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Student Finds Historic Seal Which Could Prove Kerala's Pattanam Was Legendary Roman City 'Muziris'

The iconic colosseum | Image credit: Reuters

The iconic colosseum | Image credit: Reuters

Pravitha PA found a 'button' shaped as a she-Sphinx, the Greek mythical creature known for its magical powers, at the backyard of her uncle K S Sukumaran’s which also happened to be an excavation site in Pattanam village.

A class 12 student found a rare archaeological discovery linked to the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar at an excavation site in Kerala's Ernakulam district, according to an Indian Express report.

Pravitha PA found a 'button' shaped as a she-Sphinx, the Greek mythical creature known for its magical powers, at the backyard of her uncle K S Sukumaran’s which also happened to be an excavation site in Pattanam village. PJ Cherian, director of PAMA Institute, a Kerala-based Trust that led the excavation new the artefact noticed that it was a rare find and contacted experts to help identify the object.

A series of correspondences with experts over the next three months, including Dr Giulia Rocca, professor of archaeology and history of Greek and Roman art at the Tor Vergata University of Rome, confirmed the 1.2-cm-long artefact made of banded agate, was likely a gemstone attached to a seal-ring, akin to be worn by Augustus Caesar.

The discovery reasserts the theory the present-day Pattanam could be Muziris — the legendary port city that thrived between the 1st century BC and 4th century AD.

According to researchers, the port known as the ‘Emporia of the East’ flourished after the Romans conquered Egypt, and became a central region for trade between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean regions. Pepper, precious stones, silk, beads, ivory and pottery were traded to West Asia and Rome.

Mentions of Muziris soon vanished due to decline of the Roman empire with theories suggesting that port city either fell into disuse or a flood in the region on 1341 damaged its harbours.

Cherian notes that it is possible that the merchants and traders could have brought it to authorise trade. "There wasn’t just one royal seal; there would have been thousands. They were used by the emperor himself and those whom he authorised, to be used as a stamp, instead of a signature," he told Express.

However he also said that it is possible that Sphinx was produced at Pattanam itself. “Wastage of the banded agate precious stone (on which the Sphinx was carved) was found in the same trench, along with cameo blanks, indicating that there was a lapidary workshop in Pattanam 2,000 years ago,” he said.

While the excavation has generated interests for more evidence from the excavation site, Cherian said his team is far from finished. The 66 trenches excavated at the village so far is less than 1 per cent of the 111 acres of the Pattanam archaeological mound.

When asked about ho he imagine Muziris used to be, he said, "A beautiful world where there was openness of mind. We are yet to find a weapon in Pattanam."


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