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Indian Archaeologists Discover Submerged Ancient Port City--- Page 22

Indian archaeologists have found what they believe are undersea "stone structures" that could be the remains of an ancient port city off India's southern coast.

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The archaeologists learned of the structures after locals reported spotting a temple and several sculptures when the sea pulled back briefly just before deadly tsunamis smashed into the coastline on December 26.

An official from the state-run Archeological Survey of India (ASI), Alok Tripathi, said divers discovered the stone remains close to India's famous beachfront Mahabalipuram temple in Tamil Nadu state.

"We've found some stone structures which are clearly man-made. They're perfect rectangular blocks, arranged in a clear pattern," he said aboard the Indian naval vessel Ghorpad.

Mr Tripathi headed a diving expedition after the tsunamis uncovered the remains of a stone house, a half-completed rock elephant and two exquisite giant granite lions, one seated and another poised to charge in Mahabalipuram, 70 kilometres south of Chennai.

The objects were found when the towering waves withdrew from the beach, carrying huge amounts of sand with them.

Experts say the tsunami "gifts" discovered in Mahabalipuram belong to the Hindu Pallava dynasty that dominated much of South India from as early as the first century BC to the eighth century AD.

Mahabalipuram is recognised as the site of some of India's greatest architectural and sculptural achievements.

Since February 11, Mr Tripathi's team of a dozen divers have been scouring the seabed, diving three to eight metres to examine rocks with "geometrical patterns".

"European mariners and travellers, who visited Mahabalipuram in the 18th century, wrote about the existence of seven pagodas (temples) here," he said.

"Some believed it was a myth, others thought six of the pagodas sank under the sea while one remained as a rock temple on the shore.

"In fact, some scholars believe the entire city, barring a few rock structures and carvings, were submerged under the sea."

The divers have brought up pottery pieces and small stone blocks from the seabed.

"We'll study everything to gain an insight into early settlement in this area," Mr Tripathi said.

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Indian Navy commodore Brian Thomas said "extensive diving" had taken place east of Mahabalipuram's shore temple with underwater cameras used to record findings.

"The sea was often rough due to the wind and underwater visibility was very poor," Commodore Thomas told AFP.

"But we found that the area was strewn with a number of blocks of various shapes and sizes."

Archaeology officials said the findings were expected to be presented at an international seminar on maritime archeology in New Delhi between March 17-19.

Mr Tripathi said experts would study how old the rocks were to fix the date of the ancient civilisation at Mahabalipuram.

Cartographers say the waves, which left nearly 16,400 dead or missing in southern India, and the country's far-flung Andaman and Nicobar islands have redrawn the entire Mahabalipuram coastline.

One of a clutch of temples is partially submerged. But the magnificent eighth century Shore Temple, a UN World Heritage Site famed for its carvings representing characters from Hindu scriptures, survived the sea's fury.

This was thanks to a move by India's then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, who ordered that huge rocks be piled around the building to protect it from sea erosion after visiting the site in the late 1970s.

-AFP

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