Principal investigator

Daniela De Simone is Assistant Professor of Indian Studies in the Department of Languages and Cultures at Ghent University. Previously, she was Curator of the South Asian Archaeological Collections at the British Museum, where she curated the current displays of South Asian archaeological materials, Assistant Programme Specialist at UNESCO New Delhi, where she worked on the sustainable conservation of Indian old city areas, and Excavation Supervisor at the site of Gotihawa, an important early Buddhist stupa site in the Nepalese Terai, for the Italian Institute of Africa and the Orient (IsIAO). She studied Indian Languages and Cultures at“L’Orientale,” University of Naples where she earned her PhD in South Asian Studies (Archaeology) in 2012.

Daniela’s research focuses on the historical archaeology of Indian forests, the history of Indian Buddhism through the study of material culture, and the archaeology of the Gangetic Plains in the early historical period.  She is also Principal Investigator of the projects Excavations at Bodhgaya, the Site of the Buddha’s Enlightenment (2021-2024), funded by the Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications at Harvard University, and Archaeological Explorations and Investigations in the Gangetic Plains and Neighbouring Regions (2021-2025), funded by Ghent University Special Research Fund (BOF).

Daniela started studying the material cultural of the Nilgiri Mountains when she was Curator at the British Museum (2016-2020) and included a public display of Nilgiri materials in the permanent exhibition on South Asia of the Sir Joseph E. Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia (re-opened 2017), giving substantial space to the Nilgiri culture in the wider context of Indian civilisation. She first surveyed the Nilgiri Mountains in 2018.

Daniela De Simone’s list of publications.

Postdoctoral researchers

Letizia Trinco holds a PhD (2015) in history of art and archaeology of South and Central Asia from the Italian Institute of Oriental Studies, Sapienza University of Rome, where she also obtained her BA (2006) and MA (2010) in Indian Languages and Cultures.

She participated in the Uzbek-Italian Archaeological Mission to the site of Uch Kulakh, in the oasis of Bukhara, Uzbekistan (2009), and carried out fieldwork in India as a doctoral student, research collaborator and postdoctoral fellow at Sapienza University of Rome (2013-2019). Her research focuses on funerary rituals and memorialisation in ancient South Asia, religious iconography and – since recently -also on digital humanities, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and its documentation.

Letizia first surveyed the Nilgiri Mountains in 2019. Following a four-month fieldwork, she published a preliminary reassessment of the clusters of hero-stones and dolmens scattered across the region.

For the Nilgiri Archaeological Project, she will examine more in depth the archaeological context and the iconography of dolmens and hero-stones in order to detect subregional variations, establish their chronology and clarify their relation with akin structures in the neighbouring lowlands. She will also study the Hortus Indicus Malabaricus (1678-1693) in combination with the herbarium of the East India Company to search for notions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge in the early colonial records.

Research consultants

Davit Naskidashvili is a Landscape archaeologist with expertise in GIS, Photogrammetry and Geophysical survey. He obtained his PhD in Archaeology at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University (2023).

His primary research areas are Caucasus and the Black Sea Region. He has almost fifteen years of experience working on the field in numerous international archaeological projects. In many of these projects he has taken responsibility for the landscape survey (Drone, DGPS, Total Station), as well as for the organisation and the storage of the digital data. As a geomatic expert he worked in different countries, among which Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Sultanate of Oman, Cyprus, India etc.

He joined Ghent University as a research consultant for the Nilgiri Archaeological Project, and as a member of the Field survey team he will lead the geomatic studies of the sites.  His research interest is to recover the landscape changes of the Nilgiri Mountains, to map the cultural heritage sites of the area, and to create the database of the archaeological sites of the region.


Ananya Vajpeyi is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.
She works at the intersection of intellectual history, political theory and critical philology.

She is the author of the award-winning book, Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India published by Harvard University Press (2012), as well as the co-editor of Minorities and Populism: Critical Perspectives from South Asia and Europe (Springer, 2020) and Ashis Nandy: A Life in Dissent (OUP, 2018). She is currently working on Sanskrit: The Modern Life of an Ancient Language to be published by Norton, and has a long-term book project on the life and ideas of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.

