Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Kodumanal Megalithic Burial Site

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Megaliths

Mains level : Not Much

The Kodumanal excavation in Erode Dist. of Tamil Nadu has threw light on burial rituals and the concept of afterlife in megalithic culture.

Must read:

Chapter 1 | Stone Age – Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic

About these sites

  • The researchers have identified 250 cairn-circles at the village in Erode district.
  • Earlier excavations revealed that the site served as a trade-cum-industrial centre from 5th century BCE to 1st century BCE.
  • The rectangular chambered cists, each two metres long and six metres wide, are made of stone slabs, and the entire grave is surrounded by boulders that form a circle.
  • The grave could be of a village head or the head of the community as the size of two boulders, each facing east and west, are bigger than other boulders.
  • Believing that the deceased person will get a new life after death, pots and bowls filled with grains were placed outside the chambers.

What are Megaliths?

  • Megaliths are the earliest surviving man-made monuments we know of—derived from the Latin mega (large) and lith (stone).
  • Megaliths were constructed either as burial sites or commemorative (non-sepulchral) memorials.
  • The former are sites with actual burial remains, such as dolmenoid cists (box-shaped stone burial chambers), cairn circles (stone circles with defined peripheries) and capstones (distinctive mushroom-shaped burial chambers found mainly in Kerala).
  • The urn or the sarcophagus containing the mortal remains was usually made of terracotta.
  • Non-sepulchral megaliths include memorial sites such as menhirs. (The line separating the two is a bit blurry, since remains have been discovered underneath otherwise non-sepulchral sites, and vice versa.)
  • In India, archaeologists trace the majority of the megaliths to the Iron Age (1500 BC to 500 BC), though some sites precede the Iron Age, extending up to 2000 BC.

Megaliths in India

  • Megaliths are spread across the Indian subcontinent, though the bulk of them are found in peninsular India, concentrated in the states of Maharashtra (mainly in Vidarbha), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • According to archaeologists around 2,200 megalithic sites can be found in peninsular India itself, most of them unexcavated.
  • Even today, a living megalithic culture endures among some tribes such as the Gonds of central India and the Khasis of Meghalaya.

Literary sources

  • Megalithic culture finds several references in ancient Tamil Sangam literature. For instance, menhirs are referred to as nadukal.
  • Ancient Sangam texts lay out, in detail, a step-by-step procedure for laying a memorial stone or nadukal in honour of a fallen hero.
  • Manimekalai (5th century AD), the famous Sangam epic, refers to the various kinds of burials namely cremation (cuṭuvōr), post excarnation burial (iṭuvōr), burying the deceased in a pit (toṭukuḻip paṭuvōr), rock chamber or cist burial (tāḻvāyiṉ aṭaippōr), urn burial encapped with lid (tāḻiyiṟ kavippōr).
  • Even in the Sangam age (when kingship and a well-ordained society had emerged) the above modes of burials survived.
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