Is it Vaigai civilization or Indus valley civilzation ?

Major discovery in Tamil Nadu’s Keezhadi: A possible link to Indus Valley Civilisation

Another major discovery is that people in the Sangam period were literate as early as the 6th Century BCE.

Major discovery in Tamil Nadus Keezhadi A possible link to Indus Valley Civilisation

In what may be a major discovery for Indian history, artefacts found in excavations carried out at Keezhadi in Tamil Nadu’s Sivagangai district have determined a possible link between the scripts of the Indus Valley Civilisation and Tamil Brahmi, which is the precursor to modern Tamil. Another major discovery was that  there was an urban civilisation in Tamil Nadu that was contemporary to the Gangetic plain civilisation.   

The Indus Valley Civilisation was situated in the north-western part of India between 5,000 BCE and 1,500 BCE. Around 1500 BCE, the civilisation collapsed and some have speculated that its people may have moved south. The script that was used by the people of this civilisation has been termed the Indus script, and experts have long speculated that the language could be Dravidian. Now research coming out of Keezhadi shows a possible connection between the two cultures. 

The samples featuring graffiti discovered from Keezhadi date back to 580 BCE. This graffiti is believed to be the link between the Indus script and the Tamil Brahmi. 

A report released by the Tamil Nadu Archeological Department on Thursday explains the significance of the finding. “Among the available scripts of India, the Indus scripts are considered to be the earliest one and were 4500 years old. One kind of script that survived between the disappearance of Indus script and the emergence of Brahmi script is called as graffiti marks by the scholars. These graffiti marks are the one evolved or transformed from Indus script and served as precursor for the emergence of Brahmi script. Therefore, these graffiti marks cannot be set aside as mere scratches. Like Indus script, this also could not be deciphered till date,” it states. 

Recent genetic studies show that the Indus people may not have had what’s known as the ‘Steppe Pastoralist’ DNA, thus placing the civilization before the arrival of Indo-European speakers in the subcontinent. DNA studies have shown that people of the Indus Valley Civilisation could be of Dravidian origin.  

Urban civilisation in TN dating back to 2500 years ago

The findings of the Tamil Nadu Archeological Department also indicate another major discovery — that an urban civilisation was thriving on the banks of the Vaigai River in Tamil Nadu in 6th Century BCE, around 2500 years ago. What this suggests is that the Sangam era – considered Tamil Nadu’s golden age – began much earlier than what was once thought. 

“Earlier Sangam period was considered to start from 300 BC and so this is a major finding. This completely changes our perception of Indian history so far,” T Udhayachandran says.

Udhayachandran explains, “We sent samples to a lab in Florida, a University in Italy and Deccan College in Pune. To Florida, we sent six carbon dating samples and one of it has been dated to the 6th century BC. All material used in that period has been reduced to carbon and we have tested it to check what time it belonged to.” 

High levels of literacy

Another major discovery is that people in the Sangam period were literate as early as the 6th Century BCE. The finding was based on potsherds which had names of people – like Aadhan and Kudhiranaadhan – written in Tamil-Brahmi script.

According to the report, “The recent scientific dates obtained for Keeladi findings pushback the date of Tamil-Brahmi to another century i.e. 6th century BCE. These results clearly ascertained that they attained the literacy or learned the art of writing as early as the 6th century BCE.”

Udhayachandran notes, “Professor Rajan from Pondicherry University who is considered an authority in archaeology in south India has said that this indicates high levels of literacy during this period.”

Earlier when excavations were conducted at Arikkamedu in 1947, Kaveripoompattiam in 1965 and burial sites at Adichanallur in 2005, there was, says the Commissioner, no proof of urban settlements. 

“However now, in Keezhadi, we have found proof that this was an urban civilisation. We have found what looks to be a pottery industry here,” he says. 

The report also suggests that 70 samples of skeletal fragments of faunal remains were collected from the site. The remains had been sent to Deccan Collect, Post Graduate and Research Institute in Pune for analysis, and species such as cow and ox, buffalo, sheep, goat, Nilgai, blackbuck, wild boar and peacock were identified. It’s noted that while some animals were used for agriculture purposes, cut marks on other animals such as the antelope, goat and wild boar suggest that they were consumed. 

While phase five of the excavations at Keezhadi began in June this year, Udhayachandran says that they are planning ahead for the next phase.  

