Visit the excavations in the sleepy village of Pattanam in Kerala where archaeologists are searching for the lost port of Muziris


Gayathri Vaidyanathan: Hi there! Before we get started, just a reminder to grab your headphones. This is an immersive audio production and it’ll sound so much better.

Mary-Rose Abraham: Muziris … an ancient port on the Malabar Coast … 2,000 years ago … Ships from the Roman Empire bring gold and wine. The Romans want India’s black pepper and luxury goods … Chinese silk, aromatic plants, ivory tusks, tortoise shell.

MRA: Muziris … what if we could visit the ancient port’s modern-day site? On the river where local boats deliver cargo to Roman ships.

Vivek Madhu Kaipilly: We are traveling in a traditional wooden boat …

MRA: Or unearth objects of Mediterranean design from deep underground?

PJ Cherian: They are treasures. They are real treasures. And so tiny.

MRA: Or maybe even shovel through layers of soil to discover a single piece of wood … that reveals an entire complex dedicated to international trade.

PJ Cherian: … that sent waves of excitement across this place. Actually, thousands of people came

MRA: … I mean under our very feet could have been?

PJ Cherian: Yeah.

MRA: A full port.

PJ Cherian: Absolutely

MRA: Join us as we visit a small village in Kerala … could it harbor the fabled lost port of Muziris?


Airplane announcement: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, good morning. We welcome you on flight 6E 112 to Kochi.

MRA: It’s 7:30 in the morning and we’re getting ready to take off from Bangalore. In less than an hour, we’ll be landing in Kochi.

Airplane announcement: Welcome to Kochi (Hindi)

MRA: A 45-minute cab drive brings me to Pattanam. I’m here to find out if this place may have been the ancient port of Muziris, a fabled city that was part of a vast oceanic trade network that connected India with Egypt, the Mediterranean, Africa, and China, more than 2,000 years ago.

MRA: Hello! How are you?

Vivek: I’m doing good. Hope you had a safe journey?

MRA: Yes, it was very nice. Not even an hour.

MRA: Pattanam is your typical little village in Kerala. Everything’s framed in trees and shrubs and flowers … narrow, twisting lanes … and it’s so quiet.

MRA: A dirt path takes me to an empty plot of land where cows graze and a high wall borders a row of houses. This is where I meet Dr PJ Cherian, an archaeologist.… there’s no digging today, so he’s wearing a long homespun kurta. It’s easy to sense his connection to his life’s work here.

MRA: He first researched Pattanam back in 1997. A decade later, as director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research, he began formal excavations. He now heads PAMA, a transdisciplinary research collective.

After ten seasons of excavations, bringing up thousands of artifacts, Cherian is more hopeful than ever that Pattanam could be the site of Muziris … from where spices and luxury goods flowed. And no team’s come closer to finding it.

PJ Cherian: … you’re sitting, standing close to the ancient Shanghai, ancient New York, London or Mumbai, because these are the ports you know today. But 20 centuries before, it was the port, which was considered the queen of the Indian Ocean.

MRA: You’ve been digging here for several years now. You’ve dedicated your life to this. What are you looking for?

PJ Cherian: And I have a kind of a hypothesis, which is often a little joked upon by my colleagues that I romanticize my ancestors. I want to reach out for this indigenous ancestors.

MRA: So this sounds like it’s a search for your roots. Or is it more than that?

PJ Cherian: Definitely, it is the search for not my roots, I say, to search for the entire people of the subcontinent. But certainly it goes beyond the Indian subcontinent, because people from all parts of the world were coming. They were not restrained by any identity. They could jump into the necessary conveyance and reach anywhere and negotiate.

And it is there, I feel these people were more beautiful. Because today we say profit. I think profit was only one among the motives of these people. So in a way, we are looking for the daily life of the people which we can study from them. And I consider this a holy place. This is a center which will turn ultimately as a pilgrimage center for humanity to pay tribute to their ancestors.


GV: Welcome to Scrolls & Leaves, a podcast featuring stories from the margins. We’re in Season 1, Trade Winds, set in the Indian Ocean World … I’m Gayathri Vaidyanathan.

