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Archaeological Survey of India photographs

The Prints, Drawings and Photographs Section of the British Library's Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections holds an almost complete set of prints of photographs (approximately 30,000 images) made by the Archaeological Survey of India

The photographs cover the period from the mid-1850s to 1922, when the annual practice of forwarding a set of prints to the India Office was discontinued.

Interior of the Tunkum, Madura

British Library, ASIO 2975.
View of the interior of the Tunkum, Madura, albumen print from a glass collodion negative by E.D. Lyon, 1868.
Copyright © The British Library Board

The collection

The collection forms a major resource both for the study of Indian architecture and archaeology, and for the early practice of archaeological photography in the subcontinent. It can be broken down into the following main series:

India Office series

This series of approximately 2,600 prints comprises photographs commissioned or subsequently acquired by the India Office between 1855 and the early 1880s. This material includes both the original paper and glass negatives, and prints made from them. Photographers include a number of figures significant in the history of the medium in India, among them Thomas Biggs, Edmund David Lyon, Robert Gill and Lala Deen Dayal.

Indian Museum series

Consisting of approximately 2,600 prints, this series comprises the foundation photographic collection, dating from the 1860s-80s, of the Archaeological Survey. The original negatives remained in India.

Archaeological Survey circles

Photographs produced by the various circles of the Archaeological Survey and from the office of the Director-General of Archaeology in India, comprising some 23,000 photographs from c. 1890-1922. This series also includes material from Burma. These photographs are bound into volumes with a copy of the relevant annual reports of the different circles, which list all the photographs taken in each year.

Miscellaneous photographic prints

Numbering some 2,700, these follow on in numerical sequence from the India Office series. They include material on ethnography, education, jewellery, etc., as well as the important collection of negatives and prints of the copies of the paintings of the Ajanta frescoes, made by the Government School of Art, Bombay, between 1872 and 1885. The paintings themselves were sent to the South Kensington Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum), and were subsequently partly destroyed by fire.

Accessing the collection

Material from these collections can be traced through the online catalogue of photographs. A selection of images from the Archaeological Survey collections can be found in the British Library’s Online Gallery.


Prints, Drawings and Photographs Section
Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7856/7327/7663
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641