“We have filed necessary proposals before Archeological Survey of India. Not only Keezhadi, but we also want to do excavations in adjoining habitations like Kondahai, Agaram and Manalur. We may find traces of the old Madurai. Keezhadi is an industrial area. Kondahai looks to be a burial site, and Agaram and Manalur could be residential areas,” he says.

With inputs from Nadika N and Priyanka Thirumurthy

Looking for a link to Indus Valley Civilisation

Tamilnadu’s archaeological department is planning to study the similarities between graffitimarks found at Keeladi and Indus Valley Civilization symbols to establish a connection. “The government of Tamil Nadu in collaborationwith Rojah Muthiah Research Library will study thesimilarities between graffiti marks found in Keeladi andIndus Valley Civilisation symbols,” said minister forTamil culture and archaeology Thangam Thennarasu.

The library has the Indus Research Centre (IRC),which undertakes scientific investigations into various aspects of Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization, inparticular the Indus script as yet undeciphered. Researchers say Indus script was not available in theGangetic plains. But identical graffiti marks have beenfound at Keeladi and other places in Tamil Nadu. The state’s department of archaeology is undertakinga project to document all graffiti-bearing potsherds in Tamil Nadu.

The scientific dating of the Tamil Brahmiscript also revealed that it dates to 200 years before theAshoka period and may not have originated from Ashoka Brahmi. A DNA study of skeletal remains from Keeladi is alsoon to throw light on its residents’ food habits, agricultureand ancestry. It could alsogive clues to whether anepidemic forced them toabandon the site.

A team from the Ancient DNA Lab in MaduraiKamaraj University isanalysing DNA samplescollected from Keeladi,Kondagai (the burial site ofKeeladi), Adhichanallur,Sivagalai and Kodumanalsites. “We are extracted morethan 30 human samples fromburial urns in the above sites. We are also collaborating with Harvard Universityon extracting DNA with minimal damage and sequencing them,” says professor G Kumaresan, head, department of genetics, Madurai Kamaraj University. The team also studied the offering pots to know themolecules trapped inside them. “For example, if cholesterol molecules are trapped it will tell that they consumed meat. This will help to know the food habits ofthat era,” he added. More than 5,000 ancient human bones have been sequenced across the world. “We can understand the lineage of the migrators toKeeladi site. We can know the ancestry by matching thesequencing of the DNA with others,” he added.

Evidence of a 3,200‑Year‑Old Tamil Nadu Civilization Counters Nationalism Myths

A pot of rice and soil from the banks of the Thamirabarani river could change narratives of Indian history as we know it. Carbon dating of the sample has put its origins at about 3,200 years ago — suggesting that a Tamil Nadu civilization existed alongside the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). The findings challenge the notion that Indian city civilizations first began with the IVC and developed along the Gangetic plains. Such notions have fed nationalism narratives, which could now be refuted.

This is not the first evidence of an advanced ancient southern Indian civilization. A dig in the quiet village of Keezhadi, near Madurai, unearthed evidence of civilization around the same time period as Gangetic civilizations. Historians classify ancient history into “phases” of urbanization. The IVC is the “first urbanization phase,” and evidence of town life near the Gangetic basin constitutes the second. The consensus was that Tamil civilization began during about the third or fourth phases.

The Keezhadi excavation and now, the Thamirabarani river artifact, push the date significantly back. The implications are significant; the culture wars over the story of India’s origins could see a paradigm shift.

“Evidence indicated similarities between graffiti found in Keezhadi and symbols associated with the IVC. It bolstered the arguments of dissidents from the dominant North Indian imagination, who have argued for years that their ancestors existed contemporaneously with the IVC,” writes Sowmiya Ashok, for Fifty Two.

While the Keezhadi excavation coincides with the “second urbanization phase,” the rice and soil pot suggests that a civilization existed in the first, alongside the IVC. Indeed, an earlier study provided evidence that ancient Dravidian languages were spoken by people in the IVC.

Keezhadi artifacts further showed that extensive literacy possibly existed in Tamil Nadu 2,600 years ago — a marker of an advanced civilization.

In India, People Who Speak the Same Language Have Similar DNA: Study

That the evidence showed up so recently is a consequence of political investments in historical narratives. “In the north, when the Harappa and Mohenjodaro sites fell within Pakistan’s borders, a void was felt in India about losing a precious heritage. This was the reason for a spurt in in-depth archaeological research linked to river valleys such as Sindhu and Ghaghara and of the civilization that thrived along the banks of the Yamuna, the Ganga, and Narmada plains,” K Amarnath Ramakrishna, the archeologist involved in the Keezhadi dig, told Sowmiya Ashok.Further, the story of the IVC evolved in national discourse to be hailed as the origins of everything essentially “Indian”: Sanskrit, early Vedic Hinduism, and other signifiers of nationalism today.

