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Preliminary Underwater Archaeological Explorations of Mahabalipuram
Statement by National Institute of Oceanography, 9 April 2002

India’s National Institute of Oceanography, based in Donna Paula, Goa, has today (9 April 2002) issued the following press statement concerning the discoveries that we have made during the past two weeks off the coast of southeast India. I reproduce the statement in full below and then add my comments on various aspects of it:

Preliminary Underwater Archaeological Explorations of Mahabalipuram. Statement by National Institute of Oceanography, 9 April 2002

A team of underwater archaeologists from National institute of Oceanography NIO have successfully `unearthed’ evidence of submerged structures off Mahabalipuram and established first-ever proof of the popular belief that the Shore temple of Mahabalipuram is the remnant of series of total seven of such temples built that have been submerged in succession. The discovery was made during a joint underwater exploration with Scientific Exploration Society, U.K.

The team of archaeologists from NIO, trained in diving, carried out underwater exploration between April 1 – 4, 2002 and have successfully recorded evidence of presence of ruins underwater off Mahabalipuram. The salient features of the findings are as follows:

  • Underwater investigations were carried out at 5 locations in the 5 – 8 m water depths, 500 to 700 m off Shore temple.
  • Investigations at each location have shown presence of the construction of stone masonry, remains of walls, a big square rock cut remains, scattered square and rectangular stone blocks, big platform leading the steps to it amidst of the geological formations of the rocks that occur locally.
  • Most of the structures are badly damaged and scattered in a vast area, having biological growth of Barnacles, Mussels and other organisms.
  • The construction pattern and area, about 100m X 50m, appears to be same at each location. The actual area covered by ruins may extend well beyond the explored locations.
  • Based on what appears to be a Lion figure, of location 4, ruins are inferred to be parts of temple complex.
  • The possible date of the ruins may be 1500-1200 years BP. Pallava dynasty, ruling the area during the period, has constructed many such rock cut and structural temples in Mahabalipuram and Kanchipuram.

To place reasonable arguments on submergence of ruins, a full-scale investigations are underway to record the role of sea level fluctuations, coastal erosion and neo-tectonic activities in effecting shoreline changes in the area in the recent past.

The site has great potential to explore total lay out plan of the structures and causes of submergence.


Comments by Graham Hancock on the NIO statement of 9 April 2002 regarding Preliminary Underwater Archaeological Explorations off Mahabalipuram

I have only two comments to make on the NIO press release, but both of them are grave.


Despite a friendship with the NIO stretching back over two years I note that the NIO statement makes no mention of my instrumental role in bringing about these exciting discoveries off Mahabalipuram. I regret this oversight since there can be no doubt that I have earned the right to recognition in this discovery and that my input both in formulating the hypothesis of submerged ruins at Mahabalipuram, in putting that hypothesis forcefully before the public, and in the conception and implementation of an expedition to test that hypothesis, has been absolutely decisive.

It is in black and white on pages 119-122 and pages 258-261 of my book “Underworld” (published by Penguin 7 February 2002), and in my Channel 4 Television Series “Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age” (broadcast 11, 18 and 25 February 2002), that I have long regarded Mahabalipuram, because of its flood myths and fishermen's sightings as a very likely place in which discoveries of underwater structures could be made, and that I proposed that a diving expedition should be undertaken there.

It is also absolutely a matter of record that it was I who subsequently took the initiative to bring together the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) and the NIO during 2001 so that the expedition could take place and that I expended considerable efforts putting the two groups in touch and nudging along their co-operation.

I think you will find if you remove Graham Hancock from the equation that another 20 or many more years might have elapsed before the marine archaeology division of the NIO would have dived at Mahabalipuram.

If you remove Graham Hancock from the equation, the SES and the NIO would not have been brought together and the SES would not even have been aware that there was a mystery to investigate at Mahabalipuram.

In other words if you remove Graham Hancock from the equation it is a plain fact, and nothing more nor less than the truth, that neither the NIO nor the SES would have been diving at Mahabalipuram.

The discoveries that we have made might have been made later, or never at all. Such questions are entirely hypothetical, however. The fact is that the discovery has been made now and that my research, initiatives and efforts were instrumental in bringing it about. In any kind of moral or decent universe, in which credit is given where credit is due, I believe that I deserve some recognition for this. I ask nothing more than that.


My second comment on the statement concerns the unwisdom and unfortunate disregard of basic scientific procedure on the part of the NIO in speculating about a possible date of 1500 BP to 1200 BP for the submerged ruins. This speculation seems largely to be based on what is claimed to be a sculpture of a lion at location 4 – thought to be typical of the sculptural art of the Pallava dynasty. Unfortunately, however, neither of the two NIO marine archaeologists who were diving with us actually saw the alleged “figure”. The only people who did were myself and my dive-buddy Trevor Jenkins. It was Trevor who first spotted it. We then examined it together and Trevor shot video footage of it. All other comments on this lion figure are second-hand, based on viewings of Trevor’s video footage only.

My own very much first-hand comment is that if the figure is indeed that of a lion, this by no means confirms a connection with the Pallavas – since lion sculptures are typical of whole swathes of Indian art and symbolism and cannot be regarded as a Pallava monopoly. More importantly, the so-called lion figure is by no means necessarily a lion figure at all. As noted above, I am one of only two divers who have seen it and handled it, and I suspect strongly that it is not a lion's head and perhaps not even part of a statue. I had not voiced that suspicion before now because I thought the scientific community believed that weighty conclusions one way or another about possible archaeological discoveries should only be reached after much further research. But now I see that without doing any research at all, and without any marine archaeologists ever having examined the alleged "figure" the NIO rushes in to suggest a possible date in its statement.

In my view the NIO should have refrained from such unwise premature speculation and simply left the issue of the dating of the site open for the vast amount of further research that does indeed need to be done before anything can be confirmed. As one who has often been accused of prematurely assigning older dates to archaeological sites on the basis of too flimsy evidence I find it ironic that the NIO should assign a possible date of 1500-1200 BP to this site without any evidence at all. The NIO is not even at this stage aware of the sea-level curve for this part of the southeast Indian coast -- surely a crucial factor in any attempt to date the site.

Graham Hancock
9 April 2002

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