No idols, no arms: the Pattanam mystery

No idols, no arms: the Pattanam mystery



  • In the serene village of Pattanam in central Kerala lies the only multicultural archaeological site on the southwestern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Often referred to as the ‘first emporium’ of the Indian Ocean, Muziris — of which Pattanam is part — is an example of the Greco-Roman classical age coming into direct contact with an ancient South Indian civilization.

Points to ponder:

  • Pattanam is a multicultural archaeological site in Kerala, India.
  • It was a thriving urban center from the 5th century B.C. to the 5th century A.D.
  • The excavations at Pattanam have revealed a wide variety of artifacts and sherds from different parts of the world, indicating the existence of rigorous cultural and commercial exchanges.
  • However, there is no evidence of institutionalized religion or caste-based discrimination at the site.
  • The death rituals of the people of Pattanam were “secondary”, with the dead being cremated first and the remains buried later. These burials were not associated with any religious customs, and people of different backgrounds were buried in the same way.
  • The genotype results and ancestry analyses of samples suggest the prevalence of a secular ethos.
  • Material evidence from the site suggests that the people of Pattanam may have lived in harmony with nature and did not view themselves as separate from it. Such a society did not sanction the exploitation of natural resources.
  • The researchers suggest that those looking for meaningful alternatives to community living might find answers in the ground beneath Pattanam as more of the site is unearthed.
  • Excavations in Pattanam have uncovered over 45 lakh fragments (Ceramic Fragments), including approximately 1.4 lakhs from the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, the River Nile, the Red Sea, the western and eastern Indian Oceans, and the South China Sea. Recent discoveries include the Seal of a Sphinx, which was local to the old Greek city of Thebes.