Keeladi eighth phase excavations likely to be carried out post-Pongal

The State Archaeological Department of Tamil Nadu has made its submission to the Central Advisory Board for Archaeology (CABA) for carrying out the eighth round of excavations at Keeladi, where the remnants of Sangam Age settlement is being unearthed.

The proposal was sent mid-October. The Standing Committee of CABA will convene in Delhi to examine and approve different project reports received from across the country and work will resume after the ASI gives its nod.

“Our subcontinent has different ecological zones. South India is hit by northeast monsoons now. The eighth phase will most likely begin after Pongal in January 2022,” said an official.

The proposal for the next round of excavations is usually sent by June end. But the pandemic, lockdown and vagaries of the weather affected the operations and the CABA also delayed its meeting following the COVID-19 wave.

Excavations at Keeladi, 13 km southeast of Madurai in Sivaganga district, is to esrablish the historical, architectural and cultural significance of the Sangam Age settlement. Findings after 25 per cent of a site is excavated are usually benchmarked as reliable the world over.

Less than five per cent of Keeladi’s 110 acres spread has been unearthed so far. “Important features stumble out after completion of 10 per cent of excavation, which is acceptable for documenting history,” Thanjavur-based archaeologist K Rajan told The Hindu.

Retired archaeology officer, C Santhalingam, said it would take more than a decade to unlock the mysteries of the civilisation and regional power that flourished here 2,600 years ago. “The excavations, if possible, should be carried out twice a year. The first phase was carried out in 2015 and each year less than one per cent has been dug up,” he said.

Exposing, processing, collating, recording, documenting and connecting the archaeological residue from 293 identified sites along the river Vaigai, may not happen in one’s lifetime. The 6,000 plus artifacts recovered so far — including beads, jewellery, silver coin, semi-precious stones, tools, spindle whorls, black and red earthen wares, brick walls, ring wells, Tamil Brahmi script etched plates and pots — have shed light on the literacy achievement of the inhabitants, the probable trade links and an urban settlement and pushed back the known antiquity of the Sangam Age from 300 BCE to 580 BCE.

More concrete and structural evidences are required to learn and understand the habitation, social life, rituals and skills of the people of yore. “It is premature to draw multiple conclusions at this stage but Keeladi promises excitement in future,” said the archaeologist.

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