- A team of 10 archaeologists has been working in Keeladi since 2013 to unravel the remains of a habitation site
- Keeladi,a small village with a population of around 5,000 people lies in the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu
- Archaeologists have tentatively estimated that it dates back to 200 BCE, and believe it might be even older
“I could not believe my eyes when I saw all that came out of the ground. It has made Keeladi famous” exclaims Theiyvamma, a local women from Tamil Nadu. Archaeologists and researchers have unearthed the crumbling remains of a civilization, a civilization that stands parallel to Mohenjo-daro in size and importance.
Keeladi,a small village with a population of around 5,000 people lies in the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu, 12 km from the city of Madurai. With the excavation of the site, which will eventually be referred to as the Vaigai River Valley Civilisation in the future, for the first time there are findings that will provide evidence that South India is a promising land for discovering ancient roots.
“It’s an eye-opening discovery, there’s no doubt that this was once a prosperous trade centre where elite people lived and worked,” said V Vedachalam, retired senior epigraphist of the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department to Hindustan Times. Carbon dating is yet to be carried out in Keeladi but based on the script found in the areas, archaeologists have tentatively estimated that it dates back to 200 BCE, and believe it might be even older.
A well found at the ASI’s excavation site at Keezhadi near Madurai, Tamil Nadu on June 28. Image source: G. Moorthy
A team of 10 archaeologists has been working in Keeladi since 2013 to unravel the remains of a habitation site that provides evidence for the way of life described in ancient Sangam literature. There were a long list of challenges that the archaeologists had to face to reach the apex they stand at today such as securing permission to excavate parts of the zeroed in 8-10 potential sites for their excavation, lacking the resources to excavate indiscriminately and ameliorating the doubts of the landowners about property damage. By overcoming these and various other difficulties, the explored area today presents a rather startling sight to the first time visitor with 96 precisely cut square pits called quadrants, each 4 metres deep.
Amongst the artifacts unearthed there are quaint chess pieces, a portion of an oven or a furnace, an enclosure which may have been used as a water tank, stone dice, quaint chess pieces, jagged chunks of semi-precious gems and some grooves in stone that appear to be an ancient drainage system. “One of the most remarkable discoveries that we’ve made are the remains of brick homes,” says Rajesh. “Being prohibitively expensive, bricks were not normally employed in civic structures in early history. They’re usually restricted to public spaces or houses of worship. This is a rare finding, especially significant when you consider how most other excavations in these parts have revealed only gravestones and cemeteries.”
There have been many potshards that have been found on the site. Their inscription has been giving an insight to age-old history, there is one with an image of a fish inscribed, many of them have a design with ringed borders and then there are some with names. The fish has been predicted to depict the badge of a Pandya ruler whereas one of the names has been linked to trades with Sri Lanka. Similarly, the shards with ringed borders point towards trade with foreigners.
Discoveries of excavation. Image source: hindustantimes.com
Currently, such significant discoveries have been kept on display in a tent just by the corner of the site hence ASI has now applied for permission to establish a site museum. Two phases of excavation are almost completed with the 2nd phase ending in September. Looking at all the progress that unlocked century old history, the project might extend into a third phase. With astonishing new finds that deepens the understanding of our history, the Heritage and history of Keeladi, a tiny village is now under the spotlight.