Friday, July 31, 2015

Keeladi Archaeological Excavation Prove Pandya Trade links with Romans

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)  (excavation branch VI), Bengaluru (பெங்களூரு)  is conducting excavations at Keeladi village (கீழடி கிராமம்) (Coordinates:    9°51'50"N   78°11'18"E),  located on the banks of Vaigai river (வைகை ஆறு) in Tiruppuvanam Taluk (திருப்புவனம் வட்டம்),  Sivaganga District (சிவகங்கை மாவட்டம்), Tamil Nadu, 630611, India. The quaint village is located at a strategic point on the ancient highway (பெருவழி) (national highway NH 49) leading to Rameshwaram. It is on the border of Madurai Sivagangai district and about 36 km towards west from Sivagangai, the District Headquarters; 09 km from Tirupuvanam; 12 km from Madurai and 491 km from State capital Chennai.  Keeladi Pin code is 630611. Silaiman (சிலைமான்) railway station , Tiruppuvanam railway station are the very nearby railway stations to Keeladi village.

The present excavation field, a mound specified as Pallichandai Thidal (பள்ளிச்சந்தை திடல்) with a perimeter of 3.5 km and ranges 80 acres in a coconut grove. The present excavation, commenced during 2013 - 14, is also the part of the Vaigai river valley excavation by ASI (excavation branch VI), Bengaluru. The excavation is amply supported by research scholars from the University of Madras and Government Arts College, Krishnagiri. The ASI excavation project is likely to be extended for one more year and final report is expected after validating the antiquities with existing evidence and conducting various scientific analyses.

The site also contiguous to ancient settlements like Konthagai (கொந்தகை) and Manalur (மணலூர்).  The region incorporating villages Kheeladi, Manalur and Konthagai was known as "Kuntidevi Chaturvedimangalam," (குந்திதேவி சதுர்வேதிமங்கலம்) (named after a Pandya queen) during later Pandya era. The inscriptions belonging to 12th and 13th centuries at Arjuneshvar temple (அர்ஜுனேஷ்வர் கோவில்) at Kheezhadi records the name of the geographical sub-division as 'Velur Kulakheel' (வேலூர் குலக்கீள்) under Pandya.

According to ASI official the mound at Pallichandai Thidal at Keezhadi which is under excavation could be the significant trading township on the trade route linking Madurai to the port of Alagankulam (அழகன்குளம் துறைமுகம்). It is learned from M Rajesh and N Veeraraghavan, Assistant archaeologists that ASI has already carried out archaeological surveys in this region during 70s and could bring out nothing as major as the present one had ever been undertaken. They felt that the Vaigai river valley remained neglected constantly despite its vast archaeological riches.

The trove of Pandya-era artifact unearthed from the 32 quadrants dug up so far, include glass, pearl, terracotta beads and figurines, grooved roof tiles, legged quern and early historic pottery like  rouletted and Aarretine pot shreds, black and red ware, black ware, white painted black and red ware and russet coated ware. The artifact  "may provide crucial evidence to understand the missing links of Iron Age to early historic period and subsequent cultural developments.”  

Pottery utensils, made of clay and hardened with heat, was an important part of daily living in ancient Rome. As Roman used earthenware for most of the purposes, a huge quantity of utensils, cooking pots, amphorae and fine wares were produced. Roman pottery can be divided in two main categories, namely fine ware and coarse ware. 

Coarse ware, as the name suggests was coarsely made and was used for different purposes like cooking, carrying liquids and eating (for poor people). Fine wares were the more formal and exquisite pottery that was used by Romans for formal occasions and was used to serve food on the table. The fine ware was delicate and had thin walls.  Romans also used the technique of glazing the pottery with lead and other materials to make them appear shiny and beautiful. 

Many scholars still regard  rouletted ware pot shreds of Mediterranean origin as proof of Indo-Roman trade from the late 1st century BC until the 2nd century AD and the production of rouletted ware ceases within the 2nd century A.D.  (R.E.M. Wheeler, A. Ghosh and Krishna Deva, "Arikamedu: An Indo-Roman Trading Station on the East Coast of India"). 

