<< Our Photo Pages >> Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists - Stone Circle in India

Submitted by Ashvin on Sunday, 10 October 2010  Page Views: 27359

Site WatchSite Name: Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Country: India Type: Stone Circle
Nearest Town: Thiruporur
Latitude: 12.686093N  Longitude: 80.152141E
4Almost Perfect
3Reasonable but with some damage
2Ruined but still recognisable as an ancient site
1Pretty much destroyed, possibly visible as crop marks
0No data.
-1Completely destroyed
3 Ambience:
2Not Good
0No data.
3 Access:
5Can be driven to, probably with disabled access
4Short walk on a footpath
3Requiring a bit more of a walk
2A long walk
1In the middle of nowhere, a nightmare to find
0No data.
4 Accuracy:
5co-ordinates taken by GPS or official recorded co-ordinates
4co-ordinates scaled from a detailed map
3co-ordinates scaled from a bad map
2co-ordinates of the nearest village
1co-ordinates of the nearest town
0no data

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Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : One of the Stone Circles Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan (Vote or comment on this photo)
Stone Circles and Burial Cists in India. Ashvin Rajagopalan writes: On a hot Sunday afternoon in May, a few of us archaeology enthusiasts from Chennai (Tamilnadu, India) decided to follow up on a recent newspaper article and drove down to the small town of Thiruporur.

We read that there was a Megalithic burial site dating from 1000 – 300 BCE close to this town. The report said that this site was being encroached upon by local property developers, all this, in spite of there being a notice board and strict warnings saying that the land was protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. Our visit to Thiruporur was out of sheer curiosity that this site was so close to Chennai and none of us had even heard of its existence untill now.

Thiruporur is a tiny non-descript town at the end of the IT Corridor on the Old Mahabalipuram Road. The town literally lies in the shadow of the mega buildings that are fueling modern India’s growth. Thiruporur has a well documented Pallava history as well as a Chola history and most structures around the 16th century Murugan temple are just as old. This town however, has a lot more to offer than it’s made out to be. Surrounding Thiruporur on the road towards Thirukazhugkundram, is a large reserve shrub forest. Situated in this shrub forest is a lake on whose banks a 2500 year old civilization existed.

A small deviation from the Thirukazhugkundram / Chengalpet road, near the village of Sirudhavur, leads you over the lake mound and into the lake bed. What one is immediately struck by is a lush green patch of grass and in the middle, blue waters. There is a small, newly-laid tar road that oddly cut across the lake bed. We drove along this road and quite easily spotted two Stone Circles on the left side of the road. We parked our car nearby and went to examine the site. To our amazement we found that the two burial circles were quite large with about 20 large boulders forming the circle. A trench was dug along the side of the newly-laid road. After a close examination of the trench, we were surprised to find many small pottery fragments. There was no doubt in our minds that these pottery fragments were extremely old and belonged to the Megalithic site.

While we were looking at the circles and broken pottery and excitedly discussing our theories, a local man walked up to us and said that what we were looking at was not as significant as what lay on the other side of the road! He asked us to just cross the road to the other side where all the fences were and we could find hundreds of such circles! Immediately, we walked across the tiny road and to our amazement, saw traces of several stone circles within the many fenced off properties.

To our shock we at once realized that the land around the lake bed was being fenced off and sold. There were full fledged plotted properties with even access roads being made between them. Then it hit us. Every Stone Circle that stood in the path of this illegal property development was heading towards imminent destruction.

As we made our way to what was more like a megalithic war-zone than a burial site, we noticed that several stone circles had been removed and dumped along the properties to make fences or used as landfill. We asked our local guide who was now eagerly walking with us, very amused, if these were approved plots. He straight away, in a very cynical manner, told us that this is all illegal and that these people were speculating on future prices. He also went on to tell us that 3 cents of land is priced at about Rs.50,000/-. None of these fenced properties had a Patta, so the owners act very fast and remove the stone circles in their property and plant coconut trees or banana plantations. As we looked further ahead we saw industrial strength machines digging wells in several properties. All these properties, not long ago, had stone circles in them.

