The word ‘history’ in Kerala connects everything from the earliest Arab and Dutch traders to the land reform movements. But for a State that takes such pride in its heritage and culture, Kerala seems to know little about its past. Serious questions about any historical monument, event or a past way of life elicit responses that only skim the surface, leaving the rest to imagination.

While the study of history is by nature imprecise, the State Department of Archaeology is facing a severe shortage of skilled manpower, making proper research and documentation difficult.

The department hardly does any conservation or excavation.

“There is currently no Superintendent (Archaeology) and the posts of Conservation Officer, as well as that of the director, are filled in by deputation,” said a senior official associated with the department.

There are not enough archaeologists and historians in the department who can do research as most of the existing posts are promotion posts filled in by administrators without formal training in history. “There is a shortage of staff on the technical side, such as skilled workers for chemical conservation or undertaking renovation. Such works need skilled hands,” said a senior official.

G. Prem Kumar, director of the Archaeology Department, said they were working to address the shortage of manpower. “We are working on a project to train college students to undertake chemical conservation works. Similar proposals for training people in excavation are also in the works,” said Prof. Kumar, who is on deputation at the department. Prof. Kumar said the department was working to improve conservation efforts, including a project for the Edakkal caves in Wayanad. “We are making an effort to properly catalogue the collections in museums and to bring out information brochures that would be given to museum visitors free of cost,” he said.

For now, however, a lot of the department’s projects are handed out to other agencies. The State Archaeology Department is not involved in these works directly and outsources them.

The Pattanam archaeological site near Paravur is believed to be one of the most well-documented dig sites in the State. The excavation, however, is run not by State Archaeology, but by the Kerala Council for Historical Research, an autonomous institution that conducts research on history.

Many other major projects on history and conservation of heritage are spearheaded by the Tourism and Culture Departments. The outsourcing has also given rise to allegations that that there is no audit of the funds given to projects being handled by another State department.

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