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A note on the issue: clues and cues from the past

Looking to the past to understand the present is the theme that seems to run through our stories this week

One of the 1,200-plus petroglyphs discovered in Ratnagiri district. (Amar Reddy)

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A few days ago, Israeli archaeologists discovered a 2,700-year-old private toilet, an absolute luxury for the time, setting off jokes on social media. Last year, when archaeologists dug up an ancient Roman fast-food counter, the news went viral.

We share these stories because we do like our history, though school textbooks do their best to make it seem boring, far removed from anything familiar. Yet, much like science, history too answers key questions about who we are and where we came from.

India’s archaeologists have been hard at work for decades, quietly digging up pieces of history. Our cover story points out that it’s the little discoveries—pottery shards that hold traces of food, oddly-shaped seals used for safe passage, tools and jewellery which indicate the kind of jobs people did—that answer the big questions. Their painstaking work has led to discoveries that could help us understand how we evolved not just as a species but also as a society. And their work could provide pointers to decisions we may want to make in the future—whether it’s in the way we consume, govern or trade.

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Throughout history, trade for pure profit, as author Amitav Ghosh tells Lounge, has been a reason for disastrous governance, exploitation, erasure of history, and inevitably, the climate crisis. He uses the example of nutmeg, which Europeans developed an appetite for. They ended up plundering the Banda Islands environment and culture for profit—a story that continues to play out across the world. In India, as another story explains, a similar colonial project played out over opium, which the British cultivated at huge cost to Indians in order to fund the colonial taste for tea. We are still living with the repercussions.

Looking to the past to understand the present seems to run through our stories this week—it’s also the idea that comes through in the profile of Agastya Dalmia, who revived the 96-year-old milkshake brand Keventers six years ago and has kept it afloat through the pandemic. Who said we aren’t interested in history—maybe we’re just not interested in the way school textbooks taught it, by leaving out the really interesting bits.

Write to the Lounge editor or on Twitter @shalinimb

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