Kolkata 2011 – Abstract O. Kessler

Oliver KESSLER

Institut für Orient- und Asienwissenschaften der Universität Bonn

Environment, Infrastructure and Nature of Ports in Ancient Sri Lanka: the Archaeological Evidence from the Harbour, Monastery, Town and Shipwreck (1st cent. BC) of Godavaya (Godapavata Pattana)

Taprobania and the paradigm shift away from the Ptolemaic model of Asia

Sri Lanka gained its characteristic function as a centre of sea born trade from its central position in the Indian Ocean. Historical sources and recent archaeological discoveries are pinpointing to the role of southern Sri Lanka as a centre point and as well as a border between the eastern and the western world. This paper is going to present some considerations concerning the specific nature and infrastructure of ports in ancient Sri Lanka and how they were influenced by the change of trade routes. Their links to the hinterland and other Indian Ocean ports will also be in the focus.

The change of trade patterns even influenced specific views of the world or mapping traditions if the term „map“ is used in its broadest and most inclusive form as a repository of culturally embedded and graphically portrayed understandings about space and environments experienced from different people at different times.

Archaeological finds and findings from Sri Lanka will illuminate the history of ancient long- distance trade. The excavations at the port and monastery of Godavaya (Godapavata Pattana) will give an idea of the structure of sea trade and the nature of ports existing at a rivers mouth from the 1st cent. B. C. to the 8th century A. D. The ancient site of Godavaya consists of a monastic complex, a residential area and several landing places at the rivers banks connecting the seaport with anchorage to the hinterland. In addition to its outstanding topographical situation, a significant 2nd century Brahmi inscription giving information about taxes and handling of goods was found chiselled onto a rock. In addition to this numerous hoards and settlement finds of late roman coins and their Lankan imitations called “Naimanas” have been found along the southern coastline of Sri Lanka numbering tenth of thousands underlining the importance of that region in late antiquity.

Furthermore an ancient ship wreck could be located during underwater surveys undertaken by a Sri Lankan – German team from the Archaeological Department and the University of Bonn in the coastal waters of Godavaya a few years ago. The « Godavaya ship wreck » sunk during the 2nd half of the 1st cent. BC, thus probably being the eldest ever been found in Sri Lankan and even Indian waters so far. According to its cargo it was involved in the far distance trade with raw glass between the Mediterranean, South India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

In the mind of traders from ancient Europe Sri Lanka had been a barrier for quite a long time. While crossing borders communication produced space and space produced communication comparable to the virtual “online territories” of today. Anyhow the human perception of environment resulted in map making and mind mapping both being closely linked to each other in human brain.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract S. Keller

Sara KELLER

CNRS, UMR 8167, Paris

Identity of Western Indian Sea towns. An urbanistic study case of Bharuch and Khambhat

Amongst the pre modern Indian cities, the sea town, because of its particular relationship with the ocean and the beyond located lands, has developed its own identity which demand a specific definition. The paper questions the town planning and sociological characteristics of two major ports of the West Indian coast during the pre Mughal time: the gujarati towns of Bharuch and Khambhat (Cambay). The survey of the surviving historical structures and the study of the topographical and architectural elements define particular urbanistic features, suggesting a broader understanding of the town development, its various activities, and the socio-topographical organization within the city. This information, completed by the knowledge extracted from the traveler’s accounts and other literature, bring essential elements capable of helping us answering the following questions: how did the city cop up with its vital need, such as water, food, and necessary handicraft for the trade? Which activities were undertaken in the city, and what kind of relationship did the city keep with its hinterland? We shall also question the power system prevailing in the sea towns: can an autonomous body be identified in the city, or did some groups or social classes hold a tacit power? Which flavor is taking the cultural activities of the port?

This various questions shall finally help us to define whether the sea town can be identify as a city of its land, or whether it has particular characteristics which links it to the sea and the ‘beyond sea’.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract A. S. Gaur, A. Sundaresh (1)

A.S. GAUR, A. SUNDARESH

National Institute of Oceanography, Goa

Ancient Technology of Jetties and anchoring system along the Gujarat Coast, India

The port plays a dominant role in facilitating the sea trade and there were several ports all along the India coast since antiquity. The prerequisite of the selection of any port site include a sheltered place particularly protection from high wind and rough seas, sufficient water depth for sailing the vessel and a suitable anchoring point. The Indian coast, with a long history of the maritime activities, has been dotted with several ancient ports. The evidence for this exists in port-related structures on shore and in relics lying in the sea adjacent. Marine archaeological investigations during the last one and half decades have revealed the existence of jetties at Dwarka, Rupen Bundar, and Porbandar and of offshore anchoring points at Bet Dwarka, Miyani, Visawada and Somnath, Kodinar, Hathab and Ghogha on Gujarat coast. The preferred anchoring points fall in water depth of 5 to 7 m. The underwater observation revealed that seabed topography between Bet Dwarka on the extreme west and Somnath on the East is almost less variant particularly at Dwarka, Miyani, Visawada, Porbandar, Tukda and Somnath. The seabed topography is comprised of the rocky formations with numerous channels filled with fine sand. The stone anchors were trapped in these channels and between the rocks, which were suitable for holding big boats like Arab Dhows and Indian Vahan. The observation at Bet Dwarka and Porbandar revealed that boats of carrying more than 100 tons of cargo are anchored in a water depth of 4 to 5 m and some time they are resting on the sandy beaches during low tide.

