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Pattanam throws open many questions: Romila Thapar

Staff Reporter
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: The Pattanam excavation, apart from being bigger and wider than similar projects here, was significant in that it offered evidence that stressed the need to go deeper and closely into the trade connections the site had with the Eastern Mediterranean region, said historian Romila Thapar.

Releasing the seventh season report of the Pattanam excavation by the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) by handing over a copy to KCHR chairman K.N. Panikar here on Thursday, Dr. Thapar said the involvement of the Roman economy in the trade here, the nature of commercial exchanges and so on, for which the findings at Pattanam were evidence, had to be studied more closely.

Pointing out that Pattanam’s significance was that it suggested direct maritime connections with the ports of the Red Sea, Dr. Thapar said historians still had a great deal to do with Pattanam. The nature of the settlement there, for instance, was one to be explored. Whether it was just a warehouse, or where goods were produced for trade, or whether it was a port or a site that had sequential historical development – were all matters of intrigue. The innumerable shards of amphorae (wine jars), for instance, threw open questions whether a liking for wine was deliberately cultivated in the local people, or whether these shards were just remnants of wine jars that were used for ballast in ships. The percentage of Indian pottery at the site, in contrast to imported pottery too was important, she said, adding that Pattanam, indeed, was a turning point for studies into India’s maritime relations.

Dr. Thapar, however, expressed her reservations on the use of ancient DNA sampling techniques, raising doubts whether there was the danger of bacterial contaminations or mutations in samples taken from skeletons that were buried for over 2,000 years. Stating that the excavation of Pattanam would not be sufficient and that historians would have go further to find more roots, and details such as what was the language spoken in Pattanam, how their social life was, whether they had their own shrines, whether the traders mixed socially, or did they convert the locals, and since the chances were that Pattanam was a port, what were the connections with the hinterland and more importantly, what were the region’s contacts with the outer world, particularly with regions like Alexandria and Sri Lanka.

KCHR director P.J. Cherian, who made a presentation on the report and the present status, said the Council proposed international fellowships to widen the scope of the excavation, apart from initiating participatory site conservation efforts too.


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