Kerala

Fate of Pattanam hangs in the balance

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Focus now on historically contextualising the findings, says expert

The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), which carried out nine seasons of archaeological excavations at Pattanam, north of Ernakulam, exhuming artefacts pointing to the place’s links with various ancient civilisations, will now focus on contextualising the findings in history.

This will mean that the excavations, suspended for two seasons now, will continue to be on hold until “a proper analytical and comprehensive historical study is done on the archaeological evidence,” says historian Rajan Gurukkal, chairman of the advisory council of the KCHR.

The Pattanam excavations, carried out under KCHR founding director P.J. Cherian had drawn international attention and collaboration for throwing up evidence that suggested the place’s ancient trade links with regions spanning south of China to the Spanish Catalan region, which was part of the Roman Empire. While historians remained at loggerheads over whether the erstwhile port of Muziris was located here and whether the region was an urban centre and not just another Roman colony, there was no disputing the significance of the artefacts unearthed from the archaeological site.

In 2015, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) refused to renew the licence for continued excavations at Pattanam. But when the licence was subsequently renewed, Mr. Cherian’s services as director of the KCHR were terminated by the State government in November 2016, against the recommendation of then KCHR chairman to extend the service for another four years from June 1, 2016.

This brought the curtains on Pattanam, where Mr. Cherian was leading the seasonal excavation.

In the meantime, historian K.N. Panikkar’s term as chairman of the KCHR ended and he was replaced by P.K. Michael Tharakan. Last week, M.S. Jaya, collegiate education director, who is holding the additional charge of director of the KCHR, consulted eminent historians and archaeologists, including Rajan Gurukkal and Shereen Ratnagar, for an evaluation of the Pattanam findings so that there could be some headway.

“From the compilation of reports, it is understood that KCHR has carried out a proper scientific archaeological study at Pattanam over the nine seasons. The artefacts unearthed have also been scientifically examined. But there has been no historical analysis of the study,” says Mr. Gurukkal.

Locus approach

“The Pattanam region has no mounds, and the waterlogged area overtime has seen shifting of landmasses, which makes it a little difficult for archaeological exploration. Moreover, it is densely populated, too. The locus approach adopted by the KCHR, while best suited for the area, has limited scope as it is similar to ‘antiquity hunting’ and not targeted exploration. The reports have all been material/ artefact-oriented. Therefore, the immediate requirement is to place the findings in an anthropological, historical context. A call on resuming excavations could be taken after that,” he says.

Ms. Jaya says the expert committee will meet again, together with Mr. Cherian, who has now been engaged as consultant for the Pattanam project, to chalk out a roadmap.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 9:21:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/fate-of-pattanam-hangs-in-the-balance/article19566224.ece

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