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Spaces Of Connection


Suchandra Ghosh

PORTS OF THE ANCIENT INDIAN OCEAN
Edited by Marie-Francoise Boussac
Primus Books, New Delhi, Year 2017, pp. 559, Rs. 2195.00

VOLUME XLI NUMBER 5 May 2017

The last three years have seen an outpouring of works on ports, Rila Mukherjee ed. Vanguards of Globalization: Port-Cities from the Classical to the Modern, Sara Keller and Michael Pearson eds. Port Towns of Gujarat and  Marie-Francoise Boussac, Jean-Francois Salles, Jean-Baptiste Yon eds. Ports of the Ancient Indian Ocean. Incidentally all three are Primus publications. The book under review, a compendium of twenty-four essays organized under four sections—From the Red Sea to India, Through Arabia and the Persian Gulf; Ancient Ports and Maritime Contacts of India; Related Areas: Sri-Lanka, South-East Asia; French Archives, furnishing fascinating primary source material—is an outcome of a colloquium. It is evident from the subsections that the essays focus on material originating from the Red Sea to India, through Arabia and the Persian Gulf, looking at not only ancient Indian ports but going beyond to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. For people interested in maritime society, there is a need to know not only the pelagic but also the coast as Michael Pearson argues that a distinctive maritime society can be found not on the deep sea but in the jewels of the littoral, the port cities. Thus this volume on ports will be very attractive to maritime historians. The first section has nine essays dealing with ports and sites. Three of the initial essays deal with the Egyptian ports on the Red Sea. The first essay by Pierre Tallet introduces us to three port sites of Mersa Gawasis near Safaga, Ayn Soukhna, on the northern part of the Suez Gulf and Wadi el-Jarf to the south of Zafarana. These ports flourished during the Pharaonic era. Extremely significant is the series of inscriptions from Ayn Soukhna dating to the Middle Kingdom (2000–1800 BCE) which refer to a ‘mining land’ and mention turquoise which is one of its most important resources. The site was used as a temporary harbour for expeditions to the mines in the Sinai Peninsula. Excavations at Wadi el-Jarf point to the fact that a network of strategic installations (surveillance installations) on both sides of the Gulf of Suez was a practice to control the Red Sea coast and the access to the resources of Sinai. This speaks for the extensive logistical organization of seafaring expeditions. The second essay by Cheryl Ward and Chiara Zazzaro is an archaeological find of dismantling of ships at Gawasis which were built at the royal shipyards in ...


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