Category Archives: INDIA

India’s largest known burial site is 4,000 yrs old, confirms carbon dating

India’s largest known burial site is 4,000 yrs old, confirms carbon dating

One day in 2005, Shriram Sharma, a farmer from Sanauli village Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district, was carrying about his day, and ploughing his field. Little did he know that what was otherwise part of his daily routine would lead to an accidental discovery of skeletons and copper pots, which would one day raise questions on ancient global history. 

He alerted the local media about his discovery, and soon, a team from the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) had arrived at the scene, to begin digging deep into three bighas (0.40052356 acres) of Sharma’s land. The first round of excavations lasted for 13 months, during which they found chariots, coffins, pots, skeletons, what could arguably be the world’s oldest copper helmet, and more, tentatively dating back to 2000 BCE. 

Interestingly, most wooden artefacts were layered with copper sheaths, inlays, and wires,  which prevented them from decomposing for nearly 4,000 years. “In the area where we excavated furnaces, we suspect that the superstructure was made of wood. But the sediment is very difficult to work with and retrieving wood impression is particularly tricky. Thank God for the copper inlays and covering, which helped us identify the findings,” Disha Ahluwalia, who was appointed the site-in charge in February, tells The Better India.

India’s largest known burial site is 4,000 yrs old, confirms carbon dating

The carbon dating tests confirmed that the burial site — where 125 burials were discovered — is 4,000 years old.  

The most striking aspect of the excavation has been the discovery of three chariots, which bring up questions regarding the Aryan Invasion theory. The design and size of the chariot indicate they were horse-driven and were contemporary to the Mesopotamian and Sumerian culture. According to historians, the horses were brought from Central Asia by the invading Aryan army around 1500 BC. Besides, the Harappan civilisation had chariots driven by bulls. 

The ASI carried two more rounds (in 2018 and 2019) of meticulous digging thereafter, bringing forth several intriguing theories and discoveries about the Sanauli burial site.

Needless to say, Sanauli has caught everyone’s attention, as these discoveries could be a major chapter piecing together history in this century. Discovery Plus recently released a 55-minute documentary called ‘Secrets of Sanauli — Discovery of the Century, made by director Neeraj Pandey and compered by Manoj Bajpayee. It follows the archaeological findings and questions the western hegemonic narratives. The theories, history and language have been simplified by experts including Dr VN Prabhakar – IIT Gandhinagar, Dr BR Mani – National Museum, and so on. 

Did Sanuali coexist with the Harappan civilisation? 

The archaeologists found a slew of antiques such as chariots, a torch, an antenna sword, highly decorated coffins, and helmets. The astonishingly well-preserved remains are similar to those found in the late Harappan phase. However, the Orche-Coloured Pottery (OCP) and copper-coated items are reasons enough to dismiss that Sanauli was part of the late Harappan phase. Hence, it could be that Sanauli was another Chalcolithic culture that existed alongside Harappa.

“The 2005 excavations helped us discover pottery of different sizes, besides beads and other material that were similar to those used in the Harappan civilisation. However, a chariot near a coffin is not seen anywhere in the Harappan sites,” Dr Sanjay Kumar Manjul, director of the ASI’s Institute of Archaeology and in-charge of the excavation, told Outlook.

Further, the bricks found on the in-situ site are different as well, “The Harappan bricks are smaller than Sanauli, but excavators could not identify the alignment or make sense of the structure. This has left many questions unanswered,” says Disha.  

Explaining the process of identifying the bricks and discovering a new element with Dr Manjul, she says, “After days of strenuous work, we noticed one brick in the structure was perfectly horizontal, and others which were falling. This one brick gave the impression that it is supported by some sort of structure or more bricks underneath. I decided to undercut the section and we found the fourth side of the collapsed wall. We understood that there are two layers to this structure and that it’s not a platform, but instead a walled structure. What was interesting was that two sides of the structure had collapsed inwards, whereas the third wall that I found after undercutting the section was outwards. As the level of the base was the same as that of the burial pits, it suggested that this was a structure built in a pit, where the two sides that collapsed inwards were supported by the natural sediment and then the rest of the structure was above the ground with a wooden superstructure. We could see the heavy use of wood everywhere.”

