Archaeologists have been busy digging out the treasures buried in Keeladi, a village in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu, and historians and anthropologists are now interpreting the rich finds from the Sangam era. This is the fifth phase of excavations, and it has revealed many more artefacts and engineering designs. The fourth phase had established that the antiquities unearthed here could date from the 6th century BCE to the 1st century CE.
The present phase has shed more light, particularly on the advanced engineering techniques used then, “establishing that there was a culture and civilisation” in the region, as one archaeologist puts it. This is the first time that such a large-scale excavation on a ‘habitational mount’ has been carried out in Tamil Nadu. The excavations offer insights into engineering techniques that are more than 2,000 years ago.
As the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department’s experts dug around the site based on a geomagnetism survey, they stumbled upon a closed bridge channel enclosed on four sides with bricks of various sizes. “Whoever built this seems to have had a very good sense of engineering. There are terracotta pipes in the pits that we dug; they could have used these pipes but they created a curved structure with bricks alone to create a closed channel. This would have allowed them to control the flow of water and make sure the channel did not collapse due to the force of water,” said an official from the team.
Among the findings is an orange carnelian bead engraved with the image of a wild boar. Carnelian stones, from the quartz family, are not found in Tamil Nadu, but in the north-western parts of India. The engraved bead could date back 2,000 years, the official said, but further studies are needed to confirm it. It hinted at the possibility of an ancient north-south trade link. “This is like a signature bead. The wild boar may be a totem symbol. In the 2018 excavations, we had found some bones, one of which was that of a wild boar. It is likely there is a connection.”
Text by T.K. Rohit; Photographs by Jothi Ramalingam.
Spot of history: An aerial view of the Keeladi excavation site spread over nearly five acres in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu. The fifth phase of excavations is coming to an end. More than 10,000 artefacts have been unearthed by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department across the five phases. Keeladi is one of the most important archaeological sites discovered in south India.
Advanced architecture A Sangam-era tank measuring 1x1.5 metres.
Pot luck Finding an intact pot in excavations is ‘very rare’, say officials. Here, the crumbling lid was found too.
Well done A ring well was found in this phase of digging. The eight rings together were 12 feet high.
Ancient wonders A closed bridge channel that archaeologists say is an advanced engineering technique from more than 2,000 years ago.
Arena Curious onlookers throng a 60-metre-long brick structure that was unearthed on the site.
A terracotta pipe measuring half a metre
A carnelian bead measuring 0.5 cm with an engraving of a wild boar
A miniature pot (2 inches) possibly used as a measuring cup
A pot shred with a ‘Tamizhi’ inscription