Raymond Allchin, 1923-2010

July 1, 2010

The leading British expert on Indian archaeology, whose interests embraced much of the culture and history of South Asia, has died.

Raymond Allchin was born in Harrow on 9 July 1923 and educated at Westminster School. Intending to become an architect, he trained at the Regent Street Polytechnic School from 1940 to 1943, until war service as a signaller took him to India and Pakistan.

"That exposure totally changed him," said his former student Richard Blurton, curator for South and South-East Asia at the British Museum. "He was one of a generation of scholars energised by serving in the Indian Army during the war who had achieved teaching positions by the 1960s."

On his return to England, Dr Allchin switched track and went to the School of Oriental and African Studies. He gained a first in Hindi with Sanskrit in 1951, produced a PhD on early cultures in Hyderabad in 1954 and then became a lecturer in Indian archaeology.

He moved to the University of Cambridge in 1959 as a lecturer in Indian studies and was later appointed reader and then emeritus reader.

Although his initial linguistic interests bore fruit in translations of Hindi devotional poetry by Tulsi Das (1532-1623), Dr Allchin's central achievements were in archaeology. For more than three decades, he - often with his wife Bridget - carried out major explorations and excavations in India and Pakistan.

He acted as a conservation consultant for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in Nepal and Cambodia and also produced the first general overview of The Archaeology of Afghanistan, co-edited with Norman Hammond in 1978.

Even more seminal was the book Dr Allchin and his wife wrote on The Birth of Indian Civilisation (1968), and then revised as The Rise of Civilisation in India and Pakistan (1982). Mr Blurton said that these syntheses of information about early humans from Palaeolithic times up to the era of city states became the "fundamental textbooks" in the West.

"Each edition was a major event, knitting together new information into a detailed structure," he added. Equally fundamental was the Source-book of Indian Archaeology, edited with Dilip Chakrabarti in three volumes over a period of 25 years.

In 1978, Dr Allchin and his wife joined other leading scholars to create the Cambridge-based Ancient India & Iran Trust. With its own endowment, building, library and photographic archive, it continues to play a major role in securing the future of a field where he did so much of the pioneering work.

Dr Allchin died on 4 June 2010 and is survived by his wife, their daughter and their son.


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