MRA: And I’m Mary-Rose Abraham. And a small request — we’re an independent podcast and don’t have a studio backing us, so if you like what you hear could you please consider donating? Details are on our website,

GV: I think when people picture archaeology in South Asia, it’s Indus Valley sites, like Harappa and Mohenjo-daro … or even Arikamedu, near Pondicherry, in Tamil Nadu, where a lot of Roman artifacts have been found. But we don’t hear much about Pattanam.

MRA: Yeah, the excavations here are a lot newer, less than two decades old. But so many amazing things have been found … shards from Roman amphorae … delicately carved intaglios or seals … even human remains … They’re roughly around the same time as Jesus Christ and Roman emperor Augustus Caesar, and 2,000 years after the Indus Valley Civilization.

GV: Wow! … so what did the dig site look like around Pattanam?

MRA: Before I got there, I was expecting open trenches or people digging for artifacts … you know, like a typical Pompeii or an Indus Valley site. But it was nothing like that. It’s a little village with people going on about their lives. It’s on private land. So any excavations require permission from the owners. And once a trench is dug and the artifacts are excavated, it’s filled in again. So the village looks pretty normal.

GV: Oh wow, way different than what I was thinking. And how much of the town has been excavated?

MRA: Well, what they call the Pattanam Archaeological Mound covers about 111 acres. And only 1 percent of that has been dug. That’s it. Even others — not part of the PAMA team — are hopeful about the excavations. Here’s noted historian, Romila Thapar

Romila Thapar: “Well, you can’t be a 100 percent certain unless you have that clinching evidence and that clinching evidence at the moment isn’t there. Everything seems to point to this perhaps being the place that is being mentioned. One would like to think that it is that place. It seems to have all the background and the qualifications to be able to be identified with Muziris but we are still waiting for that one little pin that will pin the identity together.”

MRA: To give you an example of what lies beneath … more than 5 million stone and metal artifacts, beads and potsherds — or pieces of broken pottery — have been found so far. So you can imagine how much more is waiting to be discovered.

But do all these prove that a fabled port of the ancient spice trade network has been found? This is Episode 1 — The Lost Port of Muziris.


GV: Chapter 1: A Queen on the River

GV: Trace your finger over a map of India … down the Western coast … to the sliver of a state that is Kerala. Two thousand years ago, this was the Chera Kingdom … a place so wealthy and prosperous that its people wore silks and flashing gems set in gold … they drank toddy in large measure … and even in seasons of drought, the Periyar River was full.

MRA: The Chera kings were great warriors, both on land and at sea. Their vast armies with fierce-eyed soldiers carried shields of rough bull-hide to protect themselves from enemies’ darts. The kings could be ruthless to their foes. Some had their arms pinioned behind their backs and ghee poured over their heads. Others had their teeth pulled out and displayed on the gates of the capital.

GV: They were engaged in constant battles … still, life in the kingdom was peaceful. Hindus, Jains and Buddhists lived together in harmony. And the kings were patrons of arts and letters, rewarding bards and singers handsomely. One poet was gifted 500 villages … Another, 4 million gold coins … and the treasure of an entire naval battle went to artists. Trade and commerce flourished.

MRA: Listen to this praise for the first Chera king:

Hail, warrior-king! Thy land with plenty smiles,
With untold wealth the deep sea’s bosom yields,
And treasures new that ceaseless to thy ports
From foreign lands rich merchant vessels bring.

GV: This is a Tamil Sangam poem from around the first century. Much of what we know of the Chera kingdom comes from this poetry, which is preserved in palm leaf inscriptions. The descriptions of Muziris are vivid.

<Tamil Sangam poem Akanānūru 149 read by Aruna Srinivasan>

… the wealthy
Musiri town of Chēran,
where, causing the huge, beautiful Sulli river’s white foam
to become muddied, the fine ships of the Yavanas come
with gold and leave with pepper …

MRA: Yavanas, as Greeks and foreigners were known, came for black pepper on the river Sulli, an ancient name for the Periyar River. Here’s another poem with reference to Muziris.

