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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor Atholl Anderson: The origins and significance of prehistoric sailing

3rd December 2007, 20:00 to 21:00, Collingwood College

Prehistoric seafaring, worldwide, can be divided into two main phases; before and after the advent of sailing. By opening the way to long-range voyaging, sailing hugely enlarged and re-shaped the global maritime landscape with important consequences for human migration, cultural interaction and mercantile expansion. This lecture discusses where and when, how and with what consequences, sailing developed in global prehistory. Attention is directed first to seafaring without sails and then to the technological changes that characterize sailing and how they might have come about, using as an example, northern Europe. Considered next is the important question of whether sailing arose initially in only one or a few places and was thereafter dispersed, or occurred through a series of independent transitions. The virtual absence of prehistoric sailing in the Americas is pertinent here. Discussion then turns to the contexts in which sailing arose. One question is whether its deployment was affected by long-term patterns of climatic change, discussed here in reference to Indo-Pacific migration. Another is the relationship of sailing to population growth and the economic and social changes associated with Neolithic transformation. Considered last are the origins of a long-range maritime trading system across the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, which drew together by the sea, as had trade overland, the Eurasian centres of commerce, and which thus foreshadowed the subsequent development of globalisation.

Professor Atholl Anderson holds the establishment chair of prehistory in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. He has degrees in geography, anthropology and archaeology including PhD and ScD in the latter from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Commonwealth Scholar. He taught for many years at Otago University, New Zealand, where he held a personal chair before moving to the ANU in 1993. He has held visiting fellowships at Clare Hall and Corpus Christi College (Cambridge), and at the University of the Ryukus (Okinawa), and Visiting and Research Fellowships (University of Tokyo) of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. He has been an exchange fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts and Letters, a Fulbright Visiting Scholar to the University of Hawaii, a James Cook Research Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and a Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of York.

He is working currently on the development of seafaring during the Holocene and during his time at the IAS he will be looking in particular at the way in which seafaring has been conceived and modelled in relation to the prehistoric colonisation of islands.


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