the various concepts related to sub-branches of Anthropology which are physical, cultural and prehistoric Archaeology which will lead to further research and post-graduate studies. The digital models will be accompanied by comprehensive historical, referential, qualitative and quantitative data for each object in the database. The analyses made available through new and sophisticated software, data mining and accurate imaging will significantly improve studies of material remains and our understanding of history, prehistory, and human evolution.
Ultimately, VLA will provide user-friendly technology for Web-based collaboration between two or more remotely located individuals through access to virtual laboratory environments.

3) A Source Book on the Archaeology of the Himalayas: Arunachal Pradesh (2009-2010). Sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India and Center for Archaeological Studies and Training Eastern India, Kolkata.

 

 
Source Book on Archaeology of the Himalayan Region:   Arunachal   Pradesh

 

abstract

 

Project number:  HSS/P/SS/02/348
Period:  July 2009 to June 2010
Project Principal Investigator:  Dr. Sukanya Sharma
Project Assistant:  Rashmirekha Sarma

 

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Collected Sources
    1. Numismatic
    2. Inscription
    3. Prehistoric information
    4. Scripture
    5. Sculpture
    6. Architecture
    7. Preservation of Monuments, Archeaological Chemistry etc.
    8. Geological information
    9. Ethnic tradition of tribes of Arunachal Pradesh
    10. General view about archaeology of Northeast India
  1. List of Libraries Visited

INTRODUCTION

 

The collected sources are divided into eight broad sections based on their characteristics. These are numismatic, epigraphy, scriptures, architecture, sculptures, prehistory, monuments, archaeological chemistry, geology, and ethnic tradition. Some of these segments are divided into more sub-parts based on their type of information and their nature.

The oldest source among the collected information is R. Wilcox’s “Memoir of a survey of Assam and the neighbouring countries executed in 1825-26-27-28”, published in Asiatic Researches, 1832. Vol. 17, where he had mentioned about Parasuram Kund as Brahmakund and Prabhukuthar.  The oldest journal article about archaeological information is Dwarika Nath Das’s article “Ruins of Mayapur”, published in 1941 in JARS, Vol.VIII.No.2, where he described the walls of Itafort.

The political geography of the state has changed over the years. It was known as the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA) from 1947 to 1972, after 1972 it was assigned the status of a Union Territoy of India. In 1987 it was declared as a full-fledged state of the Indian Union. Accordingly new districts were born within the state. In preparing the source book we have used the most recent political map of the state. In some of the sources old place names have been retained but the new name of the place is also given.