Conversations with: Professor Ravi Korisettar

This week, I am delighted to introduce Professor Ravi Korisettar, Senior Academic Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi! Ravi is a key contributor to Indian Palaeolithic archaeology, specialising in geoarchaeological methods and approaches to understanding the relationship between prehistoric humans and their environments. He has published seven books in India and two abroad and is a Section Editor for Current Science, India’s leading science fortnightly journal. Ravi has also held the position of Honorary Director of the Robert Bruce Foote Sanganakallu Archaeological Museum in Karnataka since it’s establishment in 2010.

Professor Ravi Korisettar in front of the rock art site at Sangankallu, Ballare

What are your research interests and your particular area of expertise?

In a couple of years from now, I will be completing fifty years of learning, teaching and researching archaeology. During the first half of this period, I experienced many ups and downs and institution-hopping to make a career as an archaeologist. This constrained me to work on diverse disciplines such as geoarchaeology, Quaternary geology, palaeoclimatology, radiometric dating, tephrochronology, the application of computer techniques, etc. This had enabled me acquire multidisciplinary skills, though carrying the tag of ‘jack of all and master of none’ was a frustrating and sometimes depressing experience.

I am particularly interested in understanding man-land relationships in prehistory and explain why the settlements are found where they are. Currently, I am interested in global migrations and public outreach archaeology. Though primarily an archaeologist, I specialised in geoarchaeological field methods to address the problems of the establishing the antiquity of Palaeolithic settlements, searching for hominin fossils, identifying refugia and critically assessing the correlation between climate and culture change.

What originally drew you towards archaeology?

I was born into a low-income family. My parents used to inspire me with success stories about my Cambridge educated maternal uncle, S. Settar, about whom Raymond Allchin took pride in calling him a polymath. Though Settar was a historical archaeologist, his Cambridge experience had given him a clear interdisciplinary vision of archaeology. And yet, my parents wanted me to take up chemistry and physics combination for my undergraduate studies, which I completed in 1971. At this point, my uncle had returned from Cambridge and rejoined the faculty of Karnatak University. My brief visit to his place and a brief meeting with the Allchins at his residence was a certainly a turning point for me.

Prior to this meeting, I used to spend my summer holidays in a small book store owned by my elder maternal uncle at Hosapete near  Hampi, the well-known world heritage site in south India. The store used to sell fiction and scholarly works on art, tourism and culture. Tourists, students and scholars of Indian art and architecture from all over the world visiting Hampi used to drop by the book store and, though unable to speak fluently in English, I used to enter into conversation with some of them and also learn from them about other sites like Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal (also a world heritage site), the cradle of Indian temple architecture. This exposure to such books and scholars from all over, in addition to the proximity of Hosapete to Hampi, where we used spend our weekends, had given me some idea of what archaeologists do and I was also familiar with the adage that though the ‘career of an archaeologist lies in ruins’, it is full of romance and excitement.

During one of my conversations with Settar regarding the choice of a subject for post-graduation, it struck upon him that my science background will be helpful for an MA degree in archaeology. He advised me to go to Deccan College in Poona (Pune) and mentioned that great scholars like Iravati Karve, H.D. Sankalia and S.M. Katre, who have nurtured the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology and linguistics, built this world class institution. Undoubtedly, Poona had the reputation as ‘Oxford of the east’. This was the most motivating advice I received at the critical point of my formative years of life and career. Coming to Poona changed my idea of archaeology and two years of post-graduate study brought me closer to appreciating Pleistocene geoarchaeology, bio-cultural evolution of man and to S.N. Rajaguru, a geologist by training. The latter’s humble nature and exemplary attitudes drew me towards him and Pleistocene geoarchaeology and we built a lifelong relationship, academic and otherwise. Following my post-graduate studies, I enrolled for a PhD under his supervision.

What was your PhD topic? How did you find your PhD experience?

The topic was Prehistory and Geomorphology of the Middle Krishna, a braided stream network draining the Precambrian basement complex on the Indian Peninsula. It was both exciting and frustrating. In the 1970s, discovering Acheulian artefacts was very rewarding and great material for writing a prehistory dissertation. However, I did not find any! The most exciting part of my research was my introduction to the works of Robert Bruce Foote, the father of Indian prehistory, and several other colonial and European geologists and geomorphologists. Stimulated by their works, I learnt the fundamentals of geology, fluvial geomorphology and climate change and became a competent field archaeologist. Fluvial deposits known as High Level Gravels were widespread in the Raichur and Shorapur Doabs in northern Karnataka (Doab refers to land between two rivers). The gravels were chiefly composed of chert (flint) clasts and the chief clasts were the chief raw material for making Middle Palaeolithic artefacts. These deposits and the associated Middle Paleolithic chert artefacts were widely separated in time, provided little or no scope to determine the absolute timeline for human occupation of the area, other than the ‘Middle Paleolithic age’. The absence of biotic material further hindered behavioural interpretation of hominins’ in a resource poor region Raichur Doab (land between the Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers). I became obsessed with the problem of the uneven distribution of Palaeolithic settlements across the subcontinent, their chronology and absence of hominin fossils.