<Tamil Sangam poem Puranānūru 343 read by Aruna Srinivasan>

… and black pepper sacks heaped in houses make
them appear like the uproarious ocean shores, gold wares
from ships are brought to the shore by boats through
backwaters, and the king gives precious things from
the mountain and ocean to those who come, and liquor
is abundant like water

MRA: Foreigners also praised the port and extolled its importance in ancient trade networks. Around 77 AD, Pliny the Elder, the Roman historian-philosopher referred to Muziris as “the first emporium.” And he described the monsoon winds which made the sea voyage possible … from Roman Egypt to the Malabar Coast… in 40 days.

GV: The monsoons were also featured in the “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea,” … that’s a Greek maritime navigation guide, written in the first century. No one knows who wrote it, but its author likely traveled the trade routes and knew of Muziris.

MRA: These and other sources give us important clues about the location of Muziris … somewhere inland … on the banks of a river … from where precious cargo is carried on small boats out to ships anchored in the sea. The river was the Periyar … the lifeblood of Muziris.

MRA: I’m in a narrow, wooden — somewhat wobbly — canoe. The captain is local fisherman Bibin Babu. Also in the boat is Vivek Madhu Kaipilly, a graduate student of ancient Indian history.

MRA: It’s beyond beautiful to describe. But where are we right now?

Vivek: I think this is Periyar River. (Malayalam to boatman: Isn’t this Periyar?) This is tributary to Periyar. It’s called Veeranpuzha. It goes to Ernakulam.

MRA: Why is Periyar significant? That river?

Vivek: The river Periyar? Periyar talking historically it had a lot of significance. As in, it’s on the banks of Periyar that Muziris flourished. Muziris didn’t have direct access to the sea, so Periyar acted as a channel of commercial exchanges.

MRA: I think what’s interesting about what we’re doing now — going for a ride — would have been very serious work back in Muziris times.

Vivek: Also considering waterways as the more safer and convenient option for transporting cargoes back then. I think waterways played a very significant role.

MRA: So this trade basically doesn’t work without these little boats?

Vivek: No, it won’t. That’s where these small boats become important.

MRA: I feel like we can almost imagine a merchant or a tradesman on the boat delivering their goods.

MRA: Here’s a fictional story based on several sources, including a 2nd century document called the Muziris Papyrus. It was a contract between a banker in Roman Egypt, and a merchant in Muziris.

Sumit Kumar: The boatmen lift the heavy sacks and boxes into the canoe. They are tied and secured but they can guess at their contents. The sharp aroma of black pepper … the musky odor of Gangetic nard … and the woodsy smell of the malabathrum leaves, as they crinkle and crunch inside the packing. The long, narrow sacks hold ivory tusks, clacking against one another like heavy branches. Two men place a sack of black pepper in the hold and the boat wobbles and sinks a little deeper into the water.

An unexpected visitor arrives at the wharf. The merchant, the man to whom all this cargo belongs. His assistant commands a boatman to make space. The merchant takes his seat on the plank in the middle of the boat — the most stable — and they pull away from the wharf. Today he will ride with them to the ship.

The winds pick up on the water, and the boatmen dip their oars with a little more strength to keep on course. The enormous width of the Periyar River is filled with boats like theirs. The merchant signals to his assistant, who hands him the papyrus scroll. He unrolls the thick sheets and reads a few lines of the precise, neat hand. The contract for this season’s shipment was drawn up in Alexandria. He looks forward and back at the few sacks of cargo. His most trusted agents will accompany the more precious items on other boats — pearls, silk, and gemstones.

The current changes as the Periyar reaches its end. The boat slips into the sea, and the boatmen row against the waves. Ten large ships lay anchored offshore, each surrounded by dozens of canoes delivering goods. Even from this distance, the merchant can make out the Hermapollon.

As they approach the ship, the merchant shades his eyes and peers up. He is still awed by its size — holding more than 250 tons of cargo.

He remembers seeing the ship after it first arrived in September. It was bruised and battered from the powerful southwest monsoon winds during the rough, 40-day crossing. He oversaw the cargo as it was unloaded … gold, cosmetics, silverware, coral. He was especially careful with the gifts that were sent for the Cheran king: ointments, vintage wine, beautiful slave girls and slave boys trained in music.