When the Keezhadi dig picked up steam, therefore, the Union government intervened to replace Ramakrishna as the overseeing archeologist, and ultimately declared that nothing of note was found at the site.

“The material found in Keezhadi provides undeniable evidence of secular culture in South India. This is completely at odds with the BJP government’s Hindutva agenda and they will take every measure to ensure further research is not done in these sites,” V Arasu, former HOD of Tamil Literature at the University of Madras, told The News Minute.

Because of what such findings represent, the newly elected Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu has been quick to declare a 3,200-year-old discovery as a Tamil Nadu civilization. On Thursday, he announced the establishment of a Porunai Museum in Tirunelveli, where the artifact was discovered. “The finding has established that the Porunai river [Thamirabarani] civilization dates back to 3,200 years. It is the government’s task to scientifically prove that the history of the Indian subcontinent should begin from the Tamil landscape,” he said, in a statement.

Perhaps because of the political moment, the finding has quickly turned into the centerpiece for countering not only Hindu nationalist narratives but also the much older Northern hegemony over Indian identity. It, therefore, has the potential to turn into an instrument for Tamil nationalism in the subcontinent. The good news, however, is that it has prompted research in Egypt, Oman, Thailand, and other countries with which Tamil societies have been speculated to have traded and communicated.

The new flurry of research centered around the Thoothukudi pot thus represents an important shift away from dominant conceptions of history and Indian identity. By expanding the scope of previous archeological research, the pot could pave the way in discovering several more connections between the IVC and the subcontinent.

“With this, we could probably establish a cross-link between the Indus Valley and Tamil civilization, and probably prove that the Tamil people lived in both places and had extensive trade links in both places,” Nadika Nadja, a history enthusiast, told The News Minute.

If anything, the discovery of interconnectedness has a lot more to say about the cultural syncretism, rather than factionalism, that characterizes the history and spirit of India.

Tamil Nadu: Artefacts dated to 580 BCE hint at script continuity from Indus Valley Civilisation

The findings at the site in Keezhadi, near Madurai, push back the date of Tamil Brahmi script, which is the precursor to modern Tamil, by another century.

Artefacts found at the archaeological site in Keezhadi, about 12 km from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, have been dated to 580 BCE, with “graffiti marks” on them pointing to a possible continuity in script from the Indus Valley Civilisation. The findings were made in a report by a team that conducted excavations at the site.

The report is significant because Dravidian movement politicians in Tamil Nadu have long claimed that the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation could be ancestors of the modern Tamils. However, archaeological and genetic evidence to establish the link was not strong so far. None of the three earlier major excavations in the region had provided strong evidence of an ancient urban settlement – a significant feature of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

The Keezhadi site, however, has so far provided overwhelming evidence of an urban settlement since excavation began in 2015.

“One kind of script that survived between the disappearance of Indus script and the emergence of Brahmi script is called as graffiti marks by the scholars,” the report said. “These graffiti marks are the one evolved or transformed from Indus script and served as precursor for the emergence of Brahmi script. Therefore, these graffiti marks cannot be set aside as mere scratches. Like Indus script, this also could not be deciphered till date.”

Earlier excavations at Adichchanallur, Korkai, Alagankulam, Kodumanal, Karur, Teriruveli, Uraiyur, Mangulam, Perur and other places yielded such type of graffiti inscribed potsherds.

The Indus script was used by the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation, which existed in north-west India between 5,000 BCE and 1,500 BCE. Scholars have speculated that it could be that of a Dravidian language.

The report said beyond Tamil Nadu, these marks have been recovered from the sites such as Tissamaharama, Kantarodai, Manthai and Rithiyagama in Sri Lanka. “Of the graffiti shreds collected from the sites of the Indian sub-continent, more than 75% of the symbols are traced from Tamil Nadu alone,” a press release on Thursday said.

The report added that 56 potsherds were recovered from the excavation conducted by the Tamil Nadu State Archaeology, with inscriptions in Tamil-Brahmi, the precursor to modern Tamil. “The recent scientific dates obtained for Keezhadi findings push back the date of Tamil-Brahmi to another century i.e. 6th century BCE,” the report said.

