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14 June 2009
New details on the prehistoric necropolis discovered in Kerala

As reported last week, archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric necropolis dating back 2,500 years at Anakkara in Malappuram district (India). Now additional details are emerging, showing that on the site are also megalithic cairn circles and many postholes that probably point to the ancient practice of excarnation, a wood-henge-like ritual monument and a site of probable astronomical significance
     Excavations at the site have revealed three chamber tombs containing burnished black and red ware, black bowls and some iron objects commonly seen among megalithic grave goods. Archaic features of the burial type and the conspicuous absence of non-local artefacts among the interred objects suggest that the find is around 2,500 years old.
     The central part of the site has a one metre thick soil-deposit used for agriculture in recent times, which suggests systematic removal of all possible archaeological traces. On the table-rock surface there are three huge cairn circles at the western end and many postholes in the north-eastern and south-eastern corners. The site, archaeologists say, was evidently a megalithic quarry too as testified by axe-marks and half-cut residues on the rock all along the western side of the cairns.
     "Megalithic cairns are not new to South Indian archaeology. But the occurrence of multiple rock-cut chambers inside and discovery of postholes in close proximity are extremely significant. This is the first time in India that postholes have been discovered in the context of megalithic necropolis and these are, perhaps, pointers to pre-burial excarnation procedures as well as to relics of an archaic observatory and primitive astronomy," says Rajan Gurukkal, historian and Vice-Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam.
     According to Dr. K. P. Shajan Paul, leader of the excavation team, Anakkara is a promising site to study the Early Iron Age culture in the Bharathapuza basin and its implications for the development of later trade routes and contacts through the Palakkad Gap. "We have discovered steatite beads in the third chamber, not reported anywhere in Kerala, probably from Karnataka, and carnelian beads probably from Gujarat. We could also trace some broken pieces of an unidentified copper object. These artefacts could be indicative of the earliest trade contacts in the region."
     In the south-west, there are many postholes, some of which make clear circles. The nature of the holes suggests that posts must have been packed in by lateritic rubbles. Now remarkably clean after being exposed to heavy rainfall during monsoons for over two millennia, the rock surface rules out any chance of in situ finds of hole-fills containing rotted wood. Holes were presumably made from time to time as fresh additions and modifications. The pattern of distribution of postholes, Dr. Gurukkal says, suggests that they could be of posts of mortuary platforms erected for exposing cadavers to vultures or other agents that accentuate the natural degradation of the corpse in the open air, but secure from animals. "This was a worldwide prehistoric practice for separating bones for secondary burial that megaliths represent," Dr. Gurukkal said.
     "Our trials of erecting posts in their holes have turned out to be quite interesting and revealing because the posthole alignment looks exactly like the Woodhenge in England. The holes of uneven sizes, big and small interspersed, in a strikingly wide open site ideal for star-watching probably indicate patterns of heavenly bodies and are suggestive of primitive astronomical intelligence," Dr. Gurukkal concluded.

Source: The Hindu (10 June 2009)

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