According to Superintending archaeologist K Amarnath Ramakrishna "The finding of rouletted pot shreds (highly smooth deluxe varieties brought by foreign traders) puts this place before 3 AD because the manufacture of such earthen ware stopped in Rome by 1 AD for some unknown reasons. Arretine pot shreds further confirm trade with Rome." Some of the pot shreds bear the names of individuals inscribed in Tamil-Brahmi script. Keeladi is becoming a very important archaeological site that unravels the cultural, historical and religious heritage of Tamil Nadu.   Rouletted ware is a dish form with a short rim and flat interior and decorated with two or three concentric bands. The pot shreds of arretine ware or ‘terra sigillata,’ bright-red, polished pottery also datable to pre-Christian era and this form of earthenware was used throughout the Roman Empire. The term Arretine means literally ware made of clay impressed with designs.  .

The fine and coarse varieties of black and red ware pottery, datable between Neolithic Age and Bronze Age (post-Rigvedic Vedic civilization), was produced at Ahar - Banas, the bronze age cultural complex of South Rajasthan. The outer surface was oxidized and the inner surface left as black. The 'blackware' and white painted black and red ware potteries are the contemporary to, and a successor of the black and red ware

Russet coated ware, the highly distinctive ceramic pottery of Deccan, South India. The pottery is embellished with white kaoline (white clay) decorations covered with an ochre wash on red ware or black and red ware vessels. This ceramic type was first called as "Andhra ware" R.E.M. Wheeler. 

Terracotta, a clay oriented glazed or unglazed earthenware with the porous body (when fired), was used by this ancient civilization to make beads or figurines.

The brick structures (unique size or dimensions: 33cm length, 21cm width and 5cm height), dating back  from 3rd BC to 3 AD,  are matching the past excavations in Arickamedu in Pondicherry, Kaveripoompattinam and Kancheepuram districts. The parts of a terracotta ring well (உறை  கிணறு ) was unearthed at this site.

Madurai is located on the banks of Vaigai river and often acknowledged as the Athens of the East by historians. Since Madhu (nectar) dropped on the Shivalingam, the historical town was recognized as Madhurapuri or city of nectar, which was later contracted to Madurai. No other dynasty in the world has ruled more duration than Pandya and Madurai was the seat of Pandya dynasty. The Pandyas,  a sea-faring dynasty,   maintained active maritime trade relationships with Ptolemaic Egypt and, through Egypt, with Rome by the first century,  with China by the 3rd century and with Sri Lanka and other nations and islands in the Indian Ocean. The traded goods included  pearls, spices, cloth and other commodities. Romans craved for these goods and exchanged against Roman coins. The discovery of numerous Roman coins around Madurai prove the confirmed Roman connections - the trade with Romans.

The archaeological team at work in Keezhadi, Sivaganga. Photo: G. Moorthy
Photo courtesy: The Hindu June 18, 2015 Photo: G. Moorthy

Ringwell and Sangam Brick structure. Photo courtesy: The Hindu June 18, 2015
Photo courtesy: The Hindu June 18, 2015
  1. Excavation near Madurai reveals Pandya-era artifacts by J Arockiaraj, Times of India. May 24, 2015
  2. Uncovered: Pandyas-Romans trade link by S. Annamalai. The Hindu. June 18, 2015. 
  3. 2200 ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முந்தைய பழங்கால நகரம் மதுரை அருகே கண்டுபிடிப்பு! விகடன் ஜூலை 16, 2015
  4. சங்க காலத்திலேயே வெளிநாடுகளோடு வர்த்தகம்: வணிகப் பெருவழிப் பாதையில் அமைந்த நகரம். சுப. ஜனநாயகசெல்வம். தி இந்து ஜூலை 26, 2015.
  5. சங்ககாலத் தமிழர்கள் வாழ்ந்த வர்த்தக நகரம் ! தோண்ட தோண்ட கிடைக்கும் உண்மைகள். ஞாயிறு, 26  ஜூலை , 2015.
  6. ரோமானிய எழுத்துக்களுடன் பானைகள்: தொல்பொருள் ஆய்வில் கண்டெடுப்பு : கீழடி பள்ளிச்சந்தையில் ஆய்வு. தினமலர் மே 22, 2015. 
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