Iron in Tamil Nadu 4,200 years ago: a new dating and its significance

Carbon dating of excavated finds in Tamil Nadu pushes evidence of iron being used in India back to 4,200 years ago, the Tamil Nadu government announced this week on the basis of an archaeological report. Before this, the earliest evidence of iron use was from 1900-2000 BCE for the country, and 1500 BCE for Tamil Nadu. The latest evidence dates from the findings from Tamil Nadu to 2172 BCE.

Chief Minister MK Stalin said in the assembly that it has been established that Tamils ​​who lived 4,200 years ago were aware of iron. “Dense forests were converted into fertile lands only after humankind began realizing the use of iron. This finding has answered questions related to the start of agricultural activity in Tamil Nadu, “Stalin said.

The findings

The excavations are from Mayiladumparai near Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu, about 100 km south of Bengaluru. Mayiladumparai is an important site with cultural material dating back to the Microlithic (30,000 BCE) and Early Historic (600 BCE) ages.

“The site is located in the midst of several archeological sites such as Togarapalli, Gangavaram, Sandur, Vedarthattakkal, Guttur, Gidlur, Sappamutlu and Kappalavadi … all these important archeological sites lie within 10 km,” said the report cited by Stalin, titled ‘ Mayiladumparai: Beginning of the Agrarian Society of 4200 years old Iron Age culture in Tamilnadu ‘, and headed by archaeologist K Rajan.

Prof Rajan had discovered the site in the 1990s, and the first excavations were made there in the 1990s. The results of dating, which used accelerator mass spectroscopy, came last week.

Timeline revisited

The dates when humans entered the Iron Age changed from one region of the world to another. In India, too, the date has been revised with successive findings over the decades.

In 1979, the use of iron was traced to 1300 BCE at Ahar in Rajasthan. Later, samples at Bukkasagara in Karnataka, indicating iron production, were dated back to 1530 BCE. The date was subsequently pushed back to 1700-1800 BCE with excavations finding evidence of iron smelting at Raipura in the Mid-Ganga valley, and then to 1900-2000 BCE based investigations at sites in Malhan near Varanasi and Brahmagiri in North Karnataka. A series of dating results found from various parts of India in India have shown evidence of iron ore technology before 1800 BCE.

Before the latest discovery, the earliest evidence of iron use for Tamil Nadu was from Thelunganur and Mangadu near Mettur, dating back to 1500 BCE.

Historical significance

Iron is not known to be used in the Indus Valley, where the use of copper in India is said to have originated (1500 BCE). “But non-availability of copper for technical and mass exploitation forced other regions to remain in the Stone Age. When iron technology was invented, it led to the production of agricultural tools and weapons, leading to production required for a civilization ahead of economic and cultural progress, “said a leading scientist associated with the Mayiladumparai excavation.

While useful tools were made out of copper, these were brittle and not as strong as iron tools. It would have been difficult to use copper tools to clear dense forests and bring land under agriculture – which is why scientists infer that deforestation took place only after humans started using iron.

“With the latest evidence tracing our Iron Age from 2000 BCE to 1500 BC, we can assume that our cultural seeds were laid in 2000 BCE. And the benefit of socio-economic changes and massive production triggered by iron technology gave its first fruit around 600 BCE – the Tamil Brahmi scripts, “said the scientist.

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Culture and politics

The Tamil Brahmi scripts were once believed to have originated around 300 BCE, until finding a landmark in 2019 pushed the date back to 600 BCE. This dating narrowed the gap between the Indus Valley civilization and Tamilagam / South India’s Sangam Age. This, and the latest findings, are politically significant.

The dating of the scripts, based on excavations from sites including Keeladi near Madurai, became controversial when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) did not go for advanced carbon dating tests, and an ASI researcher who had initiated the study was out. state. The 2019 findings came out of the state government’s efforts.

In the Assembly, Stalin said the goal of the state government is to establish through scientific methods that the history of India should be rewritten from the Tamil land. He said the state archeology department would begin work on a comparative study of graffiti found in Keeladi and the signs of the Indus Valley civilization.

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