Wheelers report on Arikamedu

Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s report on Arikamedu

Summary & Relevance

Archeological Survey of India conducted a short but intensive excavation the burning months April, May and June 1945.

Arikamedu represents the site of a considerable buried town on the Coramandel coast. Two sectors , Northern and Southern excavated in 1945 and partially uncovered by previous excavators were found to have been extensively despoiled for bricks in the middle ages and later. The Northern sector contained the remains of a substantial structure upwards of 150 feet long, built about 50 AD, on the former foreshore above vaguer vestiges of earlier occupation extending perhaps over half a century. The building from its site and character identified as a warehouse, must from the outset have been liable to flooding, and was abandoned at an early date. The southern sector on the other hand comprised a site which stood some ten feet above flood level, and was occupied for a hundred years or more from the middle of the first century AD onwards.

Its principal structures consisted of two walled courtyards associated with carefully built tanks supplied and drained by a series of culverts. It is conjectured that these tanks and courtyards were used in the preparation of the Muslin cloth which has from ancient times been a notable product of this part of India and is recorded by classical writers as Indian export. .

Amongst the other industries of the town was that of bead making. Gold, semi precious stones, and glass were used for this purpose, and two gems carved with intaglio designs by Greco Roman gem cutters and in one instance untrimmed , suggests the presence of Western craftsmen on the site.

Numerous sherds of both of a red-glazed pottery known to have been made in Italy in the first centuries of BC- AD, and of the two handled jars or Amphorae characteristic of the Mediterranean wine-trade of the period, together with Roman lamps and glass ware , combine to indicate that Arikamedu was one of the regular “Yavanas” or Western trading stations of which both Greco-Roman and ancient Tamil writers speak.

As the first of these stations actually identified by excavations in India , Arikamedu will hold henceforth a distinguished position in the history of the economic relations with the outside world.

A Roman market on the Coramandel coast implies a knowledge of the south western monsoon, which the historians may now suppose to have been in regular use at an earlier date than was previously conjectured. The epigraphists and paleographic will find amongst the graffiti some of the earliest dated fragments of the Tamil language . To the geographer , the very considerable rise in water-level shown to have occurred hereabouts within the last two thousand years , though due at least in part to local causes, is perhaps of incidental note.

The most significant result of the excavation is that by establishing at last a précised chronological position of an extensive south Indian culture , the archeologist has provided a new starting point for the study of the pre medieval civilizations of the Indian peninsula .

Chapter 1

The Site and Its Historical Background

The classical geographers and Sangam literature have familiarized the historians with the outlines of an ancient trade existed between India and West during and after first century AD . At its prime time ;

The Indian exports were

1. Pepper

2. pearls

3. gem-stones

4. muslin

5. tortoise shell


7. silk

And Imports to India were

  1. Coral
  2. Lead
  3. copper
  4. tin
  5. glass
  6. vases
  7. lamps
  8. wine
  9. coined money

This trade was NOT organized on lines like those of the European ‘factories’ established in India from 16th century .The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea ( AD 60-100) and Ptolemy ( AD150-) fairly described as treaty-ports.

Under these treaties “permanent lodges of Western traders were settled in Indian ports under formal agreement with the appropriate Indian ruler and were visited at the proper seasons by convoys of deep- sea merchantmen.

The literary sources on Roma Indian trade acknowledges the fact that the ships sailed from Myos Homos, on of the most important harbor ports in the Red Sea during the Roman rule of Egypt to Indian port cities for trade.



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