It is official: Tamil race is at least 3,000 years old

Adichanallur excavations
The Adichanallur excavations will throw new light on the antiquity of the Tamil race. Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar

On April 5, it was established that the Tamil civilization is proven to date back to at least 900 BC. Results of radio carbon dating of samples from an archaeological site were revealed by the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court. The site is at Adichanallur, a village on the banks of the Tamirabarani river in Tuticorin district of southern Tamil Nadu. While making the test records public, the judges wondered why no tests had been done on the dig from an excavation carried out 15 years ago.

Dravidianists and Tamil enthusiasts may see this delay as yet another instance of the Centre stalling archaeological excavations because it fears the idea of a civilization outside the ambit of the Hindu-Vedic framework. They have alleged that the Centre has deliberately stalled excavations at another site near Madurai, Keezhadi, because it doesn’t want to establish a similar fact.

Radio carbon tests cost only a few hundred US dollars. It is a fairly straightforward process and there are reputed labs across the world for dating. So, a conspiracy by the Centre to keep the glories of ancient Tamil civilization hidden appears plausible. But, given how governments work, it may well be that sheer bureaucratic inertia and red tape has delayed the testing. Nothing more.

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Adichanallur certainly establishes a thriving, advanced human settlement or civilization in Tamil country circa 1,000 BC. The potsherds excavated indicate a rudimentary script although any continuity with a latter day Tamil script called Tamil Brahmi will have to be established after rigorous research.

But the Sangam literature that includes some exquisite Tamil poetry certainly corresponds to the era of Adichanallur. The literary works talk of Korkai, a Pandian port nearby. There is reason to believe that there was an ancient civilization along the Tamirabarani all the way to Korkai in which Adichanallur was but one settlement. Alexander Rhea, the British superintendent of the Archaeological Survey of India who excavated the site more than 110 years ago, has recorded that at least 35 sites, such as in nearby Krishnapuram, were worthy of excavation.

The next High Court hearing on the petition filed by a Tamirabarani enthusiast is scheduled for April 11 when the court has asked central and state governments to give details of future excavation plans. It must be noted here that within the Adichanallur site, only some 10% has been excavated.

Adichanallur is a burial site. Millennia ago, people buried their dead, and probably the dying too, in baked earthenware urns along with their belongings – vessels, weapons, jewellery, and so on. Adichanallur was first excavated, rather raided, by a German ethnographer in 1876. Apparently, Fedor Jagor was touring the world collecting artefacts and curios for a museum in Berlin, Germany. The Germans had been late entrants to the imperialist game but wanted to do their bit of discovery and exploration of the mysterious realms of the world.

Raiding tombs and burial places held much fascination for the European conquerors. Jagor, though not a conqueror, shipped to Germany some 50 urns along with the skeletal fragments in the urns as well as the artefacts. In Madras, as Chennai was known then, there was a cry against this ‘Hunnish raider’ from Germany. More than 150 years later, these artefacts remain uncatalogued at the Berlin Ethnographic Museum and that task needs to be taken up by the Indian government.

(This is the first of a two-part article on the Adichanallur excavations. Read the second part here)

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