THE relentless pursuit of urbanisation has ensured that a few hundred Iron Age megalithic burial sites, which included menhirs, cairn circles, stone circles, dolmens and dolmenoid cists, have been destroyed in Tamil Nadu. The latest to face destruction were burial sites near Veeranam village at the foot of a chain of hills in Tiruvannamalai district, at Vellaripatti village on the outskirts of Madurai on the Madurai-Tiruchi highway, at Onampakkam near Cheyyur in Kancheepuram district; on the Vandalur-Kelambakkam road near Chennai, and at Venpakkam near Singaperumal Kovil, also near Chennai. A Palaeolithic site at Perumbakkam (close to the Old Mamallapuram Road) near Medavakkam, Chennai, where stone tools crafted by man some 200,000 years ago have been discovered, is under threat from a huge apartment complex coming up nearby. This despite it being a protected site of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010.

Vandalism has destroyed scores of beautiful dolmens at Mallanchandiram in Krishnagiri district, while industrialisation has erased the megalithic burial sites at Mankulam, near Madurai.

Many Iron Age megalithic burial sites on the Vandalur-Kelambakkam road have been razed to make way for new residential colonies. Where urban projects are not to blame, it is the local people who are at fault; they break menhirs into small slabs to use them for flooring. They also break boulders from megalithic burial sites into stone rubble and use them to build compound walls. Quarries have come up close to the megalithic burial site at Onampakkam and the boulders from the cairn circles are used to reduce the big boulders into small ballast.

K.T. Gandhirajan, independent explorer and art historian, said the burial site near Veeranam was a vast site that could be dated to 1,000–300 BCE. The site has cairn circles with dolmenoid cists on the surface. The site is being erased, according to Gandhirajan, who headed the team that discovered it in 2011. Residents of nearby villages have already destroyed a large number of the cairn circles and carted away the stones of the circles and the stone slabs of dolmenoid cists to erect cowsheds and compound walls. A quarry is mining granite in the hills close to the site and if it extends its operations, the site will disappear completely.

“There is no proper survey or a catalogue of the sites where menhirs, cairn circles, dolmens, hero-stones and so on are found in Tamil Nadu,” said Gandhirajan. “The ASI has a list of the Palaeolithic, Neolithic and megalithic sites in the State. But it has not been verified whether they have survived or have been razed to the ground by real-estate operators,” he added.

Several megalithic sites, such as those at Veeranam, Onampakkam and Venpakkam, were discovered recently but they have not been declared protected sites either by the ASI or by the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology. So there should be a proper cataloguing of all these sites, he suggested.

T.S. Subramanian