The artefacts also indicate a high level of literacy among the people who lived in Keezhadi. The report said:

“Tamil-Brahmi letters as part of inscriptions are found engraved on the shoulder portions of the earthen vessels. In general, these letters were inscribed when the pot is in leather condition or were inscribed/engraved after the pot became dry. The letters engraved in leather condition could be made only by the potters at the time making pots. In the case of Keezhadi examples, they were all post-firing in nature and were engraved by the owners after purchasing the pots. The representation of various styles of writing also suggests this view. It clearly suggests that the literacy level of the contemporary society that survived in 6th century BCE.”

The report added that the extent of pottery artefacts found at the site suggested that there could have been a pottery-making industry in the complex.

Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department Commissioner T Udhayachandran said that the 2018 season of the excavations ran for about six months. The state department took over the digs after the Archaeological Survey of India gave up on the excavations after three seasons of work that began in 2015.

Earlier, in 2016, the ASI had found artefacts that were dated to 200 BCE.

Recent genetic studies published in scientific journals Cell and Science have reiterated the long-held views that the people of the Indus Valley moved east and southwards following the decline of the civilisation from around 2000 BCE.

An earlier version of this article wrongly mentioned the date of the artefacts as 583 BCE.

Indus Civilisation Site In Tamil Nadu?The Keeladi Discovery Shouldn’t Fall Prey To False History

byAravindan Neelakandan-May 31, 2016 06:58 PM +05:30 IST

Indus Civilisation Site In Tamil Nadu?The Keeladi Discovery Shouldn’t Fall Prey To False HistoryArtefacts from the excavation site.

  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) recently discovered a Harappa-like site in Sivaganga district, Tamil Nadu. This discovery is important for more than one reason, writes Aravindan Neelakandan.

South India can rightly be considered as the Cinderella of Indian history. While a lot of archaeological excavation and discoveries have been carried out in North India for the last three centuries, comparatively very little has happened in the south.

However, from discoveries of megalithic sites and cave drawings to the occasional unearthing of burial sites and potteries with graffiti, South India has shown a great promise to archaeologists despite no systematic work being conducted here so far.

The Sangam literature (300 BCE to 400 CE) shows a vibrant Tamil life with well laid out towns which are organically related to a colourful village life. Some songs give detailed descriptions of port cities and various settlements. However, there have not been enough archaeological substantiation attempted for the historical data embedded in Sangam literature. Coins have been obtained with the names of some of the rulers.

The news of Keeladi, a village in Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu, having thrown up large scale urban settlements more than 2000 years old, coinciding with the Sangam age, is good encouragement for Indian archaeology. There have been reports that the urban remains unearthed have similarity to the Harappan civilisation. In fact, the period now suggested coincides with the so-called second urbanisation wave which happened around the same period in the Gangetic plains.

The prevailing notion was that the Harappan civilisation was destroyed or occupied by invading Aryans and subsequently there was a ‘Vedic dark age’. When curtains were lifted, the second urbanisation had started which was not related to Harappan culture. As more and more archaeological sites emerge, the notion of discontinuity gives place to the notion of transformation. For example, DP Agrawal had written in 1971 that after the ‘Aryan invasion’ there was a subsequent discontinuity, and a new Gangetic urban civilisation arose. However, by 2007 Agrawal was listing no less than nine important continuities that archaeology can attest between the Harappan and post-Harappan civilisations.

Colonial Indologists and Marxist historians have always tried to find archaeological evidence for Aryan invasion/migration in the form of discontinuity with the Harappan culture and presence of a new alien non-Harappan material culture. The chosen candidate for this was then Painted Gray Ware (PGW) artefacts.

With Vedic motifs discerned on these potteries, they were seen as the best candidates for the new Aryan culture associated with the ‘second urbanisation’. However, as more and more archaeological sites were revealed these artificially constructed barriers started getting blurred. Archaeologist Jim Shaffer has pointed out that the archaeology shows ‘no cultural discontinuities separating PGW from the indigenous proto-historic [Harappan] culture’.

A case in point is the Alamgirpur site. This Harappan site on the banks of Yamuna, a tributary of Ganges, was discovered by Y.F.Sharma in the 1950s. After a gap of 50 years, the site was opened for excavations and study in 2008. The new excavations by RN.Singh ‘revealed that there is no stratigraphic gap; in fact, it appears that there was an overlap phase of PGW ware and the Harappan’.

