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Motifs on urn found at Iron Age burial site

NEVER-DYING ART: A series of motifs showing a woman, paddy, a crane, a deer, a crocodile, and a lizard, found on broken pieces of a burial urn at Adichanallur, Tamil Nadu. — Photos: A. Shaikmohideen

NEVER-DYING ART: A series of motifs showing a woman, paddy, a crane, a deer, a crocodile, and a lizard, found on broken pieces of a burial urn at Adichanallur, Tamil Nadu. — Photos: A. Shaikmohideen  

CHENNAI, JULY 24. The archaeological surprises thrown up at the Iron Age urn-burial site at Adichanallur (near Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu) do not seem to end. The latest: some stunningly beautiful motifs in appliqu� designs on pieces of an urn inside a full urn.

The motifs were apparently made on a full urn. Subsequently, its broken pieces were placed inside the full urn which contained a human skeleton.

The series of motifs show a tall, majestic looking woman; a swathe of standing paddy next to her; a crane; a deer; a crocodile and a lizard too.

These motifs resemble prehistoric cave paintings found in Erode and Dharmapuri districts of Tamil Nadu.

Pictorial ode

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai Circle, made the discovery this month in one of the six trenches it dug at Adichanallur. The woman who is standing holds what looks like an oval-shaped anklet in her right hand. The deer has long, straight horns and an upturned tail. The crane is perched on some vegetation. The crocodile looks as if it is crouching. It is virtually a pictorial ode. A small, thin rope was obviously used to bring about a serrated effect on the deer's horns, the sheaf of paddy, etc.

A UNIQUE FIND: A broken pot with a leaf-like decoration running around its middle.

A UNIQUE FIND: A broken pot with a leaf-like decoration running around its middle.  

The ASI has also discovered two urns, fully intact, with beautiful decorations on them. One has a garland-like impression running below its rim, created by a thumb impression. Another urn has two necklace-like ornamentation, cutting each other. A flat, thin knob protrudes from one of these decorations. A third broken pot has a leaf-like design running all round its middle.

T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle, who is the director of the excavations at Adichanallur, called the motifs "a unique find because no such motifs have been seen so far found on burial potteries in Tamil Nadu. These motifs resemble prehistoric cave paintings found in central Tamil Nadu including Erode and Dharmapuri districts."

Dr. Satyamurthy felt that the decorations on the two "intact" urns might signify the mark of a particular clan. According to G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist, ASI, the discovery of the motifs "is no doubt a unique find in the Iron Age culture of south India." The motifs "show the artistic knowledge of the prehistoric people of Tamil Nadu."

Mother-goddess cult?

The motifs have triggered a debate among archaeologists whether they signify the mother-goddess cult. According to them, the Iron Age urn burial site at Adichanallur is datable between 700 B.C. and 500 B.C.

During its excavation from February 4 to July 5, the ASI unearthed 150 urns. Of these, 50 are intact, and 15 had human skeletons. One had the skeleton of a child, with a small copper earring inside. The ring obviously belonged to the child. Copper bangles too were found at the site. Many urns with skeletons had small grave pots inside, and some had paddy and husk too.

Outside, around the urns, ritual pots were kept. The artefacts found include a broken arrowhead, a rusted dagger, a rusted iron spearhead, varieties of iron implements, Neolithic Celts, and a huge amount of exquisite potsherds.

Three-tier marvel

The "engineering marvel" at the Adichanallur burial site is its three-tier system. The earliest generation buried the dead in urns at a depth of about 10 feet. The next two generations buried them in urns in two tiers above. Urns were inserted by cutting a rocky hillock. Agriculture land was not used. Mr. Thirumoorthy said: "The three-tier system of burial shows their intention, with foresight, to accommodate future burials. Adichanallur shows the importance given to the dead in the early Tamil society in the mode of burial practice, and that society's socio, economic and religious beliefs."

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