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Archaeological Site Museums-An Appraisal

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Archaeological Site Museums-An Appraisal
  2  Archaeological Site Museums- An Appraisal S ULEKHA  B ANERJEE   AND  V INAY  K UMAR  A museum is the device our culture has developed for the transmission of ideas to largenumber of people through the exhibition of genuine objects. Based upon the nature of collection, museums have been classified as various types. Archaeological site museumsare one among them with the aim to concentrate on the history of a particular site basedupon the relics found at the site. The concept of site museums is well elucidated byHargreaves, one of the former Director General of ASI. In his own words “it has been thepolicy of the Government of India to keep the small and movable antiquities, recoveredfrom the ancient site, in close association with the remains to which they belong, so thatthey may be studied amid their natural surroundings and not lose focus by beingtransported” (Markham & Hargreaves, 1936:10). Archaeological Site museums areexamined not only as a centre of art and heritage but have stimulated feelings of nationalism as remarked by Markham and Hargreeves.In the words of Sir Mortimer Wheeler “Site museums are an important addition tosites, which are themselves of instructional interest, such as Delhi fort, Sarnath, Nalanda,etc. But a Site museum difficult to access and situated half a mile from a site of whichnothing can be seen above ground is almost valueless. The site in question is Kondapur in Andhra Pradesh, where a curator of the Survey has been at some pains to arrange a SiteMuseum, which few people are ever likely to visit. It is essential that a site be worthy of its site museum” (Banerjee, 1990:23).The site museums are entirely based on archaeological material, these museums arepurposely created, so as to retain the archaeological interest that can best be studied inrelation and in close proximity to the group, style and architecture of the building or siteto which they belong. Thus the basic criterion for justifying a site museum comprises of numerous finds from the site or adjacent sites, excavations or loose architectural orsculptural members, impressive archaeological or structural remains at the adjacent sites,and accessibility of the site and museum to the visitors.  18 SNEHASIRI: Cultural Contours of History and Archaeology   Archaeological site museums developed as a result of excavation or scientific clearancecarried out by the Archaeological Survey of India to preserve and display excavated materialon the spot. Initially these museums were organized without any proper thought and afew developed as store house of heaps of antiquities without requisite ideas about planningand preservation. With certain important exceptions many of these have failed to servethe needs either of research or of popular education. In some of these museums articles of potential value are left in miserable condition. Besides these, hardly any care has beentaken by the authorities to have the objects grouped and arranged scientifically to displaythem adequately with proper labeling.Like other museums the archaeological site museums also serve as mirror of the region/ area as it reflects the facets of the past. Thus to know the vast and rich cultural heritageof the country, and to bring the sense of belongingness amongst people living in differentparts of India, proper management of site museums is necessary. Besides, the museumsalso function as living areas with full range of cultural-cum-educational activities. Theyhave grown and developed for the people, who care for the past, derive benefits from theexhibits, and also from the cultural and educational activities, which the museums organize.There are eight basic motives to preserve the objects of the past - curiosity,understanding, control, belief, aesthetic value, memories, and veneration of age. In orderto preserve and protect the antiquities of the site museums, all site museums should havea perfect coordination between the internal requirements of curating the collection andmeeting the requirements of its users. Both these aspects are the two faces of a singlecoin. If a museum is only concerned with its internal functioning such as management of collection, - research of the reserve collections and documentation and doesn’t take intoaccount the visitors then the main purpose of these site museums is lost. A good museumis obviously viewer -oriented. It considers the need of its community and develops effectivemeans to expand the boundary of its community. It makes its collections accessible to its visitors. Now a days the notion of site museum as a collection for scholarly use has beenlargely replaced by the idea of the museum as a means of communication. These museumsare put into a paradoxical position now. On the one hand the funding is not adequate andon the other hand they have great potentiality for identity construction. Because of these very factors, there is lack of proper management of these site museums. Apart from allthese most of the archaeological site museums are not modernized in terms of display andexhibition, except a few such as the museum at Sarnath, Purana Qila (Delhi), Ropar wherelighting arrangements have been done scientifically and aesthetically. The use of touchscreen at Sarnath is appreciable. The main problems encountered for the modernizationof these site museums are there is an ad-hoc and unplanned automation of the museums;well-trained manpower is often not available; there is the attitudinal problem and lack of coordination at the decision-making level; there is technically connectivity bottle-necksand infra-structural inadequacies such as availability of copier machines, scanners,electricity, communication facilities specially for these museums, as they are mostly locatedin rural or remote areas. Not only these but some other acute technical problems are alsothere, like no standardized vocabulary, no standardized classification system or cataloguing  Archaeological Site Museums – An Appraisal   19 code, which