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Copperplates in Context: Preliminary Investigation of the Study and Archaeological Settings of Land Grant Inscriptions

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Abbas, Riza 


The fourth to the seventh centuries C.E., commonly referred to as the “Gupta Era”, are widely regarded as a formative period in South Asian history. Textual historical approaches to the study of this period have focussed on the examination of inscriptions, which constitute the largest single source of evidence. One group of inscriptions, the copperplate charters, have proved particularly important. They not only record the practice of royal land grants to Brahmins and temple institutions, but also embody wider processes of political legitimation, religious transformation and socio-economic change. Thus far, however, studies have focussed on the texts of these inscriptions, which remain divorced from the contexts that produced them and in which they were used. Arguing for an archaeological approach to the study of these charters, this paper demonstrates the value of investigating their geographical and archaeological contexts—first, by mapping the find spots of these charters across the subcontinent; and second, by exploring the archaeological settings of these find spots in one particular region: Vidarbha. The results of this work have clear implications for the future study of these and other inscriptions, and suggest new directions for archaeological approaches to the study of historical periods.



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Jahangirnagar University

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ERC-funded project Asia Beyond Boundaries, an ERC Synergy project from the European Research Council under the European Union's 7th Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 609823, awarded to Dr Michael Willis