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Tsunami reveals ancient ruins

The Dec. 26 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in the Indian Ocean region yielded some unexpected benefits for archaeologists in the region. The waves’ receding force, which scoured away sediment, uncovered relics of what is believed to be an ancient port city and portions of a temple, including an eroded monument of a lion’s head and carvings of elephants and soldiers.

The newly revealed structures lie near the city of Mahabalipuram’s “Shore Temple,” part of a U.N. World Heritage site in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. The groups of monuments include sanctuaries carved out of rock in the 7th and 8th centuries by the Pallava kings, which continue to be a destination for religious pilgrims today. UNESCO reported that the structures were relatively undamaged by the tsunami’s inundating waves.

Popular wisdom says that the temple’s monuments are one of several groups in a chain that has been submerged by rising sea levels. Accounts from witnesses of the tsunami, who say they saw other structures (possibly submerged pagodas) that were momentarily exposed as the tsunami pulled water away from the shore, seemingly have revived the idea of this “Indian Atlantis.” An underwater survey in 2002 by India’s National Institute of Oceanography documented what appear to be ruins of structures several hundred meters offshore of the temple site.

Members of the Archaeological Survey of India have begun restoring the damaged portions of Shore Temple. And, according to the Associated Press, archaeologists, with help from divers in India’s navy, began investigating the newly uncovered ruins both on land and underwater in February.

Naomi Lubick

"Sumatra quake stronger than thought," Geotimes, April 2005

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