Recipe for a successful archaeological mission at Mahasthangarh in Bangladesh Use-by date: from 27 October until 22 December 2019
A blogpost by Coline LEFRANCQ
- 1 amazing archaeological site
- 1 excavation house close to the Museum of Mahasthangarh
- 4 bodyguards to take care of the excavation house (Jumilla, Joana, Polash, Massud)
- 4 local experts in pottery management (Ashraful, Zulfikar, Rizaul, Shopikul)
- 44 very dedicated workers masters of the pickaxes and trowels
- 1 boro boss Bangladeshi
- 1 boro boss bideshi
- 5 spicy Bangladeshi archaeologists
- 4 shada bideshi archaeologists
- 2 tireless epigraphists
- 1 specialist of chabi (pronounce ‘chobi’)
- 1 very supportive Ambassador of France with his wife who love the ‘Koh-Lanta’ kind expeditions
- 1 expert in magnetic detection (with a good physical condition)
- 56 days of sunny weather
- 2 snakes (better if you have cobra)
- 2 loyal dog and cat
- 1 handful of spiders
- 1 rat-mole as mascot
- fusion Bengali-French food with a lot of spinach and few chillies
- and the most important ingredient: a generous dose of cheerfulness
You start by frying the Bangladeshi (Naheed Sultana) and French (Vincent Lefèvre, assisted by Coline Lefrancq) mission directors in a hot and humid city like Dhaka just after the monsoon. You season with a few meetings at the DOA (Department of Archaeology in Bangladesh), at the French Embassy (on which the mission depends), at the bank and with some long-time friends of the mission such as Mrs. Rifat Rashid, former director of the French-Bangladeshi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
You will then decant the first ingredients to another quieter town where you will continue cooking, namely Mahasthangarh, ancient Pundranagara, located northwest of Bogra and at six hours by car from the capital.
It is in Mahasthangarh that stands the excavation house located right next to the Museum. The house, inaugurated in 1996, was built up by the architect Saif Ul Haque with the sponsorship of the French Embassy in Dhaka. For almost 25 years, four people, namely Jumilla, Joanna, Polash and Massud, have been taking care of it and providing daily stewardship during mission periods.
When the mission and field directors turn lightly brown by the sun and by the practical steps involved in preparing the excavations (setting up the house, checking tools, buying wheelbarrows, demarcating the trenches, etc.), it is time to add the other ingredients: 1 archaeologist-pillar of the mission (Marie-Françoise Boussac), 3 French-speaking archaeologists (Alban François, the archaeologist in charge of the objects database, Antoine Darchambeau, the archaeologist-topographer, Coline Lefrancq the field director and the ceramologist), 5 Bangladeshi archaeological colleagues (Mizabur Rahman from DOA-Dakha, Razieh Sultana, the custodian in charge of the Mahasthan Museum, Muhammad Jayed the manager of the Tagore Memorial Museum – also known as Shilaidaha Kuthibadi -, Afzal Hossain Mondal, the architect and topographer and Amzat the photographer) and 44 professional villager-workers, some of whom have been working with the mission for almost 25 years.
Leave to bake for a total of 56 days including 4 weeks of excavation and water regularly with wells, pits full of pottery, walls, small pieces of sculptures, beads, coins, etc.
In another container (i.e. a large room in the excavation house), steam 4 expert ceramic workers, 1 ceramologist, sometimes with a pureed brain, and thousands of potsherds. Keep an eye on the preparation because it is not uncommon for the mixture to overflow.
As side dishes, we advise you to cook different kinds of salads. The first one consist of two epigraphists and an epigraphist-photographer (Arlo Griffiths, Furui Ryosuke and Adeline Levivier) and is eaten either hot or cold. For the second one, you need to get a particularly nice and benevolent French Ambassador, SE M. Schuh, and his wife (prefer those who invite you to a dinner to mark the beginning of the mission). The third salad consists of only one ingredient, namely an expert in magnetic survey (Quentin Vitale). For all three salads, just sauté the ingredients for a few days or even a week and season it with a mixture of masala spices (varied conversations, good humour, real interest in our work as archaeologist).
Jumilla’s fusion cuisine, especially the spinach, brings a personal touch to the whole, as does the surrounding wildlife and the bedding, which is recognised as one of the ‘hardest’ in the city.
When the various dishes are finished, you serve the whole thing still hot in MAE and DHARMA-labelled crockery. Prefer a layout in the form of a dense but well-illustrated report (think of the tasters).
Enjoy while still warm although the return to Europe cools down the menu rather quickly!