This paper also discusses the effect of tide when using jetties and anchoring points along various parts of the west coast India. The archaeological evidences indicate that two gulfs of Gujarat coast (Gulf Kachchh and Gulf of Khambhat) witnessed the hectic maritime activities in the past. Both gulfs have very high tidal range and the Gulf of Khambhat has the second highest tidal range in the world (11 m). Ancient texts such as Vishnu Puran and Periplus of the Erythraean Sea vividly describe the tidal range and its uses for the navigation purposes. The discovery of the large number of stone anchors in inter tidal zone along the gulf region support the above references.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract J.-C. Ducène

Jean-Charles DUCENE

Université Libre de Bruxelles

The ports of the Western coast of India according to the Arab geographers (VIII-XV cent.): a glimpse in geography

Les ports de la côte occidentale de l’Inde chez les géographes arabes (VIIIe – XVe siècle) : une géographie entrevue


Dès son apparition, la littérature géographique arabe fournit des informations sur la toponymie côtière de l’Inde mais en privilégiant dans un premier temps, jusqu’au XIIe siècle, deux régions : le nord avec le Sind et le Gujarat puis le sud avec la côte de Malabar. Si la toponymie est relativement riche, l’identification de toutes les localités est encore problématique d’autant que les descriptions géographiques des ports sont parfois sommaires. En outre, la cartographie qui accompagne par moments ces textes provient de Ptolémée et reçoit, sans guère d’adaptation, des toponymes plus contemporains. On constate par la suite, notamment dans la première moitié du XIVe siècle, une amélioration de la connaissance des lieux ainsi que des réalités situées derrière un simple toponyme, ce qui peut témoigner d’une augmentation de la fréquentation de ces endroits. Notre contribution vise à comparer ce matériel géographique arabe afin de tenter d’améliorer les identifications mais aussi de voir comment s’est construite l’image du port indien dans cette littérature. A ce niveau, nous comptons tirer parti de textes géographiques arabes inédits du XIVe siècle.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract K. F. Dalal

Kurush F. DALAL

103 Sunshine, Plot 58

Sector 21, Kharghar

Navi Mumbai 410210

The Excavations at Sanjan and their contribution towards understanding the archaeology of the Indian Ocean Littoral in the Early Medieval Period (8th c A.D. to  12th c A.D.)

Very little if anything was known of the Early Medieval period (8th c AD to the 12th c AD) on the western shores of India prior to the excavations at the site of Sanjan (N 20° 11’59. 6 E 72° 48’00. 2) (Taluka Umargam, District Valsad, Gujarat). Three seasons of excavations revealed a creek (inland) port, a large urban settlement with burnt brick houses, brick wells, deep terracotta ringwells, large quantities of local, West Asian and some Chinese ceramics, West Asian glass, terracotta, glass and stone beads, some local and  others from the Levant and Asia Minor, besides artefacts in stone, silver, copper and iron. The coins from the excavations covered the entire gamut from the Rashtrakutas, the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad, the Sultans of Sind, Allauddin Khilji and the Marathas. The ceramics include Turquoise glazed ware, Sgraffito ware, Kashan lustre ware and other West Asian ceramics, and Yueh and Qingbai Chinese porcelains. These ceramics revealed the importance of the site and its participation in Indian Ocean littoral commerce between the Persian Gulf and China. This premise was further supported by the evidence of the various West Asian glass vessel fragments and the coins. The local importance of the site was obvious from its extent and the scatter of stone temple members and sculptures.

