• In Depth

Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

UNEARTHING HISTORY: Ancient brick structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi.  Photo: R. Ashok

UNEARTHING HISTORY: Ancient brick structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi. Photo: R. Ashok

In 2013-14, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) carried out explorations in 293 sites along the Vaigai river valley in Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts. Keezhadi in Sivaganga district was chosen for excavation and artefacts unearthed by the ASI in the second phase of the excavation at Pallichanthai Thidal of Keezhadi pointed to an ancient civilisation that thrived on the banks of the Vaigai.

Carbon dating of charcoal found at the Keezhadi site in February 2017 established that the settlement there belonged to 200 BC. The excavations thus proved that urban civilisation had existed in Tamil Nadu since the Sangam age.

The Union Ministry of Culture has announced that the third phase of excavation will begin in this month and go on for three years and ₹40 lakh has been sanctioned.

Meanwhile, the transfer of K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist, Excavations Branch (Bangalore), ASI, who has been overseeing the excavation work in Keezhadi, at a crucial juncture kicked up a storm recently..

The delay in approval, which ought to have happened in October last, and the alleged reluctance of the Central government in continuing the excavation kicked up a controversy and evoked widespread condemnation by various political parties, writers and film personalities in Tamil Nadu.

Here we give you a peek into what this excavation means for Tamil Nadu and the details of what the excavation has yielded till now.

 

Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Keeladi: Unearthing the 'Vaigai Valley' Civilisation of Sangam era Tamil Nadu

The excavation site at Keeladi.

The excavation site at Keeladi.

In the last week of September 2019, Keerthi Jeyaraj, Director of EduRight Foundation, flew from Texas, the U.S., to Pallichandai Thidal, a nondescript mound at the far end of Keeladi, a tiny hamlet located 12 km southeast of the historic city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The next week, three Sri Lankan Tamils arrived at the same spot. It was their second visit to the excavation site. Also on his way by rail was Chennai-based documentary filmmaker Amshan Kumar. To accommodate these , a temporary parking lot was created in Keeladi. A stall selling snacks and coffee sprung up at what looked like a new picnic spot.

An astonishing 1.16 lakh people visited the site between September 20 and October 10. The visitors flocked to the hamlet in curiosity and fascination following the (SDA) on September 18. Earlier, carbon samples from Keeladi had been sent to the Beta Analytic Lab in Miami, Florida, for carbon dating, a widely accepted tool to ascertain the age of archaeological and historical remains. The Lab had found that the cultural deposits unearthed during the fourth excavation at Keeladi in Sivaganga district could be safely dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE. These place Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than previously believed.

 

Findings over the years

The began to unravel in March 2015. The first round of excavation, undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), unearthed antiquities that “may provide crucial evidence to understanding the missing links of the Iron Age [12th century BCE to 6th century BCE] to the Early Historic Period [6th century BCE to 4th century BCE] and subsequent cultural developments.”

The second round (2016) threw up strong clues about the existence of a Tamil civilisation that had trade links with other regions in the country and abroad. This civilisation has been described by Tamil poets belonging to the Sangam period. (Tamil Sangam, an assembly of poets, had its seat in Madurai between 4th century BCE and 2nd century BCE. The works of this period are collectively called Sangam Literature). This round was significant as it provided archaeological evidence about what was found in Tamil literature. Results of carbon dating of a few artefacts, which were released in February 2017, traced their existence to 2nd century BCE (the Sangam period).

 

The third round (2017) saw a delayed start. First, the excavation report was submitted late. Then the Superintending Archaeologist, , in a perceived attempt to play down the excavation findings. Keeladi almost faded from public memory as there was no “significant finding” in the third round. This led to criticism that the excavation had been deliberately restricted to 400 metres. On the intervention of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, ASI permitted the SDA to take up further excavation on its own. Thus, the excavations in the fourth round were carried out by the SDA.

In the fourth round (2018), 5,820 antiquities were found. These included brick structures, terracotta ring wells, fallen roofing with tiles, golden ornaments, broken parts of copper objects, iron implements, terracotta chess pieces, ear ornaments, spindle whorls, figurines, black and redware, rouletted ware and a few pieces of Arretine ware, besides beads made of glass, terracotta and semi-precious stones.

 

A sense of history

The recent dating is very significant, says K. Rajan, archaeologist at the Department of History, Pondicherry University. “Based on radiometric dates recovered from archaeological sites like Kodumanal, Alagankulam and Porunthal [all in Tamil Nadu], we know that Tamili [the Tamil-Brahmi script] was dated to 5th century BCE. But the recent scientific dates obtained from the Keeladi findings push back the date by another century,” he writes in the SDA publication,

 

Commenting on the Keeladi findings, Dilip K. Chakrabarti, Emeritus Professor of South Asian Archaeology, Cambridge University, observes in an e-mail note sent to Rajan on September 26 that the recent excavations conducted in the State, including in Kodumanal and Porunthal, which have been “strengthened by a large number of radiocarbon dates, have brought about a sea-change in our understanding of the archaeological developments in Tamil Nadu, taking our gaze from megalithic burials and the finds of Roman coins to megalithic habitation sites and their chronological developments.”

The , was a game changer. The SDA plunged into “guided excavation” using the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Survey, the Magnetometer Survey and the Ground Penetrating Radar Survey. “We wanted to blend technology with traditional wisdom in Keeladi. The lessons learnt are significant and the results are good. We are positioning archaeology as a multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary area of knowledge,” says T. Udhayachandran, Principal Secretary, Department of Archaeology. Guided excavation has led to the discovery of a lot of structures this round. The report for this is being prepared.

 

The Vaigai Valley Civilisation

The Keeladi findings have led academics to describe the site as part of the Vaigai Valley Civilisation. The findings have also invited comparisons with the Indus Valley Civilisation. A researcher of the Indus Valley Civilisation and retired civil servant, R. Balakrishnan, points to the similarities in urban planning between the Indus Valley and Keeladi. Rajan refers to the cultural gap of 1,000 years between the two places: “This cultural gap is generally filled with Iron Age material in south India. The graffiti marks encountered in Iron Age sites of south India serve as the only residual links between the Indus Valley Civilisation and south India.” Some of the symbols found in pot sherds of Keeladi bear a close resemblance to Indus Valley signs. Graffiti marks are found in earthenware, caves and rocks in or near the excavation sites of Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Brahmi script, found engraved on the outer surface or the shoulder of black and red earthenware in Keeladi, carries personal names, say archaeologists. According to the SDA report, “One of the sherds carries the vowel ‘o’ at the beginning of the name which is rarely found in both cave and pottery inscriptions.”

Udhayachandran affirms that the qualification of Keeladi as an urban habitat cannot be questioned as it reflects all the characteristics of an urban civilisation, with brick structures, luxury items and proof of internal and external trade. An interesting feature of Keeladi is that it has not revealed any signs of religious worship in all the five rounds. Till now, it has been a tale of an industrious and advanced civilisation that celebrated life. The artefacts unearthed at Keeladi are evidence of this. Recent finds include seven gold ornaments, copper articles, gem beads, shell and ivory bangles, and brick structures that point to the existence of industrial units. Structures that could have been used to convey molten metal or filter liquid strongly point to the existence of people who were involved in industrial work.

The SDA report concludes that the “recent excavations and the dates arrived at scientifically clearly suggest that the people were living in Tamil Nadu continuously... and the Keeladi excavation [has] clearly ascertained that they attained literacy or learnt the art of writing [Tamil-Brahmi] in as early as 6th century BCE during [the] Early Historic Period.”

 

A sophisticated urban settlement

For Balakrishnan, Keeladi is significant for many reasons. It has given evidence of urban life and settlements in Tamil Nadu during the Early Historic Period. It was around this time that evidence for a second urbanisation started appearing in the Gangetic Valley. Keeladi has added greatly to the credibility of Sangam Literature. At the same time, he cautions that we should not feel intimidated by the ‘spatial-temporal gaps’ of 1,300 years and 1,500 km between the Indus Valley Civilisation and Keeladi.

To substantiate this point, he recalls the observations made by K. N. Dikshit in 1939 when he was Director General of ASI: “Considering that the conch shell, typical of the Indus Valley civilisation, and which seems to have been in extensive use in Indus cities, was obtained from [the] south-east coast of the Madras Presidency, it would not be too much to hope that a thorough investigation of the area in Tinnevelly District and the neighbouring regions such as the ancient seaport of Korkai will one day lead to the discovery of some site which would be contemporary with or even little later than the Indus civilisation.” This is exactly what has happened in Keeladi. Twenty-three bangle pieces made of shell and glass were found in the fourth round. Another Director General of ASI, B.B. Lal, had suggested in 1960 a possible link between the undeciphered Indus signs and the graffiti marks on black and red ware pottery of Tamil Nadu.

“Technology helped to fine-comb the search for structures in this round. The most significant find is the continuous brick structure that runs over 340 metres,” says B. Asaithambi, excavation in-charge at Keeladi. Over 900 antiquities, including unique signature Carnelian beads, were unearthed during this round.

At the end of the third round of excavations, an ASI official is said to have told a team of High Court judges who visited Keeladi that the excavated artefacts did not give a clear indication of the nature of settlement as urban or industrial.

But artefacts from the fourth round proved that Keeladi was indeed an urban habitation. Seventy samples of animal skeletal fragments, which were tested by the Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute, Pune, show 53% of them belonging to oxen, cows, buffaloes and goats. This indicates that the habitants were predominantly cattle-rearing people. Balakrishnan is excited about the presence of oxen and cows belonging to the species. The hump of the species is referred to as in Tamil literature, which later came to be known as . The grandeur of this species, which was also present in the Indus Valley, lies in its hump, points out Balakrishnan. is also the icon of the ancient sport or (embracing the bull), which was prevalent in villages around Keeladi. In this sport, now practised as jallikattu, the contestant is supposed to hold on to the hump of the bull inside the arena for a particular distance or period of time.

 

Analysis of samples of materials used in the construction of walls, sent to the Vellore Institute of Technology, has shown that every specimen contained elements like silica, lime, iron, aluminium and magnesium. “The long survival of these materials is due to the quality of material deployed in construction activities,” says the SDA report. More significant are the letters engraved on pots that clearly demonstrate the “high literacy level of the contemporary society that survived in 6th century BCE.”

It is inferred from the spectroscopic analysis of black and red ware by the Earth Science Department of Pisa University, Italy, that “the potters of Keeladi were familiar with the technique [of using carbon material for black colour and hematite for red] and knew the art of raising the kiln temperature to 1100°C to produce the typical black-and-red ware pottery.” They had also followed the same technique and materials from 6th century BCE to 2nd century BCE. “A few pottery samples of 2nd century BCE do contain earth content similar to that of other regions, thereby suggesting that they exchanged goods with neighbouring regions, probably through traders, craftsmen and visitors,” says the SDA report. The antiquities, taken together, suggest that the prime occupation of the people of Keeladi was agriculture, which was supplemented by the iron industry, carpentry, pottery-making and weaving.