makes management a very difficult task. Another aspect, which is worthmentioning, is that, there is a drastic difference between the other museums that arelocated in urban areas and the archaeological site museums, which are located in ruralareas, in respect of infrastructure management and organization and staff patterns. Whilethere is immense scope of work to be done in the site museums, there is minimuminfra-structure to support it; whereas other museums are much better off in this respect. Another problem, which is often encountered, is that the labels in most site museums arenot in local language that is an obstruction in proper dissemination of information to thelocal people. There should be labels in the regional language besides Hindi and English.Not only this, but the focus should change from collections management to contentmanagement in these site museums. The museum’s internal information system needs toevolve from their focus on collections management - essentially the data entry and retrievalof terse data such as numbers, dates and names - to content management systems, able tostore the truly valuable, enriched information that museums produce on daily basis, butthat does not make its way to information management systems.The museum information services should not only be confined to formal educationalone but also to informal education as well, in order to develop museum-orientedcommunity education. The visitors to the museum fall into four general categories: localclientele, tourists, research scholars and teachers. To attract the masses into the museum,these archaeological site museums as are closer and nearer to their cultural context shouldbe promoted, so that they may easily and readily establish communication with the displays.For this reason, the information communicated through the displayed objects, is of a greatimportance, and need to be organized and managed effectively. Archaeological sitemuseums are the symbol of a living culture. They are more than repositories of materialculture. They have grown and developed in the service of the people. People need to beaware of this, because it accounts for their present, and will influence how they can createtheir future. Therefore, dissemination of information about the collection, and themanagement of that information are very important for the museums. Without properinformation the main purpose of these site museums cannot be achieved. Hence themanagement aspects of the site museum need to be reworked that will entail thedevelopment of an understanding of the relationship between museums and theiraudiences. A very important problem confronting the site museums is that there is noproper conservation/preservation policy. Since management encompasses all facets, thisaspect cannot be overlooked. Along with site museums if Interpretation Centre is promoted by the ASI, it will havea better impact on the visitors. The newly constructed museum building as in the case of Chanderi and Khajuraho can plan its Interpretation Centre within the same museumbuilding. The museums at Red Fort, Delhi have been decided to be shifted to the ColonialBarracks from its present premises i.e. Mumtaz Mahal and Naubat Khana. These buildingscan also have a corner for interpretation centre for the visitors.The site museum might be regarded as machinery for producing progressive subjects.Its routine is to serve and to induct the visitor into an improving relationship to the self.  20 SNEHASIRI: Cultural Contours of History and Archaeology  It might also be seen as providing an opportunity to its visitors to civilize them. In doingso, the museum should provide its visitors with a set of resources, through which theymight actively insert themselves within a particular vision of history, by fashioningthemselves to contribute to its development.It can be summed up in a nutshell, that the aspects of management for the site museummust be thought of, a guide to the collection has to be published, vital records andmicrofilming programs have to be started, major research projects have to be preparedand archival material to be used for class room lessons have to be distributed throughoutthe country. There is hardly any guide book available on site museums. If emphasis is laidon publishing of guide books on site museums, the students and all categories of visitorswill get an additional advantage.The future of these archaeological site museums in the new millennium will dependupon how swiftly we recognize the potential resources like information services, marketingand effectively adapt ourselves to the changing environment. If our museums are willingto serve efficiently in the modern era they should forge a powerful link between themselvesand the visitors, and this can be achieved by means of an intensive programme of improvedactivities through skills, knowledge, public relations, network communication systemsand better management.  References Banerjee, N. R.,  Museums and Cultural Heritage in India , Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1990.Baxi, S. J. and V. P. Dwivedi,  Modern Museum-Organization and Practice in India , AbhinavPublications, New Delhi, 1973.Dwivedi, V. P. (ed.),  Museums and Museology (Essays on Hon. of Dr. Grace Morley on her 80 th  Birthday),  Agam Kala Prakashan, Delhi, 1980.Markham and Hargreaves, The Museums of India,  Museum Association,   London, 1936.Morley Grace,  Museums Today, Department of Museology, Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja SavajiraoUniversity of Baroda, 1981.Nath Narinder and J. P. Saxena,  Archaeological Museum, Sanchi, Published by the DG, ASI, NewDelhi; 1981.Nigam, M. L.,  Fundamentals of Museology,  Second edition, Hyderabad, 1985.Orna, E. and Pettitt, C.,  Information Management in Museums,  Hampshire: Gower, 1998.Pearce, S. M.,  Archaeological Curatorship,  Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1990.Sarkar H.,  Museums and Protection of Monuments and Antiquities in India , Sandeep Prakashan,Delhi, 1981.Sue Runyard; The Museum Marketing Handbook , Published by Museums and Gallery Commission,1994.
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