Imbricated within this physical distancing, with respect to projects on history-making of India, was also the thrust of empirical proclivities, where ‘field observations’ were, paradoxically, to sanction the judgments that had already been made on India’s past. James Mill’s framework for the history of the Indian civilisation not only remained unquestioned, its value grew through archaeology. For, Mill’s beliefs on Indian history could now be empirically assured through the ‘physical’ evidence. The classifications that Fergusson and Burgess imposed upon the architectural topography of India, and Cunningham and his assistant, Joseph Beglar, on the antiquities and ruins they explored and ‘discovered’ neatly fitted the linguistic, racial and religious categories that had been ‘ordained’ for India through means other than their investigations. Such classifications, ironically, complied with the histories that had been, and were being, established through India’s indigenous literary traditions, perceived by then as “fictitious and extravagant”, and judged as “hopeless to deduce from them any continued thread of authentic narrative” (Elphinstone 1843, p. 19). Hence, although their sources differed vastly in chronology, authorship, and materiality, the histories that were established by comparative philologists, such as Friedrich Max Müller, architectural historians, such as Fergusson, and field archaeologists, such as Cunningham, were rather similar.
Archaeology filled in the gaps of an ‘Indian’ history that was to all purposes known. Where specific events and ‘dark ages’ had previously been a conjecture, the material finds now offered the ‘light’. It is, therefore, disconcerting to find that the allegory of light and dark, which resonated best within the colonial historiography as Muslim invasions of India during the medieval period, is persistently evoked to illustrate archaeology’s achievements. From a, logical, refutation of “the gulf of a dark age” (Ghosh 1954–5, p. 3), in relation to the chronological “gap” between the Indus Civilization and what followed (e.g. speakers at the European Association of South Asian Archaeology conference held in London in 2005), to the perception of the Civilisation as an earthen lamp, shedding “its light over roughly a third of the Indian subcontinent” (Chakrabarti 2004, p. 23), archaeology’s power of illumination continues to echo the colonial imperatives of a ‘useful’ science.