What is Keeladi (Keezhadi) excavation?
In 2013-14, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) carried out explorations in 293 sites along the Vaigai river valley in Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts. Keezhadi in the Sivaganga district was chosen for excavation and artefacts were unearthed by the ASI in the second phase of the excavation. This is a large-scale excavation carried out in Tamil Nadu after the Adichanallur archaeological site.
What did it show?
It pointed to an ancient civilisation that thrived on the banks of the Vaigai. The excavations proved that urban civilisation had existed in Tamil Nadu since the Sangam age.
Which age did it belong to?
Keeladi excavation site is a Sangam period settlement near the town of Keeladi (also spelt as Keezhadi). It is dated the excavated remains between the 5th century BCE and the 3rd century CE.
Who conducted the excavations?
The first three phases of excavation at Keeladi were conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India while the fourth and fifth phases were conducted by the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department. The sixth phase of excavations at Keezhadi is to begin in January 2020.
What was found and what is its significance?
- Almost 48 square pits have been cut and various structures and artifacts have been found, including frosts, brick walls, roof tiles, pottery, mimic accessories, skeletal tools, iron Vel, and Tamil-Brahmi letter-etched plates. This place is considered to be the Pandyan dynasty’s city called “Perumanalur”, the pioneer of literature. The use of fired brick, the size of the building complex, an array of pots placed in such a way that it must have been used either as a lamp or for painting, and other finds suggest that the settlement is of a more civilized population than was previously thought to be during the Sangam period.
- More than 10 buildings have been found at the bottom of the settlement. This is strong proof that this was a well-developed city. The excavation has disproved the claim that there were no buildings during the Sangam period.
- Water supply and wastewater are considered important landmarks of civil development. At the bottom of the settlement, there are buildings with a sewage canal facility made of ceramic tubes.
- Ancient earthenware and ring wells have been found which proves the ancient tradition of Tamils indicating that they used these wells in river shores and ponds for water. Brick buildings are considered rare in ancient times but a large number of brick buildings have been found.
- Specific types of ceramics brought by merchants demonstrate business connections with the Roman Empire. There are also black and red parchment fragments from the earliest history. There Tamil words engraved with the potteries that mention the names of individuals like ‘Aathan’, ‘Uthiran’ and ‘Thisan’.
- potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi script were discovered at the site. Some of these artifacts have inscribed graffiti marks, similar to graffiti marks which some believe to have evolved from the Indus script.
- There are sponges, marble, green, yellow and blue glass beads found here. There are also elephant tusks, copper ointment and sheets of wire. Various rare artifacts including gold ornaments, terracotta stamps, tiles, and firefly toys are found.
What is the Sangam period?
The Sangam period is the period of the history of ancient Tamil Nadu and Kerala (known as Tamilakam) spanning from c. 6th century BCE to c. 1st century CE. It is named after the famous Sangam academies of poets and scholars centred in the city of Madurai.
What is Radiocarbon dating and why is it used?
Radiocarbon dating has transformed our understanding of the past 50,000 years. Professor Willard Libby produced the first radiocarbon dates in 1949 and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his efforts. Radiocarbon dating (also referred to as carbon dating or carbon-14 dating) is a method for determining the age of an object containing organic material by using the properties of radiocarbon, a radioactive isotope of carbon.
- It is based on the fact that radiocarbon (C-14) is constantly being created in the atmosphere by the interaction of cosmic rays with atmospheric nitrogen.
- The resulting carbon-14 combines with atmospheric oxygen to form radioactive carbon dioxide, which is incorporated into plants by photosynthesis; animals then acquire carbon-14 by eating the plants.
- When the animal or plant dies, it stops exchanging carbon with its environment, and from that point onwards the amount of carbon-14 it contains begins to decrease as the carbon-14 undergoes radioactive decay.
- Measuring the amount of carbon-14 in a sample from a dead plant or animal such as a piece of wood or a fragment of bone provides information that can be used to calculate when the animal or plant died.
- The older a sample is, the less carbon-14 there is to be detected, and because the half-life of carbon-14 (the period of time after which half of a given sample will have decayed) is about 5,730 years, the oldest dates that can be reliably measured by this process date to around 50,000 years ago, although special preparation methods occasionally permit accurate analysis of older samples.