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17 March 2004
Urn-burials at Adichanallur

100 years after an urn-burial site was first excavated by an amateur British archaeologist the Archaeological Survey of India [ASI] has resumed digging at Adichanallur in Tamil Nadu. To date, 20 burial urns have been unearthed. The burial site, a huge mound, is close to a lake on the southern bank of the Tamiraparani. Painted pot sherds, black ware and red ware found near the urns date from the megalithic period, 1000 BCE, to the 1st century CE, and from the early historic period which continued up to the 6th century CE. The sherds include hundreds with beautiful designs and graffiti, superbly crafted pot spouts and  tiered knobs from pot lids. One sherd had a twisted rope-like design running around it.
     According to T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist and Director of the dig, the urns and surrounding pots conform to descriptions of ritual in Tamil Sangam literature – ‘Manimekhalai’, ‘Natrinai’, ‘Raditrupattu’ and ‘Purananuru’. The remains of cremated bodies were placed in a burial urn, the mouth of which was covered by inverting another urn over it. Smaller pots strung around the ‘twin-pot’ burial urn contained personal possessions of the deceased - ornaments or weapons - together with offerings like paddy or grains. The archaeologists are hoping to find grain and other organic material (bones, wood or charcoal) that will assist Carbon-14 dating.
     The site was first brought to notice by Dr. Jagor of Berlin in 1876. Amateur British archaeologist Alexander Rea, who excavated the site for a few years from 1900, described it as “the most extensive prehistoric site as yet discovered in southern if not the whole of India. It covers an area of 114 acres, within which burial urns were found, at some places close together and at others more widely apart.” Rea’s results were published in the ASI’s Annual Report for 1902-1903 under the title ‘Prehistoric Antiquities in Tinnevelly’. According to Rea, the several thousand objects found at the site and inside the burial urns included finely made pottery, iron implements and weapons, bronze vessels and ornaments, gold diadems, bones, stone beads and stone household implements, together with traces of cloth, wood and mica. “Husks of rice and millet were found in quite a large number of pots inside the urns.”
     The aim of the current excavation is to investigate the site thoroughly and establish its chronology. Another aim is to discover whether there was a habitational site nearby. Burial sites were commonly part of settlements. The Adichanallur site’s location close to a lake is similar to that of the urn-burial site at Mangadu in Kollam district. Dr. Satyamurthy, who carried out the excavation at Mangadu, says: “The burials found at Adichanallur show the trend of an earlier phase, such as coarse pottery and hand-made pottery. So that the date of Adichanallur may even be earlier than that of Mangadu.” Scientific analysis using C-14 or the archaeo-magnetic method may confirm dates prior to 1000 BCE.

Source: The Hindu (14 March 2004)

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