Article ID: CBB357029862

Locating an Antiquarian Initiative in a Late 19th Century Colonial Landscape: Rivett-Carnac and the Cultural Imagining of the Indian Sub-Continent (2020)


In this paper I seek to understand antiquarian practices in a colonial context in the Indian sub-continent with reference to J.H. Rivett-Carnac who was a member of the Bengal Civil Service. Covering varied subjects like ‘ancient cup marks on rocks,’ spindle whorls, votive seals or a solitary Buddha figure, Rivett-Carnac’s writings reflect an imagining of a native landscape with wide-ranging connections in myths, symbolisms and material cultures which cross-cut geographical borders. I show how an epistemology of comparative archaeology was formed through the ways in which he compared evidence recorded from different parts of India to those documented in Great Britain and northern Europe. This was held together by ideas of tribal/racial migrations. I am arguing that a distinctive form of antiquarianism was unfolding in an ambiguous, interstitial space which deconstructs any neat binaries between the colonizer and the colonized. Recent researches have argued for many antiquarianisms which this paper upholds. With his obsession of cup marks Rivett-Carnac built a new set of interconnections in late 19th century Britain where the Antiquity of man was the pivot around which debates and theories circulated. In the colony, we see some of his predecessors concerned with the megalithic tombs scattered in different parts of central and southern India. Rivett-Carnac’s methodology was less rigorous and ‘scientific’ as compared to his peers or predecessors. His obsession with cup marks followed him—as he states in his autobiography—throughout his life.

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Authors & Contributors
Beattie, James
Keller, Eve
Kim, Julie C.
Greenfield, Susan C.
Clark, Andrew
Edison, Paul N.
History and Anthropology
French Historical Studies
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Bulletin of the History of Archaeology
Journal of the History of Collections
Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
Oxford University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Archaeological Survey of India
Fordham University
Cambridge University Press
Science and politics
Cross-cultural interaction; cultural influence
Martius, Karl Friedrich Philipp von
Meggers, Betty Jane
Varnhagen, Francisco Adolfo de, Visconde de Porto Seguro
Rolleston, George
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Sterne, Lawrence
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
18th century
Iron age
Bronze age
South Asia
Great Britain
New Zealand
Yorkshire Antiquarian Club (1849-1860)
Oxford University
British Museum
East India Company (English)

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