Keeladi Excavations

Keeladi Excavations

Context :

  • Keeladi is a tiny hamlet in the Sivaganga district in south Tamil Nadu.
  • It is about 12 km south-east to the temple city of Madurai and is located along the Vaigai river.
  • The excavations here from 2015 prove that an urban civilisation existed in Tamil Nadu in the Sangam age on the banks of the Vaigai river.

How is Keeladi linked to Sangam age?

  • The Sangam age is a period of history in ancient Tamil Nadu which was believed to be from the third century BCE to the third century CE.

  • The name is derived from the renowned Sangam poets of Madurai from that time.
  • Excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Tamil Nadu State Archaeology Department (TNSDA) has pushed the Sangam age further back.
  • In 2019, a TNSDA report dated the unearthed artefacts from Keeladi to a period between sixth century BCE and first century BCE.
  • One of the six samples collected at a depth of 353 cm, sent for carbon dating in the U.S., dated back to 580 BCE.
  • The findings in the TNSDA report placed Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than the previously believed third century BCE.
  • A recent ASI report discovered Keeladi in 2015, has pushed the Sangam age to 800 BCE based on these archaeological findings.
  • Keeladi could also provide crucial evidence for understanding the missing links of the Iron Age (12th century BCE to sixth century BCE) to the Early Historic Period (sixth century BCE to fourth century BCE) and subsequent cultural developments.

What was the controversy surrounding Keeladi?

  • After reports of possible links with the Indus Valley Civilisation, the third round (2017) of diggings by the ASI saw a delayed start.
  • Keeladi almost faded from public memory as there was no “significant finding” in the third round.

  • This led to criticism that the excavation had been deliberately restricted to 400 metres.

Links to the Indus Valley :

  • The unearthed Keeladi artefacts have led academics to describe the site as part of the Vaigai Valley Civilisation.
  • The findings have also invited comparisons with the Indus Valley Civilisation while acknowledging the cultural gap of 1,000 years between the two places.
  • Till now, the gap is filled with Iron Age material in south India, which serve as residual links.
  • However, some of the symbols found in pot sherds of Keeladi bear a close resemblance to Indus Valley signs.
  • A lot of digging and study has to be done to establish the links between these two civilisations.
  • Keeladi has also added to the credibility of Sangam Literature.


Syllabus : Mains; GS-1; Art and Culture

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