Adichanallur in Thoothukudi district, an ancient Tamil burial site, unfolds a lot of eye-catching details and interesting links to Indus Valley Civilisation
The other four archaeological sites include Rakhigarhi in Haryana, Hastinapur in Uttar Pradesh, Dholavira in Gujarat and Shivasagar in Assam.
This megalithic burial site in Adichanallur dates back to 900 BC according to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which began its excavation work in 2004 about a century after the last excavation activity at this place. The burial site spreads over 114 acres of which 59 acres are listed as protected site by the ASI.
The first phase of the excavation on a rocky hillock on the banks of the Thamirabarani river, started from February 4 and ended on July 5, 2004. Six trenches were dug then. The team led by the then Superintending Archaeologist, T Satyamurthy, discovered a total of 157 burial urns, 57 of them intact and 15 with complete human skeletons inside.
Many of the urns, especially those that contained human skeletons, were covered with another urn. They had been buried after cutting the rock in circular pits, into which the urns were lowered in a three-tier formation. “The earliest burials formed the lowermost tier, which left enough space above to accommodate future burials,” says Satyamurthy. The urn, found at Adichanallur, resembles burial urns found at Malwa in Madhya Pradesh, suggesting trade contacts between the two regions.
The team also discovered a potsherd (fragment of broken earthenware) with stunningly beautiful motifs in applique designs.
At the centre of the motif is a tall, slender woman wearing a knee-length dress. Her hands are clinging to her sides and the palms seem to be spread out. Next to her is a sheaf of standing paddy and a crane is seated on the paddy stalk holding a fish with its beak.
There is a beautiful, young deer with straight horns and upturned tail. There is also a crocodile, and a knob mark. The applique designs were made using clay. “A small thin rope must have been used to bring about the serrated effect in each motif,” says Satyamurthy.
“The strokes of these motifs resemble pre-historic cave paintings found in central Tamil Nadu. But here, it is embossed on the potsherd. The depiction of the woman signifies the mother-goddess/fertility cult,” says C Santhalingam, retired archaeological officer.
Among the other artefacts discovered at the burial site were a profusion of red ware, black ware, black-and-red ware, bronze anklets and copper bangles, copper ear-rings, iron spear-heads, terracotta lids with tiered knobs, terracotta vessels that could be used both as lids and as bowls, globular vessels and long-necked utensils. There were vases, pots with exquisite decorations, broken daggers and swords made of iron. There were also Neolithic celts, iron implements, urns with clan marks and urns with hooks inside.
One urn had the skeletons of a mother and a child. Some skulls had disintegrated as the bones had become fragile. Three copper bangles and some copper chisels were also found at the site.
“Adichanallur is the earliest burial site in Tamil Nadu till date," says Satyamurthy adding that its history would go back to 1,700 BC once the habitations were also found.
"In our excavation, we have come across a culture earlier to the megalithic period. It is a well-stratified culture. The pottery is typologically different from that of megalithic pottery,” he remarks.
Further excavation has brought to light traces of the town's fortification/rampart wall, which was made of mud with stone veneering in parts. Three potters' kilns with ash, charcoal and broken pots were found, confirming that this was a habitational site. "It looks like a crowded town which was busy. On the one side is the burial site. Within 500 metres you have the kilns, which means life was active. It may have been an urban centre," says Satyamurthy.
Adichanallur must have been a busy mining and industrial centre. The making of bronze figurines, iron implements such as swords, daggers and arrow-heads and big urns showed that it was a busy industrial township, say archaeological experts.