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Professor Receives National Geographic Society Grant

A St. Lawrence University professor and her research collaborator have received a National Geographic Society award that will help fund ongoing research of pre-modern iron and glass production in south India.

Shinu Anna Abraham, associate professor of anthropology, and Praveena Gullapalli, associate professor of anthropology at Rhode Island College, received from the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration a grant totaling $14,690, which will support their project titled “Investigating Premodern Production Landscapes of Southern Andhra Pradesh, India.”

“The project will examine high-heat technologies such as iron, metal and glass, and look at how those technologies evolved and what effect they had on the social and economic landscapes of early south India,” Abraham said. “We want to see if and how those technologies overlapped in particular communities, how they developed and why.  Most archaeologists focus on a single ancient technology and its development over time and space; this project is unusual in that we are exploring the interrelationships between two technologies – metal and glass – simultaneously from the start.  We are interested not just in their origins in the first millennium BC but also how they evolved up to premodern times.”

Following a three-week exploratory trip in 2013 to the southern Andhra Pradesh state in India, Abraham returned this summer to launch a systematic field survey designed to investigate the nature and distribution of debris associated with early pyrotechnologies, especially iron and glass.

This summer’s trip also allowed the faculty team to work with local collaborator K. P. Rao of the University of Hyderabad.  The data collected will be organized and stored in a GIS database in collaboration with Carol Cady, St. Lawrence University’s GIS technician. The information will, among other things, allow the archaeologists to plot the best sites for future excavation.

 “Much recent work in South India highlights the variation that existed in past production practices and indicates that existing frameworks for categorizing and understanding early technologies might need to be modified,” their proposal stated. “This project, therefore, adds much needed basic data about the South Indian past while refining existing frameworks for interpreting production in the archaeological record.”

Abraham said the innovative nature of the project required a funding organization that supports this particular type of research.

“It made sense to apply to the National Geographic Society for this type of research,” Abraham said. “They encourage multidisciplinary projects that shed light on less well-studied issues.