A Note on Porunthal AMS dates
The Department of History, Pondicherry University excavated an archaeological site at Porunthal, located at the foot hill of Western Ghats 12 km southwest Palani town in 2009 and 2010. One of the famous Sangam Age Vel chieftains Vel-Avi-k-ko-p-perum-pekan (Purananuru 143, 144, 145, 146 and147) ruled this region. The Sangam literature Akananuru (1 and 61) and Purananuru (142) mention this place as belonging to the Vel chieftain Nedu-Vel-Avi. Three trenches laid in the habitation mound called paci-medu (bead mound) yielded thousands of glass beads along with a furnace for glass bead making, a square copper coin, terracotta figurines, ivory objects and many other archaeological findings. Four megalithic graves were opened in the grave yard of which two are transepted cist variety and remaining two are double-cist variety.
The grave (MEG-I) excavated in the year 2009 yielded 2 kg of paddy grains placed in a four-legged jar and kept as grave goods in the northern chamber of the grave. Dr.Premathilake, Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology, Sri Lanka and Dr.Anupama, Head, Department of Ecology, French Institute of Pondicherry, who examined the sample identified it as cultivated paddy (Oryza sativa indica). Another interesting piece of evidence is the red polished ware ring-stand engraved with Tamil-Brahmi script reading va-y-ra. This script is found in association with a graffito mark. Around this ring stand, 22 etched carnelian beads were found. Further, four more etched carnelian beads, a small sword and an arrow head were placed inside the ring stand. The Tamil-Brahmi script, graffito mark, carnelian beads, an iron sword and an arrow head found along with the ring stand clearly points to the importance given to the departed soul. The contextual position of the ring stand clearly points to its significance. Two long iron swords with a bunch of arrow heads close to their tip portion are observed. Besides three set of iron stirrups, carnelian beads, steatite micro beads, quartz beads, iron swords, arrowheads, skeletal remains and innumerable pots, basins, ring stands, vases, plates were recovered from this grave.
The paddy grains collected from the jar were sent for radiometric dating and it has been dated to 2440±30 BP (490 BC) by Beta Analytic Lab. This dating that takes the antiquity of an Early Historic grave to 490 BC has great significance in the history of Tamil Nadu. This is for the first time that an AMS dating (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) has been obtained for a grave in Tamil Nadu. So far, the Tamil-Brahmi script was dated on the basis of palaeographical, linguistic and straigraphical parameters. Due to the non-availability of the scientific dating, fixing the chronology of Tamil-Brahmi had been eluding the scholars.
There are two major divergent views on the date of Tamil-Brahmi. The eminent scholar Iravatham Mahadevan holds the view that Tamil-Brahmi was introduced in Tamil Nadu after 3rd century BC and it is post-Asokan. Scholars like K.V.Ramesh consider it as pre-Asokan. Now, the date of Tamil-Brahmi can be dated two hundred years before Asoka. The scholars were mostly holding the view that the early history of south India begins with 3rd century BC, but the present date demands a relook. Now one may be justified in presuming that like other parts of India, the early history of south India too begins before 5th century BC and it could have been contemporary to the mahajanapadas. Further, the famous megalithic graves introduced during Iron Age in south India had continued their existence well into the Early Historic times.
Thus, the AMS dating of the paddy grains from the Porunthal site has the following implications:
• The ancient history of Tamil Nadu can be pushed back to 5th century BC
• The context of Tamil-Brahmi goes back to 490 BC and therefore pre-Asokan
• The paddy cultivation goes back to 5th century BC
• The megalithic graves introduced in Iron Age continued into the Early Historic times
Such early dates were reported at Adichchanallur, Korkai, Mangadu and Pattanam in ancient Tamilakam. Such multiple dates are still required from different archaeological sites to place the beginning of Early Historic Tamil Nadu on firm ground.