Of royalty & warfare

In 2018’s digging, the ASI team unearthed other items that gave further insight into the culture of Sanauli including warfare and royal borough.

The fresh evidence, comprising eight burials, screams of evidence of an elite class. A decorated horn comb with a peacock motif, copper mirror, armlet made of agate beads, vases, and bowls are a few examples of this. One royal coffin had a decorated lid with eight anthropomorphic figures such as headgear, and pipal leaf. A copper armour shaped like a torso was another item. Besides, ceramic pots were found next to the coffins, suggesting the possibility of rituals that were performed before the person was buried. 

The burials also hinted that the tribe consisted of warriors who used technologically advanced weaponry. For example, the antenna sword was placed in an upright position next to the skeletons of both, males and females (yes, women also may have fought wars as per Dr Manjul). Additionally, the swords have copper-covered hilts and medial ridge, which are sturdy enough for war. 

The three chariots made of wood and covered with thick copper sheets also denote wars. Unlike the ones found in Harappan culture, these chariots were smaller in size with thinner carts. This means that they could accommodate a maximum of two people according to Dr Manjul. Hence, they weren’t used as carriers. The chariots are two-wheeled and are fixed on an axle. This was supposedly linked to the yoke of a pair of animals by a long rope. 

Helmets and shields further affirm the possibility. Interestingly, the ASI team believes that the helmet could be the world’s oldest. “If you see the documentary, the excavator says ‘helmet’ or ‘copper pot’. But earlier, the excavator suggested that it’s a copper helmet. We are yet to be sure. It could be the earliest, because if it is a helmet, then no other such object predates Sanauli. The ones in the West are of later dates. But in my opinion, we should conduct more analysis,” says Disha. 

Meanwhile, the shields had two gender-specific designs. The ones found next to women had steatite inlay work and men burials had ones with copper designs. 

According to Dr Manjul, the ASI team had used modern and scientific techniques such as X-Ray, Handheld XRF, 3D scanning, CT scan and drone and Magnetometer surveys to analyse the startling findings. Both Dr Manjul, as well as Disha, reiterate that more studies will be conducted to unearth specific historic events and significance in future. 

Watch Dr Manjul’s presentation on the artefacts here: 

The real utopia: This ancient civilisation thrived without war

The real utopia: This ancient civilisation thrived without war

Many believe the idea of a utopian society is an impossible fantasy. But there may have been one mysterious, ancient group of people that was able to fulfil the dream of life without conflict or rulers.

Remains of the Indus civilisation, which flourished from 2600 to 1900 BC, show no clear signs of weapons, war or inequality. Many believe the idea of a utopian society is an impossible fantasy.

But there may have been one mysterious, ancient group of people that was able to fulfil the dream of life without conflict or rulers.

Many people believe that one mysterious, ancient society may have led a Utopian life. The Indus civilisation flourished from 2600 to 1900 BC, and it has been suggested that they lived in a real, functioning utopia

Remains of the Indus civilisation, which flourished from 2600 to 1900 BC, show no clear signs of weapons, war or inequality.

Robinson points out that archaeologists have uncovered just one depiction of humans fighting, and it is a partly mythical scene showing a female goddess with the horns of a goat and the body of a tiger.

There is also no evidence of horses – an animal that late became common in the region – suggesting they were not use to raid other towns and cities.

In the almost 100 years since the Indus civilisation was discovered, not a single royal palace or grand temple has been uncovered.

Mohenjo-daro – an archaeological site in the province of Sindh, Pakistan – is 400 metres long, and five metres tall, and would have required a huge amount of man power to build

Speaking to Robinson, Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, said: ‘What’s left of these great Indus cities gives us no indication of a society engaged with, or threatened by, war.

