ADICHANALLUR has a history of excavation. The urn-burial site was brought to light when a German, Dr Jagor, conducted a haphazard excavation at the place in 1876. An Englishman called Alexander Rea, who was the Superintending Archaeologist, excavated the urn-burial site between 1889 and 1905. A Frenchman called Louis Lapique had also conducted an excavation in 1904.India…. The site was first brought to notice in 1876 when it was visited by Dr Jagor of Berlin, accompanied by the Collector of Tinnevelly and the District Engineer.”
In his article entitled “Prehistoric antiquities in Tinnevelly”, which appeared in the Archaeological Survey of India’s annual report in 1902-03, Rea called the Adichanallur site “the most extensive prehistoric site as yet discovered in southern if not in the whole of India…. The site was first brought to notice in 1876 when it was visited by Dr Jagor of Berlin, accompanied by the Collector of Tinnevelly and the District Engineer.”
Excavations by Dr Jagor had yielded “upwards of 50 kinds of baked earthenware utensils of all sizes and shapes, a considerable number of iron weapons and implements, chiefly knives or short sword blades and hatchets, and a lot of bones and skulls”. Rea says “these articles were taken away by Dr Jagor for the Berlin Museum”.
In his first excavations, Rea discovered about 1,872 objects, and about 4,000 later. He said: “The objects yielded by these burial sites are finely made pottery of various kinds in great number; many iron implements and weapons; vessels and personal ornaments in bronze; a few gold ornaments; a few stone beads; bones; and some household stone implements used for grinding curry or sandalwood.” Traces of cloth runs with mica pieces, and husks of rice and millet were found in pots inside the urns. Lamp stands, hanging lamps, bell-mouthed jars, `chatties’, necklaces, wire bangles, swords, spears and arrows were found. Importantly, several gold diadems with a hole on each end for tying them around the forehead were found. Rea also discovered a number of bronze figurines of the buffalo, the goat or the sheep, the cock, the tiger, the antelope and the elephant.
He had this to say about how the dead were interred in the urns at Adichanallur: “In those urns which contained complete skeletons, and which were thus preserved by the lid remaining intact, the position of the bones made it obvious that the body had been set inside in a squatting or sitting position. On its decay, the leg and arm bones fell over and rested against one side of the urn, while the skull, ribs, and vertebrae dropped down to the bottom. This was the position in which every complete skeleton, without exception, was found; and the urns in which they were placed were all devoid of earth.”
G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist with the ASI, who led the first phase of the excavation in 2004, said of Rea’s excavation: “Above all, his excavation was important for the bronze objects discovered because they are quite unique in the proto-history of South India. Besides, he discovered a figurine of a Mother-Goddess. All this showed that the Tamil culture was rich then.” Rea’s discovery of gold diadems is intriguing, for gold does not occur at Adichanallur or any nearby place. The gold could have been brought from outside because of trade contacts, Thirumoorthy said.
Also intriguing is the fact that, although Rea found a number of bronze objects and several gold diadems, no bronze or gold objects have so far been found in excavations conducted by the ASI from 2004. Besides, the trenches dug by Rea have not been located so far, although they are said to be in the centre of the mound. Rea systematically documented all the objects that he discovered and handed them over to the Government Museum in Chennai, where they are on display.
The centrepiece of the discoveries is this potsherd with the motifs of a woman, a stalk of paddy, a crane, a deer and a crocodile.
The Iron-Age urn-burial site at Adichanallur, about 40 km from Thoothukudi city in southern Tamil Nadu, has attracted nationwide attention for three important findings: an inscription in a rudimentary Tamil-Brahmi script on the inside of an urn containing a full human skeleton; a potsherd (fragment of broken earthenware) with dramatic motifs; and the remains of living quarters (rampart wall, potters’ kilns, a smith’s shop and so on) close to the site.