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Ancient pre-writing on rocks found in remote TN hamlet

Ancient pre-writing on rocks found in remote TN hamlet

Author: Jaya Menon
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 23, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/Ancient-pre-writing-on-rocks-found-in-remote-TN-hamlet/articleshow/4302250.cms

A chance visit to a remote Pudukkottai hamlet to assess the damage caused by illegal granite quarrying on an ancient protected' archaeological site helped an Archaeological Survey of India team uncover what could be evidence of the first artistic expression of prehistoric man in this region. The cup marks' or cupules, the oldest surviving rock art, similar to those showcased in the UNESCO world heritage sites of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, were found in a cave in a hillock in the remote Malayadipatti village, 35 km north of Pudukkottai in Tamil Nadu.

"We found rock paintings and stone beds used by Jain preachers in three caves. But our greatest discovery was the cup marks, known as petroglyphs. Besides pounding on lime and iron haematite to get materials to paint on rock, early man used stone tools to carve out symbols on cave surfaces. We believe what we have found in the Malayadipatti cave is the earliest artistic and creative expression of man. And, this is the first time this is being discovered in Tamil Nadu," said Ramesh Mulimani, deputy superintending archaeologist, ASI, Chennai circle, who led a group to the caves in Pudukkottai.

Archaeological experts believe that these marks could date back to the Mesolithic culture, which ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. "But, we have to undertake a precise, scientific dating through C14 (carbon labelling) and OSL (obsidian silicon)," said Mulimani. The 400-odd cup marks etched in a natural cave in Pudukkottai and tucked away on the roof surface has been protected from changes over the past several millennia. "They could be religious or other symbolic depictions of that period," he said. The cup marks have a smooth finish and are a few millimetres deep and wide.

The team found three natural caves. One cave had a five-line inscription in ancient Brahmi script. It carried the name of an individual, Picham-piran' ( piran' meaning chief or head and so believed to be a chieftain). Two caves had a Jain stone bed in each and one had a fading rock painting on the cave wall and the other the cup marks. Known locally as samanar (Jain) padukkai (beds),' these beds were used by Jain preachers during the 3rd to 4th centuries AD. The rock painting, created probably using lime powder mixed with water, is a fading white line drawing depicting a bird and a human form.

But the cup marks, spread over 100 square feet area of the cave roof, has proved to be the most significant discovery for ASI in these parts. "Further investigations need to be undertaken to ascertain the exact nature of the marks and establish its archaeological importance," Sathyabhama Bhadreenath, superintending archaeologist, ASI, Chennai circle, told The Times of India.

The excited ASI team is now trying to get an endorsement from rock art specialists, including Robert Bednarik, the Australian expert, to confirm their findings. Bednarik, president of the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO), has been coordinating with the Rock Art Society of India (RASI) to attempt scientific dating of Indian rock art.

Dr. Giriraj Kumar, professor in Indian culture and rock art science, Dayalbagh Education Institute, Agra, who documented the 500 cup marks found in a cave in the Daraki Chattan region in Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh, pointed out that while the Chambal markings were in quartzite, the Pudukkottai cupules were on granite. "They give an insight into cognitive development of early humans and their cultural development," he pointed out.

"After Bhimbetka and Dhariki Chattan (Madhya Pradesh) and Hunsgi in Karnataka, the Pudukkottai cupules is an exciting find. We can confirm they are petroglyphs by stylistic comparison with our earlier findings," said Dr Adiga Sundara, a Mysore-based retired professor in ancient Indian history and epigraphy.

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