Saturday, September 26, 2015

Kodumanal Archeological Site

Kodumanal Archeological Site
Kodumanal Archeological Site is located in Kodumanal village. Kodumanal is a village located in the Erode district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It was once a flourishing ancient trade city known as Kodumanam, as inscribed in Patittrupathu of Sangam Literature. The place is an important archaeological site, under the control of State Archaeological Department of Tamil Nadu. It is located on the northern banks of Noyyal River, a tributary of the Cauvery.

Kodumanal (11° 6’ 42” N; 77° 30’ 51”) in Perundurai Taluk, Erode District, Tamil Nadu State, India is located on the north bank of the east-flowing Noyyal, a tributary to the Kaveri. It is about 15 km west of Chennimalai, a famous weaving centre and about 40 km southwest of Erode. At present Kodumanal is a tiny, unassuming village. Agriculture in the locality consists of dry cultivation, dependent on monsoon rains supplemented by well irrigation. The raising of cattle and sheep is a concomitant feature, which more than supplements the meagre income from agriculture.

However, its ancient significance is evident from the textual references to it as a trade-cum-industrial centre in Sangam literature Padirruppattu (dated to the latter part of the first millennium BCE and the first millennium CE) as also from its location. The site lies on an ancient trade route that connects Karur, an ancient capital of Cheras, in the east to the seaport of Muciri on the west (present day Pattanam).
The ancient city
The inhabitants of this destroyed ancient city of Chera dynasty were highly skilled craftsmen, who were specialized in making beads and high-quality iron. The place is referred to in Sangam literature as an important industrial centre that had links with the Chola port city of Kaveripoompattinam, now called Poompuhar.
Roman trade route
The city played a major role in Indo-Roman trade and relations, as the ancient city is located on the mid-way of a Roman trade route, linking Muziris port on the Malabar Coast with the Kaveripoompattinam (Puhar) Port in the Coromandel Coast.
Megalithic tombs
Excavations have been carried out and it came out with the layers of megalithic-cum-early tombs of historic period. Also there were two female and one male human skeleton were recovered from a pit burial in this site. A set of 300 megalithic tombs of different types and sizes were observed and recorded in this area.
The ancient city has been destroyed in time and now the area is available with the remains of a megalithic settlement dating back to the 2nd century BC. Apparently, this was the centre for the Romans who visited to obtain beryls from Kodumanal. The megalithic communities that flourished in this site belong to the period of 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD.
Iron and metal
The iron and steel furnaces and iron artifacts produced in these places revealed the technical advancement made by the iron smelters around 500 BC. The excavated sword bit contained spheroidal graphite phase and forge welding of high-carbon cutting edge. This place was once celebrated for its trade in precious stones like garnet, carnelian, lapis, sapphire and quartz. The people of this city were experts in manufacturing the finest iron.
Excavations uncovered ancient iron objects such as arrow heads and swords. They also produced Roman artifacts, iron melting furnaces, beads, shell bangles and pottery with the Tamil Brahmi scripts (from the habitation deposits and burials). Other artifacts uncovered during the excavation of this site include roulette pottery, Roman silver coins, and gold and silver spirals. A bronze statue of a lion and the iron melting furnaces were important to deciphering the site's history.
The antiquity of Kodumanal was first noticed by V. N. Srinivasa Desikan, ASI, as far back as 1961. After that early in 1980 a trial excavation was made on the site by the State Archaeology Department of Tamil Nadu whose results, however, have been reported only briefly by the Director of the Department, R. Nagaswamy. It is Pulavar S. Raju (formerly Professor of Epigraphy in Tamil University) who first brought out the real archaeological potential of the site by his frequent visits to the place.
This habitation-cum-burial site was excavated in seven seasons during the years 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1997, 2012 and 2013. In total 63 trenches and 16 graves were opened in fifteen hectares of the habitation mound and forty hectares of the associated graveyard. The ongoing work there has revolutionized our understanding of the timing of the cultural transformation which constitutes the beginning of the early historical period in South India. This, in turn, will require reworking our paradigm for understanding the advent of the early historic for the Indian subcontinent as a whole.