But his shipment is worth far more than the imports… nearly 7 million Alexandrian drachmas. He was told it was enough to buy a luxury estate near Rome.

Now it’s January, and the Hermapollon is preparing for its departure. Most of the Yavana crew and passengers have returned to the ship, after living for months in Muziris. The merchant has watched the ships come and go for several seasons. For the first time, he will travel back with them to Roman Egypt. He makes a silent prayer that the northeast monsoon winds are gentle on the 3-thousand mile passage to Berenike, the port on the Red Sea.

GV: I’m wondering what happened to Muziris … for how long did this trade go on?

MRA: Well, Muziris had links with 60 other ports around the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, but a lot of its fortunes were tied up with the Roman Empire … because of their insatiable demand for black pepper and luxury goods. But when the Roman Empire began its decline in the 3rd century, Muziris took a big hit.

GV: And then wasn’t it destroyed in a big flood?

MRA: Yeah, that’s one popular account … that in 1341, the Periyar River flooded, and completely destroyed Muziris. But not everyone’s convinced … Cherian for one. He says it’s possible that silting eventually choked the port and it was no longer functional. It’s hard to say when and what really happened to end Muziris.


MRA: Chapter 2: Unearthing Treasure

MRA: I wonder about those foreigners visiting Muziris from so far away … they lived here for months, before they could head home on the winds of the second monsoon … maybe they left things behind … traces of their presence? If so, could they be clues that Pattanam is Muziris?

MRA: After the boat ride, we’re back on land and heading to the village …

Sukumaran (Malayalam): My name is Sukumaran KS

MRA: … to talk with Sukumaran KS, a Pattanam resident. Some incredible things were found on his land. He’s a carpenter, a mason, and also an artist. He’s dressed comfortably in home wear — a shirt and a lungi.

MRA: Sukumaran is 66 years old and grew up in Pattanam. When he was a boy, he and his friends used to play in a large, empty field across from his house. And when it rained …

Sukumaran (Malayalam): when you say muthu, you won’t believe it. At the plot right in front, at the coconut tree, at the bottom, the rain will fall. If you look, there will be about 500 or 600 muthu. You can take that many beads.

Male translator: The base of the coconut trees would fill with rainwater and there would be 500 to 600 tiny beads coming out of the soil. I would scoop them up and both my hands would be full. My friends and I would thread them on a string to play with, and when we got tired of them, we threw them aside and forgot about them.

MRA: Even as an adult, he’s found some interesting things …

Sukumaran (Malayalam): the head of a horse in gold. Very small.

Male translator: a miniature head of a horse, made of gold

Sukumaran (Malayalam): a brass weight of half a kilo.

Male translator: a hooked weight, used for a scale, of half a kilogram, made of brass

MRA: Sukumaran lost the beads and horse head, but he entrusted the brass weight to Cherian. When PAMA was setting up in 2007, he was hired as a carpenter and to dig trenches. Later on, he added them as customers for his milk supply business.

Cherian wants residents to feel part of the team — as much as scientists and students. The farmers, teachers, laborers — even high schoolers — who live here, lend valuable insight. When Sukumaran heard an excavation was planned nearby, he insisted they dig on his land.

Sukumaran (Malayalam): I uprooted my cuppa.

Male translator: They didn’t want to dig at my place, because I had a lot of plants growing on my land. But I really wanted them to dig here. So I removed all of the plants and cleared up the area for them.

Sukumaran (Malayalam): explains why he invited Cherian to dig at his plot of land

Male translator: My land has very dense soil, so there could be something underneath. So I asked Cherian to come and dig here. It really makes me so happy when I see the students smile when they find something in the ground.

MRA: And find something they did! Much closer to home than he probably expected.

MRA: Just outside Sukumaran’s kitchen, a large blue tarp is spread out on his yard. This is where a trench was dug last April. Sukumaran’s niece was helping the excavations team as a sorter. Her name is Pravitha PA, a high school student. She’s like his daughter and lives with him and his wife.

Pravitha (Malayalam): They take mud/soil/sand from here and give it to me to look through and I check it.