A Brief Lesson in History

At this point we would like to bring you up to speed on what a megalithic site is and why this particular site is important. The term “Megalithic” gets its name from the fact that the people of this culture built structures using large boulders, stones, rock slabs or menhirs. Megalithic sites in India are dated from 7000 BCE in North India, around the Ganges Valley, to 2500 BCE in South India, in Karnataka and 1000 BCE in Tamil Nadu. These cultures existed broadly between the Neolothic Period (end of the Stone Age) till the end of the Iron Age where domestication of animals and farming along with the technology to smelt iron existed. Till this day it is not known whether Megalithic sites in India were related to Megalithic sites in Europe or whether they were people of common origin or if they traded with each other and thus had a common culture.

South India, particularly Tamil Nadu, has had a long history of “Descent of Technology” where technology was slowly passed down to the people from cultures in the north of India over many thousands of years. This is why most Megalithic sites in Tamil Nadu are classified as being from 1000 – 300 BCE. The iron-age arrived in Tamil Nadu around 500 BCE whereas iron-age civilizations existed in the Ganges Valley as early as 2700 BCE.

Megalithic sites are known to exist all over Tamilnadu and especially around Coimbatore and Thirunelveli districts. There are several Megalithic sites around Chennai itself! Excavations have been conducted in the late 1800’s in Chetpet, Perambur, Pallavaram and Saidapet that revealed several hundred burial urns and some rare sarcophaguses. The ancient roman port of Arikamedu near Pondicherry is a later megalithic site that specialized in bead-making. Sites of Adichannalur along the Thamarabarani river and Kodumanal Megalithic sites have yielded several burial sites and many explorations have shed light on the megalithic people of those areas. However, nothing is known of the Thiruporur site. A brief excavation by the Archaeological Survay of India was conducted in 2008 - 09. Excavation reports are not available.

What we found at the Thiruporur burial site

We began walking along one of the roads that had been freshly created at the burial site. As we walked, we noticed two deep channels dug besides the road for drainage and noticed that they were filled with pottery shards. We immediately started looking at them and found that they were of two types. One was the thicker crude terracotta that was used to make large urns and sarcophaguses. The other type was what one calls Polished ware or Rouletted ware. This is especially important to establish the fact that this kind of pottery was indigenously created and not through technology learnt from roman trade as popularly believed. This Thiruporur site is not mentioned in any Roman or Sangam Age texts.

By now we had spotted about 10 intact stone circles and made our way through the maze of fence posts. We were quite horrified at the scale of which the stone circles were being removed. Hundreds of them were removed and used as fencing for the properties. One thing was common to all these properties, hundreds of broken pottery fragments were found all over. We asked a few locals who were watching us if they had found any pottery in their properties and they all strongly denied ever having come across anything like that. It was evident that they did not want to have anything to do with the possibility of having their land confiscated by the government. It is also unfair to blame them as they are struggling to survive and probably spent every penny of their savings to buy this land. It is the middlemen, property promoters and local governing bodies who are the real culprits.

As we walked further we could see much larger scale destruction. Complete stone circles were being bulldozed to make way for access roads. Throughout the freshly made roads, lay large pieces of broken pottery and sarcophaguses. The worst part of this was also that the mud and sand in the area was being quarried illegally and carried away to other construction sites. It was quite evident that with the sand and mud, hundreds of pottery pieces were being taken away and lost forever.

By now, as we saw stone circles being desecrated over and over again, we are heartbroken to see entire sarcophaguses lying exposed and damaged. There was even in one instance, a new property boundary marker that was driven right through a sarcophagus. It was scary to see that there were so many fresh tire marks of heavy vehicles used to quarry away the sand. All the large stones lay scattered. It probably won’t be too long before someone starts to carry away these stones themselves for their material value.

It is only through the objects found in these burial sites that we can build a comprehensive structure of the lives and culture of the people who were buried here. Such sites commonly supply archaeologists with so much information including the kind of crops that were grown, the tools that were used and the language that was spoken. It is common to find graffiti symbols on these pottery fragments that can help us better understand their script and help to decode information on these iron-age civilizations. With the burials being destroyed it will be virtually impossible to piece together what remains in each destroyed stone circle. The sad part is that most of this material is being carted away only to be landfill at some construction site.

