COLOMBO : Tamil Nadu’s Poompuhar may be over 15,000 years old: Study

COLOMBO : Tamil Nadu’s Poompuhar may be over 15,000 years old: Study

COLOMBO : Poompuhar, the submerged ancient port city situated in modern-day Mayiladuthurai district in Tamil Nadu, might have existed 15,000 years ago, and not 2,500 years ago as was earlier believed, researchers at the department of remote sensing of Bharathidasan University (BDU) have said.

No sample, however, has been collected or dated.
Earlier studies had established that Poompuhar, also called Kaveripoompattinam, had maritime trade links with South East Asia and Egypt, before it disappeared from the maritime map around 1,000 years ago.

“While initially it was believed that the port city that gained prominence during the Chola dynasty was around 2,500 years old, the latest study based on offshore explorations and geological features interpreted on the sea floor estimates it was at least 15,000 years old,” the university said in a press release.

If scientific dating confirms the estimate, Poompuhar could be the oldest known ‘town’ in India and, arguably, across the world. Similar undersea explorations in the Gulf of Cambay off the Gujarat coast in the early 2000s had discovered a lost city believed to be the ancient Dwaraka, then dated to 7,500 BC (which predates Mohenjodaro by 4,500 years).

The Poompuhar study, sponsored by the department of science and technology and technically supported by National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), found structures that could’ve been a harbour, dockyards, human settlements and a lighthouse, around 40km from the present coast, at a depth of 50m-100m.

Sometime in the middle of 2019, when scientists on board Sagar Tara and Sagar Anveshika, research vessels from National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), neared Poompuhar off Tamil Nadu coast, they knew they were floating over history. Just that they didn’t know how old the civilization, whose remnants lay about 100m beneath their feet, was.

Poompuhar, the ancient Tamil port city lost to the sea, was earlier believed to have been about 2,500 years old, when the Chola kings set sail to capture distant lands in the east. Now, the research team from Bharathidasan University’s department of remote sensing says they have reasons to believe it was 15,000 years old.

The study, sponsored by the department of science and technology and technically supported by NIOT, compared offshore exploration findings near Poompuhar coast with sea level data generated by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the next phase, NIOT will collect samples from the sea to substantiate the findings. The team said the geological features of the sea floor – a harbour, dockyards, human settlements and a lighthouse -have matched sea level conditions that existed 15,000 years ago.

“Poompuhar had a harbour that sprawled over 11km in length and 3km in breadth, with breakwaters and canals to handle and store merchandise. We have found evidence of a primitive dockyard that could handle 70-80 ships at a time,” S M Ramasamy, professor of eminence and national coordinator, Project Poompuhar, Bharathidasan University, said.

The university has published the part on harbour in the journal ‘Current Science’. D Rajasekhar, head, NIOT vessel management cell, said the team studied around 6,000sqkm and found most of the ruins at a depth of 25m to 50m below the seabed.

A multibeam echosounder attached to the ship was used to study the variation in depth of the sea (bathymetry). Based on data collected by the echosounder, a sub-bottom profiler mapped the seafloor. In the next phase, NIOT will deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to capture images.

“We have completed a trial run with an ROV, which was attached with a camera and a sonar. We plan to collect some coring samples,” he said. The study found rowed settlements with compound walls and geological evidence of pits dug on the seafloor.

Remains of an ancient lighthouse were found at a depth of 50m, with a spiral staircase and causeway pillars having a design like the Cleopatra lighthouse of Egypt. So, how did the old city go under? Ramaswamy said the region was prone to floods, tsunamis and accelerated impact of sea level rise and cyclone-induced storms.

“Poompuhar was relocated at least six times before settling down at the present place. Due to marine transgression, the sea might have reached the land till the present day Mayiladuthurai around 6,000 years ago and regressed later,” the project coordinator said.

Around 12 government and private educational institutions including Tamil University, Annamalai University and SASTRA University will be engaged in further studies of the research. “The study will go on for another year and the findings will encourage a similar study to explore Kumari Kandam, a mythical lost continent in the Indian Ocean,” the research team said.

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