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21 September 2008
Megalithic site in India being destroyed

An Iron Age burial site dotted with cairn circles, standing stones and cist-slabs, near Vellaripatti village near Madurai on the Madurai-Tiruchi highway (India), is being destroyed. Archaeologists date the megalithic site between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE.
     Real estate developers have uprooted and swept up hundreds of cairn circles (big stones arranged in the form of circles), standing stones and cist-slabs (rectangular granite slabs laid on the ground), all of which mark burial spots. Bulldozers have swept clean a big area that had earlier been crowded with cairn circles, standing stones and cist-slabs. Border stones have been planted in the cleaned-up area to indicate house sites. A fencing post has been erected close to a beautifully laid cairn circle, and it is only a matter of time before this cairn circle disappears.
     V. Vedachalam, retired Senior Epigraphist, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, called the site "a rare monument because it is difficult to get all three cairn circles, menhirs and cist-slabs in the same place near Madurai."
That Vellaripatti had a flourishing merchants' guild in the third century BCE, Dr. Vedachalam said, had been attested by Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions found at nearby Mankulam. "So Vellaripatti was an ancient settlement. This was the burial site of people who lived there," he explained. While this burial site is situated on the foothills of the eastern side of Perumal Malai, Mankulam is situated on the western side. A cist-slab indicates a burial chamber below with two compartments, one to house the body and another to keep burial pots, paddy, weapons and the personal effects of the deceased.
     While a number of cairn-circles, menhirs and cist-slabs remain among the thorny bushes, hundreds of others have been destroyed and plots parcelled out. Stones from cairn-circles are piled up. A road has been laid. A Ganesh temple has been erected. Industrial units have also come up several hundred metres away.
     Dr. Rajan, Head of the Department of History, Pondicherry University, who has specialised in studying megalithic burials and monuments in Tamil Nadu, said this site would have probably existed from 1,000 BCE and would have been transformed into an early historical site around the 5th or 4th century BCE. Two Mankulam inscriptions referred to Vellarai and mentioned a Pandya king called Nedunchezhiyan. The inscriptions referred to the existence of a trade centre at Vellarai, Dr. Rajan said. Dr. Vedachalam and Dr. Rajan wanted the burial site to be declared a protected site and be taken over by the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology or the Archaeological Survey of India.

Source: The Hindu (17 September 2008)

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