Finding Forgotten Cities - How the Indus Civilization was discovered - Nayanjot Lahiri - 23rd May 2016

Our guest author for the May Book Club event was Professor Nayanjot Lahiri, Professor of History at Ashoka University. She was previously a professor in the Department of History at the University of Delhi. Nayanjot Lahiri’s research interests include Ancient India, Indian archaeology, and heritage studies. She is author of among other books, Pre-Ahom Assam(1991), The Archaeology of Indian Trade Routes (upto c.200 BC)(1992), Finding Forgotten Cities- How the Indus Civilization was Discovered(2005), Marshalling the Past: Ancient India and its Modern Histories (2012) and Ashoka in Ancient India (2015). She is co-author of Copper and its Alloys in Ancient India (1996), editor of The Decline and Fall of the Indus Civilization (2000), co-editor of Ancient India: New Research (2009), Buddhism in Asia – Revival and Reinvention (2016) and an issue of World Archaeology entitled The Archaeology of Hinduism (2004). Her writings have also appeared in many peer-reviewed journals. Nayanjot Lahiri won the Infosys Prize 2013 in the Humanities-Archaeology.

The author spoke about her book, “Finding forgotten Cities-How the Indus Civilization was Discovered”. She explained the history and stories behind the discovery of Harappa civilization coming up with interesting anecdotes which captured the interest of the audience.

According to Professor Lahiri, just a century ago, scholars believed that civilization in the Indus Valley began three thousand years ago during the Vedic Age. But in 1924, John Marshall made an announcement that completely changed our understanding of the ancient world and pushed back the boundaries of Indian history by two thousand years more: the discovery of the civilization at Harappa, located in present-day Sindh and Punjab, Pakistan. As any student of history knows, this ancient city dating back to 2600BCE was notable for its sophisticated culture, its well-planned streets and for having the oldest known urban sanitation system.

Well researched by the author, based on her study of some previously unexamined archival materials, Finding Forgotten Cities not only details an archeological discovery on the same scale as Troy, but shows us what transpired among the archeologists and excavators at the time and the colorful cast of characters who made it possible to overcome the challenges and travails of this colossal excavation. Nayanjot Lahiri told us about self-taught archaeologists like Charles Masson, the collector who first described an ancient Indus Valley culture, as well as Alexander Cunningham, the archaeological pioneer who first excavated Harappa with diggers Daya Ram Sahni, Rakhaldas Banerji, and Madho Sarup Vats in the 1850s. And, at the center of Lahiri’s story is John Marshall, a Cambridge classicist brought by Lord Curzon to India to lead the Archaeological Survey of India and the man who finally pieced together the truth about this long-forgotten civilization.

In talking about Finding Forgotten Cities Professor Lahiri presented a powerful narrative history of one of the key sites of the ancient world and gave us a chance to get an interesting insight into the origins of modern civilization.