After your PhD, what positions have you held and where?

I did not have a permanent job for well over a decade after completion of my PhD in 1979. Short-term research assistantships kept me engaged in work, which however did not promise a stable future and solid income. I was a Visiting Scientist (1980-82) at the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad.  I was assigned the task of preparing  a  litholog  of Neogene-Quaternary sediments in the valley of Kashmir and laboratory processing of samples for Be10 dating, and process samples for palaeomagnetic, micropalaeontoligic and  palynologic analyses. Following this I had a post doc fellowship (1983-85) from the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), New Delhi, and a Research Associateship (1988-89) at Deccan College. With intervening unemployed days. Finally, I was appointed Reader (1989-98), Professor (1998-2013),  at Karnatak Univeristy. Post retirement, I was  Dr. DC Pavate Chair Professor (2013-15) at Karnatak University, Dr VS Wakanakr Senior Fellow (Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh), UGC Emeritus Fellow (2015-17) and now I am concurrently ICHR  Senior Academic Fellow  (2019-21), Adjunct Professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru (since March 2020) and Hon. Director of the Robert Bruce Foote Sanganakallu Archaeological Museum at Ballari in Karnataka (since 2010).

Replicas of human ancestors at the Robert Bruce Foote Museum

What current projects are you working on? Where do you hope these go in the future?

I have multiple projects on going:  (a) understanding the cognitive content of prehistoric rock art, (b) re-examining of Late Pleistocene hominin fossils from rock shelter excavations and assessing their potential for aDNA studies, (c) preparing systematic catalogue of antiquities from surface surveys and excavations carried out during the last forty-five years, now handed over to the government at the Robert Bruce Foote museum in Ballari, Karnataka, (d) preparing a comprehensive report on Sangankallu Neolithic-Iron Age excavations.

My publications bear ample testimony of my many successful international collaborations and that I will be able to successfully carry out these research projects and contribute to a better understanding evolution of past human societies in a multidisciplinary framework in the future.

What project or publication or discovery are you most proud of?

I am very proud of the following achievements:

The discovery of tephra marker bed in the alluvial sediments of the Indian Peninsula (1988).

The development of a Basin model to delineate man-land relationships (2007).

The establishment of Robert Bruce Foote Sanganakallu Archaeological Museum (2020).

The first dating of the Middle Palaeolithic and the oldest date for the microliths in India (at the time of publication, 2009)

The emergence of agricultural economies in the Suthern Neolithic of India (chief investigator Dorian Fuller now at UCL, London)

The Bellary District Archaeological Project (Co-investigator: N.L. Boivin, now at Max Institute Planck, Jena)

The Kurnool District Archaeological Project (Co-investigator: M.D. Petraglia, now at Max Planck Institute, Jena).

A down-scaled model of Sanganakallu Neolithic hills at the Robert Bruce Foote Museum.

What are your favourite memories of your career?

Memories have been sweet and sour, but more on the sweeter side. The early decades of my archaeological career were a period of anxiety and stress, compounded by not being able to contribute to the growth of archaeological knowledge through my PhD work. Job applications to the Archaeological Survey of India and several  institutions did not find me suitable because of ‘other considerations’…

My entry into Karnatak University in 1989, though helped breathe a sigh of relief, had moved me away from full time research in archaeology to full time teaching history and archaeology, where archaeology was a subsidiary component of postgraduate syllabus. During my harness at the university, I continued to confront non-egalitarian environments, both socially and academically. Yet winter and summer holidays were at my disposal to pursue my research interests and update myself with the developments in method and theory in global prehistory. During the settling in time of a year or so, I began to explore the scope of interdisciplinary collaborative research with scholarly friends from institutions in India and abroad.

The Ancient India and Iran- Charles Wallace fellowship (1996) at Cambridge, UK, gave me my first international exposure to intense and stimulating academic experience.

The Fulbright Visiting Scholarship (2001) at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC gave me greater international visibility and strengthened my wide network with archaeologists in India and abroad.