Expanding sites

There is already a demand in the region to expand the excavation to more areas along the Vaigai so that there is archaeological evidence to prove the glory of life along the river in the ancient Pandya kingdom. Noted epigraphist V. Vedachalam supports the idea of an extended excavation beginning in Madurai. More evidence could be unearthed to re-establish the antiquity of Madurai and its relationship with towns and villages along the Vaigai. Su. Venkatesan, winner of the Sahitya Akademi award for his book on Madurai, and who represents Madurai in the Lok Sabha, wants the Union government to recognise Keeladi and its surrounding villages as a heritage cluster and declare Keeladi as a protected monument.

Udhayachandran says that the State government has already approached ASI to declare five villages — Keeladi, Agaram, Manalur, Konthagai (a burial site) and Pasiapuram — as the Keeladi cluster. The sixth round of excavation is expected to commence in mid-January. The State government has also decided to continue excavation in other sites and scientifically prove the link among places such as Adichanallur, Alagankulam and Mangulam.

Importance of carbon dating

Is carbon dating enough to establish Keeladi as the centre of the ‘Vaigai Valley Civilisation’ or connect it to the Indus Valley Civilisation? Researchers caution that unverified claims or positions may derail the effort at revisiting history. Udhayachandran says, “We have placed the available archaeological evidence before the intellectual community to ponder, discuss and arrive at a conclusion by comparing them with literary references.” He says more guidance and collaboration is required to come to conclusions on Keeladi. “It looks like we are sitting on a major city. We need corroborative evidence. We want to bring in more experts. People have a fundamental right to own history. That is why we have maintained transparency in the Keeladi excavations,” he says.

Recalling the late epigraphist Iravatham Mahadevan’s observations about the continuity of Indus legacies in old Tamil traditions, Balakrishnan says that the unassailable identical place name clusters suggest that the Indus civilisation and the recalled “flashback memories” of Sangam Tamil texts are closely interlocked. However, more excavations have to be carried out in the Vaigai and Tamirabarani regions to conclusively figure out how close the the Vaigai civilisation was to the Indus Valley in “temporal terms”. More excavations in the region are required, he says, along with timely submission of reports.

 

Many institutions of higher learning have come forward to collaborate with the SDA in the scientific analysis of Keeladi’s artefacts. Madurai Kamaraj University is in the process of finalising its plans to conduct a DNA analysis of bones. R.M. Pitchappan, renowned scientist who has worked as Regional Director for National Geographic Corporation’s Genographic Project, which traced the origin and migration of man, will be the mentor for the project. Madurai Kamaraj University, according to him, is now looking at the feasibility of setting up an ancient DNA laboratory in Madurai itself. “Human genomic data of thousands of people are available and scientists from institutions like the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, have past experience in analysis of this data. They can be roped in for interpretation. Technology for DNA sequencing is also available in the country. By comparing ancient DNA with the available samples, one can deconstruct the migrational story of Tamil Nadu in the pre-Sangam period,” says Pitchappan.

The Keeladi excavations have triggered a healthy debate on Indian civilisation and added value to the discipline of archaeology. “Till now, we have been deploying orthodox methods of excavation tempered with our intuition but now technology has given us more strength by proving that our intuitions are right,” says Asaithambi, who has earlier worked in Alagankulam excavation. Keeladi could well be a priceless piece in a massive geographic jigsaw puzzle.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Seventh phase of Keeladi excavation to wrap up soon

The storage jar with inward rim and the double-ringed ring well excavated at Keeladi site. Special Arrangement Special Arrangement

The storage jar with inward rim and the double-ringed ring well excavated at Keeladi site. Special Arrangement Special Arrangement

 

With six weeks left to wind up the seventh phase of excavations at Keeladi archaeological site, the place is abuzz with activity. There have been new finds almost every week this month. The new items unearthed include a big storage jar with unique features and a double-ringed well.

“The site is an absolute treasure trove of history. Everybody has worked hard at the site and the Keeladi findings have established the existence of a civilisation older than the Sangam era,” said B. Chandramohan, Secretary (Tourism, Culture and Religious Endowments).

“Unearthing an ancient Tamil civilisation dating between the 6th century BCE and the 1st century CE is interesting and intriguing,” he added.

The huge storage jar was found at a depth of 360 cm. Made of red slipped clay and grooved with a coir-like band, it has an in-turned two-cm-thick rim, not seen in the other storage jars that have been recovered till now, with outward rims and a coarse texture.

 

The red slipped wares are of extremely fine quality as the sun-dried pottery is dipped in purified liquid clay for a glazed coating and further polished for the gloss. The red slipped pottery is commonly used all over India but mostly as small earthen table wares. “The residue analysis has to be done to find the use of this jar in early civilisation,” said R. Sivanandam, Commissioner (FAC), Department of Archaeology.

So far, half of the jar had been exposed at 30 cm. Its smooth texture and the banded rope designs were unusual for this size, said Ajay Kumar, the archaeology officer on site.

The 45-cm-high ring well was covered with compact clay. Its second ring was found crumbled. Broken pieces of pottery were also found embedded in the soil inside the well. It indicated that groundwater might have dried up and the inhabitants used the ringwell for dumping items, he said.

Only one quadrant remains to be excavated at Keeladi. In the other eight quadrants of 15x18 feet size and 4.5 metres depth, the archaeologists have reached the ground level of natural soil, with no further trace of antiquities. The seventh phase conducted by the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology was started on February 13. The excavation has so far yielded 1,100-odd artefacts that project Keeladi as a flourishing trading hub.

The documentation of recovered items will begin after September 30.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Second ring well found at Agaram

The ring well with a diameter of 84 cm was unearthed at the Keeladi site on Thursday.

The ring well with a diameter of 84 cm was unearthed at the Keeladi site on Thursday.

In less than a month, a second terracotta ring well has been found at Agaram, six km away from the main Keeladi site, where excavations by Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology are in full swing.

With a diameter of 84 cm, the five-cm thick rim of the ring well was unearthed on Thursday evening. It was found at a depth of 125 cm below the lime deposit in the western part of quadrant C2/1.

In July, the first ring well was found in an adjacent quadrant, at a depth of 146 cm and at a distance of eight metres from the present one. Both the ring wells are similar to the ones excavated at Keeladi and belong to the early historical phase of Sangam era, according to Director of Excavations R. Sivanandam.

The excavation at Agaram is being carried out over two acres. The first season of activity started here as part of the sixth phase of Keeladi excavation in March 2020. The second season began in February this year with the seventh phase at Keeladi .

Among the various items excavated at Agaram so far include a hand-modelled terracotta animal figurine which was found last month, besides terracotta spindles, beads, semi-precious stones and microlithic tools, according to Archaeology Officer M. Ramesh.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

For the first time, Keeladi site yields iron dagger with wooden handle

The sample will be sent to Beta Analytical Lab, Florida, USA, for exact dating.

The sample will be sent to Beta Analytical Lab, Florida, USA, for exact dating.

An iron dagger with a wooden handle was found inside a burial urn unearthed at Konthagai village, which is part of the Keeladi cluster where the seventh phase of excavation is in full swing to establish the existence of an urban civilisation in the Sangam era.

The second season of digging started in February at Konthagai where 25 burial urns have been unearthed so far and 11 of them have been opened, according to R. Kaviya, one of the four Site Archaeology Officers. These urns measure 95 to 105 cm in height with a circumference of 80 cm. Some of the urns contained iron weapons, shaped like knives, and spears and small terracotta vessels.

The latest, a 40-cm-long iron dagger with 6-cm-long wooden handle was found at a depth of 77 cm. The urn filled with soil sediment had the five-cm-thick dagger, associated with femur bones, a skull and an offering pot.

It is a type used by warriors belonging to the Sangam period, contemporary to Keeladi dating, according to R. Sivanandam, Director of Keeladi Excavations. This was the first time that they had stumbled upon a weapon with a wooden handle, and it would be very useful for exact dating of the evidence found so far, he said.

Though extremely fragile, the wooden handle was preserved in rare natural phenomena and collected carefully in foil covers. The sample would be sent to Beta Analytical Lab, Florida, USA, for exact dating, added Mr. Sivanandam, who is also the Commissioner (FAC), Department of Archaeology.

 

The skeleton samples were handed over to experts at Madurai Kamaraj University, where a DNA testing laboratory is coming up.

Ms. Kaviya said the urn was found with a disturbed lid. The broken portion of the lid was retrieved inside the urn at a depth of 80 cm. There was a possibility that the broken portion of the urn lid fell on the iron dagger, as two urn lid pieces were found on either side of the dagger, which was also damaged.

The Keeladi excavations are being carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India under the supervision of Minister for Industries Thangam Thennarasu and B. Chandramohan, Principal Secretary, Tourism, Culture & Religious Endowments Department.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Silver coin found at Keeladi reveals economic activities of settlement

A silver coin that was dug out   at Keeladi recently.

A silver coin that was dug out at Keeladi recently.

A punch-marked silver coin that was dug out during the seventh phase of excavation at Keeladi last week has sent a wave of excitement among archaeologists, as they are further able to collate and establish trading activity of the civilisation believed to have flourished on the banks of Vaigai river more than 2,500 years ago.

The finding of a single punched-mark silver coin so far is stated to be unique. However, a similar semi-circular silver coin was excavated earlier, at a depth of 162 cm, during the fourth phase of excavation at Keeladi. The two coins suggest commercial activities belonging to the middle of the 4th century BCE, according to the director of Keeladi excavations, R. Sivanandam.

The latest coin was found at the base of layer three of the YP44/1 quadrant, almost touching the ground and was covered in thick green sediment. “Only after the coin was treated and we learnt the material is silver with figurines on one side and minor marks on the other, we came to know of its importance,” said Ajay Kumar, the archaeology officer at the site.

The designs on the coin, according to Mr. Sivanandam, who is also the Deputy Director, Department of Archaeology, are of the sun, moon, a bull, taurine, and another animal that resembles a dog on one side and a semi-circle with two small geometric L-shaped marks on the obverse. “It is proof that there was trading with north India, where such coins were in use in the 6th Century BCE,” he said and added, “The evidence is opening up the entire working system of the country in those times.”

The coin measuring 2.1 x 1.7 x 0.1 cm and weighing 2.2 g, was found at a depth of 146 cm. The shape, which is partly oval with rectangular edges on two sides, looks like a magnified drop. It indicates the time period of the Mauryan Empire. The chronology of punch-marked coins also vary from region to region.

Copper coins with markings were found at Kodumanal and Alagankulam during past excavations as well. “Each finding and information helps bridge the connection between the north and the south in the Gangetic valley,” Mr. Sivanandam told .

According to C. Santhalingam, retired archaeology officer, the excavation of beads, copper objects, northern black polished ware, semi-precious stones and punch-mark coins indicate that skilled people were importing raw materials, maybe from Gujarat and Afghanistan, and a flourishing making and cutting industry for jewels and other artefacts existed here. Any trading activity strongly establishes an urban civilisation,” he added.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

First ring well with design unearthed at Keeladi site

The first terracotta ring well with a design unearthed during seventh phase of excavation at Keeladi near Madurai on Tuesday.

The first terracotta ring well with a design unearthed during seventh phase of excavation at Keeladi near Madurai on Tuesday.

