A team of scientists from Department of Advanced Zoology and Biotechnology of Sri Paramakalyani College, Alwarkurichi have found new burial sites in the western parts of the district in Tamil Nadu, all belonging to the prehistoric era.
Tirunelveli district, blessed with the perennial Tamirabharani river and its tributaries, is believed to be a favourable spot for human settlement in the prehistoric periods. Archaeological excavations done by Alexander Rea in 1899 and the Archaeological survey of India in recent years at Aditchanallur, a hamlet situated on Tamirabharani basin, and excavation of ancient port of Korkai, have exposed how megalithic period or an earlier period of human civilization had got deep roots in this district.
The ancient burial urns excavated from Aditchanallur has confirmed the methodology of the burial practice mentioned in a ‘sangam' period Tamil literature ‘Manimekalai,' one of the twin epics of post-sangam period. ‘Manimekalai' enumerates the different modes of disposing of the dead, namely, those who cremate (suduvor), those who simply expose the body and leave it to decay (Iduvar), those who entomb the dead in strong low vaults (Thaazhvayin-adaippor) and those who put it in urns and cover them up (Tazhiyir-kavippor).
The urn burial sites found in the district indicate the uniqueness of the early inhabitants in this district. In the present observation by A.J.A. Ranjitsingh, Head, Department of Advanced Zoology and Biotechnology, Sri Paramakalyani College, Alwarkurichi and his team comprising scholars K.R. Narayanan, M.R. Sudhakaran and A. Murugan have found the presence of burial sites belonging to megalithic or prior to megalithic period in the hillocks adjacent to Western Ghats in Sivasailam forest area of Ambasumudram Taluk in the district and along the basin of the river Karunai (Ghadana river) originating from Western Ghats in this area.
“The findings may revolutionise theories about ancient settlers and origin of ancient culture in Tamil Nadu,” Dr. Ranjitsingh told The Hindu.
Technology of megalithic potters
“In our survey we have noticed the presence of several megalithic burial sites and broken pieces of clay wares and burial urns. Our mission is to understand the technology adopted by megalithic potters to produce fine quality clay utensils with beautiful red and black colour and to understand the technique of creating mega size burial urns, which are different from clay storage chambers called ‘Kuthir,' used to store food grains (more than 300 kg of paddy) in the houses of villagers.
The burial urns were found in the hillocks of Govindaperi – Meenakshipuram zone and the Karunai river basin, Paappaankulam, Kakkanallur, Kalyanipuram, Vellikulam, Adaichany, Valluthoor and Ambur. Few other places like Valluthoor, Pananchadi, and Rengasamudram, which is 5 km away from the river basin, provide valuable information on early human settlement. Of these several locations Kakanallur is a major site, where burial urns are found in several acres of land inside the village and on the northern banks of the Karunai river,” Dr. Ranjitsingh says.
The presence of burial urns on the hilly terrains and rock surrounded localities is really interesting information for future analysis as this may indicate the migratory routes of people through the hills before settling along the river basins. The presence of an urn containing the remains of the buried persons can be located by stones put in circular formation amidst which perennial shrub Leucas sp (Thumbai) is seen, as this flower is referred on several occasions in the ‘sangam' literatures.
Below these stone circles at a depth of 1 – 2 metres, clay ellipsoidal burial urns are seen with the measurements: Size: 2 feet – 4.6 feet height; capacity: 160000 cm3; depth: 80 cm; mouth diameter: 150 cm and decoration in the neck of the pot: dotted and lined.
Close to the clay urn in many locations the presence of mini-pots (‘kollikudam') has been noticed. As the number of small pots varied in different locations, it may indicate the number of sons of the buried person who had performed the last rites in some urns these potsherds are seen inside the urns.
Many megalithic smaller bowls in red and black colour were seen inside the urns. The lids in the pots and bowls are airtight and very precisely designed to cover the opening.
Researcher in clay pottery A. Murugan wonders about the thinness of the potsherds with multi-colours and said no present day potters can do this type of work without mould and instruments.
“They had also used some sharp instruments to make some lines and markings in the neck of the burial urns that showed their interest in art. So far, there is no writing or scribbling seen in this area. This make us to think that people lived in this zone may be earlier to Brahmi script developmental age or may be illiterate. But in the burial urns collected in the Aditchanallur showed Brahmi script, so people lived in the Karunai river basin must be earlier to their civilization,” Dr. Ranjitsingh adds.
On the northern bank of Karunai river in Kakanallur region extensive area of megalithic burial sites are seen. These burial sites can be seen in rocky terrains with intermittent soft soils. Entire Kakanallur area has a lot of burial urns in the fields and also in the hills adjacent to the river. The burial urns located in the hillocks are 1 – 2 meters deep below the surface.
Some of the urns contained bones, skull bones, rib bones, femur bones, jaw bones with intact teeth and remains of other bones were seen. “These remains of the bones and molar teeth are to be studied with carbon dating and DNA analysis so as to find out the race of the people who were buried,” Dr. Ranjitsingh says.