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Archaeologist Confirms Ancient Indo-Roman Site in Kerala
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Southampton, April 21: A historical mystery surrounding Indo-Roman trade routes may have been solved, says a report by Southampton University archaeology research fellow Roberta Tomber.
Armed with an Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) grant to investigate Indo-Roman trade, and with the guidance of David Peacock who heads Archaeology at the University of Southampton, Tomber worked with local archaeologists in Kerala where she identified the first fragments of Roman wine amphorae found on the south-west coast of India.

The striking archaeological evidence suggests that the legendary seaport of Muziris, which was a bustling Indo-Roman trading center during the early historic period between the first century BC and the fifth century AD, could have been located at Pattanam, near Paravur on the south of the Periyar river delta.

"These were found in Pattanam, north of Paravoor. The whole area is strewn with pottery samples. Though many of them are of Indian origin, a few pieces of Indo-Roman era were also found. A detail exploration of the area will alone help establish this fact," said Dr K.P.Shajan, who chanced upon the evidence during a geological survey.

What led Shajan, geoarchaeologist, and his team to Pattanam was clear geological evidence which suggested that the river Periyar had shifted its course from the south to the north over the millennia. A branch of the Periyar, called the Periyar Thodu, runs close to Pattanam and satellite imagery indicates that the Periyar delta lies on the southern side and the river could have flowed close to Pattanam about 2,000 years ago. This would place the ancient site alongside the Periyar in keeping with the descriptions in literary sources.

The site covers an area of about 1.5 sq km and the deposit is about two metres thick. It has produced fragments of imported Roman amphora, mainly used for transporting wine and olive oil, Yemenese and West Asian pottery, besides Indian ware common on the East Coast of India and also found in Berenike in Egypt. Bricks, tiles, pottery shards, beads and other artefacts found at Pattanam are very similar to those found at Arikamedu and other early historic sites in India.

According to the University of Southampton report, the most striking finds from Pattanam are the rim and handle of a classic Italian wine amphora from Naples which was common between the late first century BC and 79 AD, when pottery production in the region was disrupted by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Islamic glazed ware from West Asia indicate that the site remained active beyond the early historic period

Archaeologists have long believed in the existence of the ancient port of Muziris in this area, where Romans traded for pepper and other spices from India and even further East, but its location was still unknown. 'We now have for the first time archaeological evidence of where Muziris was located,' she said. 'It was a very important port for the Romans and would repay careful excavation. I hope to be involved in this work in the future.'

Tomber claims that the pottery pieces found by Shajan, a marine geologist, from Pattanam near Paravoor, are parts of Roman wine amphora, Mesopotamian torpedo jar and Yemenite storage jar. "It is the first time that we have found evidence in Malabar coast. The clay is very different from what was used in India during the same period. A lot of black minerals are present," she says.

If this claim is true, then the pieces are the first evidence of Roman pottery to be found in Kerala. It also strengthens the theory that the port of Muziris was in the belt of Kodungallur-Chettuva.

Tomber suggests there are several factors that strengthen the belief that these are remnants of first century Roman trade. "Pottery is considered a very important evidence to solve an archaeological enigma. Here we work on typology. Such examples have also been found during excavations in Egypt," says Tomber.

Tomber has extensive experience of working on Roman sites at the Red Sea ports of Quseir al-Qadim (ancient Myos Hormos) and at Berenike, both in Egypt, with Professor David Peacock. Now, with David Peacock, she has an Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) grant to investigate Indo-Roman trade.

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