Ananya was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University (India and Exeter College; 1994-96). She has been a fellow at CRASSH, Cambridge University; the Kluge Center, Library of Congress; the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, and the American Institute of Indian Studies, among others. She writes widely about ideas, politics, history, art and culture for newspapers and magazines in India and abroad. She wrote her doctoral dissertation in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago (2004). Titled “Politics of Complicity, Poetics of Contempt: A History of the Śūdra in Maharashtra, 1650-1950 CE”, this work necessitated archival research and extensive fieldwork in many parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Ananya joined the Nilgiri Archaeological Project in May 2023 as a textual and historical consultant. She will contribute perspectives of how forest-dwellers, “tribals” and other marginal groups have been represented in Sanskrit literature, particularly in the epics. The Nilgiri Archaeological Project will be her first foray into the Western Ghats and the Nilgiri uplands of Tamil Nadu. She will also contribute her understanding of the precolonial history of the Deccan Plateau, as well as a critical reading of the colonial disciplines of anthropology and linguistics in the characterisation of tribal communities and subaltern cultures across British India.

Research partners


Sharada Srinivasan is Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru specialising in the history of mining, metallurgy, metal crafts, technical art history and architectural history of southern India. Her inter-disciplinary contributions cover the archaeometallurgy of South Indian and Chola metal icons and artisanal technologies such as wootz steel, mirror making, and high-tin bronze working as well as broader global dimensions.

She has been documenting aspects of the material culture, archaeotechnology and ethnography of the Nilgiris for three decades with related papers in South Asian Archaeology (1994), INSA (2016), MMP (2017), in ’50 Years of Archaeology in Southeast Asia’, Lietuvos Archaeology 47 (2022), and in a volume in press edited by Paul Hockings. Her recent papers include ‘Re-envisioning Siva Nataraja’ (Brill), ‘Retellings of the Ramayana in South India and Southeast Asia’ (Manipal), ‘Ecstasy of Classical Art’ (National Museum), ‘Traditional Arts of South Asia’ (Saffron Press) and ‘Materialising Southeast Asia’s Past’ (NUS). She is co-editor of ‘Digital Hampi’ (Springer) and ‘Performance at the Urban Periphery’ (Routledge), and co-author of ‘India’s Legendary Wootz Steel’. A complete list of her publications can be found here.

She was co-lead investigator of the UKIERI Pioneering Metallurgy project in collaboration with Exeter University.

Sharada is recipient of the Padma Shri in 2019 in Archaeology and the Indian National Academy of Engineering Woman Engineer Award in 2021. She was elected as International Honorary Member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021. She is Fellow of Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.


Udayakumar S. is Assistant Professor at the School of Humanities of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangaluru, with expertise in archaeometallurgy. He holds a PhD (2016) from the Deccan College Post-Graduate & Research Institute of Pune with a study on the ancient iron technology in south-eastern Rajasthan. At the Deccan College he also obtained his BA (2005-2008) and MA (2008-2010) in Ancient Indian History.

He conducted experimental studies on ancient iron technology, bone point making technique and pottery making technique. He has attended various excavations and explorations (Farmana in Haryana, Kotada-Bhabli in Gujarat, Teri and Keeladi in Tamil Nadu), published papers in numerous journals and presented his results at national and international conferences. He is the recipient of many awards and scholarships (among the others: 2012 and 2016 Nehru Trust Small Study Research Grant, New Delhi; 2015 and 2019 Tylecote Memorial Fund from the Historical Metallurgical Society, UK; 2017 INTACH Research Scholarship Award; 2021 Liverpool and INSA Young Historian for Science Award).

Within the Nilgiri Archaeological Project, Udayakumar will examine the archaeological data regarding the ancient metal and pottery technology and craft on the Nilgiris. He will also interrogate ethnographic data and cover the experimental-archaeology aspects of the project.