The evidence from Sanjan has opened a new chapter in the archaeology of the Western coast of India. After their identification at Sanjan, the various (dateable) ceramics and artefacts aided in the identification of various coeval sites. The excavations and the correlations of the data also brought to light the full extent of site network on the West coast of India. These sites include Kamrej (Dist. Surat, Gujarat), Chinchani (Dist. Thana, Maharashtra), Sopara (Dist. Thana, Maharashtra), Chaul (Dist. Raigad, Maharashtra), Chandor (Goa) and Pattanam (Kerala) thus opening a new chapter in the history and understanding of the archaeology of the Indian Ocean littoral.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract F. Chami

Felix CHAMI

Daar es-Salam University

Ancient Settlements and Trade on the Eastern African coast and Islands


The East African coast of the Indian Ocean has been known by scholars from the 19th century to have had been visited and trading with civilizations of the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and even Asia from the ancient time. Ancient and Medieval documents, actually from the Pharaonic Egyptian time, mention the region as being part of the then international trade. For a long time, only the Roman documents of Periplus and Ptolemy’s Geographia were  trusted as genuine, but recent archaeological discoveries have now provided chance for also trusting the previous documents of Greeks and Egyptian. Although actual towns or planned settlements have not been found, sites with cultural and trade materials of the time, from Pharaonic period to those of the Roman and later periods, have been discovered on the islands of Zanzibar, Comores and Madagascar. On the mainland coast, a large site of the period of Rhapta, emporium/Metropolis mentioned in the Roman documents, has been discovered on the Rufiji river delta, a place which agree with latitute and natural features described in those documents. The whole region of the Rufiji Delta has many sites of the period and some have trade goods such as beads and pottery of the imported type. Only more research is required to give more light to whether we now have Rhapta, the southern most trading town known in the Roman period. The idea that during the Roman period the whole of the East African coast all the way to Comores and Madagascar was known is verified by the find of sites of that period with trade goods in those Islands, as indicated above.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract O. Bopearachchi

Osmund BOPEARACHCHI

CNRS, UMR 8546, Paris

Diffusion of Mahayanist Images and Implantation of Port at River Mouths in Ancient Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka played an important role in the long distance maritime trade as a result of its central position in the Indian Ocean. The most important characteristic of all the ancient ports around the island is their geographical situation at the estuaries of rivers. The location of emporia along rivers must have facilitated transactions with the interior regions. Archaeological data obtained from excavations and surface explorations provide much needed evidence for the « international » contacts established between the Western and the South Asian traders on the regional trade network between South India and Sri Lanka.

The present author has discussed elsewhere that the earliest Buddha images and some portable marble reliefs depicting various Buddhist themes found in Sri Lanka were originally executed in Amaravati-Nagarjunakonda and were brought to the island by pious traders or pilgrims as offerings. It was during this period when the South Indian traders were playing the intermediary role between Roman traders and Sri Lankans that they came from Andhra and Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in search of merchandise. When Mahayanism reached its apogee in Sri Lanka around the eight century CE, new forms of artistic expressions began develop very particularly on the coastal range around the island. Avalokitesvara, the most venerated Bodhisattva in South and South-East Asia was reputed for healing the sick and saving mariners from shipwreck. A Sanskrit inscription from Tiriyai engraved in Grantha script, refers to merchant mariners from Tamil Nadu who endowed this Mahayana Buddhist shrine dedicated to the Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara and his consort Tara. In ancient Sri Lanka, Buddhist art undergo drastic changes as the focus of trade changes one horizon to the other. In many cases, even without precise textual evidence, artistic expressions show the affects of different cultures.

In short, the emergence of new iconography has to be considered as a main source of information when writing the historical diversity of different cultures. An attempt is made in this paper to study the Mahayanist Images erected in the sanctuaries built either at the river mouths facing the sea or inland along the navigable rivers.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract M.-P. Blasini

Marie-Paule BLASINI

Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer, Aix-en-Provence

Fonds cartographique du Dépôt des Fortifications des Colonies Indes dans les Archives Nationales d’outre-mer (XVII°-XIX°siècles)


Parmi les fonds cartographiques conservés aux Archives d’outre-mer, il en est un qui se distingue par sa qualité et son intérêt historique : c’est le fonds du Dépôt des Fortifications des Colonies qui, en vertu de l’arrêté du 15 nivôse an VIII (1791) prendra définitivement cette dénomination. Ce fonds recueille l’ensemble de la production cartographique et architecturale des ingénieurs géographes du Roi et ingénieurs militaires témoignant de la période la plus productive, celle du XVIII° siècle.

Le fonds du DFC est composé d’un ensemble de documents graphiques avec  mémoires apostillés, produits par les ingénieurs militaires, arpenteurs, dessinateurs. A l’origine les ingénieurs militaires issus du Grand corps des ingénieurs du Roi, initié par Vauban, furent enseignés aux techniques des fortifications, à la poliorcétique, à l’architecture militaire ou à la géographie. Ces techniques furent  développées aux colonies sous forme de mission et appliquées dans les anciennes possessions françaises aux Amériques et Antilles, en Afrique, en Asie, dans l’Océan indien, dans le Pacifique et Nouvelle-Calédonie, etc. Les pièces qui composent ce fonds proviennent à la fois du ministère de la Marine et des Colonies ou des directions locales des fortifications de chaque territoire.