Much to our amazement, while examining one of the trenches created along the new road, we found fragments of iron objects. These objects are like the holy grail of megalithic sites. They tell us a lot about the advancements in iron usage including their ability to process iron from ore to finished products. Nearby this trench were large remnants of what appeared to be a furnace. It is sad that due to this destruction it had become impossible to even work out the layout and sketch a possible map of their habitation.

In one of the trenches that were bulldozed we found small fragments of decorated pottery. Amongst the rubble we also found small iron fragments. These iron pieces prove that this particular site was aware of iron casting and used iron tools. This very discovery tells us that in the surrounding area there must be a furnace and crucible where iron was being processed. It also meant that the area around this megalithic site contained iron ore deposits.

Surprisingly, after our examination of the site, we didn’t even find a trace of any ASI board. What we did see was that electricity was being supplied to all plots that were sold and that this would mean rapid construction in the area.

Catch 22

Indian antiquities laws are quite iron clad about individuals excavating at archaeological sites. It is illegal for individuals to excavate any archaeological site and punishable by law including imprisonment and large fines. The Archaeological Survey of India on the other hand, does not have the manpower or resources to protect such sites from blatant encroachment. Fearing this we did not remove any items from the site. We photographed them the best we could and hoped that no one would cause further damage to them. However, every day the locals are buying and selling this land, promoters are making rich profits and getting away Scot-free. All one can do is sit and watch this destruction. Can one even imagine the Taj Mahal being destroyed brick by brick? Then how can we allow this to happen right here at our very backyard? The Indian Antiquities Act needs to provide some provisions that allow responsible citizens to take action against such destruction of our cultural heritage.

What can you do to help?

In this day and age of instant technology, it is easy to spread this awareness far and wide. We urge people to email this to your friends, add this to your blogs or even link this to your social networking profile. Every small step will help save our cultural heritage; something that is rightfully ours to protect.

Article by Ashvin Rajagopalan, Amateur Archaeologist.
Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

Note: Encroachments eat into megalithic sites in Chennai
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Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : A bulldozer was digging up a stone circle and gave us a cross-section view of a sarcophagus. (Vote or comment on this photo)

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Exposed Sarcophagus at Thiruporur (Vote or comment on this photo)

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Property marker driven through a sarcophagus. Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan (Vote or comment on this photo)

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Exposed Sarcophagus Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan (Vote or comment on this photo)

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Exposed Pottery Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Broken Sarcophagus Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : A small sarcophagus for a child was exposed during illegal quarrying. The spade used by the digger broke one side of the sarcophagus. The size was about 30 inches in length with 6 legs.

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Illegally fenced off property. Owners are removing the stone circles inside their property. They plan to build a house there in a month!

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Some of the finds Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Broken Pottery fragments Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Concrete posts erected to mark plots along which stones from the stone circles are placed. Hydraulic Bore for well seen at the far right. Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists
Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists submitted by Ashvin : Stone Circles inside illegally fenced properties. Photo Credits: Raman Sankaran & Ashvin Rajagopalan

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"Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists" | Login/Create an Account | 5 News and Comments
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Families fear eviction from protected areas by Andy B on Monday, 20 December 2010
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Thousands of families in the Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts are in a state of panic. They can neither sell nor acquire property here; neither can they make alterations to their houses. They even face the dark prospect of being evicted as many areas have been labelled 'protected' by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The locals are believed to be squatting on 2,000-year-old 'megalithic' sites, with a rich ancient heritage beneath the ground.

There is proof to indicate that at least 24 megalithic sites, with burial chambers and other structures, are located in the region, say archaeological experts. But residents claim they were informed about an 18-year-old legislation freezing constructions in these areas, spread over 24 local bodies, only recently.

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, which was amended in 1992 and again in 2010, prohibits constructions within a radius of 100 metres of protected areas. No-objection certificates are required from a competent authority — the commissioner of the department of archaeology — for constructions, reconstructions, repairs or renovations in the regulated areas, which fall within the further 200-metre radius around the protected area.

