Introduction – The Political Use of the Archaeological Past

The practice of archaeology has always been undertaken for political reasons. These have ranged, historically and geographically, from the purposes of the glorification of particular individuals or groups to achieving the agenda of sustainable development.

In a philosophically post-modern world, archaeologists recognise that there is no such thing as “value-free” archaeology. Every act of analysis is guided by both the interpretations put upon it by the archaeologist as the “sender” and by the interpretations then put upon the archaeologist’s work by the “receivers” or recipients of the archaeologist’s views. This means that the political views of individual archaeologists, or the corporate views of organisations, can form a dominant discourse of the understanding of the past - and when this relates to controversial issues, those can be taken up, altered, used or abused by others who particularly value and emphasise the “scientific” credibility given to the viewpoints ascribed to archaeologists.

While in the global West and North by the 1980s, many archaeologists were no longer satisfied by approaches that concentrated on the identification and fixing of particular groups of people as “cultures” in time and space, Trigger (1989, 182) considered that in India archaeology remained closely attached to ancient history and “Many Indian archaeologists are content to attach ethnic and linguistic labels to newly discovered cultures and to interpret them in a general, descriptive fashion”. This tendency, to interpret archaeological remains through the lens of ancient historical texts, was at the heart of the appalling consequences of the events of Ayodhya.