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Relics hold clue to missing history

- Sunga-Kushana era terracotta artefacts may say if Guwahati existed before 7th century AD

Jan. 17: The discovery of terracotta artefacts of Sunga-Kushana period in Ambari has prompted the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to search for clues to fill in the “missing link” in the ancient history of Guwahati.

Superintending archaeologist of ASI’s Guwahati circle S.S. Gupta said prior to the discovery of certain terracotta artefacts of first century BC from an excavation site at Ambari in 2010, there was no archaeological evidence of the city’s existence prior to 7th century AD.

“The terracotta artefacts, which were excavated in 2010, were of the Sunga-Kushana period ( 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD),” Gupta said.

According to Gupta, even though one can find mention of Guwahati — which was known as Pragjyotishpur in ancient times — in epics such as Mahabharat and Puranas, there are not many archaeological evidences about its ancient history, particularly before 7th century AD.

He said they would submit a proposal to the ASI headquarters in New Delhi for conducting fresh excavation in and around the city to search for more such clues, which could fill in the missing link — the period between first century BC and 7th century AD.

“In fact, no cultural findings of the Sunga-Kushana period were ever excavated in the entire Northeast prior to our excavation at Ambari,” Gupta said.

He said they are expecting to start their fresh exploration in and around the city after getting the approval from their headquarters. “We want to carry out our excavation in areas along the Brahmaputra and the hills,” Gupta said.

He said the proposed excavation was likely to be conducted in Uzan Bazar, Panbazar and adjoining areas where the ancient city is believed to have once stood. Gupta said conducting excavation here was not an easy task since there is not much vacant space available.

The Ambari archaeological site, in the heart of the city, was accidentally discovered in the course of digging the foundation for the Reserve Bank of India regional branch building in 1969.

From 1970 to 2003, there have been different excavators who have scoured the site for ancient artefacts.

The anthropology department of Gauhati University was the first to conduct excavation at Ambari in 1969 after which the archaeology department carried out exploration in 1995, before the ASI and the archaeology department carried out joint excavations.

During these excavations, archaeological evidences of two distinct cultural periods ranging from the seventh to 12th century AD and 13th to 17th AD were found.

One of the important discoveries were the steps made of bricks leading to a tank, which were excavated in 2008-09. Besides, the excavation revealed two floors and two hearths resting on the natural soil significantly.

Since a large number of remains of pottery were also found at the site, it is believed that a ceramic industry may have flourished in the area.