By Graham Hancock
The place is called Poompuhar. It lies on southeast India’s Coromandel coast facing the Bay of Bengal between modern Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Its immediate offshore area has been the subject of marine archaeological investigations by India’s National Institute of Oceanography since the 1980’s — and numerous non-controversial finds of man-made structures dated between the third century AD and the third century BC have been made in the “inter-tidal zone” close to shore at depths down to 6 feet (approximately 2 metres).
These finds of structures in shallow water (some so shallow that they are exposed at low tide) have been quite widely written-up in the archaeological literature. But for some reason other discoveries that the NIO has made in deeper water off Poompuhar have attracted no attention at all. Most notably these other discoveries include a second completely separate group of structures fully three miles from the Poompuhar shore in water that is more than 70 feet (23 metres) deep. The lack of interest is surprising because to anyone with even minimal knowledge of post-glacial sea-level rise their depth of submergence is – or should be – highly anomalous. Indeed according to Glenn Milne’s sea-level data the land on which these structures were built last stood above water at the end of the Ice Age more than 11,000 years ago.
Is it a coincidence that there are ancient Tamil flood myths that speak of a great kingdom that once existed in this area called Kumari Kandam that was swallowed up by the sea? Amazingly the myths put a date of 11,600 years ago on these events — the same timeframe given by Plato for the end of Atlantis in another ocean.
Like the cities in the Gulf of Cambay the underwater structures three miles offshore of Poompuhar were first identified by an instrument called sidescan sonar that profiles the seabed. One structure in particular was singled out for investigation and was explored by divers from India’s National Institute of Oceanography in 1991 and 1993. Although they were not at that time aware of the implications of its depth of submergence — i.e. that it is at least 11,500 years old — the 1991 study confirms that it is man-made and describes it as:
a horse-shoe-shaped object, its height being one to two metres. A few stone blocks were found in the one-metre wide arm. The distance between the two arms in 20 metres. Whether the object is a shrine or some other man-made structure now at 23 metres [70 feet] depth remains to be examined in the next field season.
The 1993 study refines the measurements:
The structure of U-shape was located at a water depth of 23 metres which is about 5 kilometres off shore. The total peripheral length of the object is 85 metres while the distance between the two arms is 13 metres and the maximum height is 2 metres Divers observed growth of thick marine organism on the structure, but in some sections a few courses of masonry were noted
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After 1993, no further marine archaeology was conducted along the Poompuhar coast until 2001 when I arranged with the NIO to dive on the U-shaped structure with funding from Channel 4 television in Britain and the Learning Channel in the US. Exclusive footage of the structure was filmed and is shown in episode 2 of the Underworld television series. Chapter 14 of the book is a report of our dives at Poompuhar, and what we found there.
Dr A.S. Gaur of the NIO told me on camera that it would have required “a very great technology” to build the U-shaped structure — one far beyond the abilities of known cultures in India 11,500 years ago. For Dr Gaur this is a reason to doubt the accuracy of the sea-level-data which suggests that the structure was submerged so long ago. However the NIO have not yet been successful in recovering any datable materials or artefacts that could tell us its age more directly (for example by C-14 or TL tests).
My own expedition to Poompuhar with the NIO in 2001 was limited to diving on the U-shaped structure and one neighbouring structure. But what’s really exciting is that more than 20 other large structures are known to be located in the same area down to depths of more than 100 feet. These have so far been identified only by sidescan sonar and never yet explored by divers. I’ve organised an expedition jointly with India’s National Institute of Oceanography and John Blashford-Snell’s Scientific Exploration Society in Britain to map and investigate these other structures in March/April 2002.
The Cambay and Poompuhar discoveries are both reported in depth for the first time in Underworld and set into the proper context of the flood myths and inundation history of the broader regions to which they belong.
If they are what they seem to be — a caution I must repeat since so little research has actually been done by anyone — then they signal an exciting new era in Indian archaeology in which the investigation of submerged ruins will play an increasingly important role. How do the Poompuhar finds compare with those in Cambay? Are they both parts of the same lost civilisation? Or do they perhaps represent two separate Ice Age cultures, one based in the north and the other in the south of the subcontinent?
Further exploration, involving divers, sonar scans and the recovery and analysis of artefacts will provide the answers.
And for reasons that I explain in Underworld, I think India’s most ancient scriptures, the Vedas, also have a lot to tell us. There are tremendously good reasons to disbelieve the scholarly consensus (certainly the consensus amongst Western scholars) that the Vedas were composed as late as 1500 B.C. Parts of them probably do date from then; but some of the hymns could be much older than that — carried down by oral traditions from much earlier times. I think it all goes back to the Ice Age.