Try naming some of the best site museums in India and you will probably end up thinking of Sanchi, Sarnath, Bijapur, Agra, Nalanda… all of which were started by the pioneer of local museums, Sir John Marshall, between 1904 and 1919.
The first site museum established by the Archaeological Survey of India after Independence — Hampi — is remarkable but more recent ones set up by the same agency in Bengal, such as the ones in Tamluk and Murshidabad, are hardly in the same league.
Even a few years back after each excavation season (usually before the rains), archaeologists routinely filled up all the trenches they had dug in a vain attempt to protect the finds from weather and pilferage. So no matter how exciting the finds were, nothing could be seen above ground.
But the situation is about to change. The state archaeology department, led by director Gautam Sengupta, has succeeded in making conservation and multidisciplinary examination of finds a must exercise and in gaining approval for museums in or close to the places from where the items were recovered.
“Five site museums at Chandraketugarh, Moghalmari, Pakbirra, Jagjivanpur and Mangalkot (see graphic) will probably come up in the next fiscal. The PWD will execute the projects under the guidance of the archaeology department. Work will begin as soon as the elections are over. We are starting in a small way but depending on the traffic to these places, we could develop them as tourist destinations,” said Atri Bhattacharya, the principal secretary in the information and cultural affairs department.
“Our primary aim is of course preservation and conservation of artefacts. A museum on site will make that convenient,” said Amal Roy, the deputy director in the archaeology department.
“By showcasing the finds we can increase awareness about the sites and we can gain the involvement and enthusiasm of local residents. I have spoken to several local clubs and private collectors, who display objects found at the sites. They have promised to donate their collections to the museums. It would also prove invaluable to research and documentation if antiquities from various museums could be brought together and kept close to their sources.”
At Moghalmari, a shed will be built so that a wall with 17 stucco figurines, probably part of a stupa dating to 6th century AD, can be protected and yet kept open for viewers.”
Pathways, solar panels for electricity, open air dais, drinking water and toilet facilities have been included in the plans for the five sites.
Officials feel that a constant presence at the site and heightened security will prevent the theft of artefacts.
treasures from the past
The state archaeology department is planning to set up the following site museums
● Site: On the road from Barasat to Basirhat in
North 24-Parganas, 40km from Calcutta
● Museum: On a 3-acre plot in Berachampa in the district
● Significance: Early historic secular site with evidence of settlements dating from the pre-Mauryan period
(3rd century BC) to the Pala-Sena era (1250 AD).
Structural remains of terracotta temple and fortification
● Things to watch out for: Exquisite terracotta plaques, pottery, silver and gold coins and objects of
semi-precious stones. Several people with private
collections have been approached to donate items
to the museum
● Budget: Rs 2 crore
● Site: Puncha in Purulia district, 378km from Calcutta
● Museum: At the site
● Significance: A rare Jain site dating from the 9th to 13th centuries with remains of four stone temples in the Rekha Deul tradition (only two temples are more or less intact) and statues of Thirthankaras, including a 7ft one of Maha Bahubali. There are statues also of Thirthankara consorts and other deities.
● Things to watch out for: The stone statues and other decorative remnants
● Budget: Rs 85 lakh
● Site: Danton in West Midnapore, on the Kharagpur-Odisha route, 160km from Calcutta
● Museum: On a government plot near the site
● Significance: Still under excavation but one can see structural evidence of two Buddhist monasteries and a stupa dating back to 6th century AD
● Things to watch out for: Objects both from the Calcutta University excavation and recent archaeological dig — such as a figure of Buddha, a gold pendant, mixed metal coins of Samachardeva, objects of semi-precious stones, terracotta plaque and seals
● Budget: Rs 75 lakh
● Site: Habibpur in Malda district, 369km from Calcutta
● Museum: Site yet to be finalised
● Significance: The most significant finds from this site include a copper-plate inscription of Pala emperor Mahendrapaladeva and structural remains of a 9th century Buddhist Vihara: Nandadirghika-Udranga Mahavihara. There are five mounds with antiquities from the Pala period, proving that the site was a flourishing Buddhist centre.
● Things to watch out: Structural remains and antiquities.
● Budget: Rs 2 crore
● Site: Burdwan, beside the Ajay river, 135km from Calcutta
● Museum: In the Natunhaat panchayat samiti area
● Significance: It’s a site with evidence of habitation from Chalcolithic age through the Gupta period to the Mughal period. There are remains of a mosque attributed to Sultan Hussein Shah.
● Things to watch out for: Terracotta statues and objects of copper, bone and ceramic
● Budget: Rs 2 crore