Female translator: I take the dirt that comes out of the trench and use a sieve to check it and look carefully for any interesting objects.

MRA: You can imagine how detail-oriented — and exhausting — this work is. On April 25th last year, she began sorting at 7am. She was finding potsherds and a lot of tiny beads. Around 10am — that’s after three hours of carefully picking through the dirt — she noticed something like a button, but smaller and thicker.

Pravitha (Malayalam): It was a gray and white mixture. That was the shade on the front. On the back side, it was like a brown color. When the mud was removed, I could see the image. It was a head and some feet.

Female translator: The button had a gray and white color on one side. And on the other side, it was like a brown color. We washed off all the mud. And when that was removed, I could see there was an image. It looks like a head and some feet.

MRA: When she saw it again later and looked more carefully, she realized it was a figure that was part- animal and part-human. And what was her reaction to the find?

Pravitha: Happiness


GV: Chapter 3: The Objects Are Speaking

GV: It’s thrilling to find something buried deep in the ground. At first glance, it’s just an object. But go ahead and take a closer look … What do objects tell us about their history … about the people who valued them?

MRA: Cherian says “the objects are speaking.” … Pravitha’s “button” was actually an intaglio … a female Sphinx carved into a stone … probably mounted on a ring, and used as a seal for official records. It was the third intaglio found in Pattanam … a Mediterranean design on stone from somewhere else in India, and likely made locally.

GV: You’re probably familiar with the Sphinx. Head of a human … body of a lion … been sitting in the desert near the Great Pyramids for thousands of years. But that’s the Egyptian Sphinx. Lesser-known is the Greek Sphinx — a lion body with wings and a female head.

MRA: Cherian says this intaglio is a phenomenal find … and in tough circumstances too … remember it was April 2020, soon after the pandemic lockdown began.

PJ Cherian: Last year, when we excavated, one can say really oppressing situations. And came the She Sphinx, and sometimes I joke with my students that, do you believe that Sphinx has life? They will be perplexed. But I say she has life. The Sphinx has life because she emerged lying for 2,000 years underneath. That was a very important discovery that we have made. Exactly similar to the one worn by the first emperor of Roman Empire, Augustus Caesar.

And if you say it doesn’t have life, I won’t agree. She’s taking care of Pattanam. She’s saying all men of this world, be very responsible in your relationship with women. Because when she was created to devour, to kill those men who committed wrong love to women. And she became a fortune kind of thing and it began to adorn the fingers, rings and other things. She came up again in Pattanam in the poor artist’s Sukumaran’s yard, where he forced us to dig. And she is, I believe, will protect this site.

MRA: Can I see this?

PJ Cherian: Yeah, definitely. You can see it and we have taken it from the locker for you. Because we keep it, these things under safe custody. They are treasures. They are real treasures. And so tiny. Yeah.

MRA: Oh my god, it is yeah, it is like a button.

PJ Cherian: It’s like a button. Yeah, but oval in shape.

MRA: Yeah. Can you just describe it for us?

PJ Cherian: Yeah, this is made of what then could have been a precious stone, it is called agate.

MRA: Where would this be coming from?

PJ Cherian: This could be from the Deccan, from the Bombay region, Maharashtra region. We should look for what the objects are suggesting. So this is, you know, the instant question is who carved it?

MRA: And who wore it?

PJ Cherian: You know we did some three months of research with my associate in the University of Rome. And she was very clear saying that this could have been made at Pattanam. Along with this, we got many raw materials, that is the stage before it become a ring stone or an intaglio. We got oval shaped, same, agate stones from the same trench in numerous numbers.

MRA: So almost like a workshop,

PJ Cherian: Yes, certainly, it’s a lapidary workshop, where this might have been made.

MRA: It’s amazing to think that the spot where Pravitha was sorting the soil was once a workshop to cut, engrave and polish gems … 2,000 years ago! Skilled craftsmen shaping precious stones into jewelry, featuring motifs from far-away Rome … all in this now-sleepy corner of Kerala.

PJ Cherian: Yeah

MRA: What is the other one that you have here?

MRA: It’s a little carved head, about the size of a thumb. Also found by a high school girl, sorting through the soil, in Sukumaran’s trench.

