MEGALITHIC/ IRON AGE IN TAMILNADU

The burial system followed by the people of Neolithic period continued into the Megalithic period. A circular tomb using big stone slabs built upon the place of burial is known as a megalith. Such megaliths have been found in many parts of Tamilnadu .The urn burial system was another type of practice and is evidenced in Adichanallur (present Thoothukudi district). Black-ware is peculiar to burial sites in Tamilnadu.

Interestingly, black-ware is found mostly in burial mounds and not in human habitations. In a majority of urn burials, the use of stone is almost non-existent. However, urn burials are grouped under megalithic because the materials – the pottery, iron objects, beads of semi-precious stones kept in them – are identical to those found in the stone burials.

The end of Megalithic burial practice is assigned to third-second centuries CE. During this period Brahmi writing akin to Ashokan Brahmi has been discovered in Kodumanal (Erode District). There is also evidence of the megalithic tradition continuing into later centuries.

During the Sangam period people still remembered urn burials. The four primitive hero-stones with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, datable to third to second centuries BCE found in the upper part of the Vaigai valley, support the authenticity of the hero stone tradition described in the Sangam Tamil literature in the context of cattle raids. Scholars infer, based on such evidence,that the some of the Sangam poems could be assigned to the early fi rst century BCE or a little earlier. Th e tradition of erecting hero stones in memory of dead warrior-heroes is considered to be an extension of the menhir type of megalithic tradition. Menhirs, upright monumental stones, and dolmens made of big slabs or boulders are megalithic tombs

found in Tamilnadu.

Black and red ware, along with partial human remains and iron objects, were unearthed recently at Vadamalkunda in Krishnagiri, Tamilnadu. A few stone slabs were also found at the site. A centuries-old menhir at Singaripalayam excavated near Kundadam in Tiruppur district points to the existence of an ancient settlement along the banks of River Uppar.

Megalithic Sites in Adichanallur

Adichanallur, 22 km from Tirunelveli, is located in Thoothukudi district. In 1876, a German ethnologist and naturalist, Andrew Jagor conducted an excavation at Adichanallur.

He carried with him samples of backed earthenware, utensils of all sizes

and shapes, a considerable number of iron weapons and implements, and great quantities of bones and skulls. These are now housed in a Berlin Museum. The then district Collector of Tirunelveli A.J. Stuart and the famous linguist Bishop Robert Caldwell visited Adichanallur subsequently, found it was a quartz site. Quarrying was immediately banned and archaeological excavation commenced under the supervision of Alexander Rea. Rea prepared a comprehensive account of his findings, illustrated by photographs, and was published in the annual report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), 1902–03. Nearly a hundred years later, the ASI carried out another excavation and brought out more information. The report is awaited.

The burial mound at Adichanallur yielded the following:

Urns and pottery of various kinds in large numbers. Iron implements, including spades and weapons (daggers, swords, spears and arrows). Some stone beads and a few gold ornaments.

  • Bronze objects representing the domestic animals such as buffalo, goat or sheep and cock, and wild animals like tiger, antelope and elephant.
  • Traces of cloth and wood.
  • The engraving of animals on bronze and on ornaments is indicative of the primitive workmanship. (Caldwell could stumble upon a copper bangle during his inspection at the site.)

The people were evidently skilful in moulding pottery, in casting or brassing metals, in weaving and in working stone and wood.

The presence of husks of rice and millet indicates domestication of these grains. Iron weapons were used for both war, and for animal sacrifices. The discovery of sacrificial implements prompted Caldwell to conclude that the people of Adichanallur were not adherents of Vedic religion.

Paiyampalli

Paiyampalli is a village in Tirupathur taluk, Vellore district. The Archaeological Survey of India carried out an excavation in the 1960s and unearthed black and red ware pottery in this megalithic site. A large number of urn burials were also found in this region. The date of this culture, based on radio carbon dating, is 1000 BCE.

Kodumanal

Kodumanal, 40 km from Erode, is located on the northern bank of Noyyal river, a tributary of the Cauvery. A series of excavations were carried out during the 1980s and 1990s. The most recent was in 2012. In habitation trenches and megalithic burials of Kodumanal,the goods unearthed included pots,weapons, tools, ornaments, and beads,particularly carnelian, akin to those foundat Mohenjodaro.

Since carnelian was not known to this region in ancient times, it may have been brought to Kodumanal from outside. In the Sangam work Pathitrupathu,a place called Kodumanam belonging to the Chera king, is praised for gemstones and therefore some archaeologists argue that Kodumanam is the ancient name of Kodumanal. Hoards of Roman coins have been discovered and it is believed that this is a result of the export of gemstones to the Roman world, resulting in return a huge inflow of gold from the latter into the region.

Conches and bangles, remnants of furnaces, a kiln floor filled with ash soot, and potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions are other finds in the site. Pit burials, urn burials and chamber tombs of different types excavated at Kodumanal and the names inscribed on potsherds may indicate habitation by multi-ethnic groups.

The graffiti etched on potsherds give a lot of information about the people and their activities. A menhir found at a burial site is assigned to the Megalithic period. According to Y. Subbarayalu, Kodumanal is coeval the Sangam anthologies (second century BCE to second century CE).

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