“We think of globalisation as a modern phenomenon,” says Prof Chris Gosden, Chair of European Archaeology at Oxford University. “But in many ways, the world has been globalised for centuries. Things moved more slowly in the past than they do now, but people, ideas and materials have moved constantly. I would say that there are two basic, but contradictory things which have characterised human life.”
On the one hand, human beings are prone to form groups. They formed communities which had some sort of a boundary and learned to deal with the world in particular ways. “People became the people they are by being members of particular groups,” says Gosden.
In a social unit, individuals usually have five people who are significant and important. “Then there is a larger segment of colleagues and friends, something in the order of 20, and then a much larger group of 100-400 people we know to some degree,” says Gosden. “So, each of us lives in a series of groups, which are meaningful to us in various levels. We also exist in a much larger society of 2,500 people at different times. It could be strangers and occasionally antagonistic sets of relationships. While they may be fleeting and brief, they can be influential.”
Meanwhile, even as humans have lived in communities, ideas, people and cultures have moved between groups. “So these two notions are in tension with each other,” says Gosden. “There is a tendency to divide up and the need to connect at the same time.”
Gosden was giving a lecture at Kochi called ‘Ancient Global Connections and Pattanam’, which was organised by the Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR) and the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage.
Gosden, along with colleague Dr Wendy Morrison, and a team of archaeology students from Oxford University worked on the Pattanam site along with the members of the KCHR, under the leadership of Director Prof P J Cherian.
“In a small way our collaboration has created an international multi-cultural team,” says Gosden. “The teams have got along very well and have learnt things which go way beyond archaeology. We are hoping that in future, people from Kerala will come to Oxford. We will be happy to give them as warm a welcome as we have received.”
Reverting to his topic, Gosden says, “The human story is of movement, connections and long-term travel. About 1.8 billion years ago, our ancestors started moving out of Africa, to Europe, India, China and to south-east Asia. These people learned to exist in environments that were strange to them. They encountered new plants and animals. To deal with them, they developed a mentality of adaptation, flexibility and change.”
But because people lived in different environments, differences started to appear, in the way they dressed, behaved or consumed food. According to Dorian Fuller, a professor of archaeobotany, there were different ways in which people processed, cooked and consumed food.
In present-day China, Siberia and Japan, there are ancient pottery traditions that go back 20,000 years. “This pottery may have something to do with boiling and steaming,” says Gosden. “The modern-day manifestation of this is rice cultures.”
However, if one looks at the Middle East, parts of Africa and Europe, there are different traditions like grinding of cereals and roasting of meat. But in the Indian subcontinent the people partook of the western as well as the eastern tradition.
“One of the key aspects of India is that the people accepted traditions coming from outside as well as those which originated in the sub-continent,” says Gosden. “India is a place where people and customs would meet, fuse and mix. Kerala is the epitome of a multicultural mix of societies which have lived together in healthy co-existence for centuries.”
However, the surprising aspect of the evidence from Pattanam and other sites is the scale of connections with different parts of the world.
“In Pattanam there was a flourishing trade with numerous countries,” says Gosden. “The people exported gems, spices, wine and food to the Roman world. The Romans were profoundly influenced by their Indian connections. But when we read the history of Europe, it would seem that the people got inspiration only from Athens and Rome. But it is now clear that Persian and Indian cultures were important influences. It is obvious from the architectural and artefact evidence that Pattanam is a site of great importance.”