It is generally believed that South India entered into the historical phase around c. 3rd c. BCE. This is because of the historical presence there of Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty (whose capital was located in Pataliputra on the Ganga river in the present state of Bihar) whose inscriptions mention political entities in the deep South. Since those epigraphs are found in the adjacent regions of Karnataka and Andhra, it has been argued that writing too was introduced into South India during his rule. Ashoka's epigraphs are in the Brahmi script, one of the two earliest writing systems of ancient India.
Kodumanal excavations in recent years, however, have rendered that understanding as completely invalid. The site yielded five AMS dates of 200 BCE, 275 BCE, 300 BCE and 330 BCE and 408 BCE  (all uncalibrated) for the samples collected from well stratified layers respectively at the depth of 15 cm, 60cm, 65cm, 80 cm 120 cm. These come from layers which have yielded a considerable number of potsherds bearing inscriptions in the Tamil-Brahmi script. The excavations have yielded more than 600 Tamil-Brahmi inscribed sherds. The names on these potsherds, in several instances, have affiliations with names from the North.

The excavations have also yielded a couple of North Black Polished ware sherds which is associated with the first phase of the early historical period in North and Central India. In association with NBP, silver punch marked coins were found. There is now excellent evidence to argue that this commercial centre had well established trade and cultural contacts with the middle Gangetic plains in the 5th c BCE. Incidentally, there is still a 65 cm thick cultural deposit contained inscribed potsherds below the level that has yielded the above mentioned dates, so there is every possibility that the beginning of the early historic period may be pushed back further.
The other significant discovery made at the site was the exposure of a complete gemstone industry. Beads in different stages of manufacture, discarded chips, raw material blocks, a grooved stone slab form part of the extensive evidence unearthed from the central part of the habitation mound. The range of raw materials is also worth mentioning - sapphire, beryl, agate, carnelian, amethyst; lapis lazuli (which is likely to be from Badakshan), jasper, garnet and soapstone were unearthed from the habitation. Other significant findings were a crucible furnace used for manufacturing steel, iron furnace and copper smelting furnace. The evidence of textile production and a shell industry were found. The occurrence of various industries and trade items clearly suggest that Kodumanal was a flourishing trade-cum-industrial centre in South India during early historic times.
Taken together, the radiometric dates from Kodumanal make it crystal clear that the beginning of the early historic in South India - with writing, commercial centres marked by extensive artisanal activity, sub continental trade with areas ranging from the Gangetic plains to Afghanistan - is a couple of centuries earlier than previously thought. Thus, the beginning of the historical period here has nothing to do with the empire and interests of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka.
Situated on the north bank of the river Noyyal, a tributary of the famous river Kaveri, 20 km west of the iron-rich hill of Chennimalai, Kodumanal village is one of the most important archaeological sites of South India. Patittrupathu, a Tamil book of the Sangam age (300 B.C. to 300 A.D.), refers to the village as Kodumanam. Located in a semi-arid zone, the village is almost at the mid-point of a major Roman trade route linking the port of Muziris on the Malabar Coast with the port of Kaveripattinam on the Coromandel Coast. 
The Kodumanal village has repeatedly attracted many archaeologists. Much of the excavations took place in an area full of stone burials (megalithic burials), over two thousand years old. One such excavated burial has been carefully preserved for the tourists to see. 

The village has yielded several ancient iron objects such as swords and arrow heads. The other finds from the site include roulette pottery, Roman silver coins and gold and silver spirals. During the Roman times (300 B.C. to 300 A.D.), Kodumanal was a thriving bead-production centre. The beads were made out of precious and semi-precious stones such as beryl, carnelian, lapis-lazuli, quartz and sapphire. Beryl was obtained from a not-too-far village called Padiyur, referred as Pounatta by Ptolemy. Sapphire was obtained from another neighbouring place called Sivanmalai. Quartz was procured from a place called Vengamedu (meaning 'quartz mound'), again not far from Kodumanal. Carnelian was imported from Gujarat and lapis-lazuli from Afghanistan. 

Most villagers do not know the glorious history and antiquity of the village. A walk from the village-centre to the Noyyal river is a real 'heritage walk'- if one is lucky, one could pick up ancient pottery pieces, quartz stones and old stone beads strewn on the riverbank.