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Signs of ancient port in Kerala
- Pattanam mentioned in Indian & Greek texts

New Delhi, Aug. 2: A village in Kerala’s Periyar delta may be the site of a port that has remained untraced for centuries although ancient Indian and Greek texts had described it as an Indian Ocean trade hub, researchers have said.

Archaeological excavations at Pattanam, about 25km north of Kochi, have yielded an abundance of artefacts — a 2,000-year-old brick-layered wharf, a wooden canoe and hundreds of fragments of Roman and West Asian pottery, including wine jars.

The findings of three years of excavations suggest that the Pattanam site may have been part of Muziris, a port city mentioned in an ancient Tamil text, Akanunuru, as well as in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a navigational guide from ancient Greece describing ports along the Red Sea and in India. Historians have dated both texts to the first century AD.

“Pattanam may be the oldest port with a large amount of evidence of Roman contacts outside the traditional boundaries of the Roman empire,” said Parayil John Cherian, the director of the Kerala Council of Historical Research and research team leader.

Cherian and his colleagues have published their findings in the latest issue of Current Science, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences. “The artefacts suggest this was a major trading port,” Cherian told The Telegraph.

The excavations revealed a six-metre-long wooden canoe, a wharf with wooden bollards to hold boats and fragments of Roman pottery that appear to contain material from southern Italy as well as shards of Egyptian and Mesopotamian pottery. Scattered alongside in a waterlogged area near the wharf were grains of black pepper, cardamom and rice.

The researchers said the findings provide strong circumstantial evidence that Pattanam was part of the port of Muziris because they match descriptions of the ancient port in Tamil literature from about the first century AD.

“The text mentions a port named Muchiri where ships arrived with gold and jars of wine and returned with pepper,” said Veerasamy Selvakumar, a team member from the department of epigraphy and archaeology at Tamil University, Thanjavur.

“We now have evidence for spice trade from this site, and the Roman Amphora fragments point to wine jars,” Selvakumar said.

Scientists at the Institute of Physics in Bhubaneswar who helped the archaeologists date some of the materials discovered at the site found that wood from the wharf was about 2,000 years old — between the first century BC and the first century AD.

The researchers believe ships would sail from a port on Egypt’s Red Sea coast into the northern Indian Ocean and into Muziris. “We’ve estimated that the voyage would have taken about 70 days,” Cherian said.

He said the discovery of jars from Mesopotamia and turquoise-glazed pottery from a layer at the archaeological site where no Roman amphora was found suggests that some West Asians may have predated contacts with the Romans.

The excavations suggest the site was first occupied about 1,000 BC and remained active until about the 10th century AD. During that period, it engaged in extensive trade with cultures from the Mediterranean, West Asia and even Southeast Asia.

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