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Palaeolithic cave paintings found near Delhi in the Aravalli ranges in Haryana, experts say could be among the oldest

Archaeologists came across cave paintings comprising images of human figurines, animals, foliage, and geometric drawings. While some have paled over time, others are still very visible

Amidst a maze of rocks tucked in the Aravalli mountain ranges of Haryana, a team of archaeologists discovered cave paintings they believe belong to the Upper Palaeolithic age. As per an exclusive Hindustan Times report, the paintings are potentially one of the oldest cave arts in the country.

The cave paintings have been discovered just outside the national capital and a stone’s throw away from a holy grove called Mangar Bani- the region’s only surviving patch of primary forest. 

While the residents of the villages are familiar with the paintings for ages, the Haryana government’s museum and archaeology department took note of them just recently. 

A fact-finding team was sent to the area in the last week of June. Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director of the department of archaeology and museums informed, “So far, cave paintings in Delhi-NCR have only been found here. Most pre-historic sites have been traced in the Aravalli region. The paintings are yet to be dated but at least some of them belong to the Upper Palaeolithic period in all likelihood. We are viewing the paintings in continuation with the Soanian culture which has been found in Shivalik hills, Narmada and Aravallis.”

The findings

The recent discovery could change the history of Haryana, as per the report. 

The team came across cave paintings comprising images of human figurines, animals, foliage, and geometric drawings. While some have paled over time, others are still very visible. They also discovered rock art and open-air ceremonial sites. 

Most of the cave paintings found were in ochre colour, but some were in white. As per experts, cave paintings in white are usually from a later stage (early contemporary era), while Stone Age paintings are more often than not in ochre. “Stone age paintings generally use red and ochre colours. Stones of these colour used to be available locally and inhabitants crushed the stones for preparing the colour for paintings,” added Bhattacharyya.

About the Upper Paleolithic Age and the Manger Cave

The Upper Paleolithic Age began around 40,000 years ago and lasted till around 10,000 years ago. While yet to be established through archaeological dating, Bhattacharyya says the Mangar cave art is 20,000-40,000 years old. 

Bhattacharyya, who was an integral part of the team, claimed that the discovery is extremely significant. “Though tools from the Palaeolithic Age have been identified earlier in parts of the Aravallis, it is for the first time that cave paintings and rock art of a large magnitude have been found in Haryana,” she added.

While explorations and excavations in the Aravallis have been undertaken in the past, the late discovery of cave paintings could be because of the thick vegetation. 

“Stone age tools and technology dates to a particular time period. We explore what tool belongs to which time period. In sites such as these, we can conduct dating by studying the pigment. The pigment contains proteins (mainly organic material) which can be dated. At present, we are dependent on typo-technological dating. Tools such as hand cleaver, blade, evolve with types. Starting from the Lower Palaeolithic to Middle Palaeolithic then Upper Palaeolithic, we see the evolution here. We have found significant remains from Lower Palaeolithic till Middle and Upper Palaeolithic period too,” she explained.

The department has planned to undertake further explorations and to be sure, the findings have to be validated, dated, reviewed, and published.

The caves and the paintings resemble the Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, which is home to the oldest known cave art in India, dating back around 10,000 years ago to the Mesolithic Age.

Need to preserve

Former joint director general of ASI SB Ota said that while the Aravallis are known for prehistoric remains starting from the Lower Palaeolithic period, no rock paintings had been found in Aravallis until now.

“That engravings formed part of Aravallis was known through earlier publications but what was not known so far was the presence of paintings in rock shelters. The paintings never got washed away due to these rock shelters. We do not know the date at the moment but this is a clear indication that there must have been many more paintings which might have been destroyed over time,” he said.

Emphasizing on the need for conservation after investigations and assessment Ota said, “The Aravallis demonstrate the earliest evidence of the stone age which we call the Lower Palaeolithic Acheulean culture. The area can be easily protected since the Aravalli hills also derive protection from various Supreme Court orders. This can be done after experts assess the cultural and archaeological value of the site.”

It is imperative to note that the Aravalli’s are not just India’s but the world’s oldest mountain range.

Government official assures conservation

Encouraging further investigation and study, Ashok Khemka, principal secretary to government, archaeology and museums department, Haryana, said that while a team from the department has conducted a preliminary study, further research will be undertaken since the site requires extensive documentation. 

He also informed that the department will grant protection status to Mangar forest. “We will definitely be giving the Mangar Bani forest state protection under the archaeological act because of the presence of a large number of stone age cave paintings that have been found there. The paintings date back roughly 20-30,000 years. We will be issuing orders for protecting the entire Mangar Bani forest under section 4 of Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1964,” Khemka added.

Informing that his department plans to hire scholars from the region for an extensive survey, he concluded, “We will be hiring a team of research scholars who are experts in prehistoric cave paintings. Locals and a few research scholars from the nearby universities will also be involved in the extensive survey.”

What the residents of the village said

Residents of Mangar and other villages in the area say they know of the paintings but were unknown to the historical significance. Hamid, a local resident said, “We know that these paintings must be quite old. It’s evident if you look at them. However, one can’t understand or make sense of symbols or the writing. They have gathered dust over the years.”

Shaukat Ali, an old resident of the area said that he has seen the paintings over years. “People go there regularly, particularly women for grazing goats or routine walks. The caves are a part of our lives.”

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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