PJ Cherian: Beautifully carved head of a, of we don’t know whom because it needs a lot of research. And unfortunately, it was and it had little damage. The nose which is the most distinguishable part had little damage. This is the first human image we got from Pattanam.

MRA: What do you think that like the other ones, we kind of know, a decorative or maybe a functional aspect? What do you think is the point of creating something like this?

PJ Cherian: So it needs more focus, more deliberations, more analysis, more humility, before we pronounce, but we are sure that it is a Greco-Roman statue. Because the head, the design of the hair, the other features clearly indicate the statues of the early historic period, we say, from third century BC to fifth century. If you go to Rome, Italy, you will see only these kind of things. But to be more precise, what was the role of these things? More research is necessary.

PJ Cherian: I think it was great adventure, great technological exploration, appreciating differences, embracing different cultures, embracing different bodies, you know, all sorts of kind of good things might have been happening.

PJ Cherian: 40 communities speaking different languages came here as sailors, merchants, bankers, and all kinds of people who are creative, very adventurous, equipped with some technology. And they started being part of a great network that was very intensely active from first century BC to fourth century AD.


GV: Chapter 4: A Shocking Find

GV: The artifacts found in Sukumaran’s yard seem to represent other cultures. But I’m still not seeing how Pattanam might have been involved in maritime trade. Has anything been found in the excavations that makes the case?

MRA: Yes. One of the most spectacular clues showed up in the empty field where I first met Cherian. Here’s the story. Back in 2007, he and two collaborators couldn’t agree on where to dig a trench.

PJ Cherian: We were not agreeing, no two persons were agreeing on one location. Then I found the remains of a very old structure that existed here, where a kind of a high-caste family, but without children, two old people were living here. And somebody told something that was protruding, that was seen above the ground was the kitchen foundation or something like that.

MRA: Of their old house?

PJ Cherian: Of their old house. So just for fun, I said, why don’t we go and dig the old couple’s kitchen. And the fun was actually for nearly one meter, two meter dig, there was nothing coming. (laughs) And it looked like a kind of a one-time fill of lightweight soil. And we were really, and I was the most distressed person,

MRA: Because you chose it.

PJ Cherian: I chose it for some reason. And then, you know, gradually, a modern concrete-like thing emerged. But nothing as artifacts was coming again. But it was gradually going down. And further, it was an area which looked waterlogged. And this waterlogged area produced tons of potsherds from all parts of the world. We really got excited.

MRA: After how many days of digging did this happen?

PJ Cherian: Yes, this happened probably two weeks, two weeks. Yeah,

MRA: Two weeks. That’s a lot of determination to find something.

PJ Cherian: Yeah, we have to reach the natural layer, whether we find or anything because in the process, we study the stratigraphy and for us, absence is also evidence to explain why there is nothing there. So we cannot panic. So we went slowly. And finally, to the biggest surprise, somebody yelled, there is a piece of wood I can touch. And …

MRA: A piece of wood like it looks like a part of a tree or something else?

PJ Cherian: Actually, he just said it is wood, and it is more than what we can imagine about.

MRA: Cherian tells me what they find … that piece of wood 2 meters below ground was part of a dugout canoe… there’s an ancient wharf down there! They also found 9 teak bollards to secure boats. 3 meters down, they found several botanical remains, including black pepper, cardamom, frankincense, and bamboo pieces.

The canoe is degraded but still in the shape of a boat. Carbon dating reveals its age … somewhere between 1st century BCE to 1st century CE. It was made from a single log of Anjili wood … the same wood as Bibin’s boat. Cherian imagines how the wharf might have looked in ancient times …

PJ Cherian: So that would have been a stream. So here was found the wharf, and adjacent to it a kind of six meter, dugout canoe and also above it, near the wharf, there was a whole stretch of architectural buildings, remains, very well made, burned bricks.

You will be amazed how that structure. Probably one of the wharfs, that took the resources from this region to the Mediterranean. Actually, that sent waves of excitement across this place. Actually, thousands of people came to see this. We retained it for some time.

MRA: You kept it open.

