New Delhi: An ancient city excavated on Kerala's Malabar coast had trade links with many key centres around the world as far back as 500BC, fresh archaeological evidence says.

The Institute of Physics in Bhubaneswar has also concluded that the site, which archaeologists named Pattanam, was actually the ancient city of Muziris. It is located seven kilometres from Kodungallur in Ernakulam district.

According to P.J. Cherian, director of the Kerala Council of Historic Research (KCHR), the city had maritime links with cities along the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and South China Sea.

"The antiquity of Pattanam extends back as far as the first millennium BC as determined by the Institute of Physics," said Cherian. KCHR and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are conducting the ambitious research as part of the Muziris Heritage Project.

Cherian, the project director, said experts have analysed charcoal samples and parts of the wooden canoe and bollards recovered from a waterlogged context and excavated from the site.

"The mean calendar dates of these five samples place the antiquity of ancient maritime activity of Pattanam at about 500BC, with an uncertainty of less than a century," Cherian said from Thiruvananthapuram.

He said the samples have undergone Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) - the analytical technique of choice for the detection of "long-lived" radio nuclides which cannot be practically analysed with decay, counting or conventional mass spectrometry, apart from radiocarbon analysis.

Organic samples

"It is the first time such analysis has been done for an archaeological site in Kerala," Cherian said.

The organic samples from the site are also being analysed at the Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI). The results are awaited.

Pattanam is the first habitation site of the Iron Age unearthed in Kerala.

Excavations there - the last of which were carried out in February last year - have produced evidence of the area's strong trade ties with ancient Rome, Yemen, the Middle East and even the Nabatian civilisation of the Arabian peninsula.