‘Is it going too far to see these Indus cities as an early, urban Utopia?’.

While Mr MacGregor sees the utopian theory as credible, others cast doubt on the total absence of war.

Richard Meadow, Director of the Zooarchaeology Laboratory at the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, said: ‘There has never been a society without conflict of greater or lesser scale.’

He argues that until the Indus script is deciphered, we cannot really know whether they lived this idyllic life. Large societies are usually overseen by a central government, yet findings suggest otherwise for the Indus civilisation.

So far, the only sculpture that might depict a ruler is of a bearded man, dubbed the ‘priest-king’ – due to his resemblance to Buddhist monks and Hindu priests.

Many of the structures and buildings, however, would have taken the coordination of tens of thousands of men, which some argue would have required a leader of sorts.

For example, Mohenjo-Daro – an archaeological site in the province of Sindh, Pakistan – required a huge amount of manpower to build. 

The Indus covered more than 1,000 settlements across at least 800,000 square kilometres of what is now Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Its remains were only discovered in the 1920s, yet it is now regarded as the beginning of Indian civilisation
Andrew Robinson, author of several books about the Indus, believes the key in understanding this civilisation, is cracking their script

While the Indus might sound like they lived a utopian fantasy, the civilisation mysteriously came to an end in around 1900 BC. Robinson believes the key in understanding this civilisation, is deciphering their script.

In an article published in Nature last year, he said: ‘More than 100 attempts at decipherment have been published by professional scholars and others since the 1920s.

‘Now – as a result of increased collaboration between archaeologists, linguists and experts in the digital humanities – it looks possible that the Indus script may yield some of its secrets.’

A board game was discovered from the Indus Valley Civilisation. Along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early civilisations of the Old World

Millet bread and pulse dough from early Iron Age South India: Charred food lumps as culinary indicators

Millet bread and pulse dough from early Iron Age South India: Charred food lumps as culinary indicators

Prof.  Jennifer Bates and her coworkers, Kelly Wilcox Black and Prof. Kathleen Morrison, published a new archaeobotanical article, “Millet Bread and Pulse Dough from Early Iron Age South India: Charred Food Lumps as Culinary Indicators, ” in the Journal of Archaeological Science (Vol.137).

Jennifer is a former Postdoc in the Penn Paleoecology Lab, now an Assistant Professor at Seoul National University, Kelly is a PhD student at the University of Chicago, completing her dissertation. Kathleen is a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. 

In the paper, the authors explore charred lumps from the site of Kadebakele, in southern India, where they have excavated for several years with the support of the Archaeological Survey of India and colleagues.

Millet bread and pulse dough from early Iron Age South India: Charred food lumps as culinary indicators

The site dates from around 2,300 BCE to CE 1600 or so, but these data are from the Early Iron Age, about 800 BC. Charred lumps are usually seen as not identifiable, but using high-quality imaging, they were able to show that (some of) these are charred remains of dough or batter; these would have been used to make bread-like dishes.

Comparing the data with experimental studies done by another lab group, they identified two kinds of food lumps, along with cattle dung lumps (likely fuel). 

They found a dough made primarily from millets that match the experimental results of “flatbreads” most closely. Millet flatbreads are still made in this region.

There was also a batter made primarily from pulses (beans, lentils, etc.). This highlights the great importance of pulses in the diet, something is also seen in the overall botanical assemblage.

As far as we know, there hasn’t been any previous understanding of how these foods might have been prepared, and this paper is the first glimpse at food making in South Asian prehistory. 

The work contributes to our understanding of cooking, diet, and daily life in the South Indian Iron Age, a period without historical documents, and also establishes the value of a data source previously assumed to be too difficult to study on a routine basis (that is, without using SEM).

Professor Bates, Ms Wilcox Black and Professor Morrison argue that work like this allows archaeologists to move beyond “taxa lists” (lists of plants and animals used — you could think of these as possible ‘ingredients’) to approach issues of culinary practice (combinations of ingredients as well as techniques).