Clearly the two-thousand years old site in Tamil Nadu needs to be placed in the same context and continuity between Harappan and the sites belonging to ‘second urbanisation’ wave is to be expected. It is to be viewed in the larger context of pan-Indic phenomenon.

In Indian context there has always been a tension between archaeology and mythical constructs like Aryans. This not limited to colonial Indologists and Marxist historians alone. The Indic side, too, has erred with marine excavations at Dwaraka and allowing themselves to be used by the likes of Graham Hancock.

In Tamil Nadu, this acquires yet another dimension with the claim of direct Harappan-Tamil lineage. This could then cut off archaeology in Tamil Nadu from its Indian context and make it an island as well as a tool in the hands of crack-pot racists. Given all these dimensions the archaeological discovery in Keeladi village needs to be treated with all the seriousness it deserves.

Why Tamil Nadu’s Iron Age sites are so significant

Archaeological evidence on the antiquity of Tamil culture is exciting— and goes beyond just cultural pride

Mayiladumparai has recently been declared India’s oldest Iron Age site

Mayiladumparai has recently been declared India’s oldest Iron Age site (Kavitha Muralidharan)

A few months before the pandemic put an end to all excursions, about 10,000 people lined up to tramp through the remains of an ancient township in Keeladi in southern Tamil Nadu, about 12km from Madurai. It’s hard to imagine that kind of excitement about old mud walls and shards of pottery but the site, dating to 6 BCE—with links possibly to the Indus Valley Civilisation—has become a source of Tamil pride.

“Vehicles were parked for about 1km that day in September 2019. It was stunning,” recalls Tamil Nadu state archaeological officer B. Aasaithambi, who worked at the Keeladi excavation site in Sivaganga district from 2017-20. He is currently at Mayiladumparai, recently declared India’s oldest Iron Age site.

That was a few days after the state archaeology department had announced that the Keeladi civilisation was at least 2,600 years old. It suggested that the urbanisation of the Vaigai plains (the river that flows through Madurai in central Tamil Nadu) took place in 6 BCE, around the same time as in the Gangetic plains. “Such days don’t come often in our archaeological expeditions,” says Aasaithambi. Between 20 September and 10 October 2019, at least 116,000 people visited the site.

This May, an announcement by Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin brought more excitement. A report on a dig at Mayiladumparai in Krishnagiri district had confirmed the use of iron in Tamil Nadu as early as 2172 BCE, or at least 4,200 years ago. That effectively makes Mayiladumparai, in north-western Tamil Nadu, the oldest Iron Age site in India. It indicates that Tamils who lived 4,200 years ago were aware of iron technology, had tools and weapons, and were an agrarian society. This followed a September 2021 announcement that paddy from a burial urn found at Sivakalai in Thoothukudi district in southern Tamil Nadu dated back to 1155 BCE, or about 3,200 years.

Since 2015, when archaeologists began digging at Keeladi, there has been a lot of excitement about Tamil Nadu’s ancient history. Soon after the DMK won the state election in 2021, the government began work on six more sites, unearthing evidence to prove the antiquity of Tamil culture. The finds from the digs provide “much-needed evidence” that the flourishing trade, culture and cosmopolitan lifestyle described expansively in the 2,381 poems by 473 poets of the Sangam literature era, 2,000 years ago, was rooted in the real world. Even more exciting is the possibility that these sites could have links to the Indus Valley Civilisation (around 2600-1700 BCE).

The state archaeology department is currently excavating seven sites—Keeladi, Adichanallur, Sivakalai, Korkai, Kodumanal, Mayiladumparai and Gangaikonda Cholapuram. Of these, Keeladi, Sivakalai, Adichanallur and Mayiladumparai have yielded strong proof of antiquity. Samples are sent to the Beta Analytical Testing Laboratory in Florida, US, for radiocarbon dating by accelerator mass spectrometry (C14 dating), “leaving no room for any kind of speculation”, state minister for archaeology Thangam Thennarasu tells Lounge.

“The excavations done by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Keeladi in 2015 were an eye-opener,” says R. Balakrishnan, author of Journey Of A Civilisation: Indus To Vaigai and special adviser to the Odisha government. The ASI did the first three phases of excavation; the state archaeology department took over and is now into the eighth phase. “It is greatly significant. It gives a new dimension to the understanding of our cultural past,”adds Balakrishnan. The Keeladi excavations have established that the Thamizhi, or Tamil Brahmi writing system, belongs to 6 BCE.