Every season of excavation at Keeladi archaeological site has unearthed ring wells, an indicator of the advanced water conservation technology that existed more than 2,000 years ago. But the recovery of a terracotta ring well with thumb impressions creatively carved on a band around its surface, ushered in a wave of excitement among the staff at work.

“So far we have excavated a dozen plain ring wells and this is the first one with an intricate design,” said M. Ramesh, one of the four Archaeological Officers (AO), who has been assigned to the Keeladi site from round one.

The ring well was traced at a depth of 126 cm in one of the eight pits dug for the seventh phase of excavation that resumed last month after the lockdown restrictions were lifted.

On Tuesday, three layers of the ring well were exposed. The height of the first ring is 44 cm with a diameter of 77 cm. The overall height of the ring well with a 2.5 cm thick rim is 79 cm. The second ring has a slightly differently designed band around the structure. It has depressions in the shape of small squares.

Aesthetic sense

Deputy Director of Archaeology and the director of Keeladi excavations R. Sivanandam said that the ring well with designs is a new find, indicating the aesthetic sense of people living in those times. “It is interesting to see how they used their creativity even on things of basic needs and necessity,” he said.

“We will dig up to a depth of 4.25 metre to see how deep the well is and if there are more such designs visible,” said Ajay Kumar, another AO. In the last phase, one ring well was excavated and fifth phase unearthed the highest at three.

The Keeladi ring wells also testify the science behind the structures. Each ring is designed with a locking system and they sit tightly one on top of the other, to prevent sand from getting in, considering Keeladi’s proximity to Vaigai river and the sandy terrain of the region, said Mr. Ramesh. He said that it can be presumed that the ring wells helped the settlers to store water for the drought months.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Another ring well found at Keeladi

Relics of a settlement: The double roped design terracotta ring well found at Keeladi.

Relics of a settlement: The double roped design terracotta ring well found at Keeladi.

The Archaeological department has found yet another ring well at the Keeladi excavation site at a depth of 411 cm. The ring well was discovered on Thursday in the southeastern part of the quadrant, a press release said.

On July 5, a well decorated ring well with two embossed rope decorations on the exterior was found.

The ring well traced on Thursday too had decoration. “The rim of the ring well traced is observed to have decoration. Its east-west length is 58 cm as a major portion of the ring is intruding inside the southern section. Its perpendicular length from the southern section is 18 cm. The thickness of the decorated rim is 3 cm,” the release said.

Among the findings were dice, hop-scotches, weavers tools such as spindle whorl, terracotta beads, ear ornaments, bangles made of shell and glasses, micro glass beads, semi-precious stone beads, a golden wire, multiple fully in-tact bowls and pots, debris of bricks, hand grooved roofing tiles and other such artefacts.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

World class archaeological museum to be established in Thoothukudi: Minister

Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture and Archaeology Minister Thangam Thennarasu along with other Ministers and MP Kanimozhi at Sivagalai in Thoothukudi district on Sunday.

Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture and Archaeology Minister Thangam Thennarasu along with other Ministers and MP Kanimozhi at Sivagalai in Thoothukudi district on Sunday.

Steps will be taken by the Tamil Nadu government to establish a world class archaeological museum in Thoothukudi, said Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture and Archaeology Minister Thangam Thennarasu here on Sunday.

He was inspecting the ongoing excavation at Sivagalai, accompanied by MP Kanimozhi, Ministers Geetha Jeevan and Anitha Radhakrishnan, Field Directors Prabhakar and Thangadurai and District Collector K. Senthil Raj.

Speaking to reporters, he said that the excavation at Sivagalai, when completed, would hold a key chapter in the Indian history. According to experts and epigraphists, the findings showed the culture and tradition of the people, who had lived here back then. The artefacts, so far, collected from here may be exciting for research fellows and the academic world apart from tourists .

The government, Mr Thennarasi said, would take measures to preserve the artefacts and showcase them in a museum. Like Keeladi, he endorsed that Sivagalai too had many interesting facts, like pottery, antiquities and a few rare Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, copper coins and swords et al.

In-depth study and scientific examination of some of the skeletons unearthed from here would be conducted by the authorities in the Madurai Kamaraj University, which would throw more light on the accurate age of Sivagalai, he said and added that places including Sekkalai, Avarankadu, Parakramapandi Thiradu and Vellai Thiradu would be declared as preserved zones.

Chamber delegation

The Thoothukudi Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary D. R. Kodeeswaran in a memorandum submitted to the Minister urged for establishing a museum near Palayakayal and showcase the artefacts that were excavated from Korkai, Agaram, Sivagalai, Adichanallur and Vasavapuram.

The artefacts collected from Korkai in 1968 were stored at a museum in Korkai village and subsequently shifted to Madurai and Chennai in late 1990s. These rare collections should be brought back here, the memorandum said.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Gold ornament found at Keeladi

A thin gold wire ornament was discovered during the seventh phase of excavations at Keeladi.

A thin gold wire ornament was discovered during the seventh phase of excavations at Keeladi.

Madurai

A thin gold wire ornament was discovered during the seventh phase of excavations at Keeladi.

The State archaeological department is carrying out the seventh phase of archaeological excavation at Keeladi and its cluster covering Manalur, Agaram and Konthagai since February.

Deputy Director of Archaeology R. Sivanandam said that the ornament was found at a depth of 109 cm in the centre portion of one of the quadrants at the site.

The gold object is bent and its tip is sharp. According to Mr. Sivanandam, the gold object is 4.5 cm long. While its maximum diameter is 1.99 cm, the minimum diameter is 1.73 cm. "This could have been used as a ring," he said. Similar gold objects were found at Keeladi during the fourth phase of excavations, he added.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Fifth phase of excavation reveals discoveries unique to Keeladi

(Top) Two layers of terracotta pipelines found during 5th phase of excavation done at Keeladi by Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology.

(Top) Two layers of terracotta pipelines found during 5th phase of excavation done at Keeladi by Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology.

The recently-concluded fifth phase of archaeological excavation at Keeladi has unearthed a new find of terracotta pipes which are unique among all terracotta pipes found at other excavation sites in Tamil Nadu.

Among the new findings are two different terracotta pipes found horizontally decked one above the other.

According to Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology, that has taken up the 4th and 5th phase of excavations, the two pipelines could have been for different utilities.

During the course of 5th excavation in a particular trench (YD 6/3), the workers found some terracotta structure with a few projections of rim portion at a regular gap of 6 cm. This structure was found at a depth of 0.47 metres. Careful digging at this north eastern corner of the quadrant resulted in unearthing of roofing tiles arranged vertically at a depth of 0.52 metres.

Further, it revealed that the terracotta structure was a series of 10 terracotta pipes that were firmly fitted one into other to form a pipeline.

“This indicates that the pipeline could have been used for carrying protected water,” Director of Keeladi Excavation, R. Sivanandam told on Tuesday. The rims of the pipes gave a spiral shape to the pipeline. Besides, it had holes on its top and sides.

 

Just below this pipeline another row of different shaped terracotta pipeline consisting of three lengthy barrel-shaped terracotta tubes were traced. “This one was distinctly different in its shape and dimension from the upper row of pipeline suggesting that it (barrel shaped pipeline) had a different utility,” he added.

The officials were also delighted to find a major portion of a perforated lid which was in the shape of a dish. This lid that was fitted to the mouth of the barrel-shaped pipeline could have been used as a filtering device of water or some other liquid.

“Apart from this, it could also be surmised that the lid could have been used to prevent reptiles entering the premises through the pipes.” he added.

These terracotta pipelines were found closer to the spot where the Archaeological Survey of India had found some structural activity with bricks, tubs and water chute (open channel) during its second phase of excavation in 2016.

“It indicates that there was a link to both (structures) findings of different phases of excavation. We feel that the next phase of excavation in its proximity could reveal further extension of these structures,” an official said.

Different types of water channels, brick construction, evidence of trade relations with other domestic and foreign places, sign and letter usages only revealed that the civilization along the Vaigai river was much matured and had adopted advanced technologies.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Keezhadi excavation: MKU, Harvard University to collaborate in DNA study

Carbon dating of artefacts collected at Keeladi has revealed that urbanisation of Vaigai plains had happened in Tamil Nadu around the 6th century BCE.

Carbon dating of artefacts collected at Keeladi has revealed that urbanisation of Vaigai plains had happened in Tamil Nadu around the 6th century BCE.

State Department of Archaeology will enter into a tripartite memorandum of understanding with Madurai Kamaraj University and Harvard Medical School to take up ancient DNA study of human bones excavated or to be excavated from Keeladi, Konthagai and Adichanallur sites in Tamil Nadu.

Principal Secretary/Commissioner of Department of Archaeology T. Udhyachandran said that a tripartite MoU would be signed among the Department of Archaeology, MKU and David Reich Laboratory of Harvard Medial School to carry out the study.

Carbon dating of artefacts collected during the fourth season of excavation at Keeladi done at Beta Analytic Lab, Miami, USA, has revealed that urbanisation of Vaigai plains had happened in Tamil Nadu around the 6th century BCE as happened in Gangetic plains.

The State Department of Archaeology has already collected skeletal fragments from Keeladi and Adichanallur.

“We are hopeful of finding more human bones in our future excavations at Konthagai, Keeladi and Adichanallur. These samples will be sent for ancient DNA study. It will predominantly reveal what kind of gene was in the human bones excavated/ to be excavated in Tamil Nadu,” he said.

The School of Biological Sciences at the MKU will be the collaborator for the Department of Archaeology on taking up the ancient DNA study, remote sensing of the sites and study of data. “We are collaborating with the best institutions in the world,” he added.

David Reich was involved in the study of ancient DNA from the samples from Rakhigarhi site of Harappan civilisation, the report of which was published recently. Retired Professor of School of Biological Sciences RM. Pitchappan, who has been roped in to coordinate in ancient DNA study, said that archaeologists, linguistics, anthropologists and experts in ancient DNH would come together to carry out this study.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Seventh phase of excavation at Keeladi inaugurated

The seventh phase of archaeological excavation at Keeladi and its cluster was inaugurated by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on Saturday through video-conferencing from Chennai.

The seventh phase of archaeological excavation at Keeladi and its cluster was inaugurated by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on Saturday through video-conferencing from Chennai.

The seventh phase of archaeological excavation at Keeladi and its cluster, covering Manalur, Agaram and Konthagai, was formally inaugurated by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on Saturday through video-conferencing from Chennai.

Sivaganga Collector P. Madhusudhan Reddy, who was present during the inaugural event, said that construction of a museum at a cost of ₹12.21 crore to display the artefacts unearthed at the excavations is under way. This museum will help students, researchers and enthusiasts to learn about the ancient civilisation on the banks of the Vaigai.

The first three phases of excavations were carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India. A total of 7,818 artefacts were unearthed during these phases.

The Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology (TNSDA), conducted the fourth, fifth and sixth phases of excavations, and will conduct the seventh phase of excavation. While a total of 5,820 artefacts were unearthed during the fourth phase of excavation, during the fifth phase of excavation around 900 artefacts, including brick structures, were excavated.

During the sixth phase, excavations were undertaken at Keeladi, Konthagai, Manalur and Agaram. The artefacts unearthed during this phase indicated that Keeladi was an industrial city with flourishing trading activities.