GSI scientists stumble upon 100-million-year-old dinosaur bones in India

GSI scientists stumble upon 100-million-year-old dinosaur bones in India

Researchers have identified fossil bone fragments of long-necked dinosaurs called sauropods, dating back to about 100-million-years from an area around West Khasi Hills District in Meghalaya.

Sauropod skeleton. Image for representational purposes only.

The yet-to-be-published findings were made during a recent field trip by researchers from the Geological Survey of India’s Palaeontology division in the North East. The GSI researchers noted that this is the first record of sauropods of probable Titanosaurian origin discovered in the region.

Sauropods had very long necks, long tails, small heads relative to the rest of their body, and four thick, pillar-like legs. They are notable for the enormous sizes attained by some species, and the group includes the largest animals to have ever lived on land.

The finding makes Meghalaya the fifth state in India after Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu and the only state in the North-East to report Sauropod bones having titanosaurian affinity, they said.

Titanosaurs were a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs, including genera from Africa, Asia, South America, North America, Europe, Australia and Antarctica.

“Dinosaur bones from Meghalaya were reported by GSI in 2001 but they were too fragmentary and ill-preserved to understand its taxonomic identification,” said Arindam Roy, Senior Geologist, Palaeontology Division, GSI. “The present find of bones is during fieldwork in 2019-2020 and 2020-21. The last visit of the team was in February 2021. The fossils are presumably of Late Cretaceous, about 100 million years ago.”

He noted that the best-preserved fossils are limb bones, adding the type of curvature, development of lateral and proximal margins of the partially preserved bone are indicative of it being a humerus bone.

He, however, noted that the conclusions are drawn from preliminary studies and detailed work is going on.

The bone fragments were collected from poorly sorted, purplish to greenish very coarse-grained arkosic sandstone interlaid with pebbly beds. More than twenty-five disarticulated, mostly fragmentary bone specimens were recovered, which are of different sizes and occur as isolated specimens but some of them were found in close proximity to each other, the researchers said.

Taxonomic identification up to the genus level is difficult due to the poorly preserved, incomplete, fragmentary nature of the bones and most of the recovered bones are partially petrified and partially replaced, they said.

Therefore, only three of the best-preserved ones could be studied. The largest one is a partially preserved limb bone of 55 centimetres (cm) long. It is comparable with the average humerus length of titanosaurids.

Robustness of the bone, the difference in curvature in the lateral margins and the proximal border being relatively straight, are some of the morphological characters that hint at the titanosaurid affinity, according to the researchers.

Another incomplete limb bone measuring 45cm in length is also comparable with the limb bones of titanosauriform clade, they said.

“The abundance of bones recovered during the present work and especially the finding of few limb bones and vertebrae having taxonomic characters of titanosauriform clade are unique,” Roy said. “The record of the sauropod assemblage of probable titanosaurian affinity from Meghalaya extends the distribution and diversity of vertebrates in the Late Cretaceous of India.”

An incomplete chevron of caudal vertebrae and also cervical vertebra have also been reconstructed from a few recovered bone specimens. The other fragmentary specimens though partially preserved might probably be parts of the limb bones of a sauropod dinosaur.

Titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs were the most diverse and abundant large-bodied terrestrial herbivores in the Southern Hemisphere landmasses during the Cretaceous Period but they were not endemic to the Gondwanan landmasses, the researchers said.

Gondwana is the southern half of the Pangaean supercontinent that existed some 300 million years ago and is composed of the major continental blocks of South America, Africa, Arabia, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, India, Antarctica, and Australia.

In India, the Late Cretaceous sauropod dinosaur generally belongs to the titanosaurian clade and has been reported from the Lameta Formation of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and Kallamedu Formation of Tamil Nadu, the researchers said.

