abstract: The concept of an “early medieval” period (c. 600–1300 c.e. ) in the study of South Asia’s past is well established, yet remains ill defined and poorly understood. As a result, debates regarding grand explanative frameworks, not to mention the meaning and use of the term medieval, have dominated the study of the period. Important though these concerns are, what underpins them, and something that is rarely considered, is how sources and methodologies affect the study of the period. Historiographic review of scholarship on the early medieval reveals that from its inception, the period has been studied exclusively through the examination of documentary sources and monumental remains within the fields of history, literary and religious studies, and art history. Archaeology has been used to support historical theories, largely in order to provide further empirical “proof ” of a perceived decline in trade and urbanism. The continued use of archaeological evidence in this way has meant that the full potential of archaeological inquiry has not been fulfilled, and the impetus for new archaeological research has been stifled. As a result, the early medieval is arguably the most poorly represented period archaeologically in the entire subcontinent. Critical assessment of the limited amount of archaeological evidence that does exist reveals a number of methodological and theoretical concerns that bring into question its applicability and use. These shortcomings not only force one to question historical interpretations, but also limit what can be said, archaeologically, about the period. It is argued that many of the wider uncertainties surrounding the definition and meaning of the early medieval stem from this absence of archaeological research. What is urgently needed is a revitalization of the archaeological approach to the study of the period; some ways are suggested in which this might be achieved in terms of methodological approaches, and questions that could be asked.
Asian Perspectives – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: May 4, 2014