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Archaeologists stumble upon Muziris

By M. Harish Govind


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MARCH 22. Striking archaeological evidence suggests that the legendary seaport of Muziris, which was a bustling Indo-Roman centre of trade 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 rivermouth.

K.P. Shajan, geoarchaeologist, who has put forward the hypothesis, says that despite its legendary status, researchers had not so far been able to identify the actual physical location of Muziris. The search for the legendary town on the Malabar coast had been focussed on the northern banks of the Periyar, on the basis of literary evidence from Sangam literature and "Periplus of the Erythrean Sea", among others.

However, the remains unearthed from the area belonged to the 12th century AD, whereas Muziris had been a bustling urban settlement more than 1,000 years earlier. Nothing had been found from the area with a clear Roman connection, a fact which baffled both Indian and foreign researchers. All that they knew was that it was located near the mouth of the Periyar.

Among other things, what led Dr. Shajan 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 residents of the Pattanam site, which is known by the names of `Neeleswaram' and `Ithilparambu' at present, regularly used to come across a large amount of broken pottery shards and ancient fired bricks while digging the ground. In fact, the ancient bricks were commonly being used along with laterite blocks for construction purposes, Dr. Shajan said.

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 rouletted 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.

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. The finds from Pattanam were displayed at the Vyloppilli Samskrithi Bhavan today.

The director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), P.J. Cherian, said etymological evidence supplemented the other evidence gathered from Pattanam. "The word `pattanam' is derived from Prakrit and Pali and means coastal town in almost all Indian languages. Oral traditions in the area too suggest that Pattanam was inhabited by foreigners in the distant past and was a well-known marketplace with wealthy people."

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