“The mentor is the potter, the student is the (unfired) pot, the mentor gives shape and cures the flaws with care, always protecting with the palm from inside, while beating the pot from outside” (Kabir, 15th century, Varanasi, India).
This thesis is part of a broader story of promises, passion and sacrifice. I lived, worked and travelled in India for many years, almost for a decade, which shaped most of my current life. The first time I visited India, I was a young man and I was seeking a new life, having overcome a series of personal difficulties, and was searching for meaning and discovery. I became a disciple of a Himalayan yogi, who for many years provided me with a quiet place to live, a method for healing my mind, a journey towards a new self, and a large family of volunteers and meditation practitioners. I made a constant effort to construct a happier, stronger and better version of myself, while he provided me with the methods to unpack, sharpen and calm my mind. During those beautiful years, I served others in a forest ashram near Pune, and I travelled across the subcontinent, assisting his charitable work, while working on myself.
India gave me so much, including a new, extended family, a healed mind, self-confidence, and a range of new skills. I wanted to give back, after all that had been given to me. Eventually, I promised myself I would reciprocate the countless gifts that India gave to me. I moved to London for my Master’s on South Asian Archaeology, started and relinquished a first PhD at UCL, and then finally landed at University of Cambridge, where I started and completed this project. This was my own way of showing gratitude to the Hamsa Yoga Sangh charity, the Himalayan yogi Yogiraj Gurunath Siddhanath and Guruma Shivangini, and my friends in India, to whom this thesis is dedicated.
Second, I would like to thank my mentors, who managed to transform my passion for archaeology, material culture and South Asia into a professional asset. Figuratively, in Kabir’s words, they have shaped me from a raw lump of clay into a nicely-formed vessel over the course of this project. In particular, I am very grateful to Dr Cameron A. Petrie, my first supervisor, for two reasons. First of all, he trained and coped with an overly enthusiastic, stubborn and energetic Italian researcher for years, which is a complex task in itself. Secondly, he gave me the unique opportunity to join the ERC TwoRains team, which had a major impact on my personal life and career development. Similarly, I am extremely grateful to Prof Charles A. I. French (University of Cambridge) and Dr Patrick S. Quinn (UCL IoA). Charly, my second supervisor, has been my main point of contact for broader conceptual questions and personal advice, but also for the daily work in the McBurney Geoarchaeology Laboratory. The same is true for Dr Tonko Rajkovaca, one of the pillars of the McBurney Laboratory and more broadly of the Department of Archaeology in Cambridge. Patrick, my external advisor, helped me become a specialist of material culture and ceramic studies, since the very early stages at UCL IoA. He provided me with the essential tools to secure a PhD position at Cambridge, but he has also constantly passed on cutting-edge analytical techniques to his students, as well as world-class knowledge that helped complete this journey.
I am deeply thankful to the Indian team of scholars and researchers at BHU, Banaras Hindu University, for their support and friendship. Prof. Ravindra Nath Singh, Dr. Dheerendra Pratap Singh and the whole team of PhD students and members of staff at BHU, including Dr Pushp Lata Singh, Dr Vikas Kumar Singh, Arun Kumar Pandey, Swtantra Singh, Sunil Singh, Sagorika Chakraborty, Aftab Alam, Neelam Singh, Arti Chowdhary, Amit Ranjan, Urvashi Singh, and Brij Mohan Yadav. Special thanks go to Dr Sudarshan Singh, a genuine friend and a great colleague at BHU.
I am also grateful to archaeologists Appu Singh Sharan (ASI and MDU, Rohtak) and Vikas Pawar (MDU, Rohtak) for their help, and to my Hindi teacher Virendra Singh-ji, who was one of the key figures that contributed the most to the success of my fieldwork in Varanasi. He welcomed me in his house for many months, I became close to his family, to the extent that I truly felt at home in Varanasi, between Assi Ghat and Nagwa road.
There would be a long list of people and institutions that have significantly helped me in the past years during this journey. For instance, the support of the Nehru Trust at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Fitch Laboratory at the British School at Athens, Greece, and in particular the support of Dr Evangelia Kiriatzi, was essential. Evangelia showed me a different way of doing research when I got disillusioned with academia. Similarly, the encouragement and support of a number of people helped me reach this point, including Dr Silvia Amicone (Tubingen, Germany), Dr Carlotta Gardner, Dr Natalia Lozada Mendieta, Dr Gabriella Manna (MNAO ‘Giuseppe Tucci’, Rome, Italy), Dr Robert Harding (UCL and University of Cambridge), Dr Daniela De Simone (British Museum, London), and Dr Julia Shaw (UCL). I am also grateful that the ethnographic research project submitted for assessment was approved by the Humanities and Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee, School of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Cambridge, School Research Ethics Committee, and the Department of Archaeology Ethics Committee, Cambridge. Similarly, the team at the Faculty of Earth Sciences and Geography was particularly kind and permitted the use of their kilns and Petro-Thin machine.
In terms of politics and activism for social justice and minorities, which I undertook alongside my PhD, there are few people and charities that I would like to thank in particular. Professor Paul Dupree (Magdalene College, Cambridge) was an essential ally in challenging cases of misogyny, racism and homophobia in Cambridge. Similarly, the University of Cambridge Graduate Union and CUSU played a pivotal role over the past few years. Eventually, I found even more allies in Cambridge when I started my work as President of the Students’ Union, which resulted in an even larger degree of support by a number of passionate students.
Finally, as mentioned above, this was also a story of sacrifice. I am grateful to my families in Italy and Spain, to my father’s family and to my mother’s family, brothers and sisters, for their constant support. I love each of them every day, and I miss each of them every day. They have all played a role in this project at different stages, and their support was essential. In particular, I am grateful to my best friends, who are like my brothers, who have kept walking with me in the past 14 years, and keep supporting my ideas and initiatives: if I made it to the end of this journey, it is also because of the constant help and support of Francesco Mangoni and Alberto Casu.
To all of them, my sincere gratitude.