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Excavations proves Vizhinjam as one of the earliest port towns, history dating back to 1st Century BC

Posted on 01 Aug 2013

Excavations by a team of archaeologists over three years have unearthed artefacts indicating that Vizhinjam, site for the proposed international container transhipment terminal, could have been one of the earliest port towns along the south Kerala coast, with a maritime history dating back to the first or second century BC.

The excavations, which began in 2010, were conducted by the team led by Ajit Kumar, Head of the Department of Archaeology, University of Kerala.

The findings are based on the discovery of pieces of ancient pottery, including sherds of rouletted ware, amphora, BI- glazed ware and torpedo jar from the site.

Rouletted ware, according to Dr. Kumar, is an excellent chronological indicator and is believed to have had its origin in the Bengal region and was in circulation from the 2{+n}{+d}century BC to the 2{+n}{+d}century AD.

The amphora ware dates back to the 1{+s}{+t}- 3{+r}{+d}century AD, while the bi-glazed ware had its origins in West Asia and is datable to the early Christian era.

Dr. Kumar said the excavations, for the first time, unearthed constructive evidence authenticating the maritime trade links of Vizhinjam extending from the Red Sea to the eastern littoral region of peninsular India and beyond to Far East Asia.

It also supported earlier suggestions that this port could have been Balita that finds mention in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a Greco- Roman account of maritime travel and trade in the Indian Ocean by a merchant of the 1st Century AD, or ‘Blinca,' mentioned in the Peutinger Tables (4th Century AD).

“The evidence of large quantities and variety of torpedo jar sherds and turquoise glazed ware point to brisk trade activities with the Persian Gulf and West Asian region during the medieval period (6{+t}{+h}to 10{+t}{+h}century). The Ay chieftains from Vizhinjam probably perpetuated the early medieval trade activity from Vizhinjam.”

In 2006, a team of researchers led by Dr. Kumar discovered the remnants of a fort at Vizhinjam, which was thought to date back to the 8{+t}{+h}or 9{+t}{+h}century AD and probably belonged to the Ay chieftains.

“The Chinese and European ware found from the site attest to the pivotal role played by Vizhinjam in the Indian Ocean trade in the subsequent colonial period.”

During the course of the excavations held near a centuries-old temple at Vizhinjam, the team discovered local pottery types and portions of dwellings. A bowl-on-stand, dating back to the early historic (1{+s}{+t}to 4{+t}{+h}cent) or medieval (4{+t}{+h}to 6{+t}{+h}cent) period, coins, glass beads and semi precious stones like carnelian (not locally available) were also found.

According to Dr. Kumar, iron slag and crucibles recovered from the site supported medieval epigraphic records, highlighting the importance of Vizhinjam as a prominent arms manufacturing station of the Ay chieftains.

The discovery of the broken leg of a figurine datable to the 8{+t}{+h}or 9{+t}{+h}century provided evidence of the lost wax technique for casting bronze images in this region in early medieval times.

Source: The hindu