New excavations unravel Pattanam’s global trade past

Recent findings from the excavations carried out at Pattanam, near North Paravur, has further divulged the global significance of the village in Ernakulam.

Published: 25th September 2020 06:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th September 2020 04:02 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

KOCHI: A seal-ring with the image of a Spinhx and the Greco-Roman head of a miniature statuette, Asian pottery and so many more excavations from the area tell us volumes about the technologically advanced civilisation that once occupied the now village in Ernakulam

Recent findings from the excavations carried out at Pattanam, near North Paravur, has further divulged the global significance of the village in Ernakulam. It corroborated the fact that Pattanam may have been the site of the ancient port of Muziris, the epicentre of a maritime network which is over 2,000 years old. The findings, a seal-ring with the image of a Spinhx and the Greco-Roman head of a miniature statuette, were found in the tenth excavation session directed by P J Cherian, director of the PAMA Institute for the Advancement of Transdisciplinary Archeology.

Along with research associates, interns and locals, the community-centred excavation activity was insightful and elaborate about the shared history of Muziris port. While the Kerala Council of Historical Research conducted the first nine seasons of excavations from 2006 to 2015, PAMA resumed the same in 2020 after a five-year hiatus.

“From the assemblage that we have gathered, around 66 trenches have been excavated. There is a clear indication that Pattanam could have been an integral part of Muziris. The culture back then seems to have been advanced in terms of technology. We have evidence of communication with different parts of the world,” said Cherian. He highlighted that as a colonised society, we tend to consider theories of people coming to our place and not the other way around.

 “When I started associating with the project, I was told that this was a Roman settlement. But, this is an Indian site with Roman, Egyptian, West Asian and Chinese connections—all linked by the ocean. The society was rational and technology-based; it is difficult to imagine that kind of culture and civility having existed in this region. For the longest time, we have been brainwashed to believe that early societies were primitive. This is now ruled out because we have tangible proof saying otherwise now,” he said.

The seal ring made of banded agate, a semi-precious stone, and engraved with a sphinx—a Greek mythical creature that is part-woman and part-lion. According to Guilia Rocco, a specialist on ancient Roman art, the sphinx found in Pattanam is similar to the one worn by Augustus Caesar. The Greco-Roman head of the miniature statuette, found in the same 111-acre archaeological site, is another pathbreaking find. “These reveal the presence of an Indian lapidary workshop. It was also enigmatic that we found completed pieces at the site,” stressed Cherian.

History revisited

For Siddhartha Saha, trench supervisor of the project, who returned from Kerala in June to work on his PhD at Vishwa-Bharati in Santiniketan, the Pattanam excavation was a dream come true. “The experience showed me a new dimension of archaeological life. As an archaeologist, I feel we have to introduce history to the public and residents. Involving the community added a new dimension to this scientific work,” he said.

Siddhartha highlighted that the remnants of Amphora and Terra sigillata pottery from the Mediterranean region, porcelain(blue-on-white) from the south China region, and pottery from the Arabian region were also found, alongside Indian pottery varieties. “When you delve into the socio-economic history of India, you begin to see the impact of Muziris, which played a crucial role in our subcontinent’s economic foundation,” he added.

Vijay Govind, a research associate with the project, found the process humbling and rewarding, despite the strenuous process. “I was interested to be part of the story, the active construction of history in the present,” he said. However, there is plenty more to be done in terms of putting forth the right narrative added with more excavations, research, academic papers, interviews and so on.

“We need to identify more traces of Pattanam in other coasts. It is impossible to say with any degree of certainty how long it may take. However, if there was an active effort supported by state infrastructure to excavate the site, there would have been a fixed term plan comprising the procedure and priority. Regardless, with the sustained effort of the current individuals, we will have more evidence hopefully in five years,” he added.

Community involvement
PAMA is considering an academic, people-centric, eco and heritage initiative: a Pattanam Collective, comprising interested persons across the world launching a startup project to curate Pattanam as a world heritage site. According to Cherian, income could be generated through green archaeology by promoting organic farming of spices, medicinal plants and by providing employment through Pattanam women neighbourhood groups. “We have excavated barely one per cent of the site. The findings have to be conserved and studied. Also, local people shouldn’t feel that they may lose their land, rather they should be made the owners of this cultural wealth,” he said.

Golden past 
In early 3000 BC, when the rest of the world came to the Malabar Coast in search of spices, the ancient port of Muziris in Kerala emerged as the hub of the spice trade. According to Sangam Literature, Roman ships would arrive with ships laden with gold in exchange for the famous black pepper. However, due to disastrous floods in 1341, the geography of the place was wrecked and Muziris was erased off the map. Later, excavations in the area rediscovered remnants which hinted the location of the fabled site.

Muziris as a heritage hub

The state government’s Muziris Heritage Project, which will be commissioned in 2020-21, intends to redeem the historical and cultural significance of the legendary port. The project has been designed to integrate the local community in every step. The initiative, which is also Kerala Government’s first Green Project, aims to promote awareness of the diversity of Muziris and practice sustainable development. The heritage of Muziris will be included in regional educational programmes and will comprise more than 25 museums to appreciate the same. Remnants of the place including the architecture and diet will be highlighted to transport the viewer back in time.


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