Legislation and the Study of the Past: The Archaeological Survey of India and Challenges of the Present

in “Masters” and “Natives”


The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was founded in 1861 and Alexander Cunningham appointed its first director general (1861-1885), barely three years after colonial rule had been established in the subcontinent. The setting up of the ASI coincided with another major activity of the colonial state, namely the extensive railway and road-building period, with the railway contractors being responsible for the greatest damage to archaeological sites. In the nineteenth century, conservation and repair, which were looked after by local governments, formed no part of the ASI’s responsibilities. In 1895, after the post of director general of the ASI had lain vacant for some years, the future of the Archaeological Department was reconsidered and it was decided to direct it exclusively towards conservation. The Ancient Monuments Preservation (AMP) Act was passed in 1904 under Lord Curzon. This paper examines the implications of this early twentieth-century legislation for archaeological research in the subcontinent and the new challenges and pressures of the present century.

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