The skeletons and urns unearthed at Konthagai indicated that it was a burial site. The microlithic tools unearthed at Agaram showed that they were manufactured there.

Deputy Director of Archaeology R. Sivanandam also participated in the inaugural event.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Survey on to finalise location for excavation

Officials of the Department of Archaeology conducting a field survey at Maligaimedu in Ariyalur district on Friday.

Officials of the Department of Archaeology conducting a field survey at Maligaimedu in Ariyalur district on Friday.

The State Department of Archaeology has commenced a field survey to identify potential locations for excavation at Gangaikondacholapuram-Maligaimedu and surrounding villages in Ariyalur district.

The survey comes in the wake of the decision of the department to launch excavations at seven more sites in the State.

Excavations would be carried out in Keeladi and surrounding areas in Sivaganga district, Adichanallur and surrounding areas, Sivakalai and surrounding areas and Korkai and surrounding areas in Thoothukudi district, Kodumanal in Erode district, Mayiladumparai in Krishnagiri district as well as Gangaikondacholapuram and Maligaimedu in Ariyalur district, T.Udayachandran, Principal Secretary and Commissioner of the Department, had said recently.

According to sources, the excavations are likely to commence simultaneously at all the seven sites next month and the projects are to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Edappadi K.Palaniswami.

Ahead of the commencement of the excavation, a three-member team of the department, comprising R.Sivanandam, Deputy Director, and M.Prabakaran and K.Bagyalakshmi, Archaeological Officers, arrived at Gangaikondacholapuram on Thursday to begin the survey to identify the potential locations for excavation.

On Friday, an agency authorised by the Institute of Remote Sensing of the Anna University joined the officials with drone and thermal cameras to conduct the survey. Experts from Central University of Tamil Nadu would join the team on Saturday with ground penetrating radar system to take up more investigations.

“The exercise will go on till Sunday or Monday. Based on the report of the teams, we will finalise the exact location to carry out the excavation,” Mr.Sivanandam said.

He pointed out that excavations had been done at the site on smaller scale on six occasions previously when portions of the Rajendra Chola’s palace were unearthed.

“We are now looking to take up exploration on a larger scale to find out more about the palace, the city and its streets, water management system etc.,” Mr.Sivanandam said.

Gangaikondacholapuram was established by King Rajendra Chola I (1012-1044 CE) after his victorious expedition up to the Gangetic plains. Excavations conducted earlier at Maligaimedu had revealed the remains of a royal palace. Antiques and other items found in the excavations are on display at a museum at Gangaikondacholapuram.

Mr.Sivanandam indicated that the study would not be confined to the palace, but also cover nearby areas such as the Ayudhakalam to look for possible remains of iron implements and Meikavalputhur to trace the habitat of bodyguards. “We will also try and find out whether there was any paleochannel from the Kollidam to Cholagangam (a massive lake built by Rajendra Chola),” he said.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Keezhadi excavations: Sangam era older than previously thought, finds study

Hoary past:  One of the samples collected at the depth of  353 cm goes back to 580 BCE.

Hoary past: One of the samples collected at the depth of 353 cm goes back to 580 BCE.

In a major turning point in the cultural historiography of the ancient Sangam Age, the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department (TNAD) has stated that the cultural deposits unearthed during excavations at Keeladi in Sivaganga district could be safely dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE.

This is the first time the date has been officially announced by the TNAD.

The new findings in the report, released on Thursday by Minister for Tamil Culture and Archaeology K. Pandiarajan here, place Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than previously believed — 3rd century BCE.

One of the six samples collected at the depth of 353 cm and sent for carbon dating test in the U.S. “goes back to 580 BCE,” Commissioner of Archaeology T. Udayachandran said.

The report titled, ‘Keeladi-An Urban Settlement of Sangam Age on the Banks of River Vaigai’, was published by the TNAD.

The results from the fourth excavations suggest that the “second urbanisation [the first being Indus] of Vaigai plains happened in Tamil Nadu around 6th century BCE as it happened in Gangetic plains.”

The report also spells the site as Keeladi as against the erstwhile widely used Keezhadi.

‘Tamil-Brahmi older’

The recent scientific dates obtained for Keeladi findings push back the date of Tamil-Brahmi script to another century, i.e., 6th century BCE.

“These results clearly ascertained that they attained literacy or learned the art of writing as early as 6th century BCE,” the 61-page report stated.

Six carbon samples collected from the fourth season (2018) of excavations at Keeladi were sent to Beta Analytic Lab, Miami, Florida, U.S., for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dating.

 

After analysing the AMS dates, archaeologist Professor K. Rajan felt that Keeladi presented strong evidence for some of the hypotheses. Skeletal fragments were sent to Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, and it identified them of species such as cow/ox ( ), buffalo ( ), sheep ( ), goat ( ), nilgai ( ), blackbuck ( ), wild boar ( ) and peacock ( ).

“This finding suggests that the society in Keeladi had used animals predominantly for agricultural purposes,” Mr. Udhayachandran said.

Tamil-Brahmi potsherds

Fifty-six Tamil-Brahmi inscribed potsherds were recovered from the site of excavation conducted by the TNAD alone, the report stated.

Pottery specimens from Keeladi sent to the Earth Science Department of Pisa University, Italy, through Vellore Institute of Technology for mineral analysis, confirmed that water containers and cooking vessels were shaped out of locally available raw materials.

“Recovery of 10 spindle whorls, 20 sharply pinpointed bone tip tools used for design creations, hanging stones of the yarn, terracotta spheres, copper needle and earthen vessels to hold liquid clearly attest to the various stages of weaving industry from spinning, yarning, looming and weaving and later for dyeing,” the report added.

While three excavations were undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India, the fourth excavation was undertaken by the TNAD. The fifth excavation by the latter is under way. 

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Archaeological excavations set to begin in seven more places in Tamil Nadu

Kodumanal village in Erode district is one of the places where excavation will be done.

Kodumanal village in Erode district is one of the places where excavation will be done.

 

Encouraged by the archaeological findings in Keeladi that testified to the existence of an ancient urban Tamil civilisation, the Department of Archaeology has decided to launch excavations at seven more sites and field studies in two places.

“The Central Advisory Board for Archaeology (CABA) granted permission for the projects on January 5. This is the first time the State will have more than 10 excavation projects by different agencies, including the State Archaeology Department and various universities,” said T. Udayachandran, Principal Secretary and Commissioner of the Department.

 

The Tamil Nadu government has allocated ₹3 crore this year, for carrying out excavations in the State.

Mr. Udayachandran said excavations would be carried out in Keeladi and surrounding areas in Sivaganga district, Adichanallur and surrounding areas, Sivakalai and surrounding areas and Korkai and surrounding areas in Thoothukudi district, Kodumanal in Erode district, Mayiladumparai in Krishnagiri district as well as Gangaikondacholapuram and Maligaimedu in Ariyalur district.

One fireld study will be conducted to find new Stone Age sites in Krishngiri, Vellore, Dharmapuri, Tiruvannamalai and Salem districts. Another field study will be done in Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts to find the Thamiraparani river civilisation.

“The excavations and field studies ares a milestone in the efforts to restore the ancient cultural greatness of Tamil through scientific methods,” Mr Udayachandran explained. He said that besides the excavations and studies, proposals for excavations by universities, departments and agencies, have also been sent to CABA.

Sharma Centre for Heritage Education has sought permission for excavation in Chenrayanpalayam in Tiruvallur district while Alagappa University has proposed to excavate in Ilanthakarai in Sivaganga district. Tamil University has submitted a proposal for Moolapalayam in Coimbatore district; the University of Madras for Vasalai in Vellore district and Tamil Nadu Open University for Porpanaikottai in Pudukottai.

Mr. Udayachandran said there was a renewed interest in archaeology and culture in the State and the new excavations would help reveal the pluralist culture of Tamil Nadu to the world.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Carbon dating confirms Keezhadi site is from Sangam era

 An overview of the excavated trenches in a coconut plantation at Keezhadi with a pottery yard in the middle.

An overview of the excavated trenches in a coconut plantation at Keezhadi with a pottery yard in the middle.

For several years, experts had surmised that the archaeological site at Keezhadi in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu dates back to the Sangam era.

Now, carbon dating has confirmed that two samples sent from the site are indeed nearly 2,200 years old.

The Keezhadi dig that started in 2013 provides archaeological evidence of ancient Tamil life that has so far been known largely from texts like Sangam literature.

While replying to DMK MP Kanimozhi in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, the Union Ministry of Culture informed the Upper House that the Archaeological Survey of India had sent two carbon samples from Keezhadi for carbon dating to Beta Analytic Inc., Florida, USA.

 

“Radio Carbon dating suggests that the samples go back to 2,160+30 years and 2,200+30 years,” stated the Ministry.

Archaeologists found deposits up to 4.5 metres deep and the samples (of carbon elements) sent for carbon dating were from the middle part – i.e. 2 metres, says ASI’s Superintending Archaeologist K. Amarnath Ramakrishna in Guwahati who led the excavations in Keezhadi earlier.

“We can now say for sure that the samples were from 3rd century BC,” says Mr. Ramakrishna.

Unlike many other archaeological sites excavated in Tamil Nadu, Keezhadi is a major habitation site.

“The last time habitation sites were excavated in Tamil Nadu was at Arikamedu. We zeroed in on Keezhadi after studying both banks of Vaigai river through its entire stretch from Western Ghats till the point it reaches the Bay of Bengal,” he says.

A total of 72 potsherds with Tamil Brahmi script were found at Keezhadi which had several Tamil names.

“ were some of the Tamil names found,” he says. When asked whether the Archaeological Survey of India was planning to set up any museum at Keezhadi, Superintending Archaeologist of Chennai Circle A.M.V. Subramanyam said such policy decisions have to be taken at New Delhi.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Scientists discover oldest known human-made nanostructures in ancient artifacts in Tamil Nadu

Various artifacts on display at Keeladi Exhibition at Wolrd Tamil Sangam in Madurai. File

Various artifacts on display at Keeladi Exhibition at Wolrd Tamil Sangam in Madurai. File

Scientists have discovered the oldest known human-made nanomaterials in the “unique black coatings” of ancient pottery shards — dated to 600 BC — unearthed from an archeological site in Keeladi, Tamil Nadu.

The research, published recently in the journal , revealed that these coatings are made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) which have enabled the layer to last more than 2,600 years, raising questions on the tools used during those periods to achieve high temperatures for making earthenwares.

According to the scientists, including those from Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) in Tamil Nadu, the coatings are “the oldest nanostructures observed till now”.

“Until this discovery, to our knowledge, the most ancient known nanostructures in human-made artifacts are from the eighth or ninth century AD,” study co-author Vijayanand Chandrasekaran from VIT told .

CNTs are tubular structures of carbon atoms arranged in an ordered manner, Chandrasekaran said, adding that coatings in ancient artifacts may not usually last this long due to wear and tear caused by changing conditions.

“But the robust mechanical properties of the CNT based coating has helped the layer sustain more than 2600 years,” he added.

Carbon nanotubes have superlative properties, including high thermal and electrical conductivity, and very high mechanical strength, explained nanomaterial scientist M. M. Shaijumon from IISER Thiruvananthapuram, who was unrelated to the study.

