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Excavations highlight Malabar maritime heritage

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A brick structure resembling a floor or platform, with pits dug into the bricks, possibly part of a storage space, unearthed at Pattanam.
A brick structure resembling a floor or platform, with pits dug into the bricks, possibly part of a storage space, unearthed at Pattanam.

C. Gouridasan Nair

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Further proof of the rich maritime heritage of the Malabar coast has been brought to light by excavations undertaken by the Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR) at Pattanam near Kodungalloor.

A team of archaeologists has unearthed a wharf with dugout canoe, Roman pottery, West Asian ceramics, beads made of semi-precious stones and brick structures. Multidisciplinary research

Experts in archaeo-zoology, palaeobotany, archaeo-chemistry and physics, underwater archaeology and metallurgy, and from State and national level research institutions are involved in the excavations, which have thrown up enough indications that the site was first occupied by the indigenous megalithic (Iron Age) people. This was followed by Roman contact in the Early Historic Phase. The locality appears to have been occupied in the early medieval period, which implies continuous habitation of the area from 2nd BC to 10th Century AD. Confirmation by way of radiocarbon dating is awaited, says KCHR director P. J. Cherian.

Habitation evidence

According to him, one significant achievement of the excavation is that habitation evidence of the megalithic people could be reported for the first time in Kerala. Although there are innumerable megalithic burial sites in the State, not a single habitation site has been reported to this day. 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 contact to this place. It is probable that these contacts started during the iron-megalithic transition phase."

The maritime contacts of this region during the Early Historic Period, as evidenced by the large number of Roman amphora sherds, and Sassanian, Yemenite and other West Asian pottery seem to be 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 to the more urban character of the site. The variation in brick architecture, the appearance of Islamic pottery and the profusion of glass beads are clear pointers to continued habitation of the area into the early medieval period. From the evidence available, the site seems to have remained unoccupied or deserted between the 10th and 18th centuries. If this is confirmed, it may provide a greater insight into the geological and regional history of the area, says Dr. Cherian.

The important finds from the site include human bones, a brick wall and storage jars, Chera coins, a brick platform, a ring well, a wharf with bollards and a six-metre dugout canoe. The KCHR archaeological research will be extended offshore and to other waterbodies in the area. It is also proposed to undertake underwater exploration with the help of the Southern Naval Command, Kochi.


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