THE ANCIENT PORT FO ARIKAMEDU Published by Ecole Francaise D' Extreme Orient , Paris



300BC to 200 BC

The earliest settlement at Arikamedu pre dates the beginning of any known overseas trade and it also pre dates the use of any roulette ware at the site . Remains of the occupation was first documented by Casal in southern sector . The settlement is identified primarily on the basis of pottery. Casal observed that the pottery found in the southern sector had similarities with the megalithic potteries found in other sites such as Suttukeni . Archeologists so far found no remains of any Megalithic burial sites in Arikamedu The only indications of any building activity in this phase were a few post-holes . Not much is known about this phase and it was considered a small settlement of fishermen.

The important find associated with this phase was sherd of coarse ware with an inscription in early Tamil Brahmi script . According to various scholars this evidence belongs to post Ashoka period which could any time before second/first century BC.

Pic. Coarse ware with an inscription in early Tamil Brahmi script.

Phase 2

200BC to 100 BC

Phase 2 is intermediary phase or overlap period which is marked by the appearance of “roulette ware” in southern sector. During this period rouletted ware and megalithic wares were used concurrently . But Mediterranean wares or amphora were not associated with this phase . The first ring wells appeared during this period. also this phase is noticeable for the first use of bricks in the northern sector . From the available archeological data and findings , it is assumed that this period ranges any where between middle or end of second century BC to first century BC.

Phase 3

100Bc to 50 BC

Wheeler called this stage as pre Arretine ware and Casal called this period as post over-lap . This is a period of rapid development and in many ways the most significant stage in the history of Arikamedu. The first use of bricks probably dates back to this phase. Most important for the first time amphora and other items of undoubtedly Mediterranean origins are encountered during this phase.

The dates for the beginning of this phase depend upon the dates of the earliest amphora found at the site. Though it is very difficult to predict the date on which the first amphora arrived at Arikamedu from the available evidences it is inferred that the first century BC is the period of Amphora. The end period of amphora is marked by the arrival of Sigallata.

In architecture two fragmentary brick walls, a floor and a ring well of Wheelers early phase belong to this period. The first appearance of clay roof tiles is also in this phase.


50 BC to 50 AD (Sigallata Period)

What distinguishes phase 3 from phase4 is the presence of Sigallata or Arretine ware called by Wheeler. .This phase is the continuation of phase 3 except the presence of Sigallata. Since Sigallata is the most precisely dated among all the imports in Arikamedu this phase is the most securely dated .

The Sigallata pieces found in Arikamedu are small in size and were produced in different Italian workshops and even the eastern Mediterranean. The study of the Sigallata pieces excavated in Arikamedu by scholars reveal that the earliest piece of Sigallata must have arrived here on the middle of first century BC. The Sigallata period is generally considered to be from middle of first century BC to middle of first century AD. This phase also marks the beginning of construction activities both in south and northern sectors . Harbors built with wood, ware houses, storage houses and several architectures came up during the period . Also evidences of bead manufacturing in southern sector appeared during this period. .

Phase 5

50 AD- 200AD

Post Sigallata Period

The beginning of this phase is the middle of the first century AD and the end of this phase is second century. . Mediterranean amphora made its entry into Arikamedu during this period. Amphora related trade virtually came to an end. What caused the decline in this trade was the change in the pattern of trade and trade routes in the Mediterranean. But Arikamedu continue to prosper even after the end of this Mediterranean trade . The building activities in Arikamedu even increased after the collapse of the Roman trade .

From the available archeological evidences it appears that during phase 5 major changes were taking place at the site . Building activity in brick had increased considerably after phase 4 but some of the structures were destroyed and bricks were robbed even at the end of the phase 5. In pottery fine ware were not much demand except roulette wares. In general quality of pottery deteriorated and forms and fabrics show few changes or innovations. During this phase there is a change in the population group or its needs. If we consider this evidence with the virtual stoppage of Mediterranean imports including amphora it would seem that the change was related to the decline of the Mediterranean trade and perhaps the relocation of the traders to other locations

Phase 6

200 AD -600 AD

Artifactual evidences slowly beginning to surface for continued settlement or resettlement past second century AD. The amphora fragments from a British Bay olive oil jar of the fifth century


part of a handle form a spatheion ( Small African amphora)

also of the fifth century and a small fragment from the handle of a late Roman Punic jar

datable between the third and sixth centuries are the most compelling evidences found so far in Arikamedu to prove the continuity of occupation of the site .

Phase 7

600AD – 1100AD

Coarse ware potteries and beads produced during this period are abundant from this period

Phase 8

1100-1500 AD

The artifacts especially pottery found from various trenches have been identified to belong to this period. The pottery and beads never discontinued its production in Arikamedu . artifacts which could be medieval are coins , Chinese and Islamic ceramic, coarse ware pottery, beads and wastes, few terracotta and few fragments of roof tiles, in addition some architectural features also attributed to this period. In local pottery several vessel forms can be identified such as spouts of water jars, cooking vessels, lids .

Phase 9

1500 -1700 AD

So far no identifiable evidence has been obtained for this period . the site could have been abandoned


Towards the end of the 18th century the site was briefly occupied . In 1771-3 a seminary and residence was built for the Jesuit missionaries who have been driven out from Siam. The seminary was abandoned din 1783 The ruins of the seminary still survives and is known as Mission House , which today is the only visible structure in the Arikamedu archeological site .