Abstract of the paper read at the national seminar on Megalithic Culture of India held at Triavandrum in November 2011 by Dr Jenee Peter, Assistant Professor, department of History, Union Christian college
Till 1990s, studies regarding the megalithic culture of Kerala were confined to sporadic field visits and a few systematic investigations of help to a researcher. Though the megalithic monuments like Umbrella stones are well known to many, this knowledge was marginal and Iron Age Culture was rarely studied holistically or with an integrative approach. Furthermore very few of the problem based research in Kerala Archaeology have been published. Former researchers have shied away from addressing certain key issues regarding typology, as well as chronology and periodisation. Such an exercise is crucial in understanding the early historic and late prehistoric interlude in the Archaeology of Kerala. Certain recent excavations and discoveries as at Anakkara, Malapuram district, North Malabar regional studies, Pattanam and Kottapuram have necessitated a thorough reworking of the previous chronologies and periodization.
This paper will deal with the previous chronological background and the suggested revisions on the basis of recent finds.The Iron Age culture is used simultaneously with the more popular term, Megalithic Culture. The use of Iron Age may signify the emphasis on chronology, periodisation and technological classification. In the peninsular Indian context, this term was introduced in Moorthi’s studies (1992). In the Kerala context, this term appears in Chedambath (1992), Gurukkal and Varier (1999), Peter (2002) and Abraham (2003).
The earlier attempts to address the chronology of megaliths of Kerala by Thapar (1952) and Satyamurthy (1992) have been drastically different. Rajendran (1992, 2000) also has addressed this issue in more than one way. Mc intosh (1985) observed that regional variants of the Megalithic culture (read Iron Age Culture) are not well documented or studied in Kerala and these differences have not been considered while addressing chronology. In short there was neither regional typology nor a regional chronology in the case of the Iron Age sites in Kerala.
But though this may be one of the limitations in temporal studies of the Iron Age culture, it certainly cannot wait until a thorough documentation of sites is complete and published. Moreover very few sites have been excavated and reliable dateable material is usually best collected during excavations and more chronometric dates could soon be available.
Within Kerala, Iron Age sites in Central Kerala have been regularly examined since 1940’s and we belive major sites and linkages with Pernincuslar India has been mostly via the have been were on a major trade route connecting Palghat gap or the high ranges to the coast (Peter 2002:5). This route existed during the Iron Age amd possibly trade routes led to its diffusion to the midlands and the coastal region where on the banks of a channel off Periyar, the Megalithic- Early historic- Late historic site Pattanam is situated. As more and more sites were discovered, the Iron Age was seen as continuing into the Early historic from contemporary literary references and broad archaeological evidence from the various parts of ancient Tamilakam. The Tinai concept was applied in the megalithic context (Gurukkal 1987, Champakalakshmi 1996, Rajan) but did not gain much ground among archeologists.
The reasons for the intervals in occupation during prehistoric to late prehistory when we start getting evidence for megalithic culture is not yet clear. We know that by this time, settlements were far more widespread. The present day landforms in Kerala have evolved as a result of complex geomorphologic processes. In a few sites like Marayur there are indications of a cultural continuity from the Mesolithic to Iron age till Early Historic (Thampi). We have evidence for Paleolithic tools from many sites. Iron Age is followed by Early Historic period which is better known for its maritime trade.
Iron Age is followed by the early historic period in Kerala. The period of the early Cheras controlling trade in spices and the areas of production in the hills and redistributing the gold and silver flowing from the roman empire into Malabar coast through the favorable foreign trade. This period is broadly dated from 1st c A.D to 8th c A.D which in turn has three tentative phases (early, mid and Late).