A site on the Malabar Coast that may have been home to the ancient city of Muziris and that continues to throw up artefacts dating back to the 1st century BC is now in danger of being damaged as archaeologists have not been able to acquire the land.
It is now believed that the small town of Pattanam in Kerala's Ernakulam district was Muziris, which served as a major trading port between the 1st century BC and the 5th century AD.
Excavations there - the last of which were carried out in February this year - have produced evidence of the area's strong trade ties with ancient Rome, Yemen, West Asia and even the Nabatian civilisation of the Arabian Peninsula.
But the historical treasures there are now in danger of being destroyed.
'People are digging the land for constructing houses, building roads and digging wells there,' P.J. Cherian, director of the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR), told IANS here.
KCHR along with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have been conducting this ambitious research as part of the Muziris Heritage Project.
'We need this land - at least five acres of the 45 hectares - to be acquired by the state government - not by force, but by taking the locals into confidence and paying them a reasonable price.'
Archaeologists K.P. Shajan and V. Selvakumar along with Cherian have been involved in the excavations at Pattanam, where evidence of human habitation dating back to the Iron Age has been found.
However, the state government has not able to acquire the land.
Cherian said he and the archaeologists were very 'clear' - they do not want to antagonise the local people who had been offering whole-hearted support for the excavations.
'But we have not yet got the land as even protected area. The ASI also should act immediately. The location is already disturbed and damaged,' said Cherian, who was here to attend a seminar organised by the Indian Navy on the subject.
Indian Navy's southern command is supporting the team for their underwater excavations.
Until recently, it was believed that Muziris was located on the mouth of the Periyar river at a place called Kodungallor. But now evidence suggests that Pattanam is the real location.
According to Cherian, the Pattanam Excavations 2007 have revealed several significant facts about 'the first habitation site of the Iron Age' on the Malabar coast.
Pattanam is the first site on the Malabar coast to yield a variety of the archaeological evidence on Indian Ocean trade, especially West Asian and Indo-Roman.
'The significance of the site is that - until its discovery, the classical literary sources, travel accounts and legends remained the only sources to validate the pivotal role of the Malabar coast in Indo-Roman trade.
'But the evidences from Pattanam - the potteries, ceramics, canoes, constructions, coins - also indicate that the region had good trade ties with West Asia and eastern parts of present India,' Cherian said.
He said some of the pottery discovered also indicated contacts with the Nabatian civilisation of the Arabian Peninsula.
The excavations have produced fragments of imported Roman amphora, mainly used for transporting wine and olive oil, Yemenese and West Asian pottery, besides Indian rouletted ware that was common in the east coast of India and in Egypt.
Bricks, tiles, pottery shards, beads and other artefacts found at Pattanam are very similar to those found at Arikamedu - an ancient Roman trade centre - in Pudussery and other historic sites in India.