At a time when discussions about the origins of Indian civilisation and its achievements are all about establishing the “real inheritors” of the land, such findings take on a political hue too. On 4 July, in a virtual address to the annual conference of the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA) in New York, Stalin brought up the excavations. “Some try to build their history on the basis of imaginary stories. Unlike them, we are trying to establish our historical roots through facts and science,” he said.  

In September 2021, Stalin had told the state assembly that based on archaeological findings, “the writing of the history of the Indian subcontinent should begin from the Tamil land”. The DMK government budgeted ₹5 crore for excavations at the seven sites as soon as it took charge. There are plans to set up museums at some of them.

Relics found in the Mayiladumparai excavation site.

Relics found in the Mayiladumparai excavation site. (Kavitha Muralidharan)

“The excavations are all about pursuing our cultural roots.… As far as the present DMK government is concerned, we are very serious about archaeological excavations and are keen to trace our cultural roots,” says Thennarasu. “We take time, we send the finds for scientific assessments to various places and only then we publish the results. This government strongly believes in the scientific approach and we will never compromise on that.”

The DMK government has also announced plans, without setting dates, to undertake expeditions to Egypt and Oman, with which the ancient Tamil land had trade links. “As a first step, we have taken up explorations in Kerala (Pattanam, Musiri) and Odisha, where we had historical trade connections and war expeditions. We propose to do this work in collaboration with the respective state governments. Once this is done, we would move to foreign explorations and tie up with suitable agencies,” says Thennarasu. An amount of ₹77 lakh has been set aside for documentation and digitisation of graffiti and Tamizhi-inscribed potsherds (found at different sites in the state) to explore the links with the Indus script.

The Keeladi civilisation is at least 2,600 years old.

The Keeladi civilisation is at least 2,600 years old. (Kavitha Muralidharan)

While the current interest is perhaps spurred by a keen desire to know about the past, archaeologists have considered Tamil Nadu a site of ancient history for over a century, though excavations till recently were carried out only sporadically. Paucity of funds, a focus on the history of northern India, disinterest, and other reasons have made the going slow.

“When Alexander Rea, former ASI superintendent from Southern Circle, excavated Adichanallur (southern Tamil Nadu) between 1899 and 1905, and published a catalogue of antiquities in 1915, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were not even in the scene. The idea of what is now known as Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) was unheard of. Even before Rea in 1876, Dr Jagor, a German ethnologist, had explored Adichanallur. In that sense, Adichanallur represents one of the earliest and significant excavations done by ASI,” says Balakrishnan.

The Link To Literature

S. Venkatesan , an acclaimed Tamil writer and CPM MP from Madurai, draws parallels between ancient Tamil literature and the current findings from excavations. “Planting kaalkol (a tradition of planting a pole to mark the beginning of any event) is a practice followed till date. It is described in detail in the Tholkaapiyam, Tamil’s first grammar text, written over 2,000 years ago. Old inscriptions found in Tamil Nadu at Pullimaankombai in Theni also use the word kaalkol. Archaeological excavations are tools that help us identify the strength of society’s memory and its time-frame,” he says.

There are other links to literature. A Sangam poem, Kalithogai, describes a “woman as excited as getting a ten (on dice) when her man appears on the pearl-like sand”. One of the objects excavated at Keeladi in September 2019 is a six-faced dice that could give a 10 on rolling. “This shows that it is very possible to link Keeladi and the Sangam Age,” says Balakrishnan.

Several Sangam-era epics speak of the use of iron. A Puranaanooru poem, a classical text from that era, speaks about how it is the duty of the mother to give birth and nurture the child, of the father to make him a warrior and an intellectual, of the blacksmith to give him instruments (for warfare) and of the king to show him the path of righteousness. 

“The archaeological findings have increased the reliability of the Sangam texts,” says Balakrishnan. “It is very encouraging that the material culture and sociology narrated in Sangam literature has begun to show up as archaeological artefacts.” The Sangam texts must be revisited in light of these findings, he adds. “Keeladi represents a new lighthouse in that context,” he says.

Another IVC?

The link between the IVC and Tamil society is something many archaeological experts and enthusiasts are keen to explore. Large buildings or structures, similar to the ones seen in the IVC, have not yet been excavated in Keeladi but archaeologists and the government are convinced it could yield more. “Keeladi was certainly a civilisation,” says Thennarasu. “In Keeladi, we have the foundations of building structures and channels for water. These are indicative of the existence of a civilisation.”

