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Vol. XXVI No. 07, July 16-31, 2016

How old are the finds near Madurai?

(Excerpted by A Staff Reporter)

Keezhadi is a village 12 km from Madurai. The staff of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), scouting for information on potential ‘dig’ sites in the districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram and along the Vaigai river from 2013, heard of Keezhadi as a village where potsherds were regularly found while tilling the soil. Amarnath Ramakrishna, an ASI superintending archaeologist, followed this up, dug 53 trenches and has nearly 60 people digging carefully, collecting shards, antiquities and other clues to life from an ancient era.

The site promises to become one of South India’s greatest archaeological discoveries, it is said. People are comparing it to Indus Valley sites. However, even if what is found is at least of the Sangam age, that dates the site to 500 BCE, a significant discovery even if it is a millennium after the last stage of the Indus Valley civilisation (2600-1600 BCE).

In the late 1970s, a school headmaster in Keezhadi had found terracotta artefacts in the village. A Madurai epigraphist visited the site after a tip-off from the teacher. When he revisited the site in 2014 along with the ASI team, they found an exposed brick structure.

With enough evidence pointing to a major discovery, the ASI team began the first round of digging in March 2015. Almost every one of the digs opened out large-sized bricks, including a wall, quartz beads with engravings, pearl micro-beads and terracotta figurines. The second round began early this year.

The finds included metal objects, spearheads, black-ware pottery, bangles, rings, an antimony rod, a dice, terracotta figurines that may have been chess pieces, nails, roof tiles and even a few gold beads, besides thousands of potsherds, including some with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions.

The most spectacular finds are the brick structures. Some appear to be canals, others part of a large habitation site and there is one that seems to be a furnace. Whatever found is being carbon-dated. It’s too early to come to a conclusion, but the magnitude of the architecture suggests that this could have been a major settlement along the Vaigai river.

At the Pallichandai Thidal coconut grove, excavations are on at full steam and the villagers are becoming more involved. Most of the workers at the site are locals, who now have a steady source of income. Landowners, too, are readily leasing out plots for the excavations. Says Ramakrishna, “As great as Tamil civilisation is, there is a woeful lack of archaeological evidence of its past glory. I hope Keezhadi is the beginning of a magnificent discovery of the past.”

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