"Under the amended law, certain heritage protection bylaws should be put in place and this will happen only after the setting up of the national monument authority. Only then can we take up individual applications," T S Sridhar, commissioner, department of archaeology, told TOI. Under the law, any violation would attract a fine of `1 lakh and imprisonment up to a maximum period of two years. The law is more stringent for officials who fail to take proper action in stopping illegal constructions. They face a jail term of three years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.

Read more: TN families fear eviction from 'protected' areas - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/TN-families-fear-eviction-from-protected-areas/articleshow/7026129.cms#ixzz13LLbkUyl
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Largest stone age settlement found near Chennai by Andy B on Sunday, 10 October 2010
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In what could be a major find, a large number of stone tools and weapons said dating back to more than 80,000 years ago were unearthed from a dry lake bed in Singadivakkam, a remote hamlet some 65 km south of Chennai, a couple of days ago.

The discovery, by Professor S Rama Krishna Pisipaty and his student S Shanmugavelu of the department of Sanskrit and culture at Sri Chandrasekaharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya in Enathur, Kancheepuram, was part of an ongoing excavation work partly funded by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

They have so far found hand-axes, choppers, scrappers and borers as well as microlithic tools (small stone implements) and pointed tools of different sizes and shapes. Most could have been used for hunting and fishing, they said.

The huge number of tools found, said to be over 200, at the one-hectare-site indicates that it could have hosted a large human settlement, Prof Pisipaty said. Most of the settlers may have migrated from the northern parts of the country, he added. "The settlement, as can be guaged from the tools found, shows transition from early to middle Paleolithic age, also known as the Stone Age," Prof Pisipaty noted.

This period, the geo-archeologist added, encompassed the first widespread use of technology as humans progressed from simple to complex development stages. It is generally said to have begun approximately 500,000 years ago and ended about 6,000 BCE with the development of agriculture, the domestication of certain animals and the smelting of copper ore, he said. It is termed pre-historic since writing hadn't begun. In the early Paleolithic period, each clan or family group regarded itself as "the people" and excluded others, Prof Pisipaty said. Strangers were not even thought of as human. In this settlement, the community identity started becoming more important than individual identity, he said.

Unlike other similar finds, including the first Paleolithic tool (a hand axe) discovered at Pallavaram in 1863 by British geo-archeologist Robert Bruce Foote, the one at Singadivakkam is, Prof Pisipaty said, unique at least for one reason: The site has evidence in the form of tools and weapons showing the transition from the Stone Age to the modern age. In the rest of the Paleolithic sites discovered so far, he added, there had been a break in the sequence. This makes it the largest Paleolithic settlment near Chennai, he said.

The professor and his student also discovered fossil remains of animals and trees at the site. "There are a few research institutes in the country, including IIT Madras, where they cane be tested for age and we plan to send them there," Prof Pisipaty said.

Professor Pisipaty and Shanmugavelu, who had been conducting excavations at the site since February 2009, began with basic research, including field visits. A large number of pebbles in different forms and the nature of soil convinced them of the importance of the area. Before starting the exercise, Pisipaty made a presentation to the authorities and got permission through the state archeological department. "Kancheepuram was ideal for early settlers with its large number of safe water bodies a lifeline for any human settlement," Pisipaty, who did his doctoral thesis at Benaras University in Lucknow, told TOI.

Read more: Largest stone age settlement found near Chennai - The Times of India
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Encroachments eat into megalithic sites in Chennai by Andy B on Sunday, 10 October 2010
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I don't think this is the same site but it's the same problem in the area:

ENCROACHMENTS and quarrying have spelt doom for the 23 megalithic sites in Chennai Metropolitan Area.

The government is trying to bring in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Bill 2010 to protect these rare sites that have a history of more than 2000 years, according to superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India Sathyabhama Badhreenath.

Addressing a session during a seminar on "Conservation of Heritage Buildings and Precincts in Chennai Metropolitan Area" on Friday, Badhreenath said megalithic sites at Sikkarayapuram and Tirusulam have been destroyed due to stone quarrying while sites at Kunnathur, Pallavaram and St Thomas Mount vanished due to encroachments.

