An International Conference on ‘Early Medieval/Medieval' in Bengal: Transdisciplinary Perspectives in Archaeology with special reference to Bangladesh

Swadhin Sen's picture
July 17, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Ancient History, Anthropology, Archaeology, Asian History / Studies, South Asian History / Studies

‘Early Medieval/Medieval' in Bengal: Transdisciplinary Perspectives in Archaeology with special reference to Bangladesh

18 and 19 July, 2017

In spite of the continuous debate regarding the ‘periodization’ in South Asian archaeology and history, a few periodizing time-frames are normalized in disciplinary and popular domain. One of the central time-frames is the period popularized as ‘Early Medieval’ and the period is normally designated to the time-span from sixth century CE to thirteenth century CE. Many scholars prefer to apply the temporal category of medieval for the same period and even, propose to extend it up to fifteenth century CE. According to them, the divide between ‘Early Medieval’ and ‘Medieval’ is constructed and artificial, when 1204/5 CE is taken as the vantage point of transition in Bengal.

The ‘Early Medieval/Medieval’ is perhaps the one of the most researched and debated time-frame in South Asian history. The polemics regarding this particular period in South Asian historiography are extremely influential and useful. The early medieval/medieval, on the other hand, is marginalized, reductionist and homogenized in the archaeological practice. Archaeology of this period is complacent with monument-centrism that gives centrality to studying and excavating only the structural remains without giving systematic emphasis of survey methodology and stratigraphically informed excavations. In historical narratives, at the same time, de-contextualized archaeological objects and explanations are often used as complementary for the support of historical narratives without critically engaging with the problems of methods and scientific techniques. This is not to say that the knowledge produced by the disciplines of history, art history, architecture and others is incomplete, biased or irrelevant. It is, therefore, essential to engage in a dialogue of the professional working on various issues pertaining to the available scholarships from different fields and expertise. 

Our principle concern is the ways in which the archaeological data and methods have been incorporated and used in these debates among different schools. The question also is about the state of growing scholarship and its ability to deal with complex structures and processes of ‘Early Medieval/Medieval’.  This conference aims to engage critically with the debates on this particular temporality from various perspectives crossing the boundaries of the disciplines.  The conference is going to be organized by a research sub-project funded by Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP 3419) of Bangladesh University Grants Commission. 

Another objective of this conference is to present and evaluate the preliminary data and results of the studies which have been conducted for the last three years in Northwestern part of Bangladesh under this sub-project. Archaeological surveying and excavation within a geoarchaeological framework are being conducted in this area which was known at that period as Gauda or Varendri. The emphasis on critically informed ethnography and Public archaeology is also an important aspect. It has been found that most of the archaeological places in this region, except two prominent urban centres of Pundranagara (Mahasthangarh) and Korivarsa (Bangarh) belongs to ‘Early Medieval/Medieval period, although occurrence of copper plate inscriptions of fifth century CE is common.

Our previous research has pointed at the sudden proliferation of settlements on around sixth-seventh centuries CE and the reasons behind explosion of settlements and demographic shifts are yet to be substantiated on the basis of archaeological (or any other) evidences. The absence of archaeological data of so-called illustrious ‘Gupta’ period settlements also required to be dealt with caution, when most of the copper plate inscriptions of this period were found from this region. The transitions from ‘Early Medieval’ to ‘Medieval’ cannot simply be interpreted in a simple linear manner by referring solely to the introduction of coinage, script and new religious order. The transformation seems to be multicausal, complex and non-linear, as many of the excavated sites stratigraphically represent the continuation of habitation with or without overt break. The nature of the settlements and settlement networks with other sub-regional entities is required to be addressed on the basis of archaeological and other data. The archaeological studies also hint at vibrant and contested religious and social  landscapes which can not be addressed only with a strict ‘time-frame’ of ‘Early Medieval’/’Medieval’. The complexities of archaeology of religions and rituals in this particular region which is assumed to be the last stronghold of Buddhism in South Asia can be illuminated by an alternative methodology of transdisciplinary enterprise. Under these circumstances, the main focus of this conference is on a transdisciplinary dialogue and evaluation of the present state of knowledge on this particular period(s). The following themes could be relevant for a useful dialogue:

  • The treatment of archaeological data and archaeological methodology in the knowledge formations on ‘Early Medieval’/’Medieval’.
  • Engagement with landscape archaeology and archaeology of rivers in understanding the consistencies and contingencies.
  • Critical engagement with the ways the Early Medieval\Medieval has been conceptualized, represented and produced in the academic and institutional scholarship, particularly, in Bengal and adjacent regions.
  • The limitations of archaeological research with regard to this particular period and region.
  • The invalidity of the accepted notions of urbanism and urban/rural dichotomy for understanding the settlement archaeology and settlement dynamics.
  • The problems with ‘Third Urbanism’, monetized economy and sub-regional polity for engaging with the archaeological, epigraphic and textual data from the area.
  • The relations among various sub-regions, the boundaries of which continued to be shifting. The current approaches to sub-regional and regional inter-connectivity demand a more contextually nuanced transdisciplinary approach.

Any other themes which could be relevant to question the taken-for-granted notions of Early Medieval/Medieval in Bengal and Bangladesh can also be addressed.

Invited Speakers (International)

Dr. Bhairabi Prasad Sahu


Department of History

University of Delhi


Dr. Ryosuke Furui

Associate Professor

Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia,

The University of Tokyo



Dr. Jason Hawkes

The British Museum

Great Russel Street

London, WC 1B 3DG

United Kingdon


Dr. Rajat Sanyal

Assistant Professor

Department of Archaeology

University of Calcutta.


Dr. Supriya Varma


Centre for Historical Studies

Jawharlal Neheru University

New Delhi, India


Dr. Sharmila Saha

Cataloguer, State Archaeological Museum,

Directorate of Archaeology and Museums,

Department of I& CA

Government of West Bengal




Dr. Sutapa Sinha

Associate Professor

Department of Islamic History & Culture

University of Calcutta

West Bengal



Dr. Tapan Chakraborty

Associate Professor

Geological Studies Unit

Indian Statistical Institute

203 B. T. Road, Kolkata 700108



Dr. Preeti Sharma

Assistant Professor

Department of History

Cotton University

Gawhati, Assam




Contact Info: 





Swadhin Sen, PhD

Sub-Project Manager, HEQEP 3419



Department of Archaeology

Jahangirnagar University

Savar 1342

Dhaka, Bangladesh






Organized by

Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP 3419)

Department of Archaeology

Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh.


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