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Alumnus Fenn Receives NSF Funding

Thomas Fenn (PhD, 2011) recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant from the Archaeology Program. The ca. $100,000 grant, which will begin September 1, 2017, and continue until August 31, 2020, is to examine ancient glass production in India as a proxy for exploring cultural and regional interconnections throughout the Indian Ocean and beyond through time. The Title and abstract for the grant is as follows:

Title: Collaborative Research: Elemental and Isotopic Characterization of Raw Materials for Ancient Glass from South Asia - Understanding changing trade patterns around the Indian Ocean

Abstract: With funding from the National Science Foundation, Drs. Thomas Fenn of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Laure Dussubieux of The Field Museum, and Shinu Abraham of Saint Lawrence University will undertake interdisciplinary research to understand ancient trade and exchange in South Asia and around the Indian Ocean, and their relationship to the development of social complexity in South Asia. Political, ecological changes as well as other factors have an influence on the exchange networks connecting different communities. The different industries around the Indian Ocean that fueled the trade conducted in this region and beyond had to adapt (in terms of their location, the nature and volume of their production) to shifts in the networks connecting the different actors of the trade. Through the study of the glass industry in India researchers will study how such an industry responded to changes in trade patterns around the Indian Ocean starting around the mid-1st millennium BCE to the late Medieval Period. At a time when India is witnessing the collapse of its traditional glass industry in favor of a more automated and less labor intensive alternative, this project will provide new information about the roots of an activity on the brink of extension and will create parallel to understand the consequences of moving industrial landscapes in the modern world.

This collaborative effort will include the collection of potential raw materials used for glass manufacturing based on the geological nature of the soils and the archaeological or ethnographical evidence of glass manufacturing in the area. Elemental and isotopic composition of the raw material will be determined and compared to data collected for ancient glass. Assuming that each glass center would procure raw materials from a nearby source, the diversity of the geology of India is providing the possibility of characterizing each production center with a unique elemental and isotopic signature that will be identical in the raw materials and the finished glass. This project integrates research and training of undergraduate and graduate students in such an interdisciplinary field as archaeometry. Results of this research will inform future exhibits and education activities at the Field Museum which educate hundreds of thousands of school children and more than a million of visitors annually.

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