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Harvest of history from a paddy field

George Iype in Kochi | October 27, 2003 21:52 IST
Last Updated: October 27, 2003 23:11 IST

The Kerala government is inviting international marine, archaeological and conservation experts to examine a sailing vessel, believed to be around 920 years old, excavated from a paddy field owned by a physician in Thaikal, a coastal village in Alappuzha.

The ship was first noticed when its wooden planks protruded as the field was being tilled.

The government's archaeology department started excavations in April 2002 and by June 2003, a large part of the vessel, which is around 22 meters long and 5 meters wide, was pulled out.

Sensing its historical significance, the government has now asked international experts to conduct research studies on it.

Centre for Heritage Studies Registrar P K Gopi said the government would soon send invitations to experts across the world for a study conference, scheduled tentatively for January next year.

"We want international experts to come here and study the ship. We are sure it would throw up many mysteries of history, especially of India's maritime history," Gopi told rediff.com

The Kochi-based CHR is a government-funded heritage research institute.

Gopi said a large portion of the vessel, including its hull, is intact. "We have arrived at its age after conducting carbon dating tests on its wood," he said.

The vessel has been made of sturdy local wood variety, anjili, he said. "But the technique used in making this vessel is not Indian. We believe the ship was made either in China, Japan, Egypt or some Arab country. In the 12th century, lots of people from these countries used to come to the Kerala coast for trading," Gopi said.

For centuries Roman, Chinese, Arab, Portuguese, French, Dutch, British and Jewish merchants came to Kerala in search of the state's fabled spices.

The ship's discovery has elicited considerable international attention.

In May, Professor Ralph Pederson, a marine archaeologist from the Nautical Archaeology Division of the Texas A&M University visited the excavation site.

Prof Pederson and some other experts have agreed that the vessel is over 900 years old. The professor has, however, suggested that the remnants of the ship be put to 'thermo luminescent testing' for a more accurate estimate.

A team of researchers from the Southampton University visited the excavation site early this year. The researchers working under Dr Lucy Blue, a specialist in maritime archaeology at the university's Centre for Marine Archaeology, spent several days at the site.

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