Balakrishnan is more emphatic: “If in the north-west, where the Indus civilisation once flourished, there is no recollection in literature to match the lifestyle, it indicates a huge void in literature. In the ancient Tamil texts, there are unmatchable, carried-forward memories about an urban past which has not (yet) been established in equal measure in terms of archaeological proof. That means there is a different kind of gap.” According to him, some of the artefacts found in Keeladi reminded even “the generalists of Harappan culture.… Keeladi gives a fresh articulation to the Dravidian hypothesis of IVC (that the two civilisations were contemporaries).”

Archaeologists working in the field, however, are guarded. “We have made a little bit of progress on that front but it’s too early to speculate on anything,” says one of them. Either way, with all the activity across the archaeological sites in Tamil Nadu, the future of the past looks bright.

About the Big 3 sites

Keeladi: About 12km south of Madurai, on the banks of the Vaigai, is Keeladi. Artefacts from this site date back 2,600 years (6 BCE). The site attests to the presence of an ancient urban Tamil civilisation similar to the one described in Sangam literature from the same time—until now, this been dismissed as political rhetoric. The eighth phase of excavations is under way. The museum there is expected to open in October.

Adichanallur: Located in the lower valley of the Thamirabarani river in Thoothukudi district in southern Tamil Nadu, carbon dating results in 2019 indicated the relics here date back to 905-696 BCE, making it one of the oldest archaeological sites in India.

Sivakalai: About 25km from Adichanallur, on the northern bank of the Thamirabarani river, is the six-acre Sivakalai site that has yielded artefacts, urns and paddy at least 3,200 years old. The third phase of excavation by the state archaeology department began in March. Along with Adichanallur and Korkai, an 8 BCE port about 11km away, this establishes the existence of the Porunai River Civilisation along the Thamirabarani.

Kavitha Muralidharan is a Chennai-based journalist.

Archaeologists Unearth Ancient Dagger Linked to Enigmatic Indian Civilization

A blade found in the state of Tamil Nadu offers new evidence of an urban center that thrived as long as 2,500 years ago

This iron dagger’s well-preserved wooden handle may help researchers date artifacts found in Konthagai. Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology

Archaeologists working in the village of Konthagai in southern India have found a rusted iron dagger preserved in a burial urn alongside skeletal remains, the Times of India reports. The discovery is part of a major excavation effort in the state of Tamil Nadu that seeks to shine a light on the ancient Keeladi civilization.

Though the dagger’s 16-inch steel blade was rusted and broken in half, part of its wooden handle remained intact. R. Sivanandam, director of the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, tells the Hindu that this type of weapon was used by warriors during the Sangam period, which spanned roughly the third century B.C.E. through the third century C.E.

The wood’s unusual preservation may allow researchers to precisely date artifacts found at the site. Sivanandam says a lab in the United States will attempt to date the dagger handle.

Since the start of the digging season in February, archaeologists in Konthagai have discovered 25 burial urns. Some were filled with bones, weapons and other objects. Scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu are conducting DNA tests on the human remains.

As the Times notes, the researchers think that Konthagai was a burial site for the Keeladi civilization. Teams are also excavating ancient Keeladi sites in the villages of Agaram, Manulur and Keeladi—the place that gives the civilization its name.

Per the Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, carbon dating of artifacts dated some to as early as 580 B.C.E. The digs have yielded large numbers of cow, ox, buffalo and goat skeletons, suggesting agricultural activity by the ancient Keeladi people. Archaeologists have also found structures with clay floors; brick walls; and post-holes, which may have held wooden poles used to support roofs. Artifacts recovered at the site show that members of the civilization played board games and inscribed letters on pottery using the Tamil-Brahmi script.

The Keeladi civilization may be linked to the famed Indus Valley, or Harappan, civilization. Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology

Many discoveries made in the area date to around 500 B.C., when an agricultural surplus allowed people to build urban centers in what’s known as the subcontinent’s “second urbanization.” (The name reflects a contrast with the much earlier “first urbanization” of the Harappan, or Indus Valley, civilization, which began around 2500 B.C.E.) While scholars previously believed that the second urbanization happened mostly along the Central Ganges Plain in northern India, the new evidence suggests a similar phenomenon occurred in the south as well.

