Kolkata not quite the Charnock city, reveal excavations near Clive House

The city is not merely a colonial city or the late medieval occupancy of local zamindars, but had habitations from the first century CE (current era), says ASI Kolkata

June 06, 2022 01:38 am | Updated 01:38 am IST - Kolkata

Excavation at mound near Clive House in Kolkata.

Excavation at mound near Clive House in Kolkata. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement.

Recent excavations by the Kolkata Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at a mound outside the Robert Clive House in Dum Dum have revealed evidence of settlements that can be almost 2,000 years old. The excavations carried out at the mound in March-April earlier this year revealed not only antiquities, pottery and charcoal but almost 12 different layers of habitations. 

 “We have sent the artefacts for scientific dating. Hopefully in some time we can get the exact dates which can throw light on how old the settlement is. The city is not merely a colonial city or the late medieval occupancy of local zamindars but had habitations from the first century CE (current era),” Subha Majumdar, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI Kolkata Circle said. 

Colonial architecture

 Clive House stands on a mound on Rastraguru Avenue and is one of the oldest buildings in Kolkata and its adjoining surroundings. Also known as burra kothi or the grand house, some portions of the building have been encroached upon by the locals. The building is a fine specimen of colonial architecture and Robert Clive, first British Governor of Bengal Presidency, used this building as a country house. This has been suggested by a marble plaque on the building’s front. The origin of the building is obscure. Perhaps it was a Portugese or a Dutch factory or a structure which even predates any colonial influence. According to some records, a treaty between Siraj-ud-daula and Robert Clive was signed in this building on 6th or 9th February 1757. 

 Dr. Majumdar said Robert Clive decided to use the building as his residence because of strategic reasons. He said the site at Dum Dum is close to Chandraketugarh in North 24 Parganas district where the excavations in the 1950s and the 1960s had revealed almost a continuous sequence of occupations, divided into six periods from the pre-Mauryan to the Pala period.

Evidence of floods

“The recent excavations at the mound have given us evidence of floods. With layers of soil deposits we can be sure that there was some kind of continuous settlement. There are evidence of a paleo-channel that connected the site to the Ganga,” the archeologist said. He added that the Clive’s House at Dum Dum lies en route to Murshidabad, which was the capital of the Nawabs of West Bengal before the Battle of Plassey in 1757 changed the course of the country’s history.

 While attempts were made to excavate the mound at the Clive’s House earlier also, but according to experts the artefacts that have been unearthed recently can be a convincing proof of how old the city is. The ASI Kolkata Circle is planning more excavations at the site.

 Kolkata, with its grand colonial structures like Victoria Memorial, Town Hall, Metcalfe Hall, St. John’s Church is widely considered to be a colonial city. Job Charnock, an English administrator who landed in the city in the mid-17th Century is considered the founder of the city as he took control of three villages Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata. August 24, the date of Charnock’s arrival in the city was considered Kolkata’s birthday till a 2003 judgment by the Calcutta High Court said that the English administrator cannot be called “founder” of Kolkata. The court ruled that even though Charnock arrived in Sutanuti on August 24 , the villages existed much before the East India Company’s arrival.

Experts point out that there has been other evidence of Kolkata, located on the bank of the river Hooghly, being a continuous settlement predating the colonial times by centuries. The excavations at Chandraketugarh, about 25 km from the present demarcations of Kolkata near Barasat, had provided some evidence in the 1950s and the 1960s. In 1997-98, a large number of artefacts, ranging from the post-Gupta period to the late medieval age, were found on the Bethune College campus in north Kolkata. The recent findings from the mound besides the Clive House, located on the northern fringes of the city gives more credence that the metropolis is not quite the Charnock city.

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