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Archaeologists search for the southern Indian cities at the site of Kadabakele

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Author Topic: Archaeologists search for the southern Indian cities at the site of Kadabakele  (Read 762 times)
Abedabun
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« Reply #15 on: August 31, 2009, 10:15:51 pm »



Graduate students work cleaning up a section of the wall of an illegal pit to get a profile of deep Early Historic deposits.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #16 on: August 31, 2009, 10:16:04 pm »

Bauer shows me around another excavation pit from earlier in the season. The area on top of the hill has a natural depression where water accumulates in a seasonal pool. It is dry now, and Morrison's team has dug a 12-foot-deep trench through the sediment. Lab tests, including carbon isotope studies, pollen analysis, and soil chemistry, on samples from this pit will fill in another time sequence to explain the evolution of the community--how the people there altered the water, sediment, and vegetation regimes around the time that rice cultivation spread into the area. The manipulation of these resources also provides information on the emergence of social stratification, which would become a dominant theme in the later Vijayanagara period, when royals and cultural elites made decisions that altered the whole region and built the stone buildings that today draw tourists and hippies from all over the world.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #17 on: August 31, 2009, 10:16:17 pm »

South of the first pit and thankfully in the shade a wall of boulders, another part of the team, led by Mudit Travedi, who is originally from New Delhi but is now a student of Morrison's in Chicago, works on a considerably more puzzling site--a series of odd megalithic structures. Morrison cautions me against sitting on a rock pile next to the plot. "We're up to a three-scorpion count on this unit," she says, and this is one of their preferred haunts. I gingerly take a seat on a stump next to it while Morrison hops in the shallow pit with a trowel. She's just as enthusiastic mixing it up in the dirt as she is when explaining the dig's larger questions. "Every time I walk around, I try to see one new thing," she says.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #18 on: August 31, 2009, 10:16:31 pm »

In this unit there are odd alignments of stones that form circles with little tails: "lollipops," Morrison calls them. The interesting thing about the lollipops is that they run deep. The alignments were maintained over hundreds of years as new stones were added to them. They drift in shape rather randomly, but appear consistently throughout the layers. Sometimes the interiors of the lollipops are filled with broken pottery and bone fragments. No human remains have been found, but Morrison theorizes that these small megalithic structures are some kind of memorials that were revisited continually for centuries, from 800 B.C. to the rise of Vijayanagara. Mysteries on mysteries keep turning up here. In one case, they found a floor surface above one of the lollipops, leading them to assume that it was not associated with a burial. And yet just at the end of the season, they reached the top of what appears to be a burial pit. More information on the purpose and usage of these small megaliths will have to wait until the next season.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #19 on: August 31, 2009, 10:16:51 pm »



A ruined 10th- to 11th-century temple sits in the middle of the river terrace, providing an indication of how expansive the Early Historic city was
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Abedabun
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« Reply #20 on: August 31, 2009, 10:17:10 pm »

At the end of the Iron Age and the beginning of the Early Historic period, the population of the town moved down the side of the hill to the river terrace. But they continued to maintain the lollipops, which by then may have become shrines to the community's ancestral home on top of the hill. "People have kind of turned the whole outcrop into an artifact," she says, referring to the rock alignments, and paintings and pocked designs on some of the surrounding boulders.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #21 on: August 31, 2009, 10:17:23 pm »

Morrison takes me to the south side of the hill so we can descend to the river terrace excavation below. The most obvious feature on the broad, flat plain is a ruined and overgrown 10th- to 11th-century temple right in the center--an indication of how large this town grew before the rise of Vijayanagara. It probably encompassed the entire terrace, which covers more than 90 acres, turning the entire plain into an archaeological site. But upon further examination of the terrace from the top of the hill, it's clear that something is wrong. At the base of the hill, directly where Morrison and I are headed, it looks like someone has tried to dig an Olympic-size swimming pool. The great stepped pit down there is an archaeological catastrophe that Morrison only discovered at the beginning of the season, just a month before my arrival.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #22 on: August 31, 2009, 10:17:33 pm »

