Cover design of British Museum occasional paper about the Carlyle collection (1994)
Manchester Museum is working on an HLF Courtyard extension project that opens in 2020, and collections curators are looking through their collections for anything that comes from the Indian subcontinent in preparation for the new South Asia Gallery. The new gallery will comprise eight ‘chapters’ ranging chronologically from prehistoric times to Partition, the diaspora and the founding of South Asian communities in the UK, especially Manchester. All of the disciplines represented in the Museum collections are contributing to this exciting project and doubtless other curators will report in due course about what they have in their collections. In the archaeology collection it’s been an exciting journey of discovery and revelation as I began to realise how significant some of the collectors and donors represented in Manchester Museum’s collection were in the history of Indian archaeology.
Palaeolithic stone tool from the Vindhya Hills, India with a A.C.Carlyle label (Manchester Museum)
Detail of a Carlyle label (Manchester Museum)
Perhaps the most important of the collectors who gave us material from the Indian sub continent was Archibald Campbell Carlyle (1831-1897). Carlyle (or Carlleyle) was First Assistant to the Archaeological Survey of India from 1871 until his retirement in 1885. Carlyle went to India to seek his fortune, initially as a tutor. At this time employment in the colonies offered security and career prospects. Carlyle worked in the Indian Museum in Calcutta, the Riddell Museum in Agra and then joined the Archaeological Survey of India. He was appointed by Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893), Director General of the Survey. The Archaeological Survey was part of the British imperial and colonial project in India, to survey, record, and catalogue the antiquities of the country in order to understand, administer and control them more effectively. As Dilip Chakrabarti puts it: Cunningham ‘…was trying to justify the systematic archaeological exploration of India on the grounds that politically it would help the British to rule India.’ (see Prof.Chakrabarti’s ‘The development of archaeology in the Indian subcontinent’, in World Archaeology 13.3, Feb.1982).
Upinder Sigh’s book The Discovery of Ancient India Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology (Permanent Black, 2004) and a British Museum occasional paper on The Carlyle Collection of Stone Age Artefacts from Central India by Jill Cook and Hazel Martingell (1994) provide a lot of information about Carlyle from which the following summary is extracted.
Occasional paper about the Carlyle collection at the British Museum
At a time when Cunningham and the other assistants were understandably preoccupied by ancient Indian sculpture, temples and coins, Carlyle was one of the few people making an effort to recover and record prehistoric stone tools. Jill Cook and Hazel Martingell’s occasional paper paints a vivid picture of Carlyle as a field archaeologist sleeping rough in ruined temples and upsetting the polite conventions of Raj society, on one occasion threatening an enquirer sent by the Raja of Nagod with a gun. Carlyle seems to have been rather prickly about his status, which may explain the alternative spelling of his name as Carlleyle, to suggest he was from an aristocratic family. His ‘psyche-evaluation’ described him as ‘not ordinarily insane, but liable to outbursts of eccentric action and evil temper’ (Cook and Martingell:13).
The work took Carlyle into the landscape for long periods at a time, travelling on horseback, accompanied by servants on foot and camels to carry the baggage and surveying equipment. He was in eastern Rajastan in 1871-3, the Vindhya Hills and then northwards into the plains with seasons in Gorkhpur, Saran and Ghazipur during the 1870s. He excavated a site at Joharganj in 1879. In the early 1880s he worked in the Vindhya Hills again when complaints were made about him. As Cook and Martingell put it: ‘In 1882, a European with one servant, living rough, without bed and bedding and without a change of clothes or proper food for six weeks had to be mad.’ There is more than a hint of the Indiana Jones about him.
