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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK
Tsunami reveals ancient temple sites
By Paddy Maguire
BBC News, Madras

An engraved pillar which belongs to the Pallava period
Shift from brickwork to granite slabs indicates different periods
Archaeologists say they have discovered the site of an ancient temple in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

It is the latest in a series of archaeological discoveries in the area struck by December's tsunami, which desilted large areas of the coastline.

The brick temple dates back more than 2,000 years to the late Tamil Sangam period and was discovered on the beachfront near Saluvankuppam, just north of a famous World Heritage site at Mahabalipuram.

The discovery lends more weight to growing evidence that a huge tsunami hit the east coast of India during this period, obliterating large habitations along the coastline.

Two periods

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) made the discovery while looking for a 9th Century Pallava temple.

We are looking at the remains of a brick temple that was destroyed by a tsunami approximately 2,200 years ago
Badrinarayanan S, rtd director,
Geological Survey of India
"The tsunami exposed inscriptions on a huge rock that had previously been protected as a site of importance," said T Satyamurthy of the ASI.

"These inscriptions dated back to 935 AD and said that Krishna the Third, from the Rashtrakuda Dynasty in Karnataka, had given gold to a temple to pay for keeping an eternal flame alight.

"This led us to dig further. Near the surface we found coins, pottery, stucco figurines and bronze lamps and so we knew there must be something more. Soon we discovered the remains of the 9th century Pallava temple."

As they continued to excavate they came across the earlier Sangam temple. The distinctive shift from courses of brickwork to large granite slabs indicates the different periods.

"The Pallavas just built on the brick foundations left behind after the Sangam temple was levelled. The two periods are there, clear to see," said Dr Satyamurthy.

Tsunami deposits

But it is the question of how these two temples were destroyed rather than their age that has fired the interest of the teams involved.

Layers of sea shells because of tsunami activity
Layers of sea shells and debris point to previous tsunami strikes
Layers of sea shells and debris in the sand show that tsunami activity had twice levelled the temple complex.

"The Pallava structure was destroyed by waves some time in the 13th Century and evidence suggests that beneath it, we are looking at the remains of a brick temple that was destroyed by a tsunami approximately 2,200 years ago," said Badrinarayanan S, a retired director of the Geological Survey of India.

Another archaeologist from the ASI, G Thirumoorthy, said: "We can see these tsunami deposits in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. We've found that devastation happened along about 1,200km (750 miles) of India's eastern coastline.

"The discovery of this Sangam temple will lead us to other geological sites along the coast and teach us more about the pre-Pallavan period."

Since the tsunami on 26 December, marine archaeologists have also discovered evidence of large structures on the seabed up to 1km out to sea.

They think the structures may be part of a former, legendary city of Mahabalipuram.

Myths state the city was destroyed by a flood sent by gods envious of its beauty.


SEE ALSO:
Tsunami throws up India relics
11 Feb 05 |  South Asia
Lost city found off Indian coast
11 Apr 02 |  South Asia
Lost city 'could rewrite history'
19 Jan 02 |  South Asia
Indian seabed hides ancient remains
22 May 01 |  South Asia


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