The fundamental purpose of archaeology is to provide people with a better understanding of the human past. Archaeology can tell you a great deal about humanity in general, such as the fact that the origins of mankind lie in Africa. It also inculcates a respect towards societies and cultures which are very different from our own. Ultimately, archaeological research and work helps us to learn about our collective past and the people who lived outside the world of texts and literature. More than 99 percent of the whole history of humankind has unfolded before the invention of writing and recording, thus archaeology is key to learning about this vast span of time and connecting it to present day issues.Personally, I love the field because archaeology is the one profession which allows you to roam around the Indian countryside and visualise how people in the past lived - where they worked, how they worshipped and how and who they interacted with. It is also a profession where the thrill of piecing together the bits and pieces of the puzzle of the past makes you feel nothing less than a detective in an Agatha Christie novel.
India's historical and cultural past is tremendous and a really exciting topic to explore. Yet archaeology still remains an emerging science rather than an established branch of study in India today. I feel that the biggest challenge that archaeologists and archaeology students face in today is the lack of adequate job opportunities. The mainstreaming of archaeology within the education system has just not happened and it remains overshadowed by other disciplines. Even today Indian students have no options for pursuing archaeology at an undergraduate level in colleges. There are also no papers in archaeology that are offered in the civil services examination. Usually the alternative for students is to pursue studies abroad, where they are able to receive adequate support to study and research archaeology and are later able to pursue it as a profession. This is not to say that there isn't a fair number of academics doing excellent work in the field in India. Good academics in archaeology do diligent research. It is just that there are not enough universities and institutions where archaeology departments exist today.
When it comes to specialisations within the subject, there is an urgent need for more botanists and zoologists specialising in archaeobotany and archaeozoology so that much more is discovered about the food patterns of ancient India. Such studies will really give us a clearer understanding of the different lifestyles of our ancestors. Unfortunately, while botany and zoology are taught in most educational institutions, most scientists and graduates prefer not to use these skills for archaeology because it would harm their chances of career advancement. We need a major push at the highest levels of funding to attract more people to the field. This will ensure that investigations into the past life of bones, pollen and plants are done in a consistent and comprehensive way.
It is also essential that archaeology of early mining is made a priority. There are many old mining localities in India but a proper dating and documentation of all these sites are yet to be done. Such excavations provide inputs on the materials and minerals available at each site. Salvage archaeology, also referred to as rescue archaeology, is also missing in India. Work in this subject ensures that archaeological remains are documented before a piece of land is built upon or developed. For example before we construct metros, new airports, highways or special economic zones, that area of land should be surveyed before it is destroyed; it's sort of like a protective measure before the land is lost or changed in a fundamental way. This is followed in many parts of the world but is completely absent in India.
Better funding opportunities, more support and academic courses in the field is needed before archaeology can become a popular career in India. My advice to anyone looking to pursue a career in archaeology is that they must have an interest in studying history. What used to be called 'a back-looking curiosity' is essential in archaeology. You must want to explore more about the past. Secondly, because much of the practice of archaeology happens on the field, if you are a person who enjoys being outdoors, you have the added advantage to succeed in this career. Finally, please make it a point to publish what you research. Indian archaeology is full of excavations and explorations that have never been published and as a result are often overlooked.
Students must have an interest in history and in exploring the past.
Since a lot of work happens out in the field, it helps if you love travelling to new places and enjoy spending time outdoors.
Do remember to publish what you research. There are many excavations in India that are often overlooked because they have never been published.
Archaeologists are like detectives; so one must have curiosity and foresight.

By Nayanjoy Lahiri,
Professor, Dept of History, Delhi University and Infosys Science Prize Laureate 2013