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Portrait of Tipu Sultan once owned by Richard Colley Wellsley, now in the care of the British Library. (Public Domain) The rusty Mysorean rockets which were recently unearthed near a fort in the Shimoga district of Karnataka state in southern India. (Karnataka Archaeology Department)

Mysore Munitions: A Stockpile of Over 1,000 Antique Rockets Has Been Unearthed in India

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Archaeologists excavating near a fort in the Shimoga district of Karnataka state in southern India have unearthed more evidence to demonstrate just how powerful an 18th-century warrior king was. They’ve found he had a cache of more than 1,000 rockets stockpiled for battle usage.

State Archaeology Department Assistant Director R. Shejeshwara Nayaka described the lead up to the discovery, “Digging of the dry well where its mud was smelling like gun powder led to the discovery of the rockets and shells in a pile, each filled with potassium nitrate, charcoal, and magnesium powder used to fire or lob them using an artillery.” According to Nayaka , the rockets range in size from 23-26 cm (12-14 inches.)

The rockets and the archaeologists who discovered them. (Karnataka Archaeology Department)

The rockets and the archaeologists who discovered them. ( Karnataka Archaeology Department )

Experts say the rockets and shells discovered in the abandoned well were probably created for Tipu Sultan. Archaeological records show the area was in the Sultan’s kingdom and his military prowess, especially regarding the use of rockets, has been well-documented.

Tipu Sultan firing at his adversaries during the siege of Seringapatam, 1791. (Public Domain)

Tipu Sultan firing at his adversaries during the siege of Seringapatam, 1791. ( Public Domain )

Tipu Sultan was the powerful ruler of Mysore from 1782 through to his death in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799. He is most remembered for his military might in battles against the British East India Company.

‘Tippoo's Tiger’, depicting said animal (the sultan’s symbol) attacking a British soldier. (Victoria and Albert Museum/CC BY SA 3.0) This provides a clear indication of Tipu Sultan’s feelings about his enemies.

‘Tippoo's Tiger’, depicting said animal (the sultan’s symbol) attacking a British soldier. (Victoria and Albert Museum/ CC BY SA 3.0 ) This provides a clear indication of Tipu Sultan’s feelings about his enemies.

This leader has been credited with creating Mysorean rockets, which the Daily Mail reports was the “first iron-cased rockets used in the military, and experts say they paved the way for rocket use around the world.” The British eventually got a hold of some of the rockets and used Tipu Sultan’s rocket design as a basis to create their own Congreve rockets. They knew the capabilities of the ammunition from their battles against the Sultan’s army. Apparently, British soldiers who faced the rockets described them as 'flying plagues.'

The English confrontation with Indian rockets came in 1780 at the Battle of Guntur. The closely massed, normally unflinching British troops broke and ran when the Indian Army laid down a rocket barrage in their midst. (Public Domain)

The English confrontation with Indian rockets came in 1780 at the Battle of Guntur. The closely massed, normally unflinching British troops broke and ran when the Indian Army laid down a rocket barrage in their midst. ( Public Domain )

Although the quantity may have been a surprise, the archaeologists had an inkling that there were some rockets to be found. Some 160 unused rusty rockets were located near the current dig in 2002. When they identified the area as part of Tipu Sultan’s domain, archaeologists considered taking another look to see if more of his old ammunition was left behind.

Nayaka pointed out that “The iron-cased rockets clearly show Tipu's technology was used in making them.” However, “Some of them could even belong to Keladi Dynasty and the Wodeyar rulers of the Mysore kingdom after Tipu's reign.”

Indian soldier of Tipu Sultan's army, using his rocket as a flagstaff, by British artist Robert Home. (Public Domain)

Indian soldier of Tipu Sultan's army, using his rocket as a flagstaff, by British artist Robert Home. ( Public Domain )

It took a team of 15 people three days to unearth the Mysorean rockets. According to The Guardian, the ammunitions will be displayed at a museum in Shimoga.

Top Image: Portrait of Tipu Sultan once owned by Richard Colley Wellsley, now in the care of the British Library. ( Public Domain ) The rusty Mysorean rockets which were recently unearthed near a fort in the Shimoga district of Karnataka state in southern India. ( Karnataka Archaeology Department )

By Alicia McDermott

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