Ethno-Archaeology in India: Explained with case study
Ethnoarchaeology is a research technique that involves using information from living cultures—in the form of ethnology, ethnography, ethnohistory, and experimental archaeology—to understand patterns found at an archaeological site. An ethnoarchaeologist acquires evidence about ongoing activities in any society and uses those studies to draw analogies from modern behavior to explain and better understand patterns seen in archaeological sites.
American archaeologist Susan Kent defined ethnoarchaeology’s purpose as “to formulate and test archaeologically oriented and/or derived methods, hypotheses, models and theories with ethnographic data.” But it is archaeologist Lewis Binford who wrote most clearly: ethnoarchaeology is a “Rosetta stone: a way of translating the static material found on an archaeological site into the vibrant life of a group of people who in fact left them there.”
- Ethno-Archaelogy was one of the most significant recent developments in Anthropological discipline.
- Archaelogists study past societies primarly through their material remains like buildings, tools,artifacts and constitute as a material culture from former societies. But, the problem is how to interpret the material culture in human terms. Thus by studying todays culture, past culture can be interpreted.
- At this juncture, Archaelogy works overlap with ethnography. So, Archaelogists to deal with this problem have developed this concept of Ethno- Archaelogy.
- Ethnoarchaeology is typically conducted by using the cultural anthropological methods of participant observation, but it also finds behavioral data in ethnohistorical and ethnographic reports as well as oral history.
- The basic requirement is to draw on strong evidence of any kind for describing artifacts and their interactions with people in activities.
Significance of Ethnoarchaeological studies in India:
- The scope for ethnoarchaeological studies in East India is quite vast especially given the fact that a large number of social group is still rural in character and follow traditional ways of life. Tradition continues to dominate the world view of the people. This is true especially among the tribes of India.
- In India, people cling to tradition either out of fear or reverence or simply by convention, though the intensity of adherence varies from group to group.
- The process of cultural development is thus keenly visible among the cultures of Indian tribes; most of them in some form or the other do retain some fabric of pre-historic life ways.
- A record of this surviving process can be of great use for extracting information about the past ways of life, even extending to very remote times.
- In the context of tribes, ethnoarchaeology has ample scope as its application expands beyond the understanding of material culture alone.
- The multiplicity and variety of preserved traditions among these society render it to be a storehouse of preliterate cultures.
- Thus, if ethnoarchaeology stresses on observing the ways of the pre-literate people, the traditional practices and belief systems which the tribes in this part of the world have carried with them from generations to generations, it can unfold valuable information about the past and act as an aid to archaeological recourse.
Case study: The concept of ‘Thunder Axe’ among tribes of India
- The concept of ‘thunder Axe’ is one of the many distinctive aspects of ancient belief systems which probably dates back to a very remote period.
- This belief is retained in the form of tradition by almost all the tribes that inhabited the North East region of India.
- Thus by applying the general comparative analogy for the concept of ‘Thunder Axe’, great insights could he gained about the cultural and cognitive patterns ofprehistoric life. Lets have a look at what this is….
The Neolithic stone tools, owing to their peculiar nature, have always mystified the common man who cannot diagnose them scientifically. These stone objects are assumed to be material products of thunder and lightning. The notion of a “thunder Axe” became a popular belief which remained unquestioned throughout the world, stretching from Europe, Africa, Asia Minor, India and Far East.
- Before the introduction of modern archaeology , prehistoric stone tools were commonly called thunder axes.
- In China, a thunder axe was seen as a heavenly object having medicinal properties. Traditional people believed that these thunder axes can immunize people and property from attack by lightning and thunder.
- In Scandinavia and Germany, people would hurl the ‘thunderbolt (axe)’ against the building, the door or the roof imitating the thunder strike in order to increase the chances of immunity from the real thunder strike .
- Reports from Tamil Nadu showed a picture of stone implements being placed at a shrine as objects of worship
- Various tribes of North East India consider the Neolithic stone tools as ‘thunder axe’ with magical and medicinal properties. In their local dialects, the following terms are used to denote these objects;
- The Kachari tribe of Assam refer to these stones in their local language as Sarak-ni-Ongthai (Sarak=Heaven, ni=of Ongthai=stone) .
- In Santhali dialect these stones which came along with a thunder strike are called Ceter or thunder Axe. The traditional Sanatal people believe that the stones also have medicinal properties. They would rub the stone on a rough surface and whatever dust particle that comes out of the grinding process is dissolved in water and served as medicine.
- The Karbi and Tiwa tribes of Assam call the stones as Choteracho meaning thunder stone and they are also said to have magical and religious power with medicinal properties .
- Among the Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, these stones are called Lidar which means a thunder stone. Infact no one is allowed to touch these stones because of superstitions that is associated with it.
- The Garos of Meghalaya refer to these stones as Goera gitchi (Goera=god of lighting; gitchi=hoe ).
- archaeology record can only be understood,if we know how it came & how it formed. Formtion process are now a major focus of study. Ethno-Archaelogy , improve in understanding the archaeology record.
- Ethno-archaeology is the methodological manifestation of logic-deductive reasoning in archaeology & anthropological discipline.
- Ethno-archaeology emphasis more on explanation. Explaining how the Archeological record was formed & what excavated structure & artifacts might means in terms of human behavior.
- Ethno-archaeology is an indirect approach of understanding any past society.
Q. Ethno-archaeology (10M)
Q. Ethno-archaeology in India (10M)
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