In the context of a report headlined ‘ASI urged to explore Pattanam,' published on October 22 in the Kerala region, Dr. P.J. Cherian , Director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), writes:

The KCHR had been exploring the North Paravur-Kodungalloor region since 2006, and since then has been excavating Pattanam since 2007. Suddenly, there is a spurt of ‘critical' comments against aspects of its work, as if the research findings came out only now. The KCHR was making public statements on its findings and issuing study reports all through these years. It has published field reports and interim reports after each season. Research papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at national and international seminars. (Some of these are available on the KCHR website, As an international research project with inclusive and multi-disciplinary perspectives, it has been open to critical scrutiny at all points of time. Unfortunately, what we have now are attempts to create controversy and confusion by spreading misinformation; the objective anyway is non-academic.

The attempt here is to provide some general information to readers, who might otherwise be misled.

In order to undertake any archaeological studies in India, an institution or individual has to obtain a licence from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Such licences are issued after a scrutiny of the application and assessment of competence by the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology (CABA), comprising a panel of eminent scholars and researchers, and chaired by the Director-General of the ASI. After all the formalities involved, I as the applicant was granted a licence for excavation and exploration in 2006-07. Since then, after perusal of the Interim Report of the work done during the previous season and an evaluation of the fresh application submitted, new licences have been issued each year. During the last two seasons, the ASI has been also a collaborating partner, and Dr. M. Nambirajan, Superintending Archaeologist of the Thrissur Circle of the ASI, is a co-director.

The KCHR has never categorically claimed that Pattanam is Muziris; establishing Pattanam as Muziris is not its research agenda. The KCHR has no pre-conceived approach in any of its activities.  It suggested the possibility, in other words hypothesised, that Pattanam could be an integral part of Muziris, based on clinching evidence found for inter-continental exchanges that intersected at Pattanam. As researchers would know, in order to locate Muziris and understand its extent, a larger area will have to be excavated and decades of post-excavation research along with underwater, geo-morphological and geo-physical studies undertaken. With collaborative support from the Indian Navy's Southern Naval Command, underwater explorations were conducted during two seasons. Research scholars from the University of Oxford and the University of Southampton are engaged in studying the geo-morphological and geo-physical features of the site. Many other premier institutions are involved in post-excavation research.

It is a fact that the research project stemmed from the hypothesis that Pattanam could be Muziris; there are other hypotheses, and there could be more. Many of them may fail scientific scrutiny unless adequate supporting evidence surfaces. Accepting this in all humility, let me share some other hypotheses, which later may or may not hold true. Was there urbanisation on the Malabar Coast much earlier than we now believe? Did Jain-Buddhist traditions play a role in laying the cultural foundations of this region? Can Pattanam challenge the notions of Euro-centrism? Can it rip apart the idea of pre-brahamanical “primitiveness”? Postulating hypotheses is no crime; rather a critical guess is what often nurtures scientific thinking. Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, the pioneering neuroscientist, wrote thus: “... It is a fundamental element of the scientific process that when data are scarce or sketchy and existing theories are anaemic, scientists must brainstorm. We need to roll out our best hypotheses, hunches and hare-brained, half-baked intuitions and then rack our brains for ways to test them.”

More than that, to a scientific mind, Pattanam should be much larger than Muziris. There is strong evidence to show that Pattanam had distinct pre- and post-Early Historic (read Muziris / Muciri ) phases. In fact, it will not be appropriate to confine in a myopic manner the life of a site that spans millennia to a few centuries.

The significance of Pattanam is independent of the answer to the question whether it is Muziris or not. Pattanam has its own merits to claim a distinct and respectable place in the history of Indian Ocean exchanges and the study of Kerala society. It is the first site on the southwestern coast of India with stratigraphic evidence for maritime contacts. The site has produced pieces of evidence such as Roman period amphorae, including vessels from Italy, Greece (Rhodes & Kos), Spain, Egypt and Jordan; Italianterra sigillata ; Mesopotamian turquoise glazed pottery; Mesopotamian torpedo jars and a host of unidentified special pottery. Unarguably, the site was in contact with West Asian, African and European regions, and may be many others. Pattanam produced for the first time on the southwestern coast of India, rouletted ware, important evidence for hinterland and Indian Ocean exchanges. In the history of Kerala archaeology, Pattanam happens to be the first site to yield evidence for habitation from the Iron Age onwards, that is, as early as 1000 BCE as per 14C dates. The KCHR has taken all possible precautions to ensure that the standard of research at Pattanam matches, if not excels, those conducted by experienced teams. It has enlarged its permanent team to include young scholars with archaeological experience from throughout India and Europe. To any unbiased researcher, all the work done at the Pattanam site over these past few seasons should bring pride and joy.

The recognition that the work has got from elsewhere is gratifying. Let me mention only some accolades that came our way in appreciation of the systematic and multi-disciplinary research by the KCHR team. The Excellence Award 2011of the National Maritime Foundation was bestowed on the KCHR, “...for the sustained performance and demonstrated achievement in Pattanam archaeological research.” The British Academy appreciated its work with an International Partnership Award 2010, with the British Museum. The University of Oxford, the University of Rome and a number of similar institutions have signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for post-excavation studies in their own specialised areas.  

However, accolades are only secondary. What pioneering efforts like Pattanam truly require is an enlightened approach — and constructive criticism.