Ravi engaging in public outreach archaeology, with school children at Jwalapuram.

If you were not an archaeologist, what would you be?

Archaeology was my bread winner. If I were not an archaeologist I would have to opt for a undergraduate lectureship (if considered suitable) or turn towards local industry for a non-academic job.

What advice would you give to a prospective student interested in your field of research?

Though there have been great leaps in Indian archaeology, especially in the areas of  Palaeolithic and Neolithic, I see that Indian archaeology is more productive since the turn of the century. The application of processual and post-processual archaeological methods and theory have opened up new pathways of investigation aimed at holistic reconstruction of human bio-cultural and social evolution. Our priorities are the issues relating to (a) identifying  potential sites for geochronology of Palaeolithic sites, (b) reconstructing palaeogeography of Palaeolithic landscapes for a better understanding of site formation processes, (c) delineating man-land relationships during the Quaternary, (d) developing ethnoarchaeological interpretations of archaeological data sets and (d) helping place the Indian subcontinent at the forefront of global debates on peopling of the earth. So, I would advise students to concentrate on these topics.

If you had a time machine, how far would you ask to go back, where would you go, and what would you want to see?

I would be at the time of Big Bang, witness the formation of the atmosphere and the origins of first life forms and travel with the emergence of multiple life forms. Then I would also witness the emergence of hominins capable of making and using tools. It is a fantasy though, of course!

Published by lucyjt96

PhD researcher in the Archaeology of Human Origins research group at the University of Liverpool

26 thoughts on “Conversations with: Professor Ravi Korisettar

  1. I went through the conversation of Dr.Ravi, delighted to see his multidimensional personality.Certainly he is role model to younger generation in the field.He is intellectual giant.
    Prof.Sangam

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    1. Wonderful conversation with Prof. Ravi Korisettar sir, I am student of Ravi sir, and I learnt simplycity and hard work from him.I completed my Ph.D under his guidance.

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    2. We met in 2010 at Institute of Archaeology. From that time onward, We met often at conferences and seminars. But we have kept a very cordial relationship. I am actually spellbound by his down-to-earth attitude and his immense knowledge in this field. I’m indeed blissful to have met him. His encouragement is my rock and our conversation is never a waste. I always learn something from him to be incorporated in my research interests.

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  2. Wonderful conversation and we’ll written. Prof Korisettar is a well-known archaeologists from India. It’s always great to read and listen his articles n lectures. I am a PhD student from Deccan College. I never meet with Prof. Korisettar, but I wish will meet him soon.
    Thank you

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  3. Being an archaeologist and one of the student of Prof. Sattar I can say that we are lucky to have you sir in our life as an active academicians. Hat’s Off for your marvelous work and contribution to Indian Archaeology.

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  4. I am highly impressed with his achievements and a meaningful presentation during the conversation. Of course he deserved high appreciation for his work coupled with long lasting enthusiasm as a leading stone for young researchers.

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    1. Prof Ravi korishetar interview is of high standard in the specialized field of archeology. I appreciate his stubbornness of not loosing interst in the chosen field though he met many hurdles. I hatsup to his courage. He never boosted his so many crenditials to any one which I came to know throuh this interview. I congratulate and wishing him good luck in any of unleft endeavours.

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  5. It was nice to go through this interview which introduces Dr.Korisettar and his work in some detail. A good feature of it is that it allows scope to the scholar himself to identify his major areas of work, decisive stages in his career and thrust areas of the work in the years to come. Having been his colleague in the Postgraduate Department of History and Archaeology in Karnataka University, Dharwad for twenty five years, I know the passion with which he did field Archaeology and the dedication with which he taught, researched and published on different fields of Archaeology.

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  6. Really inspiring and motivational interview. He is my role model. The simplicity and charming behaviour of my mentor and teacher is really amazing. I am a great admirer of his dedication towards the subject, field archaeology and pedagogy. I had my first interaction with him when he had selected me as an assistant archeologist in ASI in an interview in 2009. His intellectual and academic achievements are praiseworthy. Indian archaeology is indebted for his contribution in the field. I feel honoured to be his student.

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  7. Since ever met Prof. Ravi Korisettar in 2012, our regular association has been two-fold; academics and general conversation on daily activities. In which I have not found two distinct personalities in him, he is same in both academics and non-academics filled with commitments, dedication, hard work, learning from the younger ones and humble over time. These qualities have inspired many pupils (like me).

