updated 9/21/2005 1:13:02 PM ET 2005-09-21T17:13:02

Archaeologists in southern India have discovered the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple that may have been destroyed centuries ago by a tsunami, an official said Wednesday.

The temple appears to have been built between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D. It was excavated this month just north of Mahabalipuram, a port town in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, by a team from the government Archaeological Survey of India, the team’s chief Thyagarajan Satyamurthy said.

The region where the temple was found is in the same area affected by the Dec. 26 Asian tsunami. But the hardest-hit areas of India were farther south near Nagappattinam.

“This is the earliest temple discovered in this region so far,” Satyamurthy said.

The archaeologists are trying to determine the date of the tsunami from sand and seashells found at the brick temple, dedicated to Lord Muruga, a Hindu god, Satyamurthy told The Associated Press.

He said there was more damage on the side of the temple facing the sea, and that the sand and shell deposits at the structure were not normally found so far inland.

Geophysicists at a government laboratory in southern Trivandrum city called them “palaeo-tsunami” deposits, he said.

Temple built upon temple
The temple was found one layer below a granite temple excavated by the same team in July, leading archaeologists to theorize that the Pallava kings, who ruled the region between A.D. 580 and 728, built the latter temple atop the remains of the older one.

The team also found stucco figurines, terra-cotta lamps, beads and roofing tiles. Similar articles and large bricks were typically used around the beginning of the first millennium, he said.

Just as an ancient tsunami may have ravaged the temple outside Mahabalipuram, last year’s Indian Ocean tsunami revealed other temples and monuments that had been buried for centuries.

But the ruins of this temple were not uncovered by the recent tsunami, and excavation did not begin until after the tsunami struck.

The finding also revived a debate over whether references in ancient literature to cities and towns being submerged by violent waves referred to a tsunami.

“Our discovery now poses very interesting questions not only about ancient Tamils but also about the history of tsunami,” Satyamurthy said.

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