The historical roots of the majestic Sundarbans have long since been traced back to the 2nd century AD, but a recent find by the Archaeological Survey of India, by a local fisherman no less, has now pushed the story back 600 years to the Mauryan period. A team led by Dr. Phanikant Mishra came upon this discovery quite by accident when he chanced upon a fisherman named Biswajit Sahu.
As reported by The Indian Express, Mishra stated that Sahu, who had learnt a bit about the Harappan civilisation in his youth, began collecting interesting looking objects that he would come across when he ventured out to fish, unaware of the value these found objects truly held. “I had gone there with my team for some archaeological work and came across the fisherman by chance. He asked us to visit him at home, where we found a large number of objects which can easily be dated back to the Mauryan, Gupta and Sunga period,” said Mishra to The Indian Express. He added, “there are certain patterns in archaeological artefacts which can be traced back to specific historical periods. For instance, the Northern Black Polished Ware is a specific kind of pottery that can easily be traced back to the Mauryan period,” referring to how exactly the artefacts were dated. So far, Sahu has collected a tremendous 15,000 artefacts during his fishing trips to the various islands of the regions; “He knows nothing of archaeology, nor did he know what the Mauryan era meant. But his instinct guided him to preserve these artefacts,” said Mishra to The Times of India.
These discoveries are telling of the existence of human habitation in the region far before the official dates. “Up until now, whatever we knew about the Sundarbans has been restricted to the flora and fauna there. There has been no proper archaeological discovery. The British used to visit the region and large Gothic buildings present there is good testimony to that. However, they never made a detailed archaeological study of the area,” stated Mishra. The importance of this discovery is heightened by the challenge it poses to the colonial historians writings citing the British rulers as the ‘civilizer’ of the wilds of the Sunderban mangroves, making it habitable for people. Sahu’s found objects include pottery, terracotta beads and figurines, numerous human and animal remains, among other, collected from the Dhanchi and Bijwara forests in the tiger reserve area of region. “My preliminary study finds that the civilisation went on from the Mauryan era to the Sunga era and continued through the early Gupta era. It probably ended in the later Gupta era,” Mishra stated to The Times of India, adding that he plans to conduct a proper investigation into the area, putting in place a structured and scientific excavation of the Sundarbans.
Feature image via International Business Times