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  8. Wonderful and thought provoking conversation with Hon’ble Prof. Ravi Korisetter, I would like to thanks the organisation behind the mission of conversation with great scholar and human scientists.
    It’s a great privilege me to participate in conversation with Ravi sir… He know me from my Post graduate days 2002 where I completed in the university of Hyderabad. I have close interaction in PhD and PDF days in Deccan college, Pune. Many books and articles authored by Ravi sir and those are deserve to placed in all academic programs syllabus in Indian universities and colleges and it’s libraries. Many books and articles helpful to young scholars and academics start’s their carriers in archaeology and History. I can say a passionate archaeologist in India ever before and his interaction to the students it’s a wonderful experience. Yes that’s true if you provide a time machine he will go back to big-bang. 😊🙏🙏🙏🙏

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  9. A wonderful interview of Prof. Ravi Korisetter. A motivational one for youngsters in this field like us. Really interesting to read and know all these things happened in his life. Hats off to you sir. Now you are a well established and experienced Archaeologist in our country.. we are so lucky to have you as a resource person in our ongoing Refresher course for the in service candidates conducting by IA, ASI. Iam personally feel so proud that you selected me in the post of Assistant Archaeologist in Archaeological Survey of India. You are always supporting us in whatever possible way you have… giving wonderful lectures in the field of Geoarchaeology, paleo enviornmental studies, Dating methods, Evolution Anthrapology etc.Myriads of things are explaining in simple manner..thank you for the patience too…… thanks alot sir… Congratulations too

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  10. Its Really inspiring and motivational interview. I had my first interaction with him when I was in Institute of Archaeology at New Delhi in 2017 and I feel honoured to be his student. His advices and suggestions are very neccessity for our future scholars.

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  11. Very commendable conversation of an eminent Archaeologist of international repute.He is not only dedicated & renowned Archaeologist but also very simple & affectionate person. Indeed his interview is very inspirational to all of us.His contributions can’t forget in terms of multidisciplinary collaborative research projects in Archaeology.I am fortunate that he was one of the subject expert in my promotion in Associate professor.

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  12. It is an excellent interview of Dr.Ravi.I know him since 1989 as a collegue in the Karnatak University Dharwad.
    He is an intellectual giant in the profession.Due to his hard work and dedication to the profession loved by everyone.Apart from his teaching work he has been involved in other academic work viz.Editor of social science journal, Member Academic council, Member IQAC, NAAC, Hon Professor Pavate chair etc.After his supernumeration he worked as UGC Emeritus Fellow.Still he continued his teaching in National and International Institutes.In his conversation, last few expression show that he is thankful to the other person’s help, shows his hubleness.Ravi really I am proud of you. Thanks for the interviewer.

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  13. I am greatly overwhelmed with the interview of Prof Korisetter, which is inspiring and evocative presentation. My association with him goes back to 1992-93, he was the reviewer of my first paper in the M&E. I appreciate his effortlessness and mixing character with everyone and I have never seen him boosting although he is one among the leading archaeologists of the subcontinent. His contributions to the prehistory of India is abysmal. Our relationship further fused in recent times while editing the special section on ‘shipwrecks’ in the current science in Nov 2019. I have met him in several meetings in the last 3 decades and I am encouraged by his down to earth attitude. He is true archaeologist par excellence.

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  14. I am very much glad & impressed with the interview of my teacher Prof. Korisettar sir which i would to like say that it looks some thing like “autobiography” rather than call it as interview…
    As many of us knew that he is a leading pre historian around the world..& of course, he is an eloquent in speaking & writing..
    His pre historic investigation at Sangankallu & Jwalapuram are milestone achievements in Indian prehistoric studies….
    As teacher, he is inspiration to many students including me…& as human being he is a simple & humble personality…I astonish to see that this field archaeologist at this age is still active like a research student…& i take this opportunity to congratulate the WordPress.com for interviewing this notable personality in the field of Human Evolution, Geoarchaeology…

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  15. I am very much impressed with prof. Achievement and believe this will have inspiration to future students and scholars. I wish him a healthy life for further achievements in pre history.

