The first construction boom began about 2,000 years ago, when Ashoka the Great was founding the first Indian empire, when Julius Caesar reigned over Rome, when traders from the Mediterranean found their way to what is now an obscure Maharastra village.
Today, state archeologists, backed by a Rs 12-crore Ministry of Culture grant are preparing to finally uncover and preserve the mysteries of the white mounds of Ter, 450 km southeast of Mumbai.
But another construction boom threatens the existence of an area they say could soon reveal itself as “the Pompeii of India”, the legendary Roman city buried by a volcano and lost for 1,600 years.
Ter was first “discovered” in 1901 and minor excavations ranged through the 1960s and 1970s. A dusty museum houses a treasure-trove of 23,852 pieces of stone and terracotta sculptures, replicas of Roman coins and lamps, miniature inkpots, jewellery, household vessels and ivory.
They are uncounted thousands more in Ter’s sands of time, civilisations layered over one another. A highly skilled people lived here: bricks excavated from the site are light enough to float on water.
Former state archeological director A. Jamkhedkar says “the evidence ranges from the 2nd century B.C. to the 15th-16th centuries A.D.” Ter’s link to ancient Rome and Greece ran through Nalasopara, now the last stop on Mumbai’s western commuter line and then a port that linked India to the Mediterranean.
A decade-long excavation across a 4-5 km spread after relocating the modern village is the only way Ter’s ancient splendour can be revealed, experts said. But there’s no political backing, no grand plan in place.