‘Site museum at Keeladi first priority’

Interview with T. Udhayachandran, Commissioner of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology.

Published : Oct 12, 2019 07:00 IST

T. Udhayachandran.

T. Udhayachandran.

What do the Keeladi excavations signify?

Keeladi is an important milestone in the history of archaeological research in Tamil Nadu, for more than one reason. First, it offers new insights into our efforts to appreciate our past in terms of its significant structural remains and an impressive collection of artefacts. Second, we have adopted a transdisciplinary approach by involving experts from different fields to arrive at the conclusion. Third, our commitment to position scientific validation as the central theme. Finally, our approach to demystify technical details to reach out to the general public.

What are the best practices being adopted in the process of excavation?

There are already well-laid out protocols, right from exploration and excavation to documentation, including testing, being followed across the country. We intend to strengthen those procedures with the latest technological trends available. Moreover, it is an era of interdisciplinary approach; we intend to follow it in letter and spirit. Our interests will be best served only when we involve all the stakeholders, including the public, in a proactive manner.

Collaboration with reputed academic institutions will make our findings stand the scrutiny of the intellectual world.

What role does technology have in the process of excavation?

The department has taken up a major initiative in adopting various technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicle survey, magnetometer survey, and ground penetrating radar survey to identify the ideal spot for carrying out systematic archaeological explorations and excavations with the help of reputed institutions such as the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism, Navi Mumbai; the Institute of Remote Sensing, Anna University; and the Department of Remote Sensing, Bharathidasan University.

Can you elaborate on the transdisciplinary approach?

Archaeology requires the application of a wide range of skills, from discovery to interpretation of the findings. Exploring new ways of thinking about the past is the order of the day. Archaeology cannot operate in isolation; it needs qualitative inputs from various fields to strengthen its claims.

Having recognised the significance of multidisciplinary analysis of archaeological findings, we are trying to collaborate actively with reputed institutions operating in the fields of archaeo-botany, molecular biology, population genetics, environmental archaeology and linguistic archaeology. We are in the advanced stage of finalising a memorandum of understanding with the Biological Sciences Department of Madurai Kamaraj University, which in turn will look at associating with the Harvard Medical School and other reputed institutions for ancient DNA analysis.

What about the general public’s reaction?

It is just overwhelming. There is already a renewed interest in heritage aspects in Tamil Nadu. Keeladi has only multiplied it. The kind of enthusiasm we are noticing among various sections of society, including youths and Tamils living across the globe, is mind-boggling. We are trying to highlight the significance of evidence-based appreciation of our past through a scientific approach.

Does the department want to use Keeladi to nurture the next generation of archaeologists?

Certainly. Keeladi offers a great opportunity to identify bright talents that can be nurtured in the field of archaeology. Heritage enthusiasts will not only add value but bring a multidimensional approach to enrich the field of archaeology. Keeladi is the first and firm step towards the long journey in search of our past.

What are your future plans?

Our immediate priorities include establishing a site museum at Keeladi, widening the efforts of excavations across the State, launching a State-level manuscript mission to save and digitise old palm and paper manuscripts, holding an intensive campaign to decipher inscriptions in the State and conducting awareness camps on heritage management among students.

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