Alexander Cunningham & Excavation of Coins

Alexander Cunningham came to India in 1833, at the tender age of 19, under the East India Company as an army engineer. His life is characterized under two parts, his army life and what he was better known for – Director of Indian Archeological Survey. The history of Cunningham’s exploits into archeology and excavation of coins that Bulandshahr is known for – has a complex and layered history. James Prinsep’s (in charge of Calcutta mint) interest in the coinage of India overlapped with Venture, who was Ranjith Singh’s French general – who was inspired by the success of the story of Egyptian Pyramid Grave Robbers and took it upon himself to excavate at the plains of Punjab. The collection contained Bactrian, Roman and Indonasian coins, all requested by Prinsep for inception – who became a figurehead of the venture into unknown Indian history. Cunningham’s arrival was right in the midst of this whirlpool, and soon became one of Prinsep’s closest collaborator. 

Source: Wikipedia

Cunningham’s shadow and right hand man, A.C.L Carlyle was also a force to reckon with and deserves the mantle next to Cunnigham for his discoveries. A.C.L Carlyle was Cunningham’s assistant when he was appointed Director General of The Archeological Survey of India. Caryle, not only assisted, shadowed and helped in Cunnigham’s excavations, he himself excavated objects of great importance to India’s long forgotten history. He discovered traces of Mesolithic Rock-art in the rock-shelters of Sohagighat in the mountain range of Kaimur (Dist. Mirzapur). He was credited with excavating the first Stone Age antiquities and found 20 copper and 4 silver punched coins in modern day Banaras, in India. He thoroughly documented the tours of Cunnigham, that helped and preserve Cunngham’s legacy, work, styles etc., while most of what Cunnigham himself wrote were historical analysis of his excavations more than general report of the excavations themselves. 

Source: British Museum (coins)

Fun Fact: Cunningham studied the archaeological excavations of India so steadily and intently that he could easily distinguish between what was Indian and what wasn’t, hence he was the one to discover the first Harappan seal. He dismissed the seal as not Indian due to the writing, the bull without the hump and the material. Historian, Neil McGregor, attests that it was this seal that led to the discovery of Indus Valley Civilization, as it was left to successor John Marshall – who indeed discovered Indus Valley or the ruins of the city Harappa.  



This is Arpita Sk, 3rd year student at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, majoring in Literary Studies and Sociology. Summer Intern at Kala Chaupal. 

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