Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Did an ancient tsunami ruin temple?


The ruins of an ancient temple built by a long-vanished kingdom in southern India are being excavated by archaeologists who say the sanctum may have been destroyed centuries ago by a tsunami.

The temple was found in the region affected by the Dec. 26 Asian tsunami, and the "discovery now poses very interesting questions ... about the history of tsunamis," the archaeologist leading the excavation, Thyagarajan Satyamurthy said Wednesday.

The temple appears to have been built between the second century BC and the first century AD It was excavated this month just north of Mahabalipuram, a port town 50km south of Madras, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, by a team from the government Archaeological Survey of India, Satyamurthy said.

"This is the earliest temple discovered in this region so far," Satyamurthy said.

The archaeologists are trying to determine the date of the tsunami that may have destroyed the temple from sand and seashells found at the brick structure, dedicated to Lord Muruga, a Hindu god, Satyamurthy told reporters.

He said there was more damage on the side of the temple facing the sea, and that the sand and shells were not normally found so far inland.

Geophysicists at a government laboratory in southern Trivandrum city called them "palaeo-tsunami" deposits, he said.

The temple was found one layer below a granite temple excavated by the same team in July, leading archaeologists to theorize that the Pallava kings, who ruled the region between 580AD and 728AD, built the latter temple atop the remains of the older one.

The team also found stucco figurines, terra-cotta lamps, beads and roofing tiles. Similar articles and large bricks were typically used around the beginning of the first millennium, he said.

Mahabalipuram, the capital of an ancient kingdom, is already well known for its intricately carved shore temples that have been declared a World Heritage site and are visited each year by thousands of Hindu pilgrims and tourists.

According to descriptions by early British travel writers, the area was also home to seven pagodas, six of which were submerged by the sea.

But just as an ancient tsunami may have ravaged the temple outside Mahabalipuram, last year's Indian Ocean tsunami revealed other temples and monuments that had been buried for centuries.

In February, archaeologists began underwater excavations of what is believed to be an ancient city and parts of a temple uncovered by the waves.

Three rocky structures with elaborate carvings of animals emerged near Mahabalipuram after the waves receded, washing away sand deposits that had covered the structures, which archaeologists have said appear to belong to a port city built in the seventh century.

The ruins of the temple were not uncovered by the recent tsunami, and excavation did not begin until after the waves struck.

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