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Bridging continents across the sea: Multi-disciplinary perspectives on the emergence of long-distance maritime contacts in prehistory

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Prehistoric steps towards globalisation

Archaeological fieldwork indicates that important species and population transfers across the Indian Ocean likely took place well before the historical period. EU-funded researchers investigated prehistoric maritime activity and developments leading to the transition from occasional seagoing to regular seafaring and then planned, long-distance voyaging.

Industrial Technologies

The project SEALINKS (Bridging continents across the sea: Multi-disciplinary perspectives on the emergence of long-distance maritime contacts in prehistory) examined the emergence of early contact, migration and trade in the Indian Ocean, and their relationship to patterns of anthropogenic biological exchange. Work followed a multidisciplinary approach, bridging the humanities-natural sciences divide, and including archaeology, molecular genetics and historical linguistics. Researchers carried out fieldwork in Comoros, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Tanzania, and excavations were undertaken at 27 sites. The team also conducted archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, biomolecular, geochemical and chronometric studies. For phylogenetic study, SEALINKS collected from around the Indian Ocean ancient and modern specimens of taro (Colocasia esculenta), black rat (Rattus rattus), house mouse (Mus musculus) and Asian house shrew (Suncus murinus). Project work also included the genetic study of other species, including humans, goats, cats and rice, from selected archaeological sites and locales. Linguistic studies were conducted in south Asia and numerous Indian Ocean islands. SEALINKS studied the emergence of long-distance trade and exchange in the Indian Ocean. Particular focus was placed on southern Indian Ocean routes and how early connections between Africa and Asia unfolded. As such, the work improved understanding of early chronologies and routes of contact and trade, especially for eastern Africa. On the whole, SEALINKS highlights the interconnectivity of distant regions of the globe from an early time period and the fact that societies have not evolved in isolation. The outcomes challenge earlier narratives about the dominance of seafaring and trade by more organised, technologically advanced and state-based societies as well as notions of cultural isolation. This project succeeded in demonstrating the role of cultural and biological exchange and hybridisation in the long-term shaping of contemporary societies and landscapes. Project work and its findings are important for researchers trying to reconstruct histories of human populations, domesticated plants and animals, technologies and societies. They can also be used to create public awareness of the cultural exchanges and ethnic mixing that have characterised human societies throughout the ages.


Archaeological, maritime, SEALINKS, linguistics

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