Intensive and systematic archaeological investigations in India commenced with the appointment of General Alexander Cunningham as Director General of Archaeology in the year 1862. With the appointment of John Marshall as Director General of Archaeology in 1902 and the active support of the enthusiastic Viceroy Lord Curzon the situation was bound to change. Marshall taking the cue from a lamenting letter in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society launched the publication of an "Annual" embodying the activities of the Archaeological Survey, so that nobody need wait for the research to be completed to bring out a report. Instead, yearly publication of progress of research was made known to the public so that others also may pursue their own line by research.
Thus the scope of these Annual reports of the Archaeological Survey of India in Marshall's own words "is to be coexistive with the current archaeological operation, the contents will relate first and principally conservation, secondly, to exploration and research and lastly epigraphy. Any fear that the Archaeological Survey of India will relegate to the background the activities other than conservation is dispelled by Marshall by upholding Curzon's ideals viz. "exploration and study of purely Indian remains in the probing of archaic mounds in the excavation of old Indian cities and in the copying and reading of ancient inscriptions..."
Thus the survey is to dig and discover, classify reproduce and describe the copy and decipher cherish and conserve.
This ideal was carried out and reported in his annual reports by Marshall.
The annual report is divided into three main headings namely (1) Conservation of ancient monuments and remains (2) Exploration and research (3) Epigraphy. Thus the section on Conservation includes 'a brief summary of the maintenance work carried out to the various monuments in different regions of the country besides special informative and detailed articles on the repair and conservation of specific monuments. Likewise Exploration and Excavation part would deal in general the work executed in the various parts of the country. Apart from this specific articles on topies of interest are included. Epigraphy is also treated in a similar manner. The Annual Reports are profusely illustrated with drawings – plans, elevations and sections – besides photographs. Notes on administrative matters and performances are included.
The series beginning from 1902 runs through 1937 with unremitting regularity excepting for four years – 1930 – 1934. All the reports are edited by the then serving Director General. However, the combined Report for 1930-34 was edited by Mr. Fabri, a specialist in Indology.
True to the high ideas and ideals set forth in the first issue the 'Annual' has been an indispensable tool for any researcher – be a conservator, excavator or epigraphist or any one interested in Indian culture. For the subjects covered, the articles published and evidence interpreted are so vast, varied, informative and educative that no scholar can afford to ignore. The illustrations-drawings and photographs-are unique in quality and quantity. They are not available any more. Two indices-one by Kaye (for 1902-16 issues) and the other by Hargreaves, covering up to 1929, bound together are a valuable additions.
The present reissue of these Annual Reports of the Archaeological Survey of India by Messrs Swati Publications, with the kind permission of the Government of India is really a boon to Indologists. Bound in attractive and uniform bindings these Reports would be a pride possession.