Saturday, October 29, 2011

Interview with Dr. Shanti Pappu

Shanti Pappu is an archaeologist and founder/director of Sharma Centre of Heritage Education and Sharma Children's Museum, Chennai/Pune. Dr. Pappu has published various research papers. Please read more about Dr. Shanti Pappu over here. She is the author of the book 'The Shining Stones' published by Tulika. The book is reviewed as part of CROCUS 2011 here.

Dr. Pappu, Many thanks for answering our queries.

At the beginning of the book you mentioned that this site (Attirampakkam) was discovered in 1863. Has there been continuous activity at the site from that time? That is really fascinating that archaeologist are still finding tools at the same location. How long will you keep going back to the same location?

The site was sporadically investigated by many scholars after its discovery by R.B.Foote in the 19th century. After my doctorate in this region, we felt that there was potential for excavating the site in the light of new problems in Indian prehistory. We began in 1999 with test pits and have been excavating and conducting other research at this site since then. We have also been studying other prehistoric sites in this region in order to put together a comprehensive picture of these early hunter-gatherers.

The book 'Shining Stones' is an wonderful combination of fact, fiction and story telling along with some wonderful illustrations by Ashok Rajagopalan? What made you think up of this wonderful idea for this book?

I really don't know. I just came to me while I was analysing the stone tools from the site and then it just developed on its own.

It was interesting to learn that you work in tandem with the local villagers while excavating a site. Does it always work out well with the local villagers? And how do you come to know that a particular site could be considered for excavation?

We would not be able to work without the wondeful support and love and affection from the villagers. Before excavating a site we study the landscape carefully-look at the exposed sections along the gully beds cutting through the site, examine previous reports and look at the types of tools eroding out of the sediments. Only then do we decide whether it is worth excavating or not.

Why do archaeologist go only during some seasons for the excavations sites? Why not work on it year long?

Firstly, funding! It is very difficult in India to raise funds for research in prehistory. We just can't afford it. Also, we can't excavate during the monsoons or in the extreme heat of summer. We need time to analyse what we have found and to plan how to go about next. At Attirampakkam we had a short season of around 3-4 months every year. We do work on other aspects of what we have excavated during the rest of the year.

If one of the readers or their kids find an interesting stone, is there some way the kids can find out if it is a fossil or a normal stone or probably a hand axe used by our ancestors? While visiting Sedgewick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge, I had a fascinating experience - A mother and her kid walked in and started talking with a curator and showed him a stone they found near their house. The curator looked at the stone, congratulated the girl and said that it might be a fossil. He went on to tell her how it is easy to dismiss a fossil as a stone. The kid listened with her eyes open with fascination. The kid and mother were very happy and I am sure a small interesting talk like that to the kid would make a great difference in how the kid would approach the subject.

Firstly, they should not pick it up. If you pick up a tool or fossil it gets removed from its original context and its value is completely lost. They should if they can, take a photo and they can send it to experts who can advise them further. We are always happy to advise people on what they have found.

What are the various options for a kid in India, interested in archaeology, to study more about it - that is pursue it for studies and a career?

Well in India, you can only do so at a few universities at the graduate level and at others at the post-graduate level. It is however, a very tough career as there are practically no jobs available and very little funding for independent research.

Can you suggest some other books for kids, similar to Shining Stones, that you think are great books for the kids to understand about archaeology, evolution?

There are lots of books published from abroad. There are also some very nice books by Dr. Upinder Singh for children on archaeology and ancient history, and one on dinosaurs published from Tulika. There's also a lovely book on the Harappans published by Scholastic.

Please let us know more about the Kolam Children's Museum that you have established. Is it open through out the year for people to visit? You mentioned in your earlier email that you are working on your next book. Please tell us about this book.

We started our children's museum (Sharma Children's Museum) in 1999 in a small classroom. Now we are renovating and expanding over a bigger area. We are closed to the public for the next 2 years till this is completed. Our books are on Indian pre and protohistory and follow different styles to bring the past alive.

How did you get interested in archaeology?

My grandfather and aunt were very interested and influenced me a lot.

And finally, what books are you reading right now.

Only books and journals related to world prehistory-as we are writing up a series of excavation volumes on our research. Very boring for kids !

Thank you, Shanti Pappu.


Choxbox said...

Interesting Qs Sathish and enlightening answers Dr.Pappu.

Showing this to my daughter - who has found your book fascinating. She talked about it when we went to the National Museum in Delhi and spent hours in the Indus Valley room.

utbtkids said...

Thanks Satish and Dr.Pappu.

It is fascinating to know that a site discovered 1.5 centuries back, is still active!

sandhya said...

An interesting interview of someone working in an unusual profession! Very enlightening.

Choxbox said...

And just last evening, we read NCT's book called The Mysteries of the Past: Archaelogical Sites in India authored by Upinder Singh, because my older child had to do a report on Bhimbekta caves. Had never heard of it before, but this book gives a fascinating view on the artists who created the cave paintings. True gem of a book.

ranjani.sathish said...

Chox, that book sounds it a NBT book ? Would love to get hold of it from the NBT book shop, since it is close to my place.

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