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Pattanam excavation: more role sought for local community

Things will improve when museum is readied, say officials

September 09, 2022 08:18 pm | Updated 08:18 pm IST - KOCHI

There is mixed response to the decision of the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) to appoint a manager (administration-cum-finance) for a year’s contract at its Pattanam regional centre, which is part of the Muziris Heritage Project (MHP), what with former KCHR director P.J. Cherian terming it as a move that could lessen the role of the local community in excavation work at Pattanam.

The local community was conceived as managers and sentinels of the site, with professionals playing a low-profile role as facilitators rather than administrators to conserve the site. Hence, members of the local community ought to be ideally considered for KCHR office assistance at Pattanam. The local community seems to have little role now, Mr. Cherian, who is now director of PAMA Institute for the Advancement of Transdisciplinary Archaeological Sciences, said in a letter to Minister for Higher Education R. Bindhu. It is a non-profit research organisation that was spearheading the Muziris excavations. 

Mohanjo-daro of South India

“As director of PAMA, I have repeatedly pleaded for [its] intervention to transform Pattanam, nothing less than the Mohanjo-daro of South India, into a knowledge hub and model heritage site, over the past seven years. But as a resident of Pattanam, I have seen that KCHR activities in Pattanam have been largely stagnant during this time span. In addition, a globally-recognised interdisciplinary PG diploma programme in archaeology was stopped, and Muziris Children’s Museum that exhibited original remains of Pattanam in a scientifically climate-controlled environment was disbanded,” Mr. Cherian said.

“The agency has also declined an offer from the Centre to set up a weather station free of cost. In addition, a multi-purpose archaeological science lab with advanced equipment offered at a cost of $8 million from the Palace Museum Laboratory in Beijing was abandoned,” Mr. Cherian added.

PAMA was also stopped from conducting excavations in KCHR plots. This is not how advanced science projects are managed elsewhere. The latest instance, of applications being invited for a manager post, is like treating the Pattanam regional centre as one just to be “administered”, rather than as an avenue of world-class research, he added.

Museum awaited

Meanwhile, sources in the KCHR said the construction of a museum to house exhibits, under the MHP, is under way at Pattanam. It is expected to be readied by December. Machinery and equipment for the weather station and the laboratory can be installed only after that. Post-excavation works are on at the site, and visitors are being shown videos and posters since the museum is not yet ready, they said.

A top stakeholder who was associated with the Pattanam project said excavations must continue at the site, despite “differences” among historians. “Moreover, a manager being appointed need not mean that the local community is kept away from the excavation work. What I understand is that matters are belatedly getting organised at the locale, after a break,” he said.

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