Anupama Krishnamurti is a palynologist and palaeoecologist in the Department of Ecology at the French Institute of Pondicherry. Her research focuses on palaeovegetation reconstruction and pollination ecology and aerobiology employing pollen grains as key tools. Her expertise also includes non-pollen palynomorphs such as phytoliths in archaeological and other contexts in South India. Her team is currently building a repertory of phytolith slides from extant plants in tropical South India and Sri Lanka along the lines of the Thanikaimoni pollen slide collection held at the Institute, and she is a member of the research project Protection of Pollinators and Agroecological Transition in the Pondicherry Region (POLLIN).

In the framework of the Nilgiri Archaeological Project, Anupama supervises a team of archaeobotanists based in South India that works towards the reconstruction of the early ecology of the upland forests of the Nilgiri Mountains and the traditional use of plant materials before the colonial period.

Anupama is President of the Humans and Biosphere Commission of the International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) and a member of the working group LandCover6K of the Past Global Changes (PAGES) initiative.


Prasad Srinivasan is a Quaternary Palynologist at the French Institute of Pondicherry with an experience of more than thirty years in the field.

He has a proven expertise in light microscopic pollen identification of modern and Quaternary sediments. He is quite well versed and trained in field and laboratory techniques, and has a strong footing in the Nilgiris where he literally began his career as a Palynologist.

Prasad is actively involved in many national and international training programmes and interacts with students and researchers on issues pertaining to pollen identification as also pollen-vegetation relationship.


Anbarashan M. is a postodoctoral researcher in the Department of Ecology at the French Institute of Pondicherry. Anbarashan received his Ph.D. in Ecology and Environmental Sciences from Pondicherry University. In his research career, spanning more than a decade, he worked on a wide array of research topics in tropical plant ecology and conservation. Biodiversity assessment, carbon dynamics, long-term forest monitoring, plant functional traits, and social forestry are among his research interests. He has over 30 research articles published in prestigious national and international journals. Before joining the French Institute of Pondicherry in 2019, Anbarashan held various positions in environment-based NGOs and research centres contributing significantly to scientific and outreach activities involving local communities. 

In the Nilgiri Archeological Project, he focuses on reconstructing the dynamics of land-cover changes, Quaternary vegetation and climate history in the study area using biological proxies (pollen) through the study of vegetation history through time and land-use changes during the most recent periods in the Nilgiris biosphere reserve.



Arjun Rao is an archaeologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Archaeology of the Central University of Karnataka. Arjun’s research focuses on Indian prehistory and landscape archaeology, particularly in the semi-arid and of tropical savanna regions of Karnataka.

Arjun is Principal Investigator of several archaeological projects: the Koppa Archaeological Research Project (KARP) funded by the National Geographic (2017-2018), Rediscovery of Prehistoric Sites of Raichur, Karnataka at the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge funded by the Nehru Trust for the Indian Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2019-18 and 2019-2020), Survey and Mapping of the Fortified Settlements of Ancient South Kosala, Chhattisgarh funded by the Luigi and Laura Dallapiccola Foundation (2021-2022), and Stone Tool Economy and Resources Use in Raichur Doab funded by the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi (2022-ongoing).

For the Nilgiri Archaeological Project, Arjun will investigate the built and natural landscape and ancient land use strategies in the Nilgiri Mountains, and record the megalithic practices in the region.

Arjun is Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Journal of Archaeological Research in India and East Asia Regional Representative for Past Global Changes (PAGES).

Arjun Rao’s list of publications 



Gandhimathi J. is Curator at the Chennai Museum. In the framework of the Nilgiri Archaeological Project, she acts as liaison with Indian government agencies and coordinates the documentation of the Nilgiri collections in Chennai and Udhagamandalam.
Gandhimathi was an International Training Programme fellow at the British Museum in 2017, when she started working on the Nilgiri artefacts with Daniela De Simone, and both first surveyed the Nilgiri Mountains together in 2018. She presented a paper on the ethnographic collection of Nilgiri artefacts held at the Government Museum, Chennai at the 25th European Conference on South Asian Studies in Paris (24-27 July 2018).