12th Century stone idol of Lord Ganesh discovered

12th Century stone idol of Lord Ganesh discovered

A 12th-century idol representing the Hindu god Ganesh has been discovered accidentally in southeastern India. A farmer in the village of Motupalli in Prakasam District stumbled across the stone statue while tilling his land. In Hinduism, Lord Ganesh is presented as a portly elephant-headed figure with four arms.

He is considered the god of wisdom, the patron of science and art and the remover of obstacles. Standing about 18 inches tall, the idol displays Ganesh sitting cross-legged, known as the ‘Padmasana’ posture, on a lotus pedestal.

Two of the idol’s hands are broken—in one remaining hand, he holds his broken tusk and in the other a sweet Indian dumpling known as a modaka.

The announcement of the idol’s discovery came during the 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival when Hindus celebrate Lord Ganesh’s birth.

Farmer Siripudi Venkateswaralu discovered the idol on September 9 while tilling his farm in Motupalli, a village in the Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, The Hindu reported.

12th Century stone idol of Lord Ganesh discovered
A 13 inch stone idol of Ganesh, the Hindu remover of obstacles, was discovered in Andhra Pradesh on the eve of a festival celebrating the elephant-headed god’s birth

Found on the eve of a festival devoted to Ganesh, the 800-year-old idol drew crowds of locals and visitors alike.  Running from September 10 to 19 this year, Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated with fasting, offerings, and prayers.

Later, modaka is distributed and public feasts and martial arts exhibitions are held.

Ganesh is typically presented with four arms, with an axe in his upper right hand, a noose in his upper left hand and sweet dumplings in the lower left. His broken tusk is often shown in his lower right though sometimes the hand is extended out to the viewer in a posture of enlightenment.

On the tenth day, idols of Ganesh are carried in a public procession and immersed in a nearby river or sea. 

The statue found in Motupall is 42 inches long, 30 inches wide and 18 inches tall, and is missing Ganesh’s typical mukut, or crown, according to archaeologist E. Sivanagi Reddy.

Reddy dated the icon to the 12th century, when Andhra Pradesh was ruled by the Chola dynasty, based on its style and inscriptions in the ruins of the nearby Kodanda Ramaswamy temple.

The Chola dynasty was a Tamil empire that governed southern India until the 13th century.

In Hindu iconography, Ganesh is usually depicted with an elephant head and a stout human body with four arms.

Each appendage carries an item with ritual significance: An axe in his upper right hand, and his broken tusk, or ‘danta,’ in his lower right. (In one story, Ganesh’s tusk was broken by an axe thrown by a warrior seeking to attack his father, Shiva.) 

A noose is in his upper left hand and sweets are in the lower left. The idol was taken to the temple by the Motupalli Heritage Society, though its final disposition is unknown.

In August Reddy was part of a team of archaeologists who found a Tamil inscription in the temple dedicated to Prataparudra, emperor of the Kakatiya dynasty that supplanted the Chola.

The inscription dated to the early 14t century and registers the land as a gift ‘for the merit of the king,’ The Deccan Chronicle reported. Prataparudra was the last Kakatiya ruler: He died during a 1323 invasion that saw the kingdom annexed to the Islamic Delhi Sultanate.

1,500-Year-Old Temple Ruins Discovered in Uttar Pradesh, India

1,500-Year-Old Temple Ruins Discovered in Uttar Pradesh, India

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has found remains of an ancient temple dating back to the Gupta Period, 5th Century CE in Bilsarh village of Uttar Pradesh’s Etah. 

At the spot, the archaeologists discovered “two decorative pillars (at the spot) close to one another, with human figurines (found earlier).”  Vasant Swarnkar, superintending archaeologist of ASI’s Agra circle said, “To understand their significance, we conducted further excavation and found the stairs,” quoted The Times of India. 

Last month, the staircase was excavated has Shankhalipi inscriptions that were ” deciphered as saying ‘Sri Mahendraditya’, which was the title of Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty.” 

Shankhalipi is an ancient script that was used from the 4th to 8th centuries CE for names and signatures. 

