Of lasting genes and lost cities of Tamil Nadu
Papri Sri Raman (Indo-Asian News Service)
Chennai, January 5
India's East Coast, especially along Tamil Nadu, is
increasingly drawing the attention of archaeologists and anthropologists
from across the world for its evolutionary and historical secrets.
The focus has sharpened after genetic scientist Spencer Wells
found strains of genes in some communities of Tamil Nadu that were
present in the early man of Africa.
In the "Journey of Man" aired by the National Geographic
channel, Wells says the first wave of migration of early man from Africa
took place 60,000 years ago along the continent's east coast to India.
Genetic mapping of local populations provided the evidence.
RM Pitchappan, a professor of Madurai Kamaraj University in
Tamil Nadu, helped Wells collect the gene evidence from Tamil Nadu's
Piramlai Kallar people, inhabiting the Madurai and Usilampatti areas 500
km south of Chennai.
Their genes have the amino acid bands found in the gene map of
the original man from Africa.
Says Pitchappan: "The ancestors of the Kallar community may
have come into India from the Middle East."
Wells believes there were three waves of migration that early
According to him and his Indian collaborator, early man went
from Africa to the Middle East, on to Kutch on India's west coast, all
the around to the peninsula's east coast and then on to Australia.
Pitchappan, who heads the immunology department at Madurai
Kamaraj University, has found that the gene markers M130 seen in man
50,000 years ago and M20 seen in man of 35,000 years ago are present in
the Kallars and several other local people of Tamil Nadu.
Some of the markers are common to the Kallars and the Yadava
populations of the Saurashtra coast in Gujarat. And the M172 markers
found in some Tamil Nadu populations are also found in the people of
Pakistan's Balochistan province and M17 in some populations of Central
"These gene pools are unique and very accurately map the path
a population has taken, leaving behind original communities to grow into
independent groups but with a common ancestor," explains Pitchappan.
It is not only the study of Wells and Pitchappan that has
focused scholars' attention on India. A British marine archaeologist,
Graham Hancock, has been examining a submerged city on the East Coast.
Hancock says a civilisation thriving there may predate the
Sumerian civilisation of Mesopotamia in present-day Iraq and definitely
existed before the Harappan civilisation in India and Pakistan.
Hancock has been excavating the site off the coast of
Poompuhar, near Nagapattinam, 400 km south of Chennai.
At a meeting of the Mythic Society in Bangalore in early
December, Hancock said underwater explorations in 2001 provided evidence
that corroborated Tamil mythological stories of ancient floods.
He said tidal waves of 400 feet or more could have swallowed
this flourishing port city any time between 17,000 and 7,000 years ago,
the date of the last Ice Age. The Gulf of Cambay was also submerged,
taking with it evidence of early man's migration.
The populations Wells and Pitchappan mapped settled on India's
East Coast 50,000 to 35,000 years ago and developed into modern man.
According to Hancock, "the Poompuhar underwater site could
well provide evidence that it was the cradle of modern civilisation."
Hancock's theory is strengthened by findings of India's
National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), which has explored the site
since the 1980s. Man-made structures like well rims, horseshoe-shaped
building sites are some of the lost city's secrets.
At low tide, some brick structures from the Sangam era are
still visible in places like Vanagiri. The region, archaeologists say,
has been built over and over again through the ages and some of its past
is now being revealed.
Glenn Milne, a British geologist from Durham University, has
confirmed Hancock's theory. The American Learning Channel and
Britain-based Channel 4 have funded Hancock to make films of the site,
in collaboration with the NIO. The areas of archaeological interest are
Tranquebar and modern Poompuhar.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is now beginning
excavations in another site, about four kilometres from Pondicherry, in
a place called Arikamedu. This was an ancient port town on the banks of
the river Ariyankuppam.
Archaeologists Mortimer Wheeler and JM Casal first found
artefacts in this area in the 1930s and 1940s, says historian M. Mathew,
former head of Pondicherry University's department of history.
Vimala Bagley, a US-based historian, has also done research in
the early 1990s on the Pondicherry coast's maritime links with
The ASI is in the process of acquiring 10 acres of land where
the site, now privately owned, lies. The Pondicherry government too is
planning to develop the area as a major tourist attraction that can be
accessed by boat.
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