Archaeobiological finds of Pattanam and Berenike sites - a treasure trove of information on nature-man relationship and early exchanges

Archaeo-biological finds hold the key to many questions related to our past, present and future. They are a treasure of information pertaining to varied forms of life in their environmental entirety. They can elicit information with regard subsistence and exchanges ranging from hunting-gathering, agricultural practises, food habits, religious practices, shipping, industrial practices etc. It can be prised open only through advanced inter-disciplinary analytical studies.

Painstaking excavations carried out over a number of seasons at Pattanam, on the south-western coast of the Indian sub-continent and at Berinike, the Red Sea Port of Egypt have unearthed a plethora of botanical remains. The archaeobotanical remains of Pattanam included both Indian and non-Indian varieties like black pepper, cardamom, frankincense, rice, pulses, leaves, wood, charcoal, etc. The Berenike site located in an arid region with its better preservation conditions have thrown open a much richer variety of botanical remains. Berenike being the destination port of the vessels from the Malabar Coast, these archaeobotanical remains are critical evidence for understanding the maritime history of this period. It further corroborates with the much lauded written sources that pepper was the mainstay of the spice trade between Kerala region and the Mediterranean.

PAMA envisages to undertake morphological and characterisation studies of archaeo-botanical finds from these two contemporary sites. The studies on the peppercorn finds and other spices unearthed at Berenike using conventional tools and Archaeo-molecular techniques will yield valuable information on the first trans-oceanic connections in human history. DNA analysis using fingerprinting and RAPD marker techniques will hopefully throw light on the pepper and spice varieties traded. It will reveal to us the varieties that were exported from the Malabar region. It will also be of great scientific interest to know if the varieties traded were of the farm origin or semi wild varieties. Comparison with varieties grown today will give us a glimpse into the farming practices in the Malabar region more than 2000 years ago !

Two Indian made large pots buried at the floor of the Serapis temple at Berenike contained 7.5 kg of black pepper.

For full details of the project, academic collaborations, joining the research team, internships etc; institutions, experts, researchers and students can contact the Principal Investigator of the project by writing to PAMA.