Tamil Nadu

Korkai exploration needs separate set of expertise: Thennarasu

The Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department has had a busy year with several excavations and restoration of heritage buildings and museums being carried out simultaneously. Minister for Archaeology Thangam Thennarasu, in an interview to The Hindu, says the preliminary study of the underwater site at the ancient port city of Korkai will begin this month and the Department is working towards setting up a carbon dating lab in Chennai that will reduce the dependency on foreign labs for testing our artefacts. Excerpts:

Whenever we have found something, we have published the details
in the public forum. Whatever be the findings, we are also corroborating them with scientific evidence, says 
Minister for Archaeology Thangan Thennarasu

Whenever we have found something, we have published the details in the public forum. Whatever be the findings, we are also corroborating them with scientific evidence, says Minister for Archaeology Thangan Thennarasu | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

The Archaeological Department is in the news for the past year. Could you give us an update on the activities?

We have taken up new excavation seasons at Keeladi, Manalur, Kondagai and Gangaikonda Cholapuram. We have also taken up new sites for excavation this year — Vembakottai in Virudhunagar district, Thulukarpatti in Tirunelveli district and Perumbalai in Dharmapuri district. Also, this is the first time in history that the Tamil Nadu government has allotted funds to the tune of ₹5 crore for excavations. This shows the importance this government is attaching to archaeology. We are also taking up restoration of historical buildings — Sharjah Madi in Thanjavur Palace and the Thirumalai Nayaker Palace in Madurai. At the Government Museum in Egmore, we are renovating the Amaravathi Gallery, the Museum Theatre. We have sent a proposal to the Government of India for an additional building and funds have been allotted for the Bronze museum. 

What is the progress of excavations at Keeladi and other sites?

The excavations are on, and this season will be completed in a couple of months. Importantly, work is almost complete on the site museum at Keeladi. The construction is complete and the lighting and display work is going on. It should be ready by October and be thrown open to the public by the Chief Minister. The Keeladi site museum will be spread over 36,000 sq.ft. The total outlay for the project is ₹12 crore.

One of the challenging excavations planned is at the Korkai underwater site. Are there plans to undertake it any time soon?  

Korkai is a very interesting site for us. It is an ancient port city. Work has been going on-shore since 1968. We have found a perforated pipeline at the site, which, it is being said, could have been used for distilling. We are keen on exploration at both Korkai and Pattanam in Kerala. But it needs a separate set of expertise. That is why we are collaborating with the National Institute of Ocean Technology to undertake the underwater exploration. A ship was ready to sail on June 9, but had to be put off owing to adverse weather conditions. Preliminary studies will start this month and a team of our experts will also go on the ship. Divers will look for any type of structures underwater. The exploration will help us understand and establish trade relations that we had with the rest of the World.

The Chief Minister had announced the Department will take up excavations in other States to trace the cultural roots of Tamils. Has work begun on that?

We are in the process of seeking permission from other States. Once the formalities are complete, we will start the work.  

There is criticism from some archaeologists that Tamil Nadu is reluctant to share the complete findings of seasons 5, 6 and 7 at Keeladi and only the interim report has so far been filed even for season 4…

This is a baseless criticism. Whenever we have found something, we have published the details in the public forum. Whatever findings are there, we are also corroborating them with scientific evidence and endorsement from eminent experts. Currently, the excavations for season 8 are going on and the work on the site museum is also under way. Once they are completed, they will start the report writing process. The reports have to be mandatorily submitted to the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology (CABA) for approval. In fact, Mayiladumparai was the third report we have published. This also begs the question as to what the ASI has been doing since the reports for the first three seasons of excavations at Keeladi are not yet ready. So, can it be said that the ASI is not transparent?

Is there a renewed push for studies on links between graffiti in the excavations in Tamil Nadu and the signs of the Indus Valley Civilisation?  

We have now allotted funds for the study. Iravatham Mahadevan [the late epigraphist and civil servant] was doing a compendium for Indus symbols. We need to carry forward the study so that the links between the symbols of the Indus Valley and our graffiti can be established. We are going to work in association with the Roja Muthiah Research Library. The study will look at the link between the Indus civilisation and the Dravidian civilisation, where they exactly met. Some of them [graffiti and signs] are similar, how this can be connected and what connection we can derive from these symbols needs to be looked at.

There is a DNA lab at Madurai Kamaraj University. Are there plans to set up a carbon dating lab in the State?

We have an idea for setting up a carbon dating lab in Chennai. It has to be established in collaboration with a renowned institute like Anna University. There is an active proposal. That needs to be approved. We are sending everything to Beta Analytic in Florida. It is a long-pending demand that we need to have our own world-class carbon dating lab since we are doing lots of excavations.


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Printable version | Aug 6, 2022 10:14:36 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/korkai-exploration-needs-separate-set-of-expertise-thennarasu/article65533155.ece