“But the people of this time may not have intentionally added CNTs, instead, during the processing at high temperatures, these would have just formed accidentally,” Mr. Shaijumon told .

“If there is some processing of the potteries, which probably would have involved some high-temperature treatment, then it will add more justification to the findings,” he added.

According to Mr. Chandrasekaran, the closest scientific explanation for the finding is that some “vegetal fluid or extract” might have been used in the coatings of these pots which may have led to the formation of CNTs during high-temperature processing.

Rajavelu S., Professor of History at Alagappa University in Tamil Nadu, who was unrelated to the study, told that the people of this time may have added or coated something similar to plant-sap to the inside of the pots, and subject it to the nearly 1100-1400 degree Celsius high-temperature fire treatment as seen in kilns.

“This fire treatment may have led to the formation of the coating which has likely strengthened the pot and made the coating durable,” Mr. Rajavelu told .

“Normally with high-temperature processing of carbon, they form these type of tubular nano-structures, but until about the 1990s there were no sophisticated instruments available to characterise them. So these structures are already even present in nature and only now we are observing them,” explained Mr. Shaijumon.

Mr. Rajavelu concurred.

He said the ancient people would not have known these as CNTs, but may have just had the need to make their pots have high durability, “and may have needed a certain colour out of their products on applying high-temperature firing”.

“They likely knew the technique to make these coatings practically, but may not have known this as a thesis with any kinds of formulae,” Mr. Rajavelu added.

Commenting on the significance of the research, Sharada Srinivasan, an expert in archaemetallurgy associated with the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bengaluru, said nanotechnology has made strides since the 90s with the advent of advanced techniques like the scanning tunnelling microscopy.

“But it is increasingly recognised from archaeological studies that past skilled artisans sometimes accidentally or empirically made nanomaterials — such as the famous Egyptian Blue — without being aware of the science of working at the nano-scale,” Ms. Srinivasan told .

Based on their analysis, Mr. Chandrasekaran said the ancient Tamil civilisation of this time were aware of, and mastered high-temperature processing, but added that the means and mechanism by which they produced these artifacts with carbon-nanotubes is not widely explored.

“Black and red pottery ware associated with megalithic sites in southern India continues into Keeladi dated back to 6th century BCE. The fine black and red effect was achieved by high temperature firing temperatures at about 1100 degrees in the presence of carbon-rich matter and iron-rich red soils,” Ms. Srinivasan said.

“They do not look like normal pots, these have glazed finishes, and are made of high-quality clay,” Mr. Rajavelu added.

He said these earthenwares were likely used by the “sophisticated people of the time”, adding that “a lot of the shards” have been found in Keeladi, “some dating back even as early as 900 BCE”.

“We have known for a long time that in iron smelting and manufacture, India was a world leader at the time. Even the Sangam ancient Tamil literature has noted about steel manufacture,” Mr. Rajavelu said.

“The technological skills of the Tamils in high-temperature manipulation of carbonaceous matter to make ultra-high carbon crucible steel known as wootz by about the mid to late centuries BCE was also reported by us, while carbon nanotubes were reported in medieval patterned ‘Damascus’ blades forged from such steel,” Ms. Srinivasan explained.

She believes the findings expand the broader knowledge of the history of science and technology in India, and point to potential future applications of such nanomaterials as durable coatings.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Geological investigations begin at Keeladi and Agaram

 Experts undertaking a geological investigation at Keeladi on Friday.

Experts undertaking a geological investigation at Keeladi on Friday.

A group of experts, led by R. Jayangonda Perumal, an associate professor of Central University of Tamil Nadu, along with the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology (TNSDA), undertook a geological investigation at Keeladi and Agaram sites on Friday, where the sixth phase of archaeological excavations are currently under way.

Deputy Director of Archaeology R. Sivanandam said that this was the first time that geological investigations are undertaken at archaeological excavation sites in the State. “After completing the Keeladi cluster, similar geological investigations in other excavation sites across the State will also be undertaken,” he said.

During the excavation at Keeladi, various layers with different soil textures and colours were identified, said Mr. Sivanandam. “This prompted us to do a geological study to understand the kind of civilisation that existed earlier,” he added.

Mr. Perumal said that geological investigation helps to identify the duration of the civilisation that had existed in these sites. “The Keeladi civilisation has existed on the banks of Vaigai river. So, we checked sediments that are present along the river and compared them with those present in the excavation sites,” he said.

Soil samples, broken pot shreds and charcoal samples are taken to undertake the investigation. In Keeladi, trenches for a depth of 4.5 metres have been dug up and in Agaram trenches for a depth of 6 metres are dug up, he said.

“By carrying out a geological investigation, we are trying to find out how climate change affected the civilisation that time. For instance, it helps to understand if there was a flood or drought that time. Basically, we need to understand if the matured civilisation in Keeladi vanished or moved to another place,” said Mr. Perumal.

Mr. Sivanandam said that such investigations will give scientific proof to an archaeological excavation. “This will help in better understanding and interpretation of the civilisation that existed earlier at the Keeladi cluster,” he said.

Priyanka Singh Rao, assistant professor at Central University of Tamil Nadu and Saravanan, a hydrologist, also participated in the investigation.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

ASI declares site and remains at Baghpat to be of national importance

File photos of Sadikpur Sinauli excavation in Baghpat, UP. Photo: Special Arrangement

File photos of Sadikpur Sinauli excavation in Baghpat, UP. Photo: Special Arrangement

The archaeological site and remains at Sadikpur Sinauli in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district where evidence of the existence of a warrior class around 2,000 BCE was discovered in 2018 have been declared to be of “national importance” by the Archaeological Survey of India.

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The ASI’s notification under provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 on Wednesday brings the 28.67-hectare-site under Central protection. The site would now be maintained by the ASI and development works around it would be subject to Central rules.

The notification comes two years after the ASI unearthed remains of chariots, shields, swords and other items indicating the presence of a warrior class at the site that is 68 km from Delhi.

According to Wednesday’s notification, the ASI had issued a draft notification on June 6, 2019 about its plans to declare the site to be of national importance and sought feedback from the public for a period of two months.

“...no objection has been received from the public to the making of such declaration by the Central Government,” the notification said.

According to a statement issued by the ASI after the excavation, three chariots, legged coffins, shields, swords and helmets were among the objects found at the site. ASI termed the site the “largest necropolis of the late Harappan period datable to around early part of second millennium BCE”.

An ASI official said the objects, which date back 3,700 to 4,000 years, have been kept at the ASI Institute of Archaeology currently. With the declaration of the site as one of national importance, it comes under the ASI’s protection, the official said.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Microlithic tools found in Agaram and Sivagalai

Excavations in the ancient site of Keeladi.

Excavations in the ancient site of Keeladi.

With the sixth phase of the excavations at the Keeladi cluster and the excavations at other sites to come to a close in September for the year, the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology released an interim status report on Monday. The finds range from semi precious stones like carnelian, agate, amethyst, to terracotta seals, skeletons, Microlithic tools such as blades and scrapers coins, iron objects and swords and roofing tiles.

Key among the finds are carbonised rice grains and the microlithic tools found at Agaram. While the carbonised rice was found on the surface during excavations at Agaram, in Sivagalai this was found in an offering pot. Both will be sent to a lab for carbon dating to identify the time period.

Releasing the report to the media, Minister for Tamil Official Language and Tamil Culture K. Pandiarajan said a total of 3,959 artefacts have been found during the excavations at the Keeladi cluster and Erode till July across all seasons. So far 128 carbon samples have been collected in Keeladi and its clusters. The report was earlier released on Monday morning by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami.

New findings

In the current season of excavations, a fine variety of red-slipped ware containing Tamizhi letters reading Ka-y was found embedded in the soil at Keeladi, apart from semi-precious stones, weighing units and terracotta seals. A spinal cord with ribs of a bovine having a length of 0.80 metres was also found.

At Kondagai, a burial site, 40 urn burials, one pit burial and 16 surface burials were identified. Also, 17 human skeletons and two animal skeletons were unearthed with bowls of red-ware, red-slipped-ware and black-and-red ware. Of particular interest to the archaeologists are the finds at Agaram, where the first season of excavations was initiated. These include Microlithic tools such as blades and lunate found in association with fluted core indicating that these tools were produced at the site.

Carbonised rice grains

Carbonised rice grains were recovered at a depth of 1.75 metres. Polished stone axe, ceramic wares were also found. Manalur excavations which started in May 2020 threw up smoking pipes, terracotta wheels, hop-scotches and traits of architectural activity.

At Adichanallur too, Microlithic tools were found, consisting of blade, point and scraper made of chert. A total of 10 urn burials were also exposed and 438 antiquities were collected. Iron objects and roofing tiles were also found.

The excavation at Sivagalai, being undertaken to know the Iron Age burial culture and locate the earliest settlement of the region, yielded finds such as potsherds, Mesolithic tools and other artefacts. Kodumanal excavation reaped Tamizhi inscribed potsherds and structures built of stone masonry.

Mr. Pandiarajan said the department has tied-up with nearly 10 institutions to scientifically analyse the excavated material. Madurai Kamaraj University has taken steps to establish an ‘ancient DNA lab’ at a cost of ₹3 crore and this would help in faster turnaround times of identifying the artefacts’ antiquity, he added.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Ring well unearthed at Keezhadi

So far, over 24 pits have been dug across five acres as part of the fifth phase of excavation.

So far, over 24 pits have been dug across five acres as part of the fifth phase of excavation.

Nearly 45 days after the fifth phase of excavation commenced at Keezhadi, a ring well has been unearthed.

The rings, measuring 1.5 feet in diameter, are made of terracotta, and five rings are visible now. “So far, we have dug to a depth of 1.5 metres. We can say if the well goes deeper only on further excavation.

In the fourth phase, two such wells were excavated. The ring well is an indicator of the advanced water conservation technology of that period,” an official from the State Department of Archaeology said.

Water management skills

“The rings are designed with a locking system, so that they sit atop each other without any gap for the sand to pour in. Since Keezhadi is close to the Vaigai riverbed, the terrain is sandy in nature. So, in order to avoid the well getting closed by sand spillage, the top ring of the well has a raised edge. These features testify to the water management skills of the people who lived in Keezhadi,” the official noted.

So far, over 24 pits have been dug across five acres of area in the fifth phase. This is the second phase of excavation being carried out by the State Archaeological Department, as the previous three phases were carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Indepth excavation planned at Gangaikonda Cholapuram

Commissioner of Archeology D. Udayachandran and Collector D. Rathna visiting Maligaimedu in Ariyalur 
district on Wednesday.

Commissioner of Archeology D. Udayachandran and Collector D. Rathna visiting Maligaimedu in Ariyalur district on Wednesday.

The State government has plans to carry out a comprehensive excavation at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and its surrounding areas to study the culture of ancient Tamils, D. Udayachandran, Commissioner of Archaeology, said on Wednesday.

On a visit to Maligaimedu, where the reported remnants of palaces of Gangaikonda Cholan, Mudikonda Cholan and Chola Keralan were found during earlier excavations, Mr. Udayachandran said the Department of Archaeology had carried out excavations in 1980, 1981, 1985, 1987 and 1990-91. Collector D. Rathna accompanied Mr. Udayachandran during the visit.

