Pattanam, a small village located 25 km north of Kochi, is the new pilgrimage spot on the international archaeological map. This quiet place, archaeologists now confirm, was once the flourishing port known to the Romans as Muziris and sung in praise by the Tamil Sangam poets as Muciri.
Every year since 2005, excavations have yielded artefacts, structures and even a canoe in one instance to confirm this conclusion. This year has also been productive for archaeologists.
A figure of a pouncing lion carved in great detail on a semi precious stone and a bright micro metal object with intricate designs are two of the special objects found during the ongoing excavations that began in February. Copper antimony rods, usually associated with cosmetic use, were also found.
The semi precious stone with the lion figure measures about 2 cm and is rounded at the edge. It appears to be part of a pendant or a ring.
The object is yet to be dated in a scientific manner, but going by the depth at which it was found, it is tentatively placed in the early historic period — 1st century BCE to 4th century CE. It was during this time that trade with the West Asian and Roman ports was extensive.
P.J. Cherian, director, Pattanam Excavation, thinks these ornamental metal objects and work on semi- precious stones reflect the fine artisanship that was prevalent at that time.
Dr. Cherian's team has found a multitude of pottery shards, including that of a Roman amphora, early Chera coins, turquoise glazed pottery and cameo blanks (cameos were popular jewellery in ancient Rome). These attest to the existence of an active habitation and trading activities.
Despite abundant references in Roman and Tamil texts, Muziris, the famous western trade post, remained elusive to archaeologists for long.
Places such as Thiruvanchikulam and Kodungallur were initially thought to be Muziris, but excavations at these places did not yield any evidence. The trail excavations at Pattanam began in 2005, and the evidence obtained since has finally helped archaeologists locate the ancient port.
In 2006, the Kerala government launched the Muziris Heritage Project to “scientifically retrieve and preserve the legacy of Muziris.”
The Kerala Council for Historical Research has undertaken inter-disciplinary archaeological research, and the fourth season of excavations is on.