South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Bullion, baubles and bowls: Reconstructing networks of exchange in the Indian Ocean

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Silveroak II, Ground Floor

The Indian Ocean world in antiquity was constituted of multiple spatial and temporal scales that overlapped in complex and under-studied ways due to the archaeological focus on specific regional contexts of analysis and on textual sources. This paper begins to address the temporal and spatial divides that partition the study of the Indian Ocean world in antiquity, from the mid first millennium BCE to the 14th c. CE.


I show that we can gain considerable insights into the history and organization of Indian Ocean networks from comparative and cross-cultural studies by comparing archaeological data from published excavation reports from three sites - Arikamedu, India; Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka and Berenike, Egypt. The task of dealing with disparate data from very different sites is a daunting one. Nonetheless, these sites, located as they are along the margins of the western Indian Ocean and, in a sense, defining that Ocean by their participation in exchange networks across it, are crucial in any understanding of this network of exchange. 


By tracing long term trends in this cross-cultural dataset, I reconstruct a section of the western Indian Ocean network, identifying temporal and spatial patterns that reflect changing emphases and frequencies of interaction in the movement of individuals or communities, in cultural exchange and trade. Ultimately, my work seeks to formulate frameworks for diachronic and synchronic comparative cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research that historicizes linkages and disjunctures, porousness and rigidity, and the nature of connectedness in the pre-modern Indian Ocean.

Uthara Suvrathan

Queens College/Lehman College (CUNY), United States

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4 - Bullion, baubles and bowls: Reconstructing networks of exchange in the Indian Ocean



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