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Megalithic burial sites of Tamil Nadu

Sittannavasal Monuments
by Subramanian Swaminathan
The Megalithic burial sites   
Megalithic burial is a typical mode of disposing the dead in most part of Tamilnadu in the past.  Loosely called 'dolmans', these are stone-capped burial monuments with chambers and similar interment arrangements in stone. These monuments are found in many places in Tamilnadu like the districts of Chengalpattu, Vellore, Pudukkottai, Ramanathapuram, Salem, Coimbatore and Tirunelveli.  

The Pudukkottai district was a home of the pre-historic man. A very large number of megalithic burial sites have been found in the district, generally near watercourses.  They are easily identifiable by the appearance of a circle of laterite or granite stones and small boulders on the surface of the spot.  A few burial sites, belonging to the 1st century BC – 1st century AD, have been excavated, revealing pottery and ornaments, some of which are exhibited in the Government Museum at Pudukkottai.  

Excavations have revealed three types of burials in Pudukkottai region. 
They are
 (1) grave-burials; 
(2) urn-burials and 
(3) burials in deep stone-chambers formed of stone slabs (cists).  

1. Grave-burials   
This mode of burial is simple, where the body interred in a horizontal posture. Some experts feel that this was adopted by the poor. There is another view that women were buried in this way and men were normally buried in urns. The finding of urn-burials side by side with these sites might have contributed to this view.  

2. Urn-burials   
The urns were earthen pots, large enough for a man in a sitting posture. They varied in size, the largest measuring 4 feet in height and 3 feet 6 inches in diameter. 

P. T. Srinivasa Ayyangar, who was among the people who did excavations here, writes: 'The dead men were placed in a sitting posture in an earthenware pot. The pot was then let into a pit and half filled with sand and rice, and other grains on a tray were placed before the dead man. His stone tools were also inserted at the sides of the pot. The foodstuff and the tools were no doubt, intended for the use of the dead man in his post-mortem life, for they believed in life of the spirit of men after death. Then more sand was poured into the pot till it was full and the pot covered with an earthenware lid. The pit was then filled in and a stone slab placed on it. Then more sand was poured and another stone slab, this time very large and oval in shape, was placed above the grave and upright stone about a cubit long planted all round the slab….'.  

3. Burials in subterranean chambers formed of stone slabs (cists)   
A number of burials of this type have been excavated. The main burial chamber, as large as 8 feet square and 7 feet deep, was placed at about 2 to 3 feet below floor level. In addition were elaborate smaller chambers and partitions, and access between chambers in the form of man-holes. The slabs that enclose the cists project to a height of two to three feet above the ground. 

All finds of any importance were found at a depth of about four to five feet below the ground level and only in the two partitions of the main chamber. Surprisingly no traces of human bones were found, but only some baked earthenware utensils and iron weapons of different sorts. Among the findings were corroded weapons, saucerlike iron vessel about 7 ½ diameter, thin bronze plates and a stoneball, evidently a missile.