Saturday, May 12, 2007

 

Surveys Launched to Trace Malabar’s Maritime History

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Arab News
By Mohammed Ashraf
May 12, 2007


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM — The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) has begun surveys to trace the Malabar coast’s maritime history. The council will be assisted by the Indian Navy in the waters of the Kodungallur region since excavations there have produced evidence of Roman and West Asian maritime contacts.

Historians believe Muziris, the lost port city of south India, which was a major center of trade with the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, existed in the town of Pattanam.

The navy undertook sea bottom profiling and the KCHR hopes to identify submerged archaeological remains such as shipwrecks, ancient structures in the waters of the area, said KCHR director Dr. P.J. Cherian. According to him, some positive indications have been obtained but closer examination, including underwater diving and photography, are necessary to confirm the initial assumptions.

Proof of the area’s rich maritime heritage, including a wharf with dugout canoes, Roman pottery, West Asian ceramics, beads of semi-precious stones and brick structures, was found by the KCHR’s initial excavations at Pattanam.

There were indications that the site was first occupied by megalithic peoples followed by Roman contact in the early historic phase; the area was continuously inhabited from the first century BC to the 10th century AD.

Evidence of megalithic peoples is being reported for the first time in Kerala, although there are innumerable megalithic burial sites in the state. Early inhabitants appear to have been native iron-using megalithic people who led simple lives, the director said.

The evidence indicates that the mythical Muziris seaport, a bustling Indo-Roman trading center, could have been located at Pattanam, 260 kilometers north of the state capital. In the past its residents regularly found broken pottery shards and ancient fired bricks while tilling the soil. Fragments of imported Roman amphorae, mainly used for transporting wine and olive oil, Yemeni and West Asian pottery, in addition to Indian roulette ware common on the East Coast of India and also found in Berenike in Egypt, have been discovered.

Researchers say the site seems to have remained unoccupied or deserted between the 10th and 18th centuries and if the theories are confirmed, it may provide a greater insight into the geological and regional history of the area. They say, based on remote sensing data, a river close to Pattanam changed its course and the ancient port may have been buried due to earthquakes or floods. Muziris was a port city mentioned in several ancient documents and scholarly texts as a major center of trade between India and Rome, especially in pepper and other spices as late as the sixth century AD.

Historians believe that Christianity may have been introduced to the subcontinent through Muziris though it mysteriously dropped off the map.


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