Spree of digs in Sunderbans

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  • Published 14.04.07

The archaeological find at Tilpi and Dhosa, in South 24-Parganas, has prompted the authorities to excavate 20 other sites in the Sunderbans, starting at Deulpotha, where Pala-era pottery was recently unearthed at a brick kiln.

“The area has been declared ‘protected’ and work will start next week,” said superintendent of the state directorate of archaeology Amal Roy.

Excavation at the twin sites of Tilpi and Dhosa, 50 km from Calcutta, was suspended in June last year because of the rains. Work resumed in Tilpi two months ago, but the Dhosa site could not excavated, as it falls within a residential area.

A stupa from 2nd Century BC was found in Dhosa in March last year.

“Digging 5.30 metres down at Tilpi, we have come across interesting evidence suggesting that the site was devastated in a fire 10,000 years ago. Habitation appears to have begun there in 2nd Century BC, only to end abruptly in 3rd Century AD, when the land got submerged. The second phase of habitation might have started in 16th Century AD,” said Roy.

The recent digging in Tilpi — at Tentultala and Kancharipara — has yielded 356 items, “proving once again” that “a highly-developed civilisation” existed there from 2nd Century BC.

Goutam Sengupta, state director of archaeology and museums, said: “The Sunderbans ecosystem was not as inhabitable as we find it today... The land must have been less saline and the Piyali a source of fresh water, supporting a flourishing trade in forest products.”

Among the recent find — from 2nd Century BC to 2nd Century AD — are ivory products and precious stones.

Unlike other contemporary sites in lower Bengal, Tilpi has thrown up abundant evidence of industry in the form of near-intact hearths, smelting and casting tools and copper ingots. “Evidence of trade and aesthetic sensibilities, too, were found in the form of inscribed seals, coins, black ware, terracotta figurines and precious stones,” said an official.

There are carnelian and agate beads with delicate carvings and fine fragments of coins and seals. One of them bears a figure dressed in apparently foreign clothes.

That the civilisation predates Brahmanical Hinduism is borne out by the Yakshi figures and lotuses, which point to the existence of local cults.