Tamralipti ancient settlement mentioned in early Indian literature, Ceylonese texts, and in accounts of Greek geographers and Chinese pilgrims. These texts indicate that Tamralipti was located on the eastern coast near the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and River Ganga. The texts also indicate that Tamralipti was related to trade routes and frequented by traders, travellers and pilgrims. Going by the texts, the chronology of this settlement, will be roughly between fourth-third century BC to eighth century AD. The Dudhpani rock inscription of Udaymana of eighth century AD contains the last record of Tamralipti as a port of ancient South Asia. In the map of the Greek geographer Ptolemy, Tamralipti appears as Tamalities. Chinese pilgrim hiuen-tsang calls the town Tan-mo-lih-ti (te).
These textual references have led scholars to identify Tamralipti as one of the most important centres of trade and commerce of early historic India. It has also led to the belief that Tamralipti had emerged as a thriving urban settlement in this period and had multidirectional links with different geographical regions of South Asia.
Though there is controversy regarding the identification of this port, scholars have generally agreed that present day Tamluk town, district Medinipur (known as Midhunapura in the ancient period), West Bengal, is the site of the ancient city. The present town is located on the banks of the Rupnarayan close to where it flows into the Bay of Bengal.
The site has been subjected to archaeological excavation at least twice and has been explored frequently. ICS Gourdas Basak, a friend of the renowned Bengali poet michael madhusudan dutt, was the first person to write on the antiquarian remains of Tamluk in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. He published a note on his findings in the Jan-Dec 1888 issue of Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, (Calcutta, 1889). Around the same time Umacharan Adhikari, a leading personality of Tamluk, wrote an account of the antiquity of the town in a book.
In 1920-21, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), also produced a short report on Tamluk. Sir gurusaday dutt, TN Ramachandran, and KN Dikshit carried out the first archaeological diggings in 1940. Among the antiquities recovered through excavation were terracotta objects, pottery and coins. Some of these antiquities belong to third century BC. ASI undertook the next excavation in 1954-55 under the supervision of MN Deshpande. As a result, a four fold cultural sequence was established. However, no structures could be unearthed in the excavation; only rammed floor levels and ring wells were encountered.
ASI undertook further excavation of the site in 1973-74 under the supervision of SK Mukherjee. This excavation revealed four successive occupational periods, the first of which (Period I) yielded an assemblage of neolithic celts, ill-fired pottery, a large number of microlithic tools, bone awls and a small number of copper objects. Period II, dated to third-second century BC, yielded a few fragments of NBPW, a good number of beads of semi-precious stones, and a large number of punch marked and cast copper coins. One may link this period to the so-called Maurya-Shunga times. Evidence of a brick built tank and a few terracotta ring wells were also exposed. Period III, belonging to the Shunga-Kusana phase seems to have been the richest' one and have yielded ceramics, and a very large collection of terracotta figurines, some with a definite hellenistic affiliation. The assemblage indicates a sophisticated urban life where citizens indulged in art. Period IV stratigraphically represents the so-called Gupta period. The yield of antiquities from this occupational level has not been impressive, certainly they do not match the evidence furnished by Chinese pilgrims.
Between 1954-55 and 1973-74, explorations by individual scholars brought to light rich antiquities from different regions in and around Tamluk. Professor PC Dasgupta was a pioneer researcher in this field. He recovered beautiful terracotta figurines from the site along with other important antiquities. After 1973-74, the Tamralipta Research and Museum Centre has carried out independent research in the region. Explorations have brought to light early historic sites from the region.
The early historic period of Tamluk is marked by the occurrence of pottery such as roulleted ware, grey ware, red ware, black polished ware and northern black polished ware. In addition to pottery, the site has also revealed terracotta objects of exceptional beauty. Terracotta figurines of yaksis, animals, and plaques depicting life of ordinary men and women are found in the collections of Tamluk Museum. The famous figurine of Yaksi at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford was recovered from Tamluk. Although the question of chalcolithic origin has not been properly resolved, the occurrence of Black and red ware along with numerous bone objects like harpoons have made the issue problematic. [Amita Ray and Kaushik Gangopadhyay]