When Romans wore Garibpet garnets

Evidence proves source of garnets exported from Arikamedu 2,000 years ago

Updated - February 16, 2018 05:08 pm IST

Published - February 15, 2018 07:56 am IST - HYDERABAD

 File photo of early historic site at Arikamedu, now protected by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), near Ariyankuppam in Puducherry.

File photo of early historic site at Arikamedu, now protected by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), near Ariyankuppam in Puducherry.

Telangana has not just been the source of diamonds from time immemorial. Researchers have now identified Garibpet in Kothegudem as a source of garnets that were crafted into jewellery for export to Rome and other places about 2000 years back. A recent paper published in TheJournal of Gemmology by a group of geologists and gemmologists reached the conclusion that garnets sourced from Garibpet were processed at Arikamedu in Tamil Nadu for export.

According to historians and archaeologists, the port city on the banks of the Ariyankuppam river functioned as a trade hub from the 1st Century to 7th Century AD. “All properties of materials from Arikamedu and Garibpet are consistent,” said Peterhausen (Germany)-based lead researcher Karl Schmetzer.

Garnets have been used as gemstones for ages and the name references their similarity to pomegranate seeds. A large number of garnets have been discovered during excavations in and around Arikamedu over the years, with the Pondicherry Museum having about 50,000 such garnets in its collection. Earlier, the garnets were speculated to be sourced from Odisha and Rajasthan in India, Bohemia in Czechoslovakia, and even Sri Lanka. But the recent paper has the heft to change this view.

Using trace elements data from composition analysis, inclusion studies, electron microprobe analysis and wavelength dispersion spectrometry carried out on samples from Garibpet as well as historic finds in Arikamedu, the researchers correlated their origin and the processing site.

The scientific correlation study also opens up avenues for archaeologists and historians. It will change the perception of the 6th Century travelogue left behind by the Greek merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes.

The authors sought to establishing whether the text by Cosmas Indicopleustes, written in the mid-6th Century AD, refers to the shipment of Garibpet garnets from harbours located on the Coromandel coast at or close to Arikamedu. “Bead production at Arikamedu stopped in the 17th Century. So, we can assume that the samples examined were manufactured before this period.

However, the stratigraphy of Arikamedu is extremely complicated and the different levels are difficult to date. We tried to collaborate with the director of Pondicherry Museum, but unfortunately, he had no interest at all,” says Mr. Schmetzer.

According to the authors: “A Byzantine garnet, engraved with a Christian motif and dated to the end of the 6th Century or beginning of the 7th century AD, has shown consistency with the Garibpet material in average chemical composition, chemical zoning, inclusion assemblage and inclusion zoning”.

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