An ongoing excavation of a Sangam period habitation by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is poised to throw more light on the flourishing trade of the Pandyas with the west and their rich culture, which was the envy of the Romans.
The Bengaluru-based Excavation Branch VI of the ASI has taken up the excavation at Keezhadi village, 12 km south east of Madurai, in Sivaganga district.
Into the third month, the exercise has already thrown up very interesting antiquities – glass/pearl/terracotta beads; terracotta figurines; grooved roof tiles and early historic pottery.
“This is the ASI’s major excavation in Tamil Nadu after Adichanallur,” says K. Amarnath Ramakrishnan, Superintending Archaeologist and director of the current excavation.
Keezhadi was chosen after an exploration carried out through 2013-14 in 293 sites along the Vaigai river valley in Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts.
It was found to possess archaeological wealth “that may provide crucial evidence to understand the missing links of Iron Age to early historic period and subsequent cultural developments.”
The excavation area, a mound, referred to as ‘Pallichandai Thidal,’ has a circumference of 3.5 km and spans 80 acres. It is contiguous to ancient settlements like Konthagai and Manalur. “We chose the mound raising about one to 2.5 metres above the ground level as it is relatively undisturbed,” says Mr. Amarnath. “We have found the finest variety of black and red ware bowls at the site,” says M. Rajesh, assistant archaeologist.
The most interesting findings in the 32 quadrants dug up so far are the damaged brick structures, including walls. The bricks are unique to early historic period and they measure 33 cm in length, 21 cm in breadth and five cm in height.
Noted epigraphist and domain expert for the excavation, V. Vedachalam, attributes the age of the remains to third century BCE to third CE. “The earthenware contains Tamil Brahmi script. The black and red pottery belongs to the Sangam period. The bricks belong to early historic period and similar ones were found in Kaviripoompattinam, Woriyur, Alagankulam and Korkai,” he says.
The presence of a number of large handmade grooved tiles suggests that the brick structures had a super structure with tiled roof, according to N. Veeraraghavan, assistant archaeologist.
The Roman ware found at the site supplement the historical references to a flourishing trade between the Pandya kingdom and the Roman Empire. Historically, these settlements would have been part of Kuntidevi Chaturvedimangalam, named after a Pandya queen.
The first major excavation of a habitation undertaken by the ASI in south Tamil Nadu will go into 2016. “The Director (Exploration and Excavation), ASI, Syed Jamal Hasan, who visited the site on May 15, was impressed with the findings,” says Mr. Amarnath.
The ASI is likely to extend the period of excavation by a year. The final report will be released after corroborating the antiquities with existing evidence and conducting various scientific analyses.
Research scholars from the University of Madras and Government Arts College, Krishnagiri, assist the ASI team in the excavation.