Tulika Books, New Delhi latest two books... From one of the best known ancient historians who till recently was on the faculty of the JNU, Shereen Ratnagar, who writes extensively and with authority on matters archaeological.
Makers and Shapers: Early Indian Technology in the Home, Village and Urban Workshop is a study of technology as self-help endeavour in the home and the provisioning of the household; as work in the rural workshop that supplies pots or tools for the village; and as techniques mastered in the urban workshop, feasible not in simple tribal villages but when new production institutions emerge with the development of a political hierarchy. The reader is taken from the agricultural field to the building of the home (with its food-processing and storage facilities), to urban water supply techniques and transport mechanisms, to the use of stone, bronze and iron for tools and weapons. A glimpse is afforded of the difference between making pottery by hand and by using the potter's wheel. The social circumstances required of pottery production are in turn contrasted with those required of metallurgy. The whole is based on archaeological evidence of the Neolithic to Iron Age cultures of South Asia, and, concurrently, on observations of technological processes followed by villagers today.
The second title, Ayodhya: Archaeology after Excavation is coauthored with D Mandal. In this book, Ratnagar discusses the controversy over the history of a small site in the city of Ayodhya that has been a blot on the recent history of India, not least because it has led to the deaths of hundreds of people. Was there indeed a temple commemorating the birth of the god Ram under the Mosque built by a general of Babur? For many who were not drawn into one or other position, this began to look like a matter of ideology rather than fact. This, until the time when the High Court of Allahabad directed the Archaeological Survey of India to open up the ground under the Mosque, by then broken down by the vandals of 1992, to search for temple remains. The Archaeological Survey excavated the site for six months in 2003, and submitted its Report the same year. The Report gave the suggestion that there are traces of a pillared temple in strata under the Mosque. While this book places on record the reasons why two scholars conclude that claims about the temple are not credible, in the broader sense it also indicates why attempts to 'restore' holy places to their 'original' owners can be self-defeating projects.
A recent blurb (for her book from the Three Essays Collective) says that she gave up her Professorship in Archaeology at the JNU when it ceased to be fun and has since been researching and teaching in various places. Her interests include the bronze age, trade, urbanism, pastoralism, and, recently, the social dimensions of early technology.
An author of such originality comes warmly recommended. In our Archaeology section.