How Porunthal’s Rice Grains Provided Insight to an Indian Writing System

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Rice paddy samples found in the Porunthal graveyard archaeological site were from 5th century BC, Pondicherry University History Professor K. Rajan announced during a private gathering organized by the Manarkeni Journal. The paddy samples were contained in pottery engraved with Tamil-Brahmi script. According to Prof. Rajan, who is also the director of the excavation project at Porunthal, the results prove that the Tamil-Brahmi writing system existed during the 5th century BC contrary to scholars’ belief that it was invented in 3rd century BC.

In 2006, a tiny village about 12 kilometers southwest of Palani was discovered to have archaeological value. Beginning in 2009, Prof. Rajan and 80 of his students started excavation at the site with the financial support of the Central Institute of Classical Tamil and the Archaeological Survey of India. They found a section for habitation and a graveyard, where they discovered a pot with around two kilos of rice paddy samples sealed in airtight containers.

There were also a large number of beads made from glass or paste – beads that were originally made in another region called Vidarbha. The discovery of these beads provided information on trade between the Porunthal and Vidarbha regions. Excavation of the Porunthal site also unearthed a skeleton with a necklace of beads and pottery with a peacock design.

The more important discovery perhaps is pottery engraved with Tamil-Brahmi script. The rice paddies found in the pottery were from 5th century BC as dated via radiocarbon analysis. As disclosed in an interview with Prof. Rajan, a paddy sample was submitted to Beta Analytic Inc. for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dating. The rice sample was dated 450 BC. It was the second sample that was dated. The previously dated sample was found to be from 490 BC. A second analysis was done to dispel doubts by many scholars.

The Porunthal site still has a lot of hidden artifacts. However, as Manarkeni journal editor D. Ravikumar pointed out during the gathering, the quarries in the region could destroy the archaeological sites and the historical data that lies underneath.

(1) The Hindu article entitled “Porunthal excavations prove existence of Indian scripts in 5th century BC: expert” by Kavita Kishore

How Porunthal's Rice Grains Provided Insight to an Indian Writing System


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