A look at Professor Monica Smith's joint UCLA/Deccan College (Pune) archaeological research project at the ancient site of Sisupalgarh.
Article originally published in The Telegraph ,Calcutta, India.
Bhubaneswar, Feb. 11: If one asks what does Bhubaneswar have in common with archaeological sites such as Giza, Tikal and Lepcis Magna, the answer would be Sishupalgarh, located 12km from the capital, the remains of an ancient city containing evidence of a life both urban and economically strong.
Located 45km inland from the Bay of Bengal, the city existed approximately between the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD.
Professor B.B. Lal, who found the western gateways, first excavated the site in 1948 and 1950. Work again began in 2000 with R.K. Mohanty of the department of archaeology of Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute (Pune) and Monica L. Smith of Cotsen Institute of Archeology in University of California.
Excavations began oce more in 2005 and continue to be carried out in phases.
The project is being conducted under a research permit from the Archaeological Survey of India. So far, excavations have unearthed an urban core zone graced with an earthen rampart, stone columns and stone-lined water reservoirs. The present team has also exposed 18 pillars and associated structures on a mound within the fortification wall.
“This 2,500-year-old city was huge and is one of the best preserved public places in India,” said principle investigator Mohanty. The project goal is to comprehend how ancient cities grew and developed from the perspective of the ordinary inhabitants.
That the city was an important site is comprehended from its location - its within a walking distance to a Buddhist monument (Ashokan edict at Dhauli - the site of the Kalinga war) and a series of elaborate carved caves of the Jain religious tradition (Khandagiri and Udayagiri hills).
“We were confused when the pillars were first exposed as to why they were there as they were placed so haphazardly. Now we feel it was probably a large hall or a meeting place. The pillars must be part of a gigantic structure, used for public gatherings Sockets in the top of the pillar indicate they might have some wooden rod running into it,” said Smith.
Every year the researchers work for a month or two according to the time available.
One of the rewarding aspects of the project has been the inclusion of students and research scholars from all over. Nearly 50 graduate students and professionals from US, India, Mauritius, Bangladesh and Cambodia work on the project. The excavations are scheduled to continue for the next two years.
The team that arrived here in the first week of January 2008 found remains of ordinary houses made of brick and stone footings that would have supported buildings of compacted mud.
Excavations also revealed a variety of objects, not just pottery, but bangles, beads, pendants and earrings.
“Although we tend to think of excessive consumption as a modern trait, investigations of ancient cities show that people enthusiastically produce and discard goods in mass quantities whenever they can. At Shishupalgarh a large number of bowls and jar fragments were found which were used once or twice and then thrown away, much like today’s disposable cups,” said Smith.