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Remnants of Ancient City on Malabar Coast Found

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« on: May 27, 2007, 03:33:25 am »

Remnants of Ancient City on Malabar Coast Found
Mohammed Ashraf, Arab News


A girl stands in one of the excavated trenches. (AN photo)   
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, 26 May 2007 — The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) exhibited here the precious findings of its two-month long excavations that unearthed remnants of Muziris, the legendary port city mentioned in ancient texts that was once the center of spice trade on the Malabar coast that attracted the Romans, Arabs and the Chinese as early as 200 BC.

A wharf with dug-out canoe, Roman pottery, West Asian ceramics, beads made of semiprecious stones and brick structures indicating the rich maritime heritage of the Malabar Coast were unearthed during the excavations.

The researchers claim that they have solved the mystery about the location of Muziris, which was key to trade between India and the Roman Empire. Much-recorded in Roman times, it appeared to have simply disappeared until the researchers came up with new evidences.

The excavations indicate that the site was first occupied by the indigenous megalithic (Iron Age) people, followed by the Roman contact in the Early Historic phase, and continued to be occupied in the early medieval period. It appears that the site was continuously occupied at least from 2nd century BC to 10th century AD. However, radiocarbon dating results are awaited for confirmation.

“The excavation at Pattanam near Kodungalloor was the first ever multidisciplinary archeological research undertaken in the state. It also revealed that trade ties with the Arabs were much stronger and their influence was often undermined,” KCHR director Dr. P.J. Cherian told Arab News in an interview.

The KCHR has now roped in painters like Bhaskaran to reconstruct the city on canvas and the state government has announced a master plan to preserve the area as a heritage site that may become Kerala’s first site museum with all the artifacts preserved right there.

“Five trenches covering an area of 120 sq. meters were excavated in the northeastern part of the Pattanam site on the Periyar delta located between Kodungallur and North Parur in Eranakulam district. Researchers and student volunteers from various universities inside and outside the state participated in the excavations,” he said.

According to the initial findings, the earliest settlers of the site appear to be native iron-using megalithic people who seem to have led a simple life.

“We have to wait for further analysis to discern the context that brought Western contacts to this place. It is probable that these contacts started during the Iron Age-Megalithic transition phase,” he said.

The maritime contacts of this region during the Early Historic period, as evidenced by the large number of Roman amphora sherds, Sassanian, Yemenite and other West Asian pottery, seemed fairly extensive.

Proliferation of roulette ware — a fine pottery probably made in the Bengal/Gangetic region — signifies the site’s importance in the Indian context as well.

The stone beads, brick architecture, triple-grooved roof tiles, ring well, iron nails etc. point toward the more urban character of the site.

The habitation at Pattanam seems to have continued into the Early Medieval period. The variation in brick architecture, the appearance of Islamic pottery and the profusion of glass beads are clear pointers. From the evidence so far gathered, this site seems to have remained unoccupied or deserted between the 10th and 18th centuries. If this can be confirmed, it may provide greater insight into the geological and regional history of the area.

“Fragments of human bones, including those identifiable as parts of cranium were found in the earliest sand layers of the site. This is an unusual find in the Kerala context where such evidences are lost either due to the then mortuary practices or the poor preserving condition of the moist and acidic soil. The remains have been sent to physical anthropologists for identification and analysis,” he said.

In Trench II, two large ceramic jars one adjacent and another underneath a brick wall were found. The jars probably once used for storage, seem to have been reused as the base for a later brick wall.

Two copper coins of Chera period were found in Trench II. These coins have an elephant in standing posture on the obverse and bow-arrow (Chera Emblem) and a goad on the reverse.

A brick structure resembling a floor/platform was found in Trench III. It has several post holes/pits dug into the bricks. In the absence of residential remains and its closeness to a structure identifiable as wharf, this floor seems to be part of a storage space. A water well, made of three terracotta rings was found in this trench. Its depth, unique shape and connection with the brick structure and the wharf, raise interesting questions. “Though there is an assumption that our ancestors led a very simple life, it is seen that they had led an organized and planned life,” says Cherian.

A huge structure made of probably a mixture of laterite granules, lime and clay with an outer brick-lining was found close to a water-logged deposit in Trench IV. The brick-lining is toward the lower part of the wharf. The ground adjacent to the brick lining has five wooden pegs (bollards) intended to secure the boats. The water-logged deposit yielded shreds of amphora, rouletted ware etc.

A six-meter long wooden dug-out canoe was found parallel to the wharf structure about three meters below the surface level. This keelless boat is in a highly degenerated condition and the state archeology department is engaged in the task of retrieving it with the help of experts from the National Conservation Laboratory Regional Center Mysore. Samples of the canoe and bollards have been sent to various laboratories for dating.

Experts from various disciplines like geo-archeology, archeo-zoology, paleo-botany, archeo-chemistry and physics, underwater archeology, metallurgy and institutions and laboratories such as Southern Naval Command, Indian space Research Organization, National Geo-physical Research Institute, Institute of Physics, Kerala Forest Research Institute and Center for Earth Science Studies are collaborating with the project. The “Muziris Heritage Project” which is the biggest such project Kerala has ever launched also had collaborative support from the Archeological Survey of India, the State’s archeology, tourism and revenue departments.
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