The role of the sea in drawing together peoples and cultures from distant places and continents in the historical period is readily apparent from textual sources and archaeological remains. In particular, and in contrast to the Atlantic, for example, which has served as a formidable natural barrier to east-west movement and migration, both the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean have served as important zones of interaction and trade, across which populations have migrated and mixed for at least several thousand years. Recent research findings, including those from the applicant’s archaeological field project in south India, suggest that long-distance maritime activities in this region actually have quite precocious beginnings, and that important species and population transfers across the Indian Ocean probably began to occur well before the historical period. Such findings are perhaps not surprising in light of the evidence for human maritime activity dating back to the colonisation of Australia around 45,000 years ago, but they do suggest that the much more apparent historical evidence for maritime activity has biased maritime research in favour of later periods. This project will accordingly focus on the study of prehistoric maritime activity, and exploration of the specific developments that resulted in the transition from occasional seagoing to regular seafaring and then planned, long-distance voyaging. To do so, it will draw not only upon the traditional disciplines of archaeology and historical linguistics, but also the powerful new methods of molecular genetics, cladistics, and palaeoenvironmental studies. Such research is important not only for its value to researchers trying to reconstruct the histories of human populations, domesticated plants and animals, technologies and societies, but also for its potentially important role in highlighting for the wider public the cultural exchanges and ethnic mixing that have long characterised human societies.
Fields of science
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Funding SchemeERC-SG - ERC Starting Grant