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The conference will host over 40 scholars of various disciplines from North America, Europe, South Asia, and Australasia:


Artist: Vasuki
Artist: Kiko
Artist: Vasan

Abraham, S.
Ambalavanar, D.
Arasu, V.
Champakalakshmi, R.
Cheran, R.
Fukao, J.
George, G.
George, U.
Ghose, R.
Guruge, S.
Jegathesan, M.
Kanaganayakam, C.
Kanthasamy, P.
Karunakaran, K.
Karunanithi, G.
Kingsolver, A.
Mason, R.
Maunaguru, S.
Maunaguru, Sitralega
McNaughton, S.
More, J.B.P.
Orr, L.
Pai, G.
Palaniappan, S.
Pandian, M.S.S.
Rajesh, V.
Renganathan, V.
Sangarasivam, Y.
Seylon, R.
Shanmugam, K.
Sivalingam, H.
Sriramachandran, R.
Sundar, A.
Tambiah, S.J.
Tyyskä, V.
Vaitheespara, R.
Vivekananthan, P.
Whitaker, M.
Xavier, S.
Young, K.
Younger, P.

Shinu Abraham

Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
St. Lawrence University

Archaeology, History and Identity in Ancient Tamilakam
(Co-authored with V. Selvakumar)
Saturday, June 2nd | 12:30 - 2:30 PM

For the southern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the most important documentary source for information on the early historic culture is a body of texts known as the Sangam anthology. These indigenous texts date to the first few centuries AD and comprise the earliest extant examples of Tamil literature. Not surprisingly, this is also the period to which can be traced the first indications of the concept of a “Tamil” identity in South India. Archaeologically, the Tamil Sangam era corresponds roughly to the late Iron Age/Early Historic period (circa 300 BC to AD 300), which represents a key stage in the development of South Indian material culture. Prevailing analyses of early Tamil society and identity have relied heavily on Sangam texts, often at the expense of critically examining the archaeological remains from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, independently. This paper examines the relationship between South Indian archaeology and textual history, and argues that 1) any framework for interpreting early Tamil identity must acknowledge the important qualitative differences in the ways that texts and artifacts construct and reflect ethnic identity, and 2) that archaeologists and historians must analyze their respective data sets within the larger social, political, and economic practices of early Tamilakam.

Dr. Abraham specializes in South Asian archaeology, especially in the late prehistoric/early historic periods of Tamil South India. Recent publications include "Chera, Chola, Pandya: Using Archaeological Evidence to Identify the Tamil Kingdoms of Early Historic South India" (Asian Perspectives, 2003) and “Applying Anthropological Models of Social Complexity to Early Tamilakam: The Palghat Gap Survey” (Journal of the Centre for Heritage Studies, 2004). Currently she is studying the impact of the interregional Indian Ocean trade on Malabar community organization in ancient Kerala. She is the director of the Malabar Region Archaeological Survey (MRAS), a project centered on the intensive survey of the Early Historic port site Pattanam in central Kerala.

V. Selvakumar is Lecturer in Archaeology at The Centre for Heritage Studies, Tripunithura and has completed post-doctoral research on the prehistoric and early historic cultures of Madurai region, Tamil Nadu. He participated in the archaeological excavations at Kudikadu, Kodumanal, Arikamedu and Budihal, India and Berenike, Egypt. He supervised the excavations at Taikkal-Kadakkarapally and Pattanam in Kerala. He was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Maritime Archaeology, Southampton University. His area of interest includes prehistory, early history and ceramics of South India, archaeological theory, and Indian Ocean trade. Selvakumar who is the co-author of the paper presented by Shinu Abraham is unable to be at the conference.