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Roman Sphinx seal-ring recovered from Pattanam


Fresh findings from excavations at Pattanam  near North Paravur in Ernakulam — like a seal-ring with the image of a sphinx and the Graeco-Roman head of a miniature statuette — have added to the evidence of the site being the fabled ancient port town of Muziris. 


Roman Sphinx seal-ring recovered from Pattanam
Seal-ring with the image of a sphinx
[Credit: Malayala Manorama]

The PAMA Institute for the Advancement of Transdisciplinary Archaeology, a private trust with academic-cum-environmentalist R. V. G Menon as chairman, had carried out excavations at five trenches in four private plots in Pattanam in March, April and May 2020 with a licence from Archaeological Survey of India. They were not permitted to excavate the land owned by Kerala Council of Historical Research (KCHR) as planned earlier. 


P. J. Cherian, director, PAMA, said the findings were dominated by pottery assemblage. Besides substantial quantities of Indian pottery, the site produced an impressive count of Mediterranean, Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and South China Sea pottery, settling the assumption that Pattanam could be an integral part of the legendary port of Muziris, he said. 




One of the most fascinating finds from the 10th season excavation was a seal-ring made of banded agate with the carving of sphinx, a mythical creature with magical and oracular powers. 


Cherian said Dr Giulia Rocco, director (excavations) in Rome and specialist on ancient Roman art, confirmed that the Pattanam sphinx is similar to the one worn by Octavianus before he became Augustus Caesar. According to Rocco, the accuracy of gem style and carving technique suggest a chronology between the 1st and the 2nd century CE. The recent finds have not been carbon-dated but they were from stratigraphic layers scientifically analysed in the previous nine excavations. 


The sphinx gem — the third intaglio found from Pattanam archaeological mound after pouncing lion (2010) and Goddess Fortuna (2014) — was discovered by a Plus-Two student who volunteered with the PAMA team, on April 25, from a property owned by her uncle. 


Roman Sphinx seal-ring recovered from Pattanam
Graeco-Roman head of a miniature statuette from excavations
at Pattanam in Ernakulam [Credit: Malayala Manorama]

Another path-breaking find — a Graeco-Roman head of a miniature statuette — also came from the trench from where the sphinx was recovered. According to PAMA researchers, this is the first ever human image from the 66 trenches dug so far in Pattanam. However, the trenches dug so far doesn’t even come up to 1% of the 111 acres of Pattanam archaeological mound. 


“Unlike other excavations, a difference was the communitycentred approach. We routinely had people from the neighbourhood coming; if we found something we would show it to them and explain what it is and what it meant while they shared folk history of the region,” says Vijay Govind, research associate, PAMA. 




Cherian said the PAMA project was aimed at understanding early maritime history and material culture as a microcosm of human-nature interface. In the first phase, the project wants to extend and compare the findings of the Pattanam site with explorations and excavations in the delta region of Periyar and Chalakkudi rivers. “It is an important site that has thrown up lot of material evidence in the past. Some people had doubts with regard to identification of the ancient port site with Muziris,” said K Paddayya, noted archeologist and emeritus professor, Deccan College, Pune, adding that he could comment on the recent excavations only after studying them. K Rajan, archeologist and professor of history at the School of Social Sciences and International Studies, Puducherry also said he would rather wait to comment on the recent finds. 


“I feel multiple explorations undertaken in the region has provided ample material evidence and it is now time to create a historical narrative based on the findings,” said academic Sunil P Ilayidam. 


In the 2nd phase, PAMA will undertake exploration and database creation of the early historic port sites of the Indian subcontinent from Gujarat to Bengal. 


Author: Binu Karunakaran | Source: The Times of India [September 22, 2020]


TANN

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