PJ Cherian: I kept it open, but it is dangerous. Because this was you know, with no kind of air activity, oxygen or anything, it was remaining there. And many things we changed in minutes, they change their color, and transform into something else. And all the experts whom we consulted, said it cannot be exposed for some time.

MRA: I would like to see the canoe. So where is it?

PJ Cherian: Actually the canoe we gave back to Mother Earth. Please, you preserved it 2,000 years, please continue to preserve. We are, we don’t have the money which helps to conserve and make it into a beautiful museum. We tried, but we had all the plans, but everything got postponed and I’m a very perennial optimist. Everything will come because these are very powerful kind of materials that world over will be interested. Because doesn’t belong to us alone.

MRA: I think it takes a lot of imagination right now, I mean, under our very feet could have been?

PJ Cherian: Yeah.

MRA: A full port.

PJ Cherian: Absolutely. So, when you walk through the roads, nothing should distract, you should imagine what could be below it. Only thing is you respect that lies below and every villager will understand it.

MRA: So of course, the big question is, is this place the site of the ancient Muziris?

PJ Cherian: Till some other site is found, I can safely say this is an integral part of the ancient port of Muziris.

MRA: Spending the day in Pattanam … holding its artifacts … I thought less about whether this really is Muziris … and wondered what more will be found deep in the soil of this village. These pieces of the past represent so much … the riches of the subcontinent … people of different places and languages working together … and a thoroughly Indian port with links to 40 different cultures.

This is a search for ancestors, all of our ancestors … just in a different way from how we perceive people now.

PJ Cherian: You know, these individuals and this kind of names are very problematic in archaeology. We think we are big. Mary-Rose thinks she’s an individual and she has, but honestly, to locate a Mary-Rose of your counterpart 2,000 years, is impossible, is impossible, because you cannot locate the Mary-Rose four generations before you. How can you locate another individual, whether anyone, Roman emperor or anything, anyone here, someone.

Locating names and locating things and identifying it and arguing on that is really silly in archaeology, because the distance from us to that life of the object is too far. And nothing will be individualized. And we have you know, signatures, and we have also workshop names, things like that. But not the specific individual, as we both probably are, and we assume to be.

That kind of individuals cease to exist some 1,500 years back. Sometimes I assume that, that type of individual never existed in the 99 percentage of human history. It’s just a new kind of a, kind of a construction, and very, very wonderful construction for some, and very difficult to disengage. So that is the kind of past we can reconstruct.


MRA: Thanks for listening, I’m Mary-Rose Abraham.

GV: and I’m Gayathri Vaidyanathan.

MRA: Next time on Scrolls & Leaves …

GV: Does the world’s most infamous diamond have a terrible curse? Stay tuned in 2 weeks to find out!

MRA: Our sound designer is …

Nikhil Nagaraj: Nikhil Nagaraj

GV: The storyteller is …

Sumit Kumar: Sumit Kumar

GV: The Tamil Sangam poems were translated by Vaidehi Herbert and recited by …

Aruna Srinivasan: Aruna Srinivasan

MRA: This episode was produced by Mary-Rose and Gayathri, with assistance from Alexa Stanger, Iman Ifthikar and Sasha Semina.

GV: You were listening to Scrolls & Leaves, in collaboration with the Archives at the National Centre for Biological Sciences.

MRA: Our thanks to … PJ Cherian, Sukumaran KS, Pravitha PA, Vivek Madhu Kaippilly, Nimisha Akhil …

GV: … Anandu NA, Bibin Babu, Vaidyanathan Jayaraman, Aditya Mohanan, Rohit Krishnan R and Vaishnavi Krishnan VM. Thanks to Sahapedia for use of the Romila Thapar clip.

MRA: Thanks to our episode supporters, the Yale-Mellon Sawyer Seminar, ‘The Order of Multitudes: Atlas, Encyclopedia, Museum”, and Anjana Badrinarayanan of NCBS.

GV: For more information and past episodes, visit, or you can follow us on Twitter at scrolls leaves or on Instagram at scrolls and leaves, or like us on Facebook, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening.

Listen here to Episode 1: The Lost Port of Muziris.

hiatus episode

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