The artefacts and objects such as ancient weapons, dolls, dress materials, puja items, mud pots, 11th century bricks and other items found in the excavations had been displayed at the museum at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. The area was said to be a treasure of ancient Tamil culture and the Chola dynasties. It had been felt that the area should be excavated further so as to bring out the ancient practices, architecture and others of Tamils.

Hence, a comprehensive excavation at Gangaikonda Cholapuram on the lines of the activity at Keeladi in Sivaganga district and Adichanallur in Tirunelveli district will be carried out, Mr. Udayachandran said.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Burial urn of Megalithic era unearthed at Kodumanal

The burial urn unearthed at Kodumanal in Erode district.

The burial urn unearthed at Kodumanal in Erode district.

A huge burial urn dating back to the Megalithic era was unearthed at the excavation site at Kodumanal village in Chennimalai Union here on Wednesday.

A team led by J. Ranjith, Archaeology Officer and Project Director for the excavation, unearthed the urn which is over 3.1 ft high.

The urn contained pieces of bones, which will be sent to the Madurai Kamaraj University for laboratory analysis.

“Only after the analysis, the gender and other details will be known”, said Mr. Ranjith.

R. Sivanandam, Deputy Director of Archaeology and in-charge of Keeladi excavations and K. Rajan, retired Professor, Department of History, Pondicherry University, inspected the urn.

Currently, excavation is being done at two sites, one at the burial area and the other at the industrial area, both located near Noyyal river. Excavation began in May and is scheduled to be completed by September 30.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

HC disapproves of ASI's 'slow work' in Keezhadi excavation

The excavations done so far had pointed out to possibilities of a past civilisation on the banks of Vaigai.

The excavations done so far had pointed out to possibilities of a past civilisation on the banks of Vaigai.

The Madras High Court Bench in Madurai on Tuesday expressed strong disapproval of the way in which the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was taking forward the

The excavations done so far had pointed out to possibilities of a civilisation on the banks of the Vaigai.

Wondering why the , who was instrumental in excavating the site at the first instance, a Division Bench of Justices A. Selvam and N. Authinathan directed a public interest litigation petitioner on the issue to file another petition by June 23 with a plea to bring back the officer to

Concurring with PIL petitioner Kanimozhi Mathi that the excavation works were slowed down intentionally, Justice Selvam said: “There seems to be an oblique motive behind the officer's transfer. You spoil the excavation works by doing such things.”

However, ASI counsel S. Shanmugaselvam said that Amarnath was transferred along with many other staff across the country.

When Justice Authinathan wanted to know what objection could the ASI have for establishing a site museum at Keezhadi, counsel told the court that 'Report Writing' work with respect to the artefacts excavated so far was underway at the ASI facility in Bengaluru and that the articles could be returned to the State government only after completion of the work.

Later, the judges adjourned further hearing in the case to June 23.

Ms. Mathi approached the court last year with a plea to restrain the ASI from taking away the artefacts outside Tamil Nadu. However, another Division Bench of the High Court permitted them to be taken to Bengaluru as it was told that 'Report Writing' facilities were available only there.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Keezhadi excavation: what was found and what they mean

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

ASI begins third phase of excavation at Keezhadi

Digging deeper: P.S. Sriraman, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, launching the third phase of the excavation work at Keezhadi on Saturday.

Digging deeper: P.S. Sriraman, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, launching the third phase of the excavation work at Keezhadi on Saturday.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Saturday began the third phase of excavation at Keezhadi in Sivaganga district, roughly 12 km from here.

P.S. Sriraman, Superintending Archaeologist, Excavations Branch (Bengaluru), ASI, who is now in-charge of the Keezhadi site, told reporters here that the excavation would continue through the end of September.

“We are hoping to make more interesting findings in this phase,” he said.

Four trenches in an area of around 400 square metres would be dug initially at the coconut groves at Pallichanthai Thidal in Keezhadi, where the excavation has been on since 2015, and the area will gradually be expanded throughout the third phase depending on the findings, he said.

Saying that ₹40 lakh had been allocated by the ASI for the third phase, Mr. Sriraman stressed that there was no shortage of funds.

He said that shifting of artefacts, likely to be discovered at the excavation site, to ASI offices elsewhere could not be ruled out for advanced analysis and ensure preservation of the artefacts.

“However, setting up an on-site museum, similar to the ones set up at various ASI sites, is under consideration. If that happens, all the artefacts will be brought here itself,” he said.

Highlighting that carbon-dating of two samples of charcoal from the excavation site has indicated that the human settlement at the site was around 200 BC, Mr. Sriraman said more samples would be sent abroad for carbon dating.

A total of 5,800 artefacts were found in the last two phases of excavation.

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Keezhadi excavation to continue for 3 more years

Union Ministers Mahesh Sharma and Nirmala Sitharaman inspect the excavation site.

Union Ministers Mahesh Sharma and Nirmala Sitharaman inspect the excavation site.

Ending the suspense over continuance of Archaeological Survey of India’s excavation at Keezhadi near here, Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma on Friday announced that the third phase would begin in May. “The results [of excavation] have been good and inspiring. They point to the existence of 2nd century BC culture and civilisation. I promise to the people of Tamil Nadu that this will continue. We will ensure that there is no shortage of funds,” Mr. Mahesh Sharma told mediapersons after inspecting the excavation site along with Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman and ASI Director General Rakesh Tewari.

The Minister said that the excavation would go on for three more years and ₹40 lakh had been sanctioned for taking up the third phase. He claimed that Tamil Nadu and Tamil language were close to their heart and they had come to ensure that the excavation continued.

“We also want to assure the people of Tamil Nadu that there will be no shortage of funds. The excavation will be completed within a timeframe,” he said.

The DG of ASI gave an assurance that the antiquities from the site would be showcased at the Government Museum in Sivaganga, Madurai and Chennai. While welcoming the State Government’s offer to set up an on-site museum, he said that the ASI would certainly consider all the options.

Mr. Tewari denied the charge that the ASI delayed sanction of funds as the site was in Tamil Nadu and attributed the delay to submission of report.

He said that the Standing Committee of ASI had also pointed to non-submission of report. “Without a report, excavation means destruction,” he said. The ASI did not have any bias, he said and recalled how it published the findings of excavation of 6th century artefacts in Kodumanal and Porunthal of Tamil Nadu earlier.

Answering queries on the transfer of K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist, Excavation Branch, Bengaluru, who was in charge of Keezhadi, to Guwahati Circle, the Minister said that it was a routine transfer effected with that of 25 others as per the new policy of ASI not to retain a Superintending Archaeologist in a place for more than three years.

Ms. Sitharaman wanted to know how could there be bias when the ASI did not even know what was in store in unexplored areas of Keezhadi. She pointed out that another person from Tamil Nadu, P.S. Sriraman, had been posted in the place of Mr. Amarnath.

Even as the Ministers were inspecting the site, a group of Makkal Viduthalai Katchi volunteers, led by former MLA Murugavel Rajan, raised slogans against the delay in funding and transfer of Mr. Amarnath.

A free-for-all was about to erupt when BJP members objected to the entry of MVK volunteers into the site and hurled dried parts of coconut trees at them. The police arrested 15 persons in this connection.

 

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Archaeologist involved in Keezhadi project transferred

The excavation site at Keezhadi near Madurai.

The excavation site at Keezhadi near Madurai.

K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist, Excavations Branch (Bangalore), Archaeological Survey of India, who has been overseeing excavation work in Keezhadi near Madurai, has been transferred to Guwahati Circle of the ASI.

P.S. Sriraman, Superintending Archaeologist (in-charge), Jodhpur Circle, has been transferred to Excavations Branch (Bangalore), which is responsible for archaeological excavations in the southern States.

The transfer has come at a crucial juncture when the third phase of the excavation in Keezhadi is all set to begin as the Director General, ASI, granted permission for it in February after considerable delay and the initial funding for the third phase was sanctioned last week.

The delay in approval, which ought to have happened in October last year, and the alleged reluctance of the Central government in continuing the excavation kicked up a controversy and evoked widespread condemnation by various political parties, writers and film personalities in Tamil Nadu.

Sources in the ASI said the transfer had been made as per a recent policy change, which necessitated transfer of officials in the rank of Superintending Archaeologists every two years.

Mr. Amarnath has been serving in his present position for around three years and has been involved in Keezhadi excavation ever since the work began in 2015. In the two phases of excavation in 2015 and 2016, as many as 5,800 artefacts were unearthed from the site.

The results of the carbon dating of charcoal excavated from Keezhadi indicated that the settlement belonged to 200 BC, thereby providing strong evidence of the existence of a thriving urban settlement on the banks of the Vaigai since the Sangam age.

Expressing concern over the transfer of Mr. Ramakrishna, an archaeologist closely following the developments in Keezhadi said, “Such transfers are not generally made during ongoing excavations, particularly in the initial phases.”

“It is not merely an administrative work but rigorously academic. The archaeologist develops a keen understanding and knowledge of the artefacts being unearthed and consequently the associated culture, which is crucial for further excavation,” he said.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

A boost to Keezhadi finds

Archaeologists have found 5,800 artefacts in Keezhadi after two years of digging.

Archaeologists have found 5,800 artefacts in Keezhadi after two years of digging.

Carbon dating of charcoal found at the Keezhadi excavation site in Sivaganga district has established that the settlement there belonged to 200 BC, according to K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist (Excavation Branch,Bengaluru).

The excavations have thus proved that urban civilisation had existed in Tamil Nadu since Sangam age. “So far there has been an impression that urban civilisation did not exist in Tamil Nadu. The excavations and carbon dating have disproved the opinion,” said Mr. Ramakrishna, who is heading the excavation project in Keezhadi.

Carbon dating was done at Beta Analysis, a Florida-based laboratory and the report was received in the first week of February.

“It is one of the top ranking laboratories in the world and is rated on a par with Arizona Radiocarbon Dating Lab. We sent only two samples and the report has been sent to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). We still have kept 20 more samples for carbon dating,” Mr. Ramakrishna told on Tuesday. Carbon dating of a single sample costs ₹50,000.

Charcoals were found in stratigraphical layers at the excavation site at Keezhadi. “Even though small excavations were done around 150 places in Tamil Nadu we could not find charcoal in those sites. The presence of carbon in organic material helps establish accurate date as it normally exists for 5,560 years,” he said.

Mr. Ramakrishna added that a clear picture of the civilisation would emerge only if carbon dating of charcoal found in various stratigraphical layers are tested. Archaeologists have found 5,800 artefacts in Keezhadi after two years of digging. On Monday the Centre had granted permission for further excavations.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Nod for further excavation at Keezhadi

After a delay of six months, the Central government has granted permission to continue the excavation in Keezhadi, where archaeologists have unearthed the biggest habitation of Sangam era, dated between 300 BC and 1000 AD.

“We received the permission on Monday from the Director General of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the fund is yet to be allocated. We have sought for ₹50 lakh for the current year,” said K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist (Excavation Branch), Bengaluru, who is heading the project in Keezhadi, close to Madurai city, but in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu.

