a plea for Usenet, longish (was Re: Diffusion of Sanskrit)

joe at sfbooks.com joe at sfbooks.com
Mon Nov 25 13:44:12 UTC 1996

Laurie Patton recently wrote:

>The RISA-L web site (and digests of discussion, as well as a small biblio)
>can be found at: http://www.acusd.edu/~lnelson/risa

>On Wed, 20 Nov 1996, Martin Gansten wrote:
>> For those interested in the 'Aryan migration' topic, there was quite a
>> lively debate on RISA-L recently; others may know better than I how to get
>> hold of the postings. If nothing else, I believe it showed that the
>> >Several lines of evidence converge on this, and there doesn't seem to be a
>> >lot of room left for disagreement.
>> -- may need to be revised.

Having read the RISA-L debate, I'm inclined to say you're right, Mr. Gansten.

I can also see why so little debate on INDOLOGY followed...that one was
quite overpowering.

That said.  I must confess to very mixed feelings about this.  On the one
hand, at one fell swoop my bibliography on quite a few areas has been
comprehensively updated, and this is wonderful.  While it's less wonderful
to see some of the reasons for this, I am nevertheless grateful that *some*
of the sense of an opening, of questioning of received views, that I found
ten years ago, still exists in studies of ancient South Asia.  And it's
great to see a web site that covers so much of the state of the field,
given that David Frawley's paper had been altogether too much of what was
out there.

On the other hand...  Well, much of the rest of this post is a long
complaint about the uses of net resources.  You're warned.  Ms. Patton,
first, would you consider forwarding at least the bibliographic part of my
prior post to RISA-L for consideration for their on-line bibliography on
the subject?  There isn't that much overlap.  I'd have to admit it would be
a tad embarrassing for parts of my text to appear juxtaposed with some of
the posts in that archive though!

Now, the complaint.

RISA-L appears to have started in October 1995.  I returned to the nets,
after some years away, in November 1995.  It's not surprising that I didn't
find out about that list then.

Were I a real scholar of South Asian civilisation, no doubt I would have
found out by now.  As it is, I hesitated for a long time to join even
INDOLOGY, knowing myself a rank amateur, and finally did so for no fewer
than three projects, of which this discussion is only one.  Instead, I went
to Usenet's sci.archaeology, posted some questions about interest in the
topic, and wound up debating an unreconstructed fire-breathing Aryan
invasion proponent for about a month.  It was certainly worthwhile, and I
got a bunch of references out of it.  But I waited in vain to be upstaged
by, say, Mark Kenoyer coming on and blandly informing me (as he routinely
did when we discussed my research ten years ago) that everything I was
saying was wrongheaded or misleading, and why.  That would have been far
more worthwhile for the insights and references it would have led to.
Especially if he'd been met by George Erdosy, or some such, blasting him in

In any event, how was anyone interested in finding out about this
controversy supposed to know that it would show up in, of all things, a
mailing list about South Asian *religions*?

And why has Usenet, for at least the past year, had only me - a dilettante,
to cite one word from the RISA-L debate, and one without even a
baccalaureate degree - often available (with Moin Ansari sometimes helping)
to discuss South Asian archaeology in general on the newsgroup where this
topic is most obviously relevant?

It's not just because Usenet is nothing but kooks.  Sorry.  I've become, in
the year I've been there, fairly respected in the process by which
newsgroups are created; and my introduction to that process was through the
creation of sci.archaeology.moderated, which was specifically meant to
foster kook-free discussion.  Well, very little "discussion" happens on
s.a.m; it's turned into an announcement newsgroup (though pretty
consistently kook-free, indeed).  But the entire RISA-L discussion could
have happened there, by that newsgroup's rules, and it would have become a
valuable source of both information on South Asia, and perspectives on
politics in archaeological and historical research, for anyone who cared to

Moreover, though it looks like the topic's now closed on that list
(presumably because everyone got updates at Madison from the pros) - the
handling of archaeology in the RISA-L discussion was often vague in a way
even I could have helped sharpen.  Just one quick example:  One reason
Frawley is a quack is that he relies unhesitatingly on the anomalous, if
even properly sited, radiocarbon date of 1000 BC for the wall of Kausambi.
There is simply no good reason to do this, as B. B. Lal among others has
exhaustively demonstrated.  Obviously Mr. Kenoyer's, or Mr. Shaffer's, or
either Mr. Lal's presence, would have been a good deal more helpful.

That vagueness has another consequence, on another route for net usage.  I
now know of three significant Web sites relevant to South Asian
archaeology:  David Frawley's paper; the INDOLOGY site; and the RISA-L
archive on this topic.  The latter is by far the best and fullest (no
offense intended, folks!), but I didn't find it when I went looking for
info on these areas just a couple of weeks ago on the Web.  Rest assured
that when I get my own ancient history pages set up, there'll be a
prominent link to that archive.  But I wish there had been the opportunity
for broader contributions to it before it was sealed.

Thanks much, Mr. Gansten and Ms. Patton, for pointing me (us) to that
archive.  It answers, at last, a fundamental question I haven't had an
answer to for years, about the state of the debate that I spent a year
obsessively struggling to master.

I will certainly announce its existence, via sci.archaeology.moderated as
well as sci.archaeology.

I just think it could have managed to be better, had it, or some of it,
been created there as well.

Joe Bernstein

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