Charles Seidler’s letter in Manchester Museum
When Cunningham proposed that the Archaeological Survey be disbanded, Carlyle lost his job and came back to Britain in 1885. He was 54. Living in straitened circumstances in London, Carlyle disposed of his archaeological collection by sale or by donation to a number of museums and individuals. A dealer in antiquities, Charles Seidler, wrote letters to collectors including Sir John Evans, and Canon Greenwell, antiquarian societies, and the Manchester Museum. David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Palaeontology, found some archive correspondence from Seidler relating to the sale of prehistoric stone artefacts from Carlyle ‘s collection (see image above). The slips of paper that accompany the letter give details of the objects and where they found. Presumably, the various objects were wrapped in these slips of paper. This information was used to compile the entries in the Manchester Museum accession register (the ‘O’ register) and from these we learn that some of the flints came from a very important site called Morhana Pahar in Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh. Bridget Allchin identified this as one of a group of sites in the Vindhya Hills escarpment overlooking the Ganga Valley about five miles north of Hanmana village near Bhainsaur. Carlyle excavated the site but didn’t publish it in full (B.Allchin and R.Allchin -1982 –The Rise of Civilisation in India and Pakistan, p.82). He may have kept the information to himself, thinking he would go back some day to investigate it in detail but his ‘retirement’ prevented further work.
The cave or rock shelter site at Morhana Pahar yielded thousands of worked flints and there were cave paintings or mural art. Some of the images must have been painted later in prehistory because they show men driving chariots being ambushed by men on foot using bows. Carlyle’s notes described them as showing ‘in a very stiff and archaic manner scenes in the life of the ancient stone chippers, others represent animals or hunts of animals by men with bows and arrows, spears and hatchets…’ They seem to depict people living a hunter-gather lifestyle confronting chariot-drivers of the Indian Iron Age, so there must have been considerable overlap of what might be considered chronologically distinct material cultures. Chenchu hunter-gatherers in India were photographed during the 1930s, showing how resilient this way of life is (see Allchin and Allchin p.85). Carlyle seems to have been the first to propose that the cave art was undertaken by people in prehistory. When he was working it was commonly supposed that cave paintings couldn’t have survived for such a long time, and it was only the discovery of Altamira later in the 19th century that opened people’s eyes to the existence of prehistoric cave art. It is a shame that so far we have not been able to find a photograph of Archibald Campbell Carlyle. Over to you gentle reader….
Carlyle Collection microliths from Morhana Pahar in the Vindhya Hills, in northern central India
The flints from Morhana Pahar are known as microliths and include lunates or crescent shaped artefacts, rhomboids, trapezes, trapezoids triangles, bladelets, drill points and so on. Some of them were mounted in wooden shafts to create barbed weapons. Some were found still ‘glued’ in position in their wooden armatures using bitumen at the prehistoric site of Mehrgarh in Pakistan. The tools are very small and some archaeologists assumed that the people who made them must have been themselves of small stature or pygmies, hence the name for the tools: pygmy flints. They are very similar to the stone tools found on the Pennines around Manchester and during the early 2oth century an associate of William Boyd Dawkins at Manchester Museum, Revd Gatty, argued that northern Britain had been settled by so-called pygmy people from northern India! The flints date from the Mesolithic period, c.9,000-4,000 BC.
Other material includes more microliths from Gharwa Pahari, Baghe Khor and Likhneya Pahar, Palaeolithic implements and Neolithic axeheads from Marfa in Bundelkhand, and other stone artefacts, including a Madras type hatchet from the Gaur River.
As a footnote to this discussion I might also add that the list of museums holding Carlyle material in Cook and Martingell’s occasional paper in 1994 does not include Manchester Museum. So far 82 artefacts that Carlyle collected have been catalogued, one of the largest of the collections after the British Museum and National Museums of Scotland (Edinburgh).
I leave the last words to Carlyle:
‘The question now, therefore, is not -‘where are stone implements to be found?’ but rather – where are they not to be found?’ For so far as my own experience goes, they appear findable almost everywhere in India.’
Dilip Chakrabarti (1999) India an Archaeological History Palaeolithic Beginnings Early Historic Foundations (O.U.P.), p.95
Next time: Frederick Swynnerton.
See also The Mystery of Colonel Mayne