They were trenches from which you could not take your eyes off. In one trench, a big quartz block jutted out of the wall while smaller ones lay here and there. A few feet away was a stone anvil where these quartz blocks were cut into smaller sizes. Around the anvil lay scattered quartz chips glittering in the sun.
In the second trench, superbly cut barrel and disc-shaped quartz pieces lay in heaps. There was pottery jutting out of the trench wall. Two big circular kilns lay exposed on the third trench’s floor, where beads and pendants were made out of semi-precious stones such as quartz, carnelian, beryl, agate and black-cat eye. Near the kilns was a grooved stone where these rough-outs were rubbed and polished.
A superbly crafted pot — a russet-coated ware — with wavy patterns cried for attention nearby. Stone blocks, and quartz rough-outs and chips lay around in the fourth trench.
Kodumanal in Erode district, Tamil Nadu, never stops surprising archaeologists. In the seventh season of excavation in April and May this year, these four trenches have unravelled a complete gemstone industry, showcasing the stages involved in the manufacture of beads out of quartz, carnelian, agate, jasper, garnet, soapstone etc.
About 100 metres away, five more trenches have been dug, which have laid bare copper-smelting furnaces. The floors are covered with soot and ash. In the crucibles are found copper encrustation. There are telltale marks of tuyeres having been used. It is not surprising that pieces of broken copper bowls (probably high-tin bronze), with perforations, were found in a megalithic cist-burial exposed about half a km away this season.
The five trenches themselves yielded a bonanza of pottery with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions.
K. Rajan, Professor of History, Pondicherry University, and Director of Excavation at Kodumanal, called the unravelling of the gemstone industry, through the various stages of manufacture, “a significant discovery of this year’s excavation.” The discovery confirmed the findings of the previous excavations that Kodumanal prospered as an industrial and trade centre that made iron and steel, textiles, bangles out of shells and exquisite beads.
Dr. Rajan said: “The occurrence of gemstone, iron, steel, copper-smelting, conch-shell and textile industries suggest that this site survived as one of the important trade-cum-industrial centres from fifth century BCE (Before the Common Era) to first century BCE. The bustling industrial activity brought traders, artisans and skilled labourers from different parts of India to Kodumanal. The occurrence of a large number of Tamil-Brahmi inscribed potsherds with names of north Indian origin with Prakrit affiliation, such as ‘ tissa ’, ‘ …ba sa ba … ’ and ‘ Kuvira ’, supports this view. The raw material for carnelian and agate beads came from Gujarat and Maharashtra. More than 500 Tamil-Brahmi inscribed potsherds have been collected in seven seasons of excavation and about 100 of these have come from the present excavation alone. The availability of 500 inscribed potsherds at Kodumanal is the highest-ever found in any site in the Indian subcontinent.”
Charcoal samples collected from depths of 60 cm, 80 cm and 120 cm from different trenches at Kodumanal and sent for accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating were dated to 275 BCE, 330 BCE and 408 BCE respectively, he said. The Arizona AMS Laboratory and Beta Analytic, both in the U.S., did the dating. “Cultural deposits available this year from a depth of 180 cm may push back the date by a century. In all probability, the site would have survived for about 500 years between fifth century BCE and first century BCE,” the Professor said.
Another highlight of the present excavation is the discovery of two pieces of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) with a superbly dazzling silver hue, manufactured in mid-Ganga Valley of Uttar Pradesh. Elite people used this pottery as tableware. The NBPW was extant in the mid-Ganga Valley from seventh century BCE to second century. “This NBPW could have reached Kodumanal either for trade or could have been in the personal possession of a trader, suggesting that cultural contacts existed between Kodumanal and the Gangetic Valley.
“In Kodumanal’s archaeological context, one NBPW piece is datable to third century BCE because the AMS date of 275 BCE is available just below where this NBPW was found. Another is datable to fifth century BCE,” Dr. Rajan said.
Yet another highlight was the opening of a megalithic cairn circle with cist-burial that yielded carnelian and bauxite beads, and micro beads of less than five mm in diameter.
Others who took part in the Kodumanal excavation included archaeologists V.P. Yathees Kumar, S. Selvakumar, T. Subramanian, R. Ramesh, P. Balamurugan and G. Pauldurai.
The latest excavations confirm that Kodumanal was a prosperous industrial and trade centre that made iron and
steel, textiles, bangles out of shells and exquisite beads