The Tamil Nadu archaeological department’s request to continue excavations at four locations, including Keeladi, has been approved by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The development has given hope to experts that the 1000-year gap in history between the Sangam Age and the Indus civilisation may now be bridged.
The commisisoner of state archaeology department, T Udhayachandran, who played a key role in the Keeladi excavation, told The Indian Express the Centre’s approval has come following a request to undertake excavations at Keeladi in Sivaganga, Kodumanal in Erode, Sivagalai in Tirunelveli and Adichanallur in Thoothukudi district.
Significant findings during the Keeladi excavation in September proved that the history of Sangam Era, earlier considered as old as 3rd century BC, is as old as 6th century BC. The findings were based on six carbon samples collected by the state archaeology department and tested in the US. It was also found that Tamil Brahmi script (Tamili) dates back to 580 BC. Evidence that existed earlier had traced Tamili back to 490 BC, according to studies by K Rajan, a prominent scholar who teaches archaeology at Puducherry Central University.
Connecting the dots
The latest Keeladi excavation has pushed the history of South India back from 300 BC to 600 BC. And the gap that remains with Indus Valley civilisation — dating back to 1500 BC — may be connected after the further excavations now allowed by the ASI.
Now that the state is allowed to continue excavations, the outcome may be a path to establish a direct link between the Sangam era and the Indus Valley civilisation. “In South India, we have had iron age between 2000 BC to 600 BC. So it is a hypothesis that graffiti marks found in Keeladi may have links to the Indus Valley period…” said Rajan.
Rajan, in a detailed conversation with The Indian Express in September, said the Indus script is 4,500 years old and the graffiti marks in the Keeladi region are dated between disappearance of Indus script and emergence of the Brahmi script. “Some 1,001 graffiti sherds found from Keeladi site are believed to be the early writing expressions of the Iron Age people…” he said.
While Keeladi excavations, like in Gangetic plains, have unearthed large-scale brick structures and associated artefacts of high value, suggesting an active urban life as early as 6th century BC in Tamil Nadu, state archaeology department commissioner Udhayachandran said, “Madurai city excavation plans are not part of these four locations. That remains an option for us considering the development of these projects,” he said.
Excavations in Keeladi, about 13 km south east of the temple city Madurai and close to Vaigai river, were started by ASI in three stages between 2014 and 2017.
A senior state official part of excavations said they had requested for further excavation for better evidence about the Vaigai basin, once an active urban cluster, and Keeladi, which seems to have had a lot of industrial activity.
“Maybe, in the next 20 or 25 years we will have a better picture with deeper excavations. Konthagai, an adjoining hamlet which was a burial ground… especially the places close to the Madurai temple, are among the sites where we are hopeful…” he said.