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Why in News?

  •  The State Department of Archaeology told the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court that it has applied to the Union Ministry of Culture for starting the fifth phase of the excavations at Keezhadi near Madurai following the completion of the fourth phase.


  •  Political controversy has again erupted around Keezhadi (also known as Keeladi), a major archaeological site in Tamil Nadu, four years after excavators began to unearth the remains of an ancient urban civilization that thrived on the banks of the river Vaigai more than 2,000 years ago.
  •  While delayed allocation of funds and alleged reluctance of the Union government to continue with the excavation led to widespread condemnation in 2016, a year later the transfer of superintending archaeologist K. Amarnath Ramakrishnan led to further protests. The latest round of controversy erupted last week when Ramakrishnan, who is posted in Assam and has submitted an interim report on Keezhadi, was denied permission to write the final report.
  •  Earlier this year, the Madras high court expressed its displeasure over ASI’s lack of interest in carrying out work at Adichanallur site in Thoothukudi where traces of Iron Age people, whose skeletal remains buried in big urns have been identified.

Phases of Keezhadi Excavation:

  • In 2013-14, ASI carried out explorations along the Vaigai river valley in 293 sites in districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram. Keezhadi in Sivaganga was chosen for excavation.
  •  During the second phase of the excavation, the artifacts unearthed by the team led by Ramakrishnan established a substantial evidence that an ancient urban civilization had thrived on the banks of Vaigai. Last year, carbon dating of charcoal found at the site confirmed that the settlement was from 200BCE.
  •  More than 8,000 artefacts including pottery with Tamil Brahmi inscriptions, gold coins, beads, iron tools and jewellery, that were unearthed indicated that an urban civilization had existed during the Sangam era — between the 4th century BCE and 2nd century CE that is regarded as a golden era for Tamil language, literature and culture — and that it had trade link with other civilizations including Rome.
  •  While the third phase was led by ASI, the Tamil Nadu archaeology department after obtaining approval from Central Advisory Board of Archaeology (CABA) began the fourth phase earlier this year.
  •  Tamil Nadu archaeology department confirmed that the fourth phase is complete with the excavation of more than 7,000 antiques and document preparation is underway.
  •  The state archaeology department has requested the CABA to permit excavation for the next phase too and will start work by the beginning of next year if approval is granted.

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI):

  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is a Government of India (Ministry of Culture) organisation responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in the country. It was founded in 1861 by the British Raj.
  •  ASI was founded in 1861 by Alexander Cunningham who also became its first Director-General. The first systematic research into the subcontinent’s history was conducted by the Asiatic Society, which was founded by the British Indologist William Jones on 15 January 1784. Based in Calcutta, the society promoted the study of ancient Sanskrit and Persian texts and published an annual journal titled Asiatic Researches. Notable among its early members was Charles Wilkins who published the first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita in 1785 with the patronage of the then Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings. However, the most important of the society’s achievements was the decipherment of the Brahmi script by James Prinsep in 1837. This successful decipherment inaugurated the study of Indian palaeography.
  •  The Archaeological Survey of India is an attached office of the Ministry of Culture. Under the provisions of the AMASR Act of 1958, the ASI administers more than 3650 ancient monuments, archaeological sites and remains of national importance. These can include everything from temples, mosques, churches, tombs, and cemeteries to palaces, forts, step-wells, and rock-cut caves. The Survey also maintains ancient mounds and other similar sites which represent the remains of ancient habitation.
  •  The ASI is divided into a total of 29 circles each headed by a Superintending Archaeologist.



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