Hand axes, scrapers, cleavers and choppers as old as 12,000 years to rouletted ware (from the Sangam era – 2,000 years ago), Roman amphora sherds and glass beads indicating active trade with Rome were some of the artefacts found by the most recent Archeological Survey of India (ASI) excavation near Chennai.
While scholars see it as a crucial chapter in bridging the gap in Tamil history, ASI officials said it was significant as they had discovered some Sangam age artefacts from Natham Medu too, 40 km north west of Chennai city.
K Rajan, a professor at Puducherry Central University, said the most recent discoveries at Natham Medu are significant for the Mesolithic artefacts found. “We previously discovered significant Mesolithic material at Pattinapakkam, a coastal town south of Chennai. Every stone artefact from stone age reveals a culture before it developed into a civilisation. So, these are significant in weaving the history, bridging the history,” Rajan said.
M Kalimuthu, supervising archaeologist of ASI in Chennai, said they have started searching for agencies to send discoveries for carbon dating studies, suggesting that Natham Medu was likely a place where stone tools were produced for hunting. The majority of these stone shards were discovered 75 cm below the surface. In the same area, a 10m by 10m pit had artefacts and rouletted ceramics from the Sangam age, Roman amphora sherds, and glass beads shows ongoing trade with Rome from that period. According to Kalimuthu, the sculptures date from the Pallava era (275 CE) to the late Pallavas on the surface (897 CE).
The archeological site at Guruvan Medu, also known as Natham Medu, near Vadakkupattu village, was originally discovered in 1922. There are around 200 potential sites in Tamil Nadu that are used by students and universities for their small-scale excavations.
“There were multiple factors, including reports and observations from experts, that made us go deeper into the Guruvan Medu site. The excavation started in July 2022 and we will stop it in a few days only to resume it next year after monsoon,” he said.
According to him, the chiselled stone tools indicating the Mesolithic civilization found at a depth of 75 cm were the key findings about a culture. He said they were also surprised to find floor tiles from the area they excavated from the same spot. “They were similar to roof tiles we found from Keeladi. They were handmade, like in Keeladi, but with different features and styles,” Kalimuthu said.
One of the major archaeological findings from Tamil Nadu in the recent past were in September 2019, indicating that Keeladi, near Madurai, was an urban settlement of Sangam Age on the banks of River Vaigai. The findings, part of a report, had also pushed the history of literacy in south India to at least 2,600 years ago, reducing the gap between the Sangam era or Tamilagam (South India), and the Indus Valley Civilisation (1,500 BCE). Earlier, it was the 3rd century BCE.
The state Archaeology Department is now investigating the digs at Mayiladumparai and Keeladi near Madurai, where evidence established the origins of the Tamil Brahmi scripts as 600 BCE, rather than around 300 BCE as previously thought — a critical discovery that narrowed the gap between the Indus Valley Civilization and Tamilagam/South India’s Sangam Age.
While Keeladi’s findings proved that there were “large scale brick structures and associated artefacts of high economic value” 2600 years ago, Kalimuthu said radiocarbon dating and a scientific analysis would be bridging more gaps with regard to Natham Medu findings too citing Keeladi model roof tiles they have found in two-month excavation.