Badhreenath said the government, by virtue of new amendments, would try to control unregulated construction in and around the monuments and sites. Currently, there are 248 monuments and 163 archaeological sites in TN and Pondy Area (excluding Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari and Niligiris districts). Badhreenath said the new amendment prescribed a minimum of 100 metres prohibited area around centrally protected monuments and defined regulated area to be of a minimum of 200 metres beyond the prohibited area. As per the new amendment, there are also heritage bylaws to govern construction, reconstruction, repair or renovation, said Badhreenath.

On the feasibility of the amendment as there was shortage of space in urban areas, Badhreenath said the National Monuments Authority, which be set up as the apex body for recommending the grading and classification of protected monuments.

Calling for the need to minimize the gap between conservation and development, Badhreenath said the protection of a monument or site was inadequate when many historic cities and sites were being laid waste by real estate development, industrialisation and callous neglect. He also slammed urban planning and said there was a tendency to develop new areas instead of developing around 'old' areas.

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Re: Thiruporur Stone Circles and Burial Cists by Ashvin on Monday, 21 June 2010
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Great news! The megalithic site at Siruthavur has been cleared of all encroachments. The site has been saved for now but a lot of destruction has already taken place. More info on the exact details of this eviction by the ASI soon.
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In backyards of Chennai, History gets a Burial by Andy B on Thursday, 13 May 2010
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The original Times of India article is here, with more photos:

Asmall cement lane off the busy main road of Thiruporur,situated about 50 kms from Chennai,leads up to a quiet hill strewn with several large boulders.This site,as discovered years ago by the Archaeological Survey of India,is the final resting place for a 2000-year-old megalithic civilization.But today,the burial ground of a centuries-old civilisation is giving way to modern housing blocks.Several concrete houses can be spotted within the fenced land,standing defiantly against the ASI signboard erected a few feet away,warning stringent action,even imprisonment,against trespassers.

The land under ASI protection in Thiruporur is spread over 66 acres.But several encroachments over the years have considerably reduced the size of this land.There are a few multi-storeyed buildings on the protected land, said Narayan,an LIC agent residing in the town.However,most residences here are really small concrete houses brought from real estate developers who sold them government land for a tidy sum.Also,a lot of these boulders have been cut and blasted by developers for use in construction. Faced with a severe space crunch,the thought of several acres of prime land sitting vacant has been too tempting for people to resist.Though the site is demarcated by stiles,they are not enough to keep people out.Nor are the several warning boards put up by the ASI in the area.

However,the Thiruporur site has not been excavated yet.The dead are buried beneath each stone circle, explained an ASI official.We havent excavated it yet,but we could easily make out from the placement of the stones that it was a burial site.Construction of houses in the site would disturb the placement of the stones and make it difficult for us to study the site.

ASI officials say that several appeals had been made to the state government to save the sites that could tell rich tales about the culture and practices of an ancient civilisation.But there has been no response from the state yet.

Its not too late though, said Narayan.There are over 35 acres of this land that has not been encroached yet.This land could still be saved if the ASI posts a few security guards here and maybe plant trees.Otherwise with the IT park expanding along this route,even this land could be swallowed by developers. Additionally,a black-top road maintained by the local body also passes through the fenced area.

Several such megalithic sites have been discovered in the backyards of Chennai that includes Siruthavur,Ponmar and Perungulathur.Siruthavur,located about 60 kms from the city,has also fallen prey to real estate development.This site unearthed a treasure trove of urns and sarcophaguses during an excavation in 2009 as reported by TOI.Today,a residential plot and a private nursery for plants stand on the same spot.ASI sources say that most of the sarcophaguses have been rescued and stored in a safe place.There are numerous megalithic sites in Tamil Nadu,most of which are facing encroachment problem, said S Suresh,state convenor for Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH ).Most of these sites dont even have the protected status granted by ASI.I have seen quite a few sites,located in rural areas,converted to farming land.

However,as he pointed out,most people in the surrounding area neither understand nor relate to the significance of these sites.Said a Thiruporur panchayat official,who felt that the site was being protected at the cost of their towns development,Since 2009,not a single new building has been denied electricity or water connection.Over 75% of the town falls within the 300 metres barrier limit set by the ASI as regulated zone that freezes all construction activities. But,a newly-constructed police quarters and several new shops have been denied power and water connection as they fall within the ASI regulated zone.

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