British Association for South Asian Studies

Research Groups

Ports and Indian Ocean Exchanges

Convenors: Dr R Tomber (British Museum, London, UK) & Prof PJ Cherian (Kerala Council for Historical Research, Trivandrum, India)

This international research group concentrates on Indian Ocean exchange of the Early Historic and Medieval periods, particularly seen through its ports, and the goods and ideas exchanged between them.

The convergence of textual and archaeological evidence during the Early Historic makes it and subsequent periods especially amenable to the study of exchange. Active archaeological research throughout the rim of the Indian Ocean is providing new finds and stimulating a growing interest in the subject. Informed speculation on the global nature of the economies of these periods can only now be attempted on the strength of this new information regarding the connections, exchanges and interaction among the different ethnic groups, trade sites and partners from different social and political systems.

Main ports of the Early Historic period (A. Simpson)

Photo: main ports of the early historic period (A. Simpson)

The group will use port sites as a springboard for investigating broader issues, initially concentrating on the site at Pattanam. A newly discovered, multi-period site excavated by the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), Pattanam has revealed diverse finds associated with Indian Ocean exchange including imports from Rome, West Asia and China. These finds, together with its urban character, argue for its equation with the famed ancient site of Muchiri or Muziris to the Romans.

The purpose of the research group is to provide a forum for international collaborators, to direct future research at Pattanam (including conservation) and, broadening out from this, establish research agendas and programmes throughout the Indian Ocean. The members comprise land and maritime archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and epigraphers, who have broad expertise throughout the region and have published extensively.


The first formal activities of the group comprise three collaborative workshops organised by the British Museum and the Kerala Council for Historical Research on the theme of “Indian Ocean trade and the Archaeology of Technology.” Funded by the British Academy International Partnership Scheme, over three years individual workshops will focus on pottery, personal adornment and maritime technology with the aim of bringing together international scholars to train early career scholars and Asian students. The starting point for these workshops is the study of the archaeological finds from Pattanam, which will form the basis for investigating the broader context and themes of Pattanam within the Indian Ocean. Study of the Pattanam material will be paired with the ethnographic recording of a related craft industry.


  •  Dr Shinu Abraham (St Lawrence University, USA)
  •  Dr Lucy Blue (Southampton University, UK)
  •  Dr Nicole Boivin (Oxford University, UK)
  •  Prof Robin Coningham (Durham University, UK)
  •  Dr Federico De Romanis (Università degli Studi di Roma "Tor Vergata", Italy)
  •  Prof Chris Gosden (Oxford Universeity)
  •  Dr Derek Kennet (Durham University, UK)
  •  Dr Elizabeth Lambourn (DeMontfort University, UK)
  •  Prof MGS Narayanan (Former Chairman Indian Council of Historical Research, Calicut; Director General, Center for Heritage Studies, Tripunithura, Kerala, India)
  •  Dr Raghava Varier (Arya Vaidyasala Kottackal, Kerala, India)
  •  Dr K Rajan (Pondicherry University, India)
  •  Dr Steven Sidebotham (Delaware University, USA)
  •  Dr Heidrun Schenk ((Tissamaharama-Projek des Deutschen Archäologischen Institut, Bonn, Germany)
  •  Dr V Selvakumar (Tamil University, Tanjore, India)
  •  Dr KP Shajan (Kerala Council for Historical Research, India)
  •  Dr Y Subrayalu (Institut Français de Pondichéry, India)