“…you are a scientist, one with the initiative to acquire and enlarge knowledge. You are no longer a school-boy waiting to be taught. You are an officer, and the weight of your command will be proportionate to the effective weight of your knowledge and experience. Learn!”
This is how Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler’s “directive” to “young officers” of the Archaeological Survey of India ended. It was circulated as one of the staff memorandum (no. 5) in April 1945 and is his most didactic official circular. The four years of Wheeler’s Director-Generalship of the Survey (1944 to 1948) are usually regarded as being foundational to the development of archaeological method in the subcontinent. By instilling ‘discipline’ among his crew, showing them how to attain technical precision in recording and exposing the benefits of forward planning, Wheeler (as he himself tells us) could successfully impose the habit of scientific enquiry among his Indian students and staff; a habit he regarded necessary for the progress of archaeology in the Indian subcontinent. This paper explores some of his methods and seeks to open up a discussion regarding why they acquired significance within the post-colonial milieu of Indian archaeology.