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Home  > The Tamil Heritage - History & Geography > Adichchanallur, Tamil Nadu -  An Iron Age Urn Burial Site

Adichchanallur, Tamil Nadu -  An Iron Age Urn Burial Site

Courtesy: Archaeological Survey, India

[see also Iron Age habitational site found at Adichanallur,
 T.S. Subramanian, Hindu, 3 April 2005
முனைவர் மு.இளங்கோவன் - ஆதிச்சநல்லூர் சில படங்கள்... ]

Adichchanallur (8� 37� 47.6" N; 77� 52� 34.9"E) is located on the right bank of the Tambraparani River, in the Tuticorin District of Tamil Nadu. The extensive urn burial site at Adichchanallur in Tuticorin District (formerly Tirunelveli) was first discovered by Dr. Jagor of Berlin Museum in 1876. A. Rea excavated a good number of urns during 1910s and discovered gold diadems with parallels from Mycenae; bronze objects notably lids with exquisite finials depicting many animal forms, iron objects besides thousands of potsherds. The excavation was resumed during 2003-04 and 2004-05. More than 160 urns within the area of 600 square meters have been exposed.

General View of the Excavated Trenches
with urn burials in Situ, Adichchanallur

The burials have been classified into three phases, viz., Phase I, II and III. Phase I contains predominantly primary burials, while in Phases II & III, both primary and secondary burials are found.

General View of the Excavated Trenches
with urn burials in Situ, Adichchanallur

The skeletal remains inside the urns are invariably placed in crouched position. No orientation seems to have been followed. There are two examples of double burial. A potsherd with appliqu� narrative scene is an important find. It depicts a slim and tall woman standing near by plantain tree. An egret is shown sitting on the tree and holding a fish. A deer and alligator are also depicted near the woman. Good number of graffiti on pottery has been discovered.

Contents of an Urn burial: Remains of bones
and burial goods in situ, Adichchanallur

Pottery types include black and red ware, red ware and black ware. The dominant shapes include bowls, dishes, vases etc. Some of the pots are painted in white. Iron implements like arrowheads, spearheads and axe are found, but eroded and badly preserved. Few copper ornaments have also been found. Husk and cloth impression has been found on one of the Iron sword. A potter�s kiln was also exposed in the habitational site.

Contents of an Urn burial: Remains of bones
and burial goods in situ, Adichchanallur

Contents of an Urn burial:
Remains of rice husk, Adichchanallur

Iron Age habitational site found at Adichanallur T.S. Subramanian, Hindu, 3 April 2005

The fortification wall discovered at the habitational site at Adichanallur, near Tirunelveli.
The wall is seen running diagonally across and it is packed with stones
in an irregular manner on its outer surface.

CHENNAI, APRIL 2. In an important discovery, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai Circle, has located the habitational site of the Iron Age people who were buried in big urns at Adichanallur, 24 km from Tirunelveli town in Tamil Nadu. Although several urn burial sites such as at Amirthamangalam and Perumbair, both near Chengalpattu, have been discovered in the State, this is the first time the place where these people lived has been found.

The site discovered now is on the north and north-western slopes of the urn-burial mound at Adichanallur. It is a few hundred metres away from the burial fields.

T. Satyamurthy, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle, said, "We have succeeded in locating the habitational site at Adichanallur. We are excavating in a place where we are getting the materials of a town where people actually lived."

Two things are confirmed, he said. First, the settlement was inside a fortified town. "The fortification wall has been traced. There is a regular alignment wall." Second, the potters' quarters have been found inside the fortification wall. Discovery of three potter's kilns with ash, charcoal and broken pots showed wet pots/urns were baked with fire. Artefacts, including an iron knife, carnelian beads, terracotta beads, couex beads, bone implements and potsherds with graffiti have also come to light.

According to Mr. Satyamurthy, the urn-burial site could be dated "to about 1,000 B.C," that is 3,000 years ago. "Contemporary to that, we have got the habitational site."

Potsherds with graffiti marks found at the habitational site.

The ASI, Chennai Circle, re-excavated the Iron Age burial site at Adichanallur in 2004 after a gap of about 100 years. Six trenches yielded 157 burial urns. Fifty were intact and 15 had human skeletons. The urns containing the skeletons had exquisite miniature pots along with paddy and husk. Around the urns were bigger, ritual pots and iron implements such as daggers, broken swords, an exquisite spearhead and celts.

A broken piece of burial urn had a series of stunning motifs of a tall woman, a sheaf of standing paddy, a crane sitting on the paddy stalk, a deer with straight horns and so on. The centrepiece contained Tamil writing in very rudimentary Tamil Brahmi, engraved inside an urn. Epigraphists have tentatively read the writing as "ka ri a ra va [na] ta." An aim of the excavation in 2004 was to locate the habitational site, and co-relate what was found in the burial site with the place where people lived. So the ASI resumed the excavation at Adichanallur on February 7, 2005.

Those who took part in it included M. Nambi Rajan, Arun Malik, P. Aravaazhi, A. Anil Kumar and C.R. Gayathri, all ASI archaeologists.

Four trenches, each by 10 metres by 10 metres, were dug. Mr. Nambi Rajan said that in the beginning, they found a lot of potsherds of red ware, black and red ware, red slipped ware etc. Potsherds with graffiti and unidentified terracotta objects were found.

"Incipient, sharp bone tools were also found," he said. The trenches revealed a man-made floor mixed with lime plaster, holes on the ground to hold posts, burnt patches, parts of a burnt fowl, all of which indicated that the place was inhabited.

The discovery of a fortification wall, that is a rampart, and three potter's kilns confirmed that it was a habitational site. The fortification wall is packed inside with mud. On the outside, it is packed with stones in an irregular manner. The kilns have revealed holes to hold posts, thick coating of ash from burnt timber, "a lot of charcoal" and broken pots.

A smith's shop was located in another trench and there were touchstones to make beads. In one place, about 100 beads made of couex (an organic material) were discovered for the first time.

The floors found in trenches were made of hard reddish clay and coated with cow dung. Ms. Gayathri said the fortification wall separated the industrial area from the habitational site.

Mr. Satyamurthy said: "It looks like a crowded town, which was busy. On the one side is the burial site. Within 500 metres, you have the kilns, which means life was active. It might have been an urban centre."


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