Kerala historians at loggerheads over archaeological findings at Pattanam

Updated - November 16, 2021 07:07 pm IST

Published - May 28, 2014 12:15 pm IST - Kochi

Kerala’s historians are not on the same page on the nature of what existed at Pattanam — the state’s only scientific archaeological excavation site rich in historical value.

KCHR’s sustained efforts, in which over 36 sample artifacts from the site were examined by way of radiocarbon dating, stratigraphic correlations and typological assessments, demonstrated the antiquity of the objects, hinting at the existence of a flourishing trade centre in the region.

The multidisciplinary team has dug up through eight seasons a wharf with a canoe; remains of brick structures in thousands; triple-grooved tile foundations; toilet features indicating a respect for privacy, a modern tenet for an ancient society; storage jars; semi-precious stones and beautiful personal adornment items meant for export; and huge quantities of fine local pottery, as KCHR director P.J. Cherian who heads the excavations puts it.

“The site contains 99 per cent local material and pottery. We have also unearthed carnelian cameo blanks besides crucibles suggesting an industrial context and metallurgical activity,” he says. “This season saw experts from the Palace Museum at Peking stay here for a month and study Chinese pottery dug up here. We’ve sought their help in putting together a scientific pottery database for Kerala and South India. This is important to fix their age and understand our culture.”

Mr. Cherian says vessels that arrived for trade were anchored outside, with smaller feeder vessels operating between the wharf and the cargo ships. “So, we can’t expect to unearth a big wharf here, but there could be smaller ones.” Evidence relating to Pattanam, including chunks of pottery, could still be buried between Chettuva and Cheranalloor, he argues.

While historian and academic Rajan Gurukkal throws his weight behind the ‘salvage of historic relics at Pattanam’ by KCHR given the sites disturbance due to continual human habitation and activity, he thinks it was no more than a colony of merchants from the Mediterranean. “The abundance of material from the Mediterranean suggests that traders arrived here using favourable monsoon winds and returned using the next after short sojourns,” he says. Feeder vessels transported them between their ships and the wharf, but it would be incorrect to say that it was a sophisticated port in an urban setting. The place did not have any evolved administration nor any sophistication. I believe it was Muziris. Had it been elsewhere, Pattanam wharf and colony would’ve found a mention in available records, he says.

Historian MGS Narayanan, who insists Muziris got marooned in the floods in AD 1341, categorically rules out Pattanam as Muziris, calling for fresh surveys to locate the lost port. He discounts the findings saying amphora shards are available all along the west coast. Citing Sangam poetry, he argues Muziris existed at the mouth of the Periyar river and could have been near Kodungallur.

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