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  16. It was a nice interview to know more about the Professor Ravi Korisettar about his education background and how he got interested into the field of Archaeology and how is background education helped in taking up the PHD topic and later came to know about his struggles and successes which is very inspiring to the young generation and especially who wants to take up the field of Archaeology and he also explained about the scope of Archaeology and we also came to know his contribution to archaeology especially in the establishment of Robert Bruce Foote Sanganakallu Archaeological Museum, its a great work and will be very useful to the present and future generations in the field of prehistory. Even after retiring Professor Ravi Korisettar sir never retired from the field and still contributing to the field in many ways, I had got the opportunity once to travel in a cab with him from the airport of Thrissur district, Kerala in the month of February 2019 to the venue of the National seminar on the Rock Art as sir was invited as a chairperson and I am being a participant and discussed on number of issues on the rock art field in general, he is very friendly, calm and patient listener and at the same time very critical from the subject point of view. I am glad to have a such renowned person between us in the field of Archaeology from India that too from Deccan College as I had also finished my Post Graduate Diploma in Archaeology after completing my M.A History from Hyderabad Central University and presently pursuing my PhD from Deccan College and also working as Assistant Archaeologist in Archaeological Survey of India and I hope in near future will get an opportunity to work in a project under his guidance. Thank You

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  17. Due to his hard work and dedication, Robert Bruce Foote Sanganakallu Archaeological Museum, it’s one of the wonderful works, and I really impressed with the interview of my teacher (Guru) Prof. Ravi Korisettar sir. He is very simple, very friendly with his all students, and has a lot of patience to listen to his students. My guru is 70 years old, but he is never showing 70 years old, still, he is very active in the field of archaeology as a young archaeologist. His contributions are in the field of prehistoric investigations are milestone achievements in Indian prehistoric studies.
    Professor Ravi Korisettar sir is specialized and well trained in quaternary geology, excavation, and exploration of archaeological sites, geochronology, computer application in archaeology, remote sensing, geomorphology, etc.
    Professor Ravi Korisettar sir is twice shortlisted for the post of Director General in the Archaeological Survey of India. For the last 10 years, he is teaching PG Diploma in Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, ASI, New Delhi for 10 years. His intellectual and academic achievements are praiseworthy. Indian archaeology is indebted for his contribution in the field.

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  18. Dr. Ravi Korisettar is always a god-father to me for all my academic works. I am one of the admirers of his archaeological research. He inspires me and many young scholars. I am happy to read the interview of Prof. Korisettar sir. Through this interview one could assess his field research works for three decades and more. His contribution to understanding of prehistory of Karnataka and adjoining states has influenced to new generations of scholars. His encouragement to his students and young scholars is another important model for others.

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  19. Prof. Ravi Korisettar is one of the brightest and well-known archaeologists. He is one of the gems of Karnatak University, Dharwad. Although I know nothing of archaeology, I am well aware of his expertise in archaeology and thus, he could work on collaborative projects with teams from prestigious institution like the Cambridge University. He has made immense contributions in the field of Indian Palaeolithic Archaeology, Prehistoric humans and their environs, human migration etc. Of special mention is his deep knowledge in some branches of Geology viz. Quaternary Geology and Fluvial Geomorphology that made him work effectively in Geoarchaeology. Although he has many great works to his credit, establishing the unique and world-class Sanganakallu Archaeological Museum is perhaps his best contribution yet! If not for his untiring and single-minded devotion, the Sanganakallu site would probably have been destroyed by quarrying! No doubt, the Sanganakallu site survived because of Prof. Ravi Korisetter. Moreover, the Sanganakallu museum is perhaps closer to his heart as he hails from the same area! Although he is a highly distinguished scholar, Prof. Korisettar is a humble and down-to-earth personality and is easily accessible to one and all. He is one of the such scholars because of whom an Institution gets recognition. The field of Archaeology is awaiting much more contribution from him!

    Thanks to Ms. Lucy for this conversation. Many like me could know more about Prof. Korisettar.

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  20. First let me congratulate Prof.Ravi korisettar,r for getting many wonderful comments by many young historians and Archeologists like…,so I also agree with many of these wonderful comments bestowed upon his efforts and works,teachings and experience s,no doubt that he is an excellent Archaeologist.I pray the almighty to bestow good health for his future’ accomplishments. Best wishes to hom on behalf of all the persons who sent their comments and I am thankful to his kind heart of involving me in his early efforts of studying early agriculture in peninsular India.

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  21. Great work by the interviewer for bringing to light not only Prof. Korisettar’s achievements but also his passion and perseverance through the journey. Having been a student of his for almost two decades now, Prof. Korisettar’s hardwork and scholarship still doesn’t cease to amaze and inspire me. The list of his publications stand testimony to his expertise in various fields such as Geochronology, Man-Land relationships, Site formation and Dating, Human Migration, Southern Neolithic and others. Furthermore, his belief in taking archaeology to all especially students is an inherent part of his expeditions and now the Robert Bruce Foote Archaeological Museum in Bellary. As a teacher, he always encourages his students to strive harder and stressed on quality of work. This interview does justice to the long research career of Prof. Korisettar. Thank you for documenting his work!

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