Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Excavation yet to begin at the archaeological site of Arikamedu

May 29, 2005

PONDICHERRY: The ancient Second Century BC, Greco-Roman trading Port of Arikamedu, an archaeologically significant excavation site on the bank of river Ariyankuppam, today lies neglected and uncared.

Archaeologists and historians are now pinning their hopes on the site for predicting the country's maritime heritage by deciphering the artefacts that lie buried.

Though efforts to excavate the site and have the artefacts preserved in the site museum at the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) initiated Arikamedu a few years ago, nothing much has happened since then. The initiatives of the then Union minister for tourism, Jagmohan, and the former minister for tourism, K Lakminarayanan, had led to the acquisition of the 35-acre land by the government had led to the handing over of the site to the ASI.

The Centre had also contributed to this initiative by extending Rs 61 lakh for the purpose.

Since then, only a compound wall was erected to make the acquired site a protected area in December 2003. Even that turned out to be controversial, as archaeologists feared that the erection of the compound wall had caused damage to the artefacts buried in the soil.

Archaeologists opine that land for protecting the site has not been acquired properly and the construction of the wall was on the site itself. According to Bojan Djuric, Professor of Archaeology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, who visited Pondicherry, the site acquired by the ASI is not adequate and much of the area where the artefacts lie buried has been left out of the acquired area.

The digging on the eastern side has not only led to division of the site into two, but also has damaged the strata of soil bordering the acquired and un-acquired area, where the artefacts were expected to be lying buried, says A Ravichandirne, archaeologist and lecturer, Department of History and Tourism, Avvaiyar Government Arts College, Karaikal.

Structures dating back to 2000 years are believed to be lying beneath the soil as indicated in the Chronological Network of Mortimer Wheeler (of the UK), the archaeologist who conducted the first excavations in 1945.

Further, on the west side, along the bank of the river, the compound wall is feared to have caused further damage to the site. Excavations in the past by various archaeologists, including J M Casal, former ASI director (1947-50) and Vimala Bagely of USA in '89,90 and '91, indicates that most of the settlements were along the bank of the river on the east and along the stretch.

Ravichandirne who assisted Bagely during excavations says that the area where artefacts has been obtained from the trenches Av,O,PR,S and T were dug by Casal was incidently out of the acquired area.

Despite the fears, excavations were yet to be initiated by the ASI. The Italian government had also shown interest in supporting the Arikamedu project. The Italian Ambassador for India, Antonio Armellini, had stated that the project had been placed for funding by the General Directorate for Development Cooperation at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a conference on Arikamedu Archeological Heritage: Cultural and Technological valorisation in October 2004.

The Arikamedu project includes the creation of an ‘archaeological park', the institution of ‘Specialised School of Archaeology' with Training programmes for archaeologists and museum curators, the establishment of an Indo-Roman Museum, close to the archaeological site to document excavation finds.

P.S Sriram, Assistant Archaeologist and Curator, ASI Chennai had said during the conference that ASI with the help of the local government would formulate a development plan carry out the excavations in a phased manner.

However all this is yet to see the light of the day with no activity at all even after the passage of seven months now.


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