Il s’agit ici de présenter le DFC Indes à partir de l’inventaire manuscrit de 1880 mais remanié et publié en 1998 par Alexis Rinckenbach, sous une autre forme : une partie « mémoires » et une partie « plans », regroupant les divers sous-fonds correspondant aux Indes Orientales et aux cinq comptoirs : Pondichéry, Chandernagor, Karikal, Mahé et Yanaon.

Toutes les pièces cartographiques sont absolument remarquables par leur qualité et leur fraicheur : dessin à la plume ou au graphite aquarellés ou  non,  lavis de couleurs ou lavis d’encre, gravures etc… Elles ont fait l’objet d’une numérisation complète lorsque leur état le permettait, de sorte que les pièces originales ne sont plus communiquées. Elles sont consultables aisément en ligne sur le site des ANOM dans la base images ULYSSE : http://anom.archivesnationales.culture.gouv.fr/sdx/ulysse/index

Seront montrés ainsi à partir du site quelques plans remarquables des ports de l’océan indien et du golfe du Bengale, des plans de villes fortifiées, des plans de bâtiments militaires ou bâtiments civils des anciens Etablissements français de l’Inde.

Quelques autres documents qui auront pu être numérisés pour cette circonstance seront montrés comme les mémoires apostillés ou les correspondances du Conseil supérieur de Pondichéry, mais aussi quelques rapports de commerce témoins des grands échanges entre l’Inde et l’Europe.

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract B. Bellina

Bérénice BELLINA

CNRS, UMR 7528, Paris

Cultural dialogue between the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea from a cosmopolitan industrial city-port of the Thai-Malay Peninsula (late first millennium BCE)

The Thai-Malay peninsula is known to have been a crossroads for regional and trans-Asiatic exchange, receiving and redistributing cultural features from East and South Asia.

The Thai-French archaeological mission in the Thai-Malay peninsula[1] has conducted excavations from 2005 to 2009 at Khao Sam Kaeo which unravelled the earliest urban city-port of Southeast Asia. There, from the 4th c. BCE until the 2nd-1st c. BCE settled and interacted communities from various Asian horizons, mirroring later City-States like Malacca.

In the context of societies without written sources or where the written sources appear only late and\or concern only the political and religious arenas, the mission has developed a programme by which each socio-technical system is investigated through the anthropology of technologies initiated by Leroi-Gourhan. This systematic approach of the industries has allowed characterizing societies engaged in this exchange, to investigate their symbolic representations and their contacts through the study of the distribution, transfers or technological refusals. Data from these technological studies processed by the GIS developed for the peculiar tropical and disturbed environment characteristic of this region allowed mapping this industrial city-port with its communities and their quarters, their related crafts and the transfers their interactions induced. The programme has a particular focus on the little considered role craftsmen played in the creation and the reproduction of the “fluid identities” of the populations of this early cosmopolitan harbor. There can be observed the selection of technologies, their specific use, and their circulation and how those participated in the fostering shared symbolic language amongst the various social groups.

Geoarchaeological and archaeobotanical research define the agricultural systems in place in this type of polity able sustain local population but also temporary settlers and voyagers. These researches also investigate the role this trans-asiatic city-port played for crops’ circulation, not only for the evolution of agriculture in the region but also for the socio-political construction of its elite.


[1] The Thai-French mission benefited from the support of : the National Research Council of Thailand, the Thai Fine Arts Department, the University of Silpakorn (Bangkok), the National Centre for Scientific research (CNRS), the Direction des Relations Européennes et Internationales of the CNRS, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the French Embassy in Bangkok, University College of London the Institute of Archaeology, the Bureau des Recherches Géologiques et Minières (Orléans), le laboratory «Mondes iranien et indien » (U.M.R 7528, C.N.R.S); the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient; the laboratory « Préhistoire et Technologie » (U.M.R 7055, CNRS).

Kolkata 2011 – Abstract C. Allibert

Claude ALLIBERT

INALCO, Paris

The meaning of  « port » and « place of call » in the Western Indian Ocean: toponyms and evidences of migrations.

Le concept de « port » et d’ « escale » dans l’océan Indien occidental. Toponymes et marqueurs de migrations.

A la différence des continents, les îles de l’océan Indien occidental ont été peuplées par des migrations assez récentes (deux millénaires) d’origines diverses.

Deux aspects de ces phases maritimes seront envisagés :

–          L’un prenant en compte la nature géologique et l’emplacement géographique de ces lieux d’installation afin de déterminer de probables emplacements.

–          L’autre en étudiant les toponymes désignant les ports ou lieux de débarquement ou d’échouage, toponymes qui mettent en évidence l’origine ethnique ou culturelle des populations ayant participé au peuplement de Madagascar et des Comores.

On tentera d’évaluer le rôle qu’ont pu tenir les populations austronésiennes, perso-arabe, indienne et bantu dans cette partie du monde.