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Nr. 95, 07.07.2018  voriger  Übersicht  Übersicht

The non-European view

Are stone monuments in India comparable with large stone graves in Northern Germany? European and Indian researchers met to exchange knowledge.


A monument consisting of several upright stones serves as a reminder of the festival activities of its builders from the Wuilong village in the Indian state of Manipur. Photo: Gangotri Bhuyan Foto: Gangotr -Bhuyan

»There are very few areas in the world where monuments are built from large stones,« said Professor Johannes Müller from the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology. These include Madagascar, the Indonesian island of Sumba, as well as the Indian states of Nagaland and Manipur. »For the past three years, we have been cooperating with the university in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland.« This was done within the framework of the DFG Priority Program 1400 »Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation« at Kiel University. In 2016, monuments were measured in Nagaland during a joint field trip, and in 2017, Indian delegates attended a conference in Kiel. This year there was a course for doctoral researchers in Kohima, as well as a workshop with excursions, additionally supported with funds from a Collaborative Research Centre at the Johanna Mestorf Academy at Kiel University, and the Graduate School »Dialogues with the past« in Oslo.

Doctoral researcher Maria Wunderlich from the Kiel Graduate School »Human Development in Landscapes« is one of the first to compare the results from Germany, India and Indonesia. »My thesis is about the social structures and social aspects of megalithic structures.« Their function is quite different in the different countries: the large stone graves in Northern Germany come from the Funnelbeaker culture period (4100-2800 BC), where up to 100 people were buried inside. On Sumba, megalithic graves are still built today for up to ten people. In contrast, megaliths in north-east India serve as memorials.

»Nagaland and Manipur are somewhat secluded on the border with Myanmar,« explained Maria Wunderlich. The communities living there have other traditions than the rest of India. For example, to commemorate special events or honour the deceased, large stones – menhirs – were placed upright in the countryside. During conflicts with other villages, these stones were not allowed to be destroyed. »This tradition was maintained until into the 20th century,« said Wunderlich. Research can draw on the experiences of those who are 80 years old today, because they have witnessed it first-hand. »Therefore Indian archaeology also uses methods of anthropology.« An interdisciplinary approach, which also fits the concept of the Graduate School in Kiel.

Nevertheless, the approach in northeast India differs significantly from the exploration of local large stone graves. »The societies which we are working on no longer exist,« said Maria Wunderlich. »Our interpretation is therefore shaped by today's view of society.« We could liberate ourselves from this by factoring in non-European perspectives. »In Nagaland the individual villages are very self-sufficient and have a flat hierarchy,« she gave as an example. »Whoever erects menhirs there gains social influence. This interpretation was not obvious for me.«

It was only with the independence of India in 1947 that its own research tradition developed there. But today, Wunderlich says, archaeology in India is highly diverse, with a large number of case studies. »Unfortunately, this receives far too little attention here.« Conversely, the Indian researchers also had knowledge gaps when it comes to European examples. So the workshop was a welcome opportunity for both sides to share their knowledge. In addition, the doctoral course specifically set up European-Indian pairs, to discuss their research with each other. »I have learned a great deal,« was Maria Wunderlich's conclusion.

»The fact that we held a seminar directly in India is something totally new,« emphasised Professor Johannes Müller. »The level of education in India corresponds to ours, but the infrastructure is different – there is a lack of technology, space and money.« In archaeology, technology such as photo drones and 3-D photography has enabled a »quantum leap«, objects can be recorded faster and more accurately than ten years ago. The workshop in Kohima also benefited from this. In the coming year, the results will be documented in a joint publication. Johannes Müller: »We are only at the beginning of an intensive cooperation.«

Eva-Maria Karpf
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