Material evidences confirming the existence of early man in India were first reported by Robert Bruce Foote in 1863, when he discovered palaeolithic tools from Pallavaram (near Madras).
Thousands of palaeolithic sites yielding millions of stone artifacts have been recovered since then. The large number of artifacts and palaeolithic sites has helped in critically evaluating the behaviour and interaction of Early Man with the prevailing environment. Various disciplines of science, particularly geology, have played a vital role, for the past three decades, in deciphering the climate, chronology and environment of the palaeolithic sites. The scientific logics thus, provide a sound bedrock to the archaeological arguments.
Among several environmental situations, the Early Man lived in natural caves and rock shelters for several thousands of years. Natural processes formed the caves and rock shelters in the Vindhyan mountains of Madhya Pradesh. During this period, the artifacts made and techniques employed have undergone a considerable though gradual and continuous change.
The discarded or utilised artifacts lay buried under the sediments in the caves/rock shelters and were preserved for a very long time, as the deposits in cave or rock shelters were left undisturbed by flowing water or wind. Thus, the material remains of Early Man from rock shelters and caves hold more significance as one can build up a continuous history of Early Man’sculture in an undisturbed context.
It was these rock shelters and caves which helped to preserve paintings (rock art) made by the Early Man.
These paintings reflect the earliest artistic expressions of man and provide sufficient knowledge on his way of life. Rock paintings exposed at Bhimbetka (near Bhopal) are a museum of rock art in India and are recognised as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
One of the earliest forms of rock art is the petroglyph. Petroglyphs are figures that are made by removing the upper layers of the rock. A preliminary study of petroglyphs in India was carried out in parts of Rajasthan (Kanyadeh) and Madhya Pradesh (Raisen). However, petroglyph study from these sites lacked dating and scientific study.
In the Rock Art Seminar held in 1990 at Agra, the Rock Art Society of India identified the study of petroglyphs as one of the fields on priority basis. Keeping in view the lack of information on Indian petroglyphs, the Early Indian Petroglyph (EIP) Project commenced in 2001 with the objective to rewrite the pleistocene history of Early Man in the subcontinent. The EIP project is a joint venture of the Rock Society of India, Agra (RASI) and the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA) with support from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). In addition, geo-archaeologists and chronologists from various institutes in India and Australia are also involved in the project.
To begin with, the EIP commission took up Daraki-Chattan region as a case for the study of early petroglyphs in India. Daraki-Chattan?a rock shelter within the Vindhyan mountains overviewing River Rewa?is situated near Bhanpura in district Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh. Daraki-Chattan reveals the hoary past of the extensive rock art in this cave beyond doubt. Excavation at Daraki-Chattan was carried out by Dr Giriraj Kumar (Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Agra) with technical support from the Archaeological Survey of India (Bhopal Circle). The objective of excavation at Daraki-Chattan was to establish cultural stratigraphy at the site, collect evidences related to the production of cupules, obtain scientific dates (such as OSL, AMS C14) for different levels concerning art objects and human artifacts, and establish geo-archaeological history of the region.
The excavation at Daraki-Chattan revealed immense information on the cultural occupation of the site. The collection of stone artifact assemblage from the excavation undoubtedly reveals that the shelter was occupied by the Acheulian man. Interestingly enough, Bhanpura town, close to the Daraki-Chattan site, and its adjoining area have been continuously under occupation by man of different cultural periods since the Acheulian times. Daraki-Chattan is a local name of a hill near village Bhanpura in the Vindhyans that has a series of rock shelters. In geological past, the Vindhyans were formed as a single rock block but were subsequently subjected to erosion by wind and water which ultimately weathered them. The joints between the rocks widened over a period of time and then blocks or rocks became unstable and collapsed to give rise to rock shelters. These shelters not only provided suitable landform for the Early Man to protect hismelf from the vagaries of weather but also the shelters on hills which served as an overview to the dense forest below.
The study of the surroundings of Daraki-Chattan was carried out to investigate the climatic history of the area during the times when the Acheulian man occupied the site. Shri S.B. Ota (Superintending Archaeologist, Archeological Survey of India, Bhopal Circle), and I, myself, undertook the study of geological sediments that were deposited when the Acheulian man was exploring the valley adjoining the shelter. It was clear from the size (width and depth) and the large collection of artifacts from the excavation that the shelter was used by the Early Man as a temporary settlement for making tools and fulfilling other necessary activities. Dense forest existing around the shelter and along the valley of River Rewa must have supported a rich wealth of fauna and flora. Excavations in the sediments deposited by River Rewa revealed a succession of prehistoric cultural material remains beginning from the Early Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic era, supporting the view that the valley and the surroundings were under regular occupation by the Early Man. Pressure of stone artifacts in the shelters in the river valley also corroborate the fact that the activity of Early Man was not confined to the particular shelter only. Rich faunal and floral wealth must have encouraged the Early Man to venture into the river valleys and forests. Thus the sediments brought down by the rivers must have covered and sealed the discarded or used stone artifacts of Early Man. A lot of information has been gathered on climate that existed during the period when the sediments were formed and deposited.
The indepth study of the sediments deposited by River Rewa unravelled the palaeoclimatic history of the region. The associated assemblage of stone artifacts suggests the relative age range of 1.8 million years before present to 400,000 years before present for the sediments. The generation of large slope deposits or fans substantiates the fact that the area must have faced sub-humid to semi-arid climatic conditions.
(The author is Reader in Geology, Department of Geology, University of Jammu, Jammu & Kashmir. The author has been actively engaged in research on quaternary palaeo-climate and geo-archaeology for past one-and-a-half decade.)