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Location in Tamil Nadu, India
Location Tirunelveli, India
Type Cultural
State Party India

Adichanallur is an archaeological site (Tamil:ஆதிச்சநல்லூர்) in Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, India. The town is known locally as Aathichanallur, and has been the site of a number of very important archaeological finds. Korkai the capital of the Early Pandyan Kingdom is located about 15 km from Adichanallur.

Archaeological excavations

In 2004, a number of skeletons dating from around 3,800 years ago[1] were found buried in earthenware urns. More than 160 urns have been found. These urns also contained writing, which according to some ASI archaeologists, is "very rudimentary" Tamil Brahmi. The script is dated to 500-300 BC.[2]

Later, a three-tier burial system was discovered in which earlier generations were buried in urns at 10 feet depth and recent ones above them. Soon the habitation site of the people who were buried was also discovered recently.

Analyzing the habitation site, it was understood that people lived in a fortified town and it had a separate potters quarters. There was also evidence of industrial activity and archaeologists think that it was a crowded busy town. Sherds were also found with writings in Tamil-Brahmi scripts.

Site Museum

New initiative involves setting up of site museums. Efforts are on to set up museums in the very places from where significant objects are excavated, the ASI has a huge collection of materials like urns excavated from Adichanallur. At present, they are lying in Chennai. The idea is to set up a museum in Adichanallur itself and putting on display whatever had been excavated from there.[3]

Past excavations

ADICHANALLUR has a history of excavation. The urn-burial site was brought to light when a German, Dr. Jagor, conducted a haphazard excavation at the place in 1876. An Englishman called Alexander Rea, who was the Superintending Archaeologist, excavated the urn-burial site between 1889 and 1905. A Frenchman called Louis Lapique had also conducted an excavation in 1904.

In his article entitled "Prehistoric antiquities in Tinnevelly", which appeared in the Archaeological Survey of India's annual report in 1902-03, Rea called the Adichanallur site "the most extensive prehistoric site as yet discovered in southern if not in the whole of India... . The site was first brought to notice in 1876 when it was visited by Dr. Jagor of Berlin, accompanied by the Collector of Tinnevelly and the District Engineer."

Excavations by Dr. Jagor had yielded "upwards of 50 kinds of baked earthenware utensils of all sizes and shapes, a considerable number of iron weapons and implements, chiefly knives or short sword blades and hatchets, and a great quantity of bones and skulls". Rea says "these articles were taken away by Dr. Jagor for the Berlin Museum".

In his first excavations, Rea discovered about 1,872 objects, and about 4,000 more later. He said: "The objects yielded by these burial sites are finely made pottery of various kinds in great number; many iron implements and weapons; vessels and personal ornaments in bronze; a few gold ornaments; a few stone beads; bones; and some household stone implements used for grinding curry or sandalwood." Traces of cloth, urns with mica pieces, and husks of rice and millet were found in pots inside the urns. Lamp stands, hanging lamps, bell-mouthed jars, `chatties', necklaces, wire bangles, swords, spears and arrows were found.

Importantly, several gold diadems with a hole on each end for tying them around the forehead were found. Rea also discovered a number of bronze figurines of the buffalo, the goat or the sheep, the cock, the tiger, the antelope and the elephant.

He had this to say about how the dead were interred in the urns at Adichanallur: "In those urns which contained complete skeletons, and which were thus preserved by the lid remaining intact, the position of the bones made it obvious that the body had been set inside in a squatting or sitting position. On its decay, the leg and arm bones fell over and rested against one side of the urn, while the skull, ribs, and vertebrae dropped down to the bottom. This was the position in which every complete skeleton, without exception, was found; and the urns in which they were placed were all devoid of earth."

G. Thirumoorthy, Assistant Archaeologist with the ASI, who led the first phase of the excavation in 2004, said of Rea's excavation: "Above all, his excavation was important for the bronze objects discovered because they are quite unique in the proto-history of South India. Besides, he discovered a figurine of a Mother-Goddess. All this showed that the Tamil culture was rich then."

Rea's discovery of gold diadems is intriguing, for gold does not occur at Adichanallur or any nearby place. The gold could have been brought from outside because of trade contacts, Thirumoorthy said.

Also intriguing is the fact that, although Rea found a number of bronze objects and several gold diadems, no bronze or gold objects have so far been found in excavations conducted by the ASI from 2004. Besides, the trenches dug by Rea have not been located so far, although they are said to be in the centre of the mound.

Rea systematically documented all the objects that he discovered and handed them over to the Government Museum in Chennai, where they are on display.

The centrepiece of the discoveries is this potsherd with the motifs of a woman, a stalk of paddy, a crane, a deer and a crocodile.

The Iron-Age urn-burial site at Adichanallur, about 24 km from Tirunelveli town in southern Tamil Nadu, has attracted nationwide attention for three important findings: an inscription in a rudimentary Tamil-Brahmi script on the inside of an urn containing a full human skeleton; a potsherd (fragment of broken earthenware) with dramatic motifs; and the remains of living quarters (rampart wall, potters' kilns, a smith's shop and so on) close to the site.


  1. ^ Skeletons dating back 3,800 years throw light on evolution. The Times of India.
  2. ^ 'Rudimentary Tamil script' unearthed at Adichanallur
  3. ^ Reserve Collections to be Displayed

External links

  • Archaeological Survey of India's Page on Adichanallur excavations
  • Rudimentary Tamil-Brahmi script unearthed at Adichanallur - The Hindu, Feb 17, 2005
  • Iron Age habitational site found at Adichanallur - The Hindu, Apr 03, 2005
  • Some pottery parallels - Spread of material culture from south to Deccan? - The Hindu, May 25, 2007
  • Prehistoric antiquities in Tinnevelly
  • Adichanallur: An Interesting Historical Site of Tamil Nadu
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