Three metal idols of serpents and other artefacts dating back to the Megalithic era have been unearthed from a cist burial site at Oliyani near Kunnoni in Kottayam district of Kerala.

The materials were recovered during an archaeological excavation conducted by Dr.P. Rajendran, an archaeologist and UGC research scientist at the Department of History, University of Kerala.

Carbon dating revealed that the wood charcoal samples obtained from the site were 810 years old. According to Dr. Rajendran, the period indicates the very late phase of the Megalithic culture in South India. “Remnants of the Megalithic and the earlier Stone Age culture still exist among the primitive tribes”, he said. The Naga idols unearthed from the site are made of iron.

According to A. Sajna, a junior research fellow in the same department, who collaborated with Dr. Rajendran, the earliest phase of serpent worship can be traced to Iran, Egypt, Cambodia and the Indus Valley civilisation. “In Kerala, primitive forms of such worship are found among tribal people as elsewhere in India, pointing to the indigenous development of the practice. The characteristics of Naga worship are mentioned in various Vedas, Samhitas and in the Keralolpathi, and they show the ancient belief of our people.”

Ms. Sajna said the unbroken practice of serpent worship was evident from the Sarpa Kavu (sacred grove) and Chitrakoodam that have been common in the premises of most households from ancient times and later in temples. “The discovery of Naga idols made of iron, along with the Megalithic cultural remains definitely show greater antiquity in the origin of serpent worship”, she added.

In January this year, the Department of Archaeology discovered a Megalithic age cist burial ground at Thazhuthala in Kollam district. In the first major excavation undertaken by the Department of Archaeology in Kollam after the discovery of a cairn circle in 1990, three burial chambers, iron weapons, earthen vessels in black and red and remains of molten iron were unearthed.

Similar cists had been earlier discovered at Idukki, Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and the hilly regions south east of Kollam.

The period between 1000 BC and 500 AD is referred to as the Megalithic Culture in South India and is similar to the culture in Africa and Europe. The installation of big stones at burial grounds is a typical feature of this period as are earthen vessels, iron implements and iron ore.

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