In the 5th century CE, Kumaragupta I ruled for 40 years over what is now north-central India.

The ASI made the discovery in Etah’s Bilsarh village, which has been protected since 1928, during a routine check-up. The ASI scrubs its protected sites during monsoons. 

The Shankhalipi inscription was earlier found on a horse status found in Lakhimpur Kheri and is now at the State Museum in Lucknow, the TOI reported. 

The remains recently found in Etah are the third structural temple found so far from the Gupta period. “Before this, only two structural temples were found — Dashavatara Temple in Deogarh and Bhitargaon Temple in Kanpur Dehat.

The Etah pillars are well-sculpted, better than the earlier examples in which only the lower sections were carved. The decorative pillars and staircase are a bit more advanced than the earlier ones,” said History Professor Manvendra Pundhir of the Aligarh Muslim University.

He said, “The Guptas were the first to build structural temples for Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain followers. Prior to that, only rock-cut temples were built,” quoted TOI. 

Iron dagger with wooden handle, skeletal remains found at Konthagai, India

Iron dagger with wooden handle, skeletal remains found at Konthagai, India

The 40-cm-long weapon with a 6-cm-long wooden handle was found at a depth of 77 cm.

The sample will be sent to Beta Analytical Lab, Florida, USA, for exact dating.

An iron dagger with a wooden handle was found inside a burial urn unearthed at Konthagai village, which is part of the Keeladi cluster where the seventh phase of excavation is in full swing to establish the existence of urban civilisation in the Sangam era.

The second season of digging started in February at Konthagai where 25 burial urns have been unearthed so far and 11 of them have been opened, according to R. Kaviya, one of the four Site Archaeology Officers.

These urns measure 95 to 105 cm in height with a circumference of 80 cm. Some of the urns contained iron weapons, shaped like knives, and spears and small terracotta vessels.

The latest, a 40-cm-long iron dagger with a 6-cm-long wooden handle was found at a depth of 77 cm. The urn filled with soil sediment had the five-cm-thick dagger, associated with femur bones, a skull and an offering pot.

It is a type used by warriors belonging to the Sangam period, contemporary to Keeladi dating, according to R. Sivanandam, Director of Keeladi Excavations.

This was the first time that they had stumbled upon a weapon with a wooden handle, and it would be very useful for exact dating of the evidence found so far, he said.

Though extremely fragile, the wooden handle was preserved in rare natural phenomena and collected carefully in foil covers. The sample would be sent to Beta Analytical Lab, Florida, the USA, for an exact dating, added Mr. Sivanandam, who is also the Commissioner (FAC), Department of Archaeology.

25 burial urns have been unearthed so far in Keeladi

The skeleton samples were handed over to experts at Madurai Kamaraj University, where a DNA testing laboratory is coming up.

Ms. Kaviya said the urn was found with a disturbed lid. The broken portion of the lid was retrieved inside the urn at a depth of 80 cm.

There was a possibility that the broken portion of the urn lid fell on the iron dagger, as two urn lid pieces were found on either side of the dagger, which was also damaged.

The Keeladi excavations are being carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India under the supervision of Minister for Industries Thangam Thennarasu and B. Chandramohan, Principal Secretary, Tourism, Culture & Religious Endowments Department.

Stone Age tools, cave paintings discovered in India could be clues to ‘prehistoric factory’

Stone Age tools, cave paintings discovered in India could be clues to ‘prehistoric factory’

Mangar, Haryana: Prehistoric cave paintings belonging to the Paleolithic era, and rock shelters as well as tools and tool-making equipment, presumably dating back to the lower or early Paleolithic era have been found hiding in plain sight in the Aravallis.

A specimen of recently discovered palaeolithic cave paintings in the Aravalli Range in Haryana, India.

The palaeolithic era, or the Old Stone Age, dates back to 10,000 BC when humans still lived as hunters and gatherers. Tools belonging to the Stone Age have been found in rock shelters as well as in open-air sites, spread across nearly 5,000 hectares, Banani Bhattacharya, Deputy Director, Haryana Department of Archaeology and Museums, told ThePrint.