The letter from the ASI headquarters on Monday said the annual interim report of the work done comprising relevant section drawings, stratigraphy and important findings with illustrations should be submitted immediately after the completion of the work.

“All antiquities unearthed during the excavation will be documented at the site in National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities (NMMA) 3D format, available at the website of NMMA,” the letter said.

Funds for excavation are normally allotted in October of every year. But in the case of Keezhadi, the government did not grant permission last year; but continuous efforts by political leaders and writers resulted in the Centre giving its nod. The issue was raised in Parliament by CPI(M) MP T.K.Rangarajan and DMK MPs Tiruchi N. Siva and Kanimozhi.

“It is a matter of great joy. The credit should go to all political leaders and writers who put pressure on the government,” said writer Su. Venkatesan, who spearheaded the campaign for continuous excavation.

Mr. Ramakrishnan said his team had submitted an interim report of the excavation. “We have unearthed 5,800 artefacts from what is considered to be a city from the Sangam Age. But we need to continue the work at least for the next 10 years to know about a civilisation that had existed for many centuries,” he said. ASI’s excavation has covered only an acre of about 110 acre private land and there is a need to study more areas. “We have not even covered one per cent of the total land. It is a private land but the owners have not raised any objection so far. We are doing our work without affecting the coconut trees,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan.

CPI(M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan also welcomed the permission for excavation and urged the government to create an exhibition of artefacts unearthed from the site. “The excavation should be allowed to continue till the ASI gets a clear idea about the civilisation by the side of Vaigai river near Madurai,” he said.

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Keezhadi: ASI refuses to commit to time frame on next leg of excavation

MADURAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/09/2015: The brick structure that resembles an ante-chamber found at the excavation site at Keezhadi near Madurai. 
Photo: G. Moorthy

MADURAI, TAMIL NADU, 07/09/2015: The brick structure that resembles an ante-chamber found at the excavation site at Keezhadi near Madurai. Photo: G. Moorthy

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Tuesday refused to commit a time period within which it would begin the next phase of excavation at Pallichanthai Thidal at Keezhadi in Sivaganga district. The excavations conducted so far on just one out of 100 acres of identified land at the spot had led to discovery of 4,125 artefacts pointing to the existence of an ancient Tamil civilisation that could have thrived on the banks of Vaigai.

Appearing before a Division Bench of Justices A. Selvam and P. Kalaiyarasan that was seized of a public interest litigation petition related to the excavations, ASI counsel N. Shanmuga Selvam said that the next phase excavation would begin only after completion of ‘record writing’ with respect to the artefacts collected so far. He said that it was a laborious process which involved subjecting the antiquities to chemical examination.

Additional Advocate General B. Pugalendhi told the court that the Commissioner of State Archaeological Department had taken stock of all the artefacts that were excavated by the ASI in the first phase and recorded all of them on video as ordered by the court on November 24. He also pointed out that the ASI had so far taken away 1,800 artefacts to its laboratories in other parts of the country for ascertaining their age through carbon dating.

After hearing them, the Division Bench adjourned the hearing of the case by a week. Though the PIL was filed to restrain the ASI from taking the artefacts out of the State and seeking a direction to it to establish a site museum at Keezhadi, the court had, on November 24, permitted the ASI to take the excavated antiquities to the Laboratory of Archaeological Chemist in Dehradun in Uttarakhand or any other lab in the country for chemical examination and record writing.

The permission was granted since the ASI informed the court that shifting the artefacts to its laboratory in Chennai would not serve any purpose since the latter lacked the facilities required for scientific cleaning, analysis and documentation. The judges, however, ordered that the Commissioner of the State Archaeological Department must take stock of the antiquities by noting down the details of each artefact besides shooting videos and taking photographs before they were moved out of Keezhadi.

“After the scientific analysis, the excavated materials should be brought back and kept in Keezhadi or in the Sivaganga district museum or any other suitable building,” the court had ordered.

 

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

HC allows ASI to shift Keezhadi artefacts to Dehradun lab

: The Madras High Court Bench here on Thursday permitted the Archaeological Survey of India to shift artefacts excavated by it from Pallichanthai Thidal at Keezhadi in the Sivaganga district to its Laboratory of Archaeological Chemist in Dehradun in Uttarakhand or any other lab in the country.

The artefacts point to the existence of an ancient Tamil civilisation that could have thrived on the banks of the Vaigai river.

Justices S. Nagamuthu and M.V. Muralidaran granted permission after the ASI informed the court that shifting the artefacts to a laboratory in Chennai would not serve any purpose since the latter lacked the facilities required for scientific cleaning, analysis and documentation.

The judges, however, ordered that the Commissioner of the State Archaeological Department must take stock of the antiquities before they were moved out of Keezhadi.

The Commissioner was ordered to personally monitor the work of noting down details of each artefact, besides shooting videos and taking photographs of antiquities excavated during the 2015-16 field season. As for the artefacts excavated from Keezhadi during the 2014-15 season, the court was informed that they had already been moved to the Bangalore Circle Office.

Recording the statement, the judges directed the Commissioner to depute a subordinate to visit the Bangalore lab for collecting details and shooting videos of the artefacts shifted there, too.

“After the scientific analysis, the excavated material should be brought back and kept in Keezhadi or in the Sivaganga district museum or any other suitable building,” the court ordered.

On the possibility of a site museum at Keezhadi, the ASI said it received “more than 120 exploration and excavation proposals in every field season and it is a tedious process to propose a site museum at any of the sites because the importance of the site can be established only after extensive excavation and post excavation analysis.”

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TN for continuation of excavation in Keezhadi: Minister

State Minister for School Education, Sports and Youth Welfare, K. Pandiarajan, on Monday promised all possible help from the State government for the continuation of the excavation being carried out by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at Keezhadi in Sivaganga district.

Mr. Pandiarajan, along with Minister for Khadi and Village Industries Board, G. Baskaran, inspected the site on Monday.

Their visit comes close on the heels of a public interest litigation petition filed in the Madras High Court against moving the artefacts discovered at the 3rd century BC urban settlement to the ASI office in Bengaluru.

The State government has also evinced interest in setting up a site museum at Keezhadi to display the 5,300 antiquities that have been unearthed so far and has even offered to allot 72 cents of land for the same.

However, K. Amarnath Ramakrishnan, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, said that the excavation was at a very early stage and there was a long way to go before the site museum could be set up. “Keezhadi is a discovery to prove wrong all claims that Tamil Nadu did not have any urban settlement during the Sangam period. The brick structure with proper drainage system per se is a new revelation. Nowhere in Tamil Nadu have so many antiquities been discovered,” he said.

The ASI has proposed to conduct excavation on 110 acres of private land close to the Vaigai river. “In the last two years, we have completed less than two per cent of the total excavation. We have to do it for at least 10 years,” he said, expressing confidence that many more significant discoveries would be made.

“All the antiquities need to be stored only in the ASI office in Bengaluru for further processing like carbon dating and preparing the reports before the actual process for setting up a museum could be taken up,” he said. Stating that he was custodian of all the artefacts, Mr. Ramakrishna said that he could hand them over to the State government after going through all the required procedures.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

History resurfaces

RARE RELIC: Potsherds discovered at Sulapuram site. Photo: Special Arrangement

RARE RELIC: Potsherds discovered at Sulapuram site. Photo: Special Arrangement

In what could be a significant development following the Keezhadi village excavations, which brought to light one of the biggest human habitations of Sangam Age, archaeologists of Pandyanadu Centre for Historical Research (PCHR) in association with the School of Historical Studies of Madurai Kamaraj University have discovered potsherds of burial urns and ring stands belonging to the megalithic period in Sulapuram Village near T. Kallupatti in Madurai District.

“It assumes importance as this was the period when people learnt the art of constructing houses and lived together in a community, which is quite evident from the presence of dolmenoid cists. People constructed houses with burnt bricks and were familiar with the technology. These fragments of urns and ring stands were offerings made to the departed souls,” says C. Santhalingam, the PCHR secretary.

The team, comprising R.Udhayakumar and T.Muthupandi, members of PCHR and MKU research scholars C.Pandeeswaran and K.Palraj, collected the fragments found lying all over 10 acres at the foot hills of Western Ghats in Sulapuram Village.

The fragments were first noticed by the local residents and were reported to Pandeeswaran and Palraj who brought it to the knowledge of the research centre. “These potsherds resurfaced after the rains on the western ghats. When the rain water flowed down the slope it eroded the soil and brought them to the surface. Some artefacts like the ring stands and urns are intact while some are found in broken condition,” says Santhalingam.

The team also identified the presence of cairn circles. Most of the potsherds including plates, cups, pots and ring stands are black and red in colour. All are well burnished wares. The ring stands were used to hold big round bottom pots. No scripts or graffiti markings are found on the surface of the potsherds.

“It was a transition period. People worked in groups and erected dolmenoid cists in honour of their ancestors. Also that was the time Tamil Brahmi inscription also came into being. We tried in vain to find out any inscription on the potsherds,” he says.

Agriculture and fishing must have been the main occupation at that time with people gaining the knowledge of making iron tools, sickles, ploughs. With beads and broken bangle pieces strewn all over the place and potsherds and dolmenoid cists talking about the 2,500 years old history, Sulapuram could as well be another Keezhadi in the making as the artefacts are comparable and datable to the same period.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Unearthing an advanced and vibrant civilisation at Keezhadi

More artefacts unearthed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the second phase of its ongoing excavation at Pallichanthai Thidal of Keezhadi in Sivaganga district point to an ancient civilisation that thrived on the banks of the Vaigai. Further excavation could establish it as Vaigai Valley civilisation, similar to the Indus Valley civilisation.

Archaeologists at the site opine that the brick structures and antiquities conform to the parameters that describe a civilisation.

This will dispel the popular theory that ancient Tamils lived as tribals and urbanisation happened much later. In the first phase of excavation, done in 43 quadrants from February to September 2015, brick structures and Rouletted and Arretine pot shreds that suggested trade links with other parts of the country and abroad were unearthed.

Among the significant finds in the second phase, which began in January, are two big-sized storage jars placed one above the other and connected to an underground terracotta pipeline and a two-layered furnace. “We have dug up 53 trenches in this phase to look at continuity and nature of structures. This is definitely a huge urban settlement, a rare one in Tamil Nadu. Its character as Vaigai Valley civilisation can be brought out through large-scale excavation over a decade,” says K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI.

A clear picture of the sophisticated habitat is emerging now with stone structures, oriented in cardinal directions, suggesting systematic urban planning. Pot shreds with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions point to the presence of a highly literate society. Graffiti of the sun and moon demonstrate that they had “astronomical sense” too. “The level of sophistication can be gauged from luxury and pastime items like the ivory dice, a game of an elite society,” says M. Rajesh, Assistant Archaeologist.

An in situ find of an engraved pot clearly places the site between second and first century BC. However, field experts are of the view that it cannot be compared to Harappa, except in terms of size. Harappa and Keezhadi are separated by time and distance of 1,200 years and over 2,000 km respectively. Senior epigraphist V. Vedachalam, who is the domain expert for the excavation, says that though Tamil Nadu had a unique culture during the Sangam period, micro-level variations have to be established through archaeological evidence, and antiquities found at the site will eminently serve the purpose. Keezhadi, according to him, is a site of abundant social, political and commercial significance. Existence of river valley civilisations in Tamil Nadu can be established by undertaking large-scale excavations on both the banks of major rivers.