Sivanandam tells DT Next’s J. Praveen Paul Joseph that findings at the Keeladi sites show evidence of ancient industrial production sites. Archaeologists have found spinning and weaving tools, cloth dyeing operations, brick kilns, and ceramic workshops.

In 2019, M.C. Rajan of the Hindustan Times reported that discoveries at Keeladi suggest the community that lived there—also referred to as the Vaigai civilization after a nearby river—may have descended from the Harappan civilization. As it declined, its people may have traveled south to start new lives.

The findings also offer material evidence about the Sangam period, which is known mainly for its Tamil literature. Based on the archaeological evidence, some researchers now say the Sangam period began earlier than previously thought, around 600 B.C.E.

T. Udayachandran, secretary of the state archaeological department, told the Hindustan Times that the civilization was “an Indigenous, well developed self-sustaining urban culture with an industry and script, indicating that the people of that era were highly literate.”

Key findings about Keeladi Excavation

Mains level : Major civilizations


Central idea: Keeladi is an archaeological site that has been excavated by the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology since 2014. Recent excavations here has pushed the Sangam age further back.

About Keeladi

  • Keeladi is a tiny hamlet in the Sivaganga district in south Tamil Nadu.
  • It is about 12 km south-east to the temple city of Madurai and is located along the Vaigai River.
  • The excavations here from 2015 prove that an urban civilisation existed in Tamil Nadu in the Sangam age on the banks of the Vaigai River.

How is Keeladi linked to Sangam age?

  • The Sangam age is a period of history in ancient Tamil Nadu which was believed to be from the third century BCE to the third century CE.
  • The name is derived from the renowned Sangam poets of Madurai from that time.

Recent findings

  • In 2019, a TNSDA report dated the unearthed artefacts from Keeladi to a period between sixth century BCE and first century BCE.
  • Some samples sent for carbon dating in the US, dated back to 580 BCE.
  • The findings placed Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than the previously believed third century BCE.

Significance of the findings

  • Older than perceived: Recent finding at Keeladi has pushed the Sangam age to 800 BCE based on these archaeological findings.
  • Literary evidences: Keeladi, along with other Tamil Nadu sites which have over a thousand inscribed potsherds, clearly suggest the long survival of the script.
  • Substantial evidence to Sangam Age: It comes across as an industrious and advanced civilisation and has given evidence of urban life and settlements in TN during the Early Historic Period.
  • Another major civilisation: The unearthed Keeladi artefacts have led academics to describe the site as part of the Vaigai Valley Civilisation. It has all the characteristics of an urban civilisation, with brick structures, luxury items and proof of internal and external trade.
  • Filling in the cultural gaps: This could provide crucial evidence for understanding the missing links of the Iron Age (12th century BCE to sixth century BCE) to the Early Historic Period (sixth century BCE to fourth century BCE) and subsequent cultural developments.

Links with Indus Valley

Ans. A lot of digging and study has to be done to establish the links between these two civilisations.

  • The findings have invited comparisons with the Indus Valley Civilisation while acknowledging the cultural gap of 1,000 years between the two places.
  • Till now, the gap is filled with Iron Age material in south India, which serve as residual links.
  • However, some of the symbols found in pot sherds of Keeladi bear a close resemblance to Indus Valley signs.

What has been unearthed so far?

  • Pottery: Unearthing of heaps of pottery suggest the existence of a pottery making industry, mostly made of locally available raw materials.
  • Inscriptions: Over 120 potsherds containing Tamil Brahmi inscriptions have been found.
  • Jewellery: There also existed a dyeing industry and a glass bead industry. Gold ornaments, copper articles, semi-precious stones, shell bangles, ivory bangles and ivory combs reflect the artistic, culturally rich and prosperous lifestyle of the Keeladi people.
  • Import of semiprecious stones: Agate and carnelian beads suggest import through commercial networks while terracotta and ivory dice, gamesmen and evidence of hopscotch have been unearthed revealing their pastime hobbies.

Recent politicization of the excavation

  • The Keeladi site, since its discovery has been shrouded in controversies with several Dravidian and Left ideologues.
  • They claim that the archaeological finds prove that the Indus Valley Civilisation was a “Dravidian” culture and an independent “secular” Tamil civilisation.
  • The attempt to define the finds in narrow and racial terms is ideologically motivated to one, pump up Tamil exclusivist sentiments, and two, and challenge the view that sees India as one— unity in diversity.

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