As we make our way to the bottom--there's no real path, but we're both spry enough to handle it--Morrison fills in the blanks. Some time since their last field season at the site in 2005, someone illegally brought in construction equipment and dug out this giant pit, apparently to create a reservoir to capture runoff coming down the hill. This is, for Morrison, bitterly ironic, as she spent years studying Vijayanagara-period reservoirs south of the river. "I do think it is a little bit funny [but not funny ha-ha, methinks] that it's the building of a reservoir that's causing all these problems," she says. "I finished studying reservoirs and now they're coming back to haunt me." Locals say that the village council of nearby Anegondi authorized the project, even though the land is protected as part of the greater Vijayanagara area. One might expect that the reservoir was dug with the idea of extending rice paddies (just like on an adjacent terrace) across the archaeologically rich terrace, which would destroy any trace that people ever lived there.
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« Reply #23 on: August 31, 2009, 10:17:47 pm »

And upon actually arriving at the bottom, I can see just how horrible this intrusion was. The pit is 90 feet long, 65 feet wide, and up to 15 feet deep. The spoils piles from the illegal digging, which sit around the pit in a sloppy ring, are as much ceramics as dirt. "I've never see so much Russet-Coated Painted Ware in one place," says Morrison, surveying the damage. The piles are gray with ash from domestic hearths and studded with large blocks from Medieval foundations. The illegal pit ripped through scores of cultural layers, indicating both how rich the archaeology of the river terrace is and how much there is to lose. "I haven't seen a lot of looting, so for me this is as bad as it gets," Morrison says.
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« Reply #24 on: August 31, 2009, 10:18:26 pm »



A hero stone was found on the river terrace. Common in the early Medieval period, they commemorate death in battle or fights with wild animals.
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« Reply #25 on: August 31, 2009, 10:19:11 pm »



The grad students and local excavation crew hike in to the river terrace site. A Middle Period defensive wall is visible in the background.
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« Reply #26 on: August 31, 2009, 10:19:32 pm »



A total station is used to ensure that the salvage excavation in the illegal pit can become part of the team's larger data set on the large settlement.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #27 on: August 31, 2009, 10:19:48 pm »

Morrison has submitted reports urging the archaeological authorities to take some kind of action. In the meantime, she has two grad students and a couple of villagers trying to make the best of a bad situation. "The loss of information here is just sickening," she says. "But we are going to get a really beautiful profile." They're cleaning up one side of the pit to create straight vertical cuts, and then digging a little deeper below it to find the earliest archaeological layers. A simple glance at the clean, straight areas they have uncovered confirms how much was wasted when a bulldozer or backhoe came through . There are several thick domestic levels--roofing tiles, brick, ash, bones, countless pottery sherds, layers of plaster and burnt material--just sticking out of the wall. Just where the record ends on top of the hill, it begins down here, and they have found clear evidence of the social differentiation they are trying to track up top. The roof tiles, for example, were a sign of social distinction and wealth at the time. Further comparisons with the saddle should provide a clear record of how that social stratification evolved in early south Indian cities. This social, political, and economic record will be key to understanding the context in which the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire was established.
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« Reply #28 on: August 31, 2009, 10:19:55 pm »

The entire site is a vast repository of the area's history that represents an unbroken chain of settlement and daily life stretching back around 2,500 years before Vijayanagara. What's already been lost here is astounding, but Morrison and her team will get some information from it that will demonstrate just how rich, complex, and worth protecting the area is.
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Abedabun
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« Reply #29 on: August 31, 2009, 10:20:21 pm »

According to Morrison, this is one of the earliest large towns in the region, or largest early towns, depending on which superlative one prefers. It is huge, deep, and, with one obvious exception, largely untouched, with superb preservation of plant and animal remains. It will tell Morrison and Sinopoli the story of the rise of urbanism in south India, a subject about which little was known until now. "It could be one of those sites, like in the Near East or Egypt, where generations continue to excavate," Morrison says. Scanning out across the river terrace from one of the illegal spoil piles, I can see her point. If the entire terrace has this depth and complexity, Kadabakele could represent the work of several lifetimes.

Samir S. Patel is a senior editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.
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© 2009 by the Archaeological Institute of America
www.archaeology.org/online/features/kadabakele/

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