Archaeologists are confident that Keezhadi will emerge as an “index site” to determine the culture of people living between Sangam and post-Sangam periods.

The ASI team has sent a proposal for extending the excavation into the third phase.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

A dead city beneath a living village

UNEARTHING HISTORY: Ancient brick structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi.  Photo: R. Ashok

UNEARTHING HISTORY: Ancient brick structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi. Photo: R. Ashok

As we enter the lush coconut farm at Keezhadi, a small hamlet in Sivaganga district, the tall trees sway in the breeze. But there is more to it inside this private farm. This is the place where an important part of Tamil history is being unearthed now by the Archaeological Survey of India. A set of four dozen square trenches have been dug out, to reveal what archaeologists call as one of the biggest human habitations of Sangam Age known so far. Just peep into them and you travel 3000 years back in time! Vadivel, the site supervisor, gives us a tour of the trenches which are neatly scooped out square pits, containing parts of homes like brick walls, wells, storages and mud vaults, pottery of various kinds and purposes and shells, glass, beads, rusted old coins, weapons and small tools made of bones and Iron, embedded in layers of soil.

As we walk around the trenches, peering down into them, one of the villagers engaged in contract work to dig the place, stretches her hand out from inside the pit. “This looks like a new find,” she says holding a thin off-white bangle. “This is a damaged bangle made of seashell. And it has a design carved on it,” observes Vadivel. This is how discoveries are made at an excavation camp, unplanned and unexpected! You just stumble upon history every now and then. Ever since last February, when the ASI started excavating the place, they have found something new everyday. “This project is a huge success. It’s astounding how this place has so much to offer. It must have been a big human settlement area,” says K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, the superintending archaeologist. “Now, close your eyes and visualise a city right here,” he says. It is indeed stupendous to imagine that the trees of Keezhadi stand on an old city.

Historians are on euphoria about the major find and postulate that Keezhadi could redraw the past of Madurai and push its antiquity by well over a millennium. “Through comparative dating, we place this site to be belonging to the 3rd Century B.C., which is over 2,500 years ago. However, the exact age can be arrived at only after carbon dating,” says Amarnath, who has worked on excavations in research of Indus Valley Civilisation in parts of Gujarat.

In a year-long survey conducted in 2013, the state Archaeology department had identified nearly 293 Sangam Age towns along the course of river Vaigai. “Our field of research included areas that fell within five kilometres from the river on both the banks, starting from the place of Vaigai’s origin in Theni district to the very end of the river in Ramanathapuram district,” says archaeologist Dr. V. Vedachalam. The places were classified as granaries, trading points, ports, habitation sites and living or dilapidated temples. Excavations were carried out at Varushanad in Theni and Azhagankulam in Ramnad.

The excavation at Keezhadi has been carried out at two localities in the farm. “Both the places have yielded different items and we presume they represent a social hierarchy,” says Amarnath. The bigger of the two locations with more number of trenches is said to be a settlement of educated rich people, as many jewellery, fine game stones, semi-precious stones and a dozen Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been found. “Even the brick structures appear more refined.” Beads of agate, Carnelian and quartz indicate that they had trade link with countries like Rome. The Tamil Brahmi letters found on pottery is all names of individuals such as, Thisan, Aadhan and Udhiran. “They are typical Sangam Age Tamil names,” says Amarnath.

The second locality has more of graffiti on pottery, bone tools and iron weapons. “We have got the fish symbol, both as an art and as a ‘sign representing a clan,” says Vadivel. Red-and-black pottery, groove tiles used for laying roofs and the typical flat brick measuring 38 centimetres are the other indications that the city unearthed belongs to the Sangam Age. “Keezhadi could as well be the ‘Peru Manalur’, the city of Sangam Pandiyas mentioned in literature,” suggests Amarnath.

The excavation project is expected to be completed by September end and after taking samples, the site will be handed over to the owners. Keezhadi is open to public and students to visit till then.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Second phase of excavation begins

Having struck gold in the first leg in terms of archaeological finds, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) began the second phase of excavation at Pallichanthai Thidai of Keezhadi village in Sivaganga district on Monday.

The first phase, which spread from March to September 2015, threw up very interesting antiquities of the Sangam Age.

“We have begun the second phase with the encouraging results of the first phase, especially the impressive structural activity. More importantly, the site is very close to the historic city of Madurai and has immense potential to explore the Sangam Age,” said Sathyabama Badrinath, Regional Director (South), ASI, who inaugurated the excavation. She was confident that the archaeologists at the site would be able to link the structures they came across in the first phase in the current exercise.

“This will help in further exposing the already exposed structures,” she said.

K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist, said that though a tentative date of third century BC had been fixed for the site, the exact date could be determined only through carbon dating of the antiquities found so far. He was hopeful that carbon dating of about 1800 antiquities found in the first phase would be over in about six months from now.

The ASI Director General Rakesh Tewari had approved the second phase till September 2016.

A sum of Rs.15 lakh had been sanctioned for taking up excavation during this financial year. Mr. Amarnath said that 15 quadrants would be dug up to begin with in the second phase, closer to the old trenches. The site is located at a distance of 12 km from Madurai.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Decorative pot found in Keezhadi

Madurai; Tamil Nadu; 03/09/2015. A rare earthenware pot found by the Archaeological Survey of India's excavation team at Keezhadi village near Madurai on Thursday. Photo; G. Moorthy

Madurai; Tamil Nadu; 03/09/2015. A rare earthenware pot found by the Archaeological Survey of India's excavation team at Keezhadi village near Madurai on Thursday. Photo; G. Moorthy

A beautifully crafted earthen pot with leaf decoration was unearthed at Archaeological Survey of India’s excavation site at Keezhadi near here on Thursday, adding to a repository of evidence pointing to the existence of an urban habitation closer to the erstwhile capital of Pandya kingdom.

The exquisitely crafted pot, measuring 72 cm in width and 42 cm in height, was found by an ASI team led by K. Amarnath Ramakrishna, Superintending Archaeologist.

“This is for the first time such a decorative pot has been found in a habitation site in Tamil Nadu during excavation,” says Mr. Amarnath. The storage pot contains pure river sand but its actual use could not be fixed immediately.

Two similar pots of different shapes have started to emerge in two other pits of the excavation site. The huge red pot, which is among a variety of earthenware discovered in the area, was found embedded alongside a water storage facility.

Noted epigraphist V. Vedachalam says that the kind of antiquities found at the site, ‘Pallichandai Thidal,’ reaffirm the belief that nestled among three ancient places — Konthagai, Keezhadi and Manalur — was an urban settlement that had trade links with North India and the western world during the Sangam Age. References to Manalur are found in Tiruvilayadalpuranam. During a later period, Konthagai and Keezhadi were merged as Kuntidevi Chaturvedimangalam and gifted to Brahmins.

A fossilised piece of bone, which could have been used in arrows, was found during excavation on Thursday. A square copper coin of Pandyan Peruvazhudhi with horse and turtle motifs was also found at the surface level.

The excavation has been extended to 43 pits and the first season will come to an end by the end of this month. The second season of excavation will begin in January.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Uncovered: Pandyas-Romans trade link

Madurai; Tamil Nadu; 16/06/2015. A damaged structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi near Madurai on Tuesday. Photo; G. Moorthy

Madurai; Tamil Nadu; 16/06/2015. A damaged structure found at the ASI's excavation site at Keezhadi near Madurai on Tuesday. Photo; G. Moorthy

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.

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 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.

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Keezhadi excavation leads to ancient civilisation on the banks of Vaigai

Of kings and temples

The Sanctum Santorum of Arjuna Eswaram Temple. Photo: S.S. Kavitha

The Sanctum Santorum of Arjuna Eswaram Temple. Photo: S.S. Kavitha

Keezhadi is steeped in historical, religious and archaeological richness. Even a child from the village can play a guide to the 800-year-old Arjuna Eswaram temple.

A defaced ‘Nandi’ at the entrance confirms antiquity of the temple renovated by Maravarman Kulasekra Pandiyan (1268-1311A.D.). The presiding deity is ‘Suyambu Linga’ in a 10x10 feet sanctum sanctorum with two podiums on each side.

On the top, an octagonal structure attracts everyone’s attention. A newly constructed mandapam next to the sanctum sanctorum has ‘Uraiyudayanayaki’, Lord Shiva's consort. In a peculiar arrangement, Ambal faces south and Dhakshinamoorthy faces north here.

According to an archaeological source, the structure of the gopuram implies the then existing Dravidian style of vimana. Tamil inscriptions are found on the outside of the temple. One of them records that Maravarman Kulasekra Pandiyan (1268-1311A.D.) carried out renovation during his regime and named it Pandiya Eswaramudaya Nayanar temple. Another inscription says Koobakarayar, son of Malavarayar, one of the Pandya chieftains, established the statues of Natarajar and Sivagami Ammaiyar. He also requested that god and goddess be named after his parents – Surisuvaramudiaya Nayanar and Uthamma Piratiyar.

Yet another inscription of Kulasekra Pandiyan notes that people of the village sold lands to Koothan Thennadan Thiribhuvana Singa Thevan who hailed from Kannanur in Malayalam country. Arayan Suriyathevan alias Devendra Vallavan Viradarayan of Thurumoor dug out a river named Thiyagamsiriya Peraru.

King Kulasekra Pandiyan is the last king of later Pandya kingdom. The feud between his sons – Sundarapandiyan and Veerapandiyan – ended their regime paving way for Muslim invasion. Malik Kafur made his entry in 1310 A.D.

During the olden days, the village was called Kreedapuram. Later the name witnessed changes and resulted in Keezhadi, villagers say. According to archaeological sources, the old name of the village is ‘Kundi Devi Chathurvedi Mangalam’ alias ‘Kondagai.’ The temple which is known as Arjuna Eswaram was earlier known as ‘Mudi Vazhangu Pandya Eswaram.’ The temple got its name from the title name of King Maravarman Sundara Pandiyan I (1216-1238 AD).

People believe that the village has some links to Mahabharata. They say that Arjuna performed puja for Lord Shiva in the Arjuna Eswaram after taking bath in the temple tank. Now, there is no evidence of a temple tank.

During an archaeological excavation, the archaeologists unearthed terracotta figurines belonging to 12 century A.D. The figurines unearthed in the village are preserved at Thirumalai Naicker Mahal and Gandhi Museum.

The village also has temples for ‘Nallathangal,’ a lady who drowned herself with her seven children in a well and ‘Yamadharma Rajan.’ The temple of Yamadharma Rajan belongs to a particular family. It is believed that few decades ago a family gave the temple as a gift to the bride. Next to the temple lies an inscription bearing some details about the Yamadharma Rajan temple.

Abounding with such unique historical evidences, it is no wonder that Keezhadi is a sure attraction for the archaeologically inclined.

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Printable version | Sep 8, 2022 4:19:53 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/keezhadi-excavation-the-story-till-now/article56832245.ece