A dead city beneath a living village

From a non-descript village, Keezhadi has gained an indispensible place in the history map of India.

August 19, 2015 05:16 pm | Updated May 16, 2017 02:15 pm IST - MADURAI:

UNEARTHING HISTORY: Ancient brick structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi.  Photo: R. Ashok

UNEARTHING HISTORY: Ancient brick structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi. Photo: R. Ashok

As we enter the lush coconut farm at Keezhadi, a small hamlet in Sivaganga district, the tall trees sway in the breeze. But there is more to it inside this private farm. This is the place where an important part of Tamil history is being unearthed now by the Archaeological Survey of India. A set of four dozen square trenches have been dug out, to reveal what archaeologists call as one of the biggest human habitations of Sangam Age known so far. Just peep into them and you travel 3000 years back in time! Vadivel, the site supervisor, gives us a tour of the trenches which are neatly scooped out square pits, containing parts of homes like brick walls, wells, storages and mud vaults, pottery of various kinds and purposes and shells, glass, beads, rusted old coins, weapons and small tools made of bones and Iron, embedded in layers of soil.

As we walk around the trenches, peering down into them, one of the villagers engaged in contract work to dig the place, stretches her hand out from inside the pit. “This looks like a new find,” she says holding a thin off-white bangle. “This is a damaged bangle made of seashell. And it has a design carved on it,” observes Vadivel. This is how discoveries are made at an excavation camp, unplanned and unexpected! You just stumble upon history every now and then. Ever since last February, when the ASI started excavating the place, they have found something new everyday. “This project is a huge success. It’s astounding how this place has so much to offer. It must have been a big human settlement area,” says K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, the superintending archaeologist. “Now, close your eyes and visualise a city right here,” he says. It is indeed stupendous to imagine that the trees of Keezhadi stand on an old city.

Historians are on euphoria about the major find and postulate that Keezhadi could redraw the past of Madurai and push its antiquity by well over a millennium. “Through comparative dating, we place this site to be belonging to the 3rd Century B.C., which is over 2,500 years ago. However, the exact age can be arrived at only after carbon dating,” says Amarnath, who has worked on excavations in research of Indus Valley Civilisation in parts of Gujarat.

In a year-long survey conducted in 2013, the state Archaeology department had identified nearly 293 Sangam Age towns along the course of river Vaigai. “Our field of research included areas that fell within five kilometres from the river on both the banks, starting from the place of Vaigai’s origin in Theni district to the very end of the river in Ramanathapuram district,” says archaeologist Dr. V. Vedachalam. The places were classified as granaries, trading points, ports, habitation sites and living or dilapidated temples. Excavations were carried out at Varushanad in Theni and Azhagankulam in Ramnad.

The excavation at Keezhadi has been carried out at two localities in the farm. “Both the places have yielded different items and we presume they represent a social hierarchy,” says Amarnath. The bigger of the two locations with more number of trenches is said to be a settlement of educated rich people, as many jewellery, fine game stones, semi-precious stones and a dozen Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been found. “Even the brick structures appear more refined.” Beads of agate, Carnelian and quartz indicate that they had trade link with countries like Rome. The Tamil Brahmi letters found on pottery is all names of individuals such as, Thisan, Aadhan and Udhiran. “They are typical Sangam Age Tamil names,” says Amarnath.

The second locality has more of graffiti on pottery, bone tools and iron weapons. “We have got the fish symbol, both as an art and as a ‘sign representing a clan,” says Vadivel. Red-and-black pottery, groove tiles used for laying roofs and the typical flat brick measuring 38 centimetres are the other indications that the city unearthed belongs to the Sangam Age. “Keezhadi could as well be the ‘Peru Manalur’, the city of Sangam Pandiyas mentioned in literature,” suggests Amarnath.

The excavation project is expected to be completed by September end and after taking samples, the site will be handed over to the owners. Keezhadi is open to public and students to visit till then.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.