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2000-year-old temple found underwater off Indian coast

The ruins are located close to the popular tourist destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mamallapuram, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Just before the devastating 2004 Asian Tsunami hit, the ocean receded several hundred feet, and tourists reported glimpsing large stones and boulders in the distance.

A 10-member team from the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) surveyed the area from March 10 to 18, and have found the ruins of one of six ancient temples that are thought to have been swallowed up by the ocean as sea levels rose. The team, comprising of divers, geologists and archaeologists found a ten meter wall, a flight of stairs and carved blocks of stone on the ocean bed in twenty seven feet of water. The ruins were over 800 meters from the shore. Many ruins were not immediately identifiable because of aquatic plant growth.

Head of marine archaeology at NIO, Rajiv Nigam said, “Some of them are badly damaged due to strong underwater currents and swells. However, we could make out that they were part of a building complex.” The survey was conducted after clues emerged during a survey of the area by sonar in 2005. T Sathyamurthy, former superintending archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, Chennai Circle, said of the first survey, “We discovered that the row of large stones people had seen immediately before the tsunami were part of a six feet high, seventy meter wall. We also found remains of two other submerged temples and one cave temple within 500 meters of the shore.”

Most of the ruins are thought to be about 1,100 to 1,500 years old. Brick structures were also identified on the seabed which may date back to between 300 BC and 200 AD, a historical period in Tamil Nadu known as the Sangam period. The area is believed to have been submerged in the aftermath of a tsunami that hit the coast in 952 AD. The surviving temples are dedicated to many different deities, making it unusual among temples of that period, which were usually dedicated to the god Shiva.

Many of the temples found on the shore of Mamallapuram today were built around the ninth and tenth century AD. But the area was a thriving township and an important trading port even around the first century AD. It is mentioned in several documents in ancient Rome. Geophysical survey data from past explorations have noted that a large built-up area was submerged, possibly due to the tsunami or because of soil erosion and tectonic movement.

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