Located in the Aravalli hills near Mangar Bani forest along the Gurugram-Faridabad stretch in Delhi-NCR, the discovery is monumental as it changes the understanding of Haryana’s history, pushing it back further by several thousand years than we currently know.

“Haryana is known as the cradle of Indian civilisation. Earlier, 28 sites dating back to the Harappan and pre-Harappan era had been discovered in the state. However, cave paintings and rock art sprawling in such a large area have been discovered for the first time. This discovery suggests that the history here could be 1 lakh years old,” Bhattacharya said.

While the Aravalli range is known for housing pre-historic remains, the latest discovery is the first time rock paintings have been found here. While the rock art and tools are estimated to be about 1 lakh years old, the paintings might not be older than 20,000-40,000 years, according to Bhattacharya.

The estimates, though, are preliminary and need further research, documentation and carbon dating to accurately determine the exact time period this site belongs to.

Based on initial observations, Bhattacharya said, it appeared humans had settled in this area for quite some time as the archaeologists noticed that the pattern of drawing had evolved. This gives them a chance to trace how early humans developed their tool-making skills.

A specimen of the palaeolithic paintings found in the Aravallis

“Some are line drawings, which are the oldest when humans hadn’t really figured out how to draw complex patterns. Then we can see drawings of different geometric shapes, foliage, animals and human figures. We’ve found some symbols that look like cup marks, which had presumably been kept for some special purpose,” Bhattacharya said. “While most are ochre, some are white as well. Which means those particular drawings belong to the historic era.”

Bhattacharya also said this could be the biggest Paleolithic site found in the subcontinent. She said this could well be the ‘factory’ of our ancestors, where tools were made.

YouTube video leads to discovery

A YouTube video, posted in May by residents of the area, tipped the Haryana archaeological department to the site, which was discovered later in July.

“We were planning to carry out a survey in the Aravallis here. In May, a video surfaced on YouTube about these caves that villagers have been aware of. However, they never understood the value of these rock carvings and paintings, so we were never alerted earlier,” Bhattacharya said.

No elaborate archaeological survey of the Aravallis has been carried out in this area yet, which, Bhattacharya said, will be done soon. “We’re planning to map the entire Aravalli stretch.”

Another reason the paintings weren’t officially discovered so far was that it takes hiking on undefined trails to reach some of the sites. Over time, the paintings also eroded, thus escaping most untrained eyes. At some sites, dense vegetation covers up the palaeolithic art.

Bhattacharya and her team carried out a three-day survey in the last week of June, identifying several sites. With final documentation and more elaborate research pending, Bhattacharya is yet to have a final count of the number of sites discovered so far.

Wildlife researcher and conservationist Sunil Harsana, who claims he had first posted the video to YouTube, said he has been aware of the caves since his childhood but didn’t understand the significance of the paintings and didn’t know who to talk to about them.

“We had a keypad, basic phones with the bad camera till as late as 2016… so even if I had clicked a picture on them, nobody would’ve understood what I was talking about. And we didn’t know who to tell. Now, once they were put on the internet, they got the attention they deserved,” he said.

Protecting the history

Currently, the sites are exposed and vulnerable — along with what remains of the Stone Age. The trash from the current millennium — such as empty cans and bottles of beer and cola, cigarette butts, empty wrappers of snacks — can also be found here.

Harsana is wary that as more people find out about the discovery, more will come to visit these rock shelters, speeding up the deterioration.

“The site needs urgent protection. You never know who will visit the site and carve their name or ‘hearts’ alongside the prehistoric carvings, just for the fun of it,” he said. Instead, through heritage and eco-tourism, residents of the area could find employment opportunities and be able to earn some.

Both Bhattacharya and Harsana are also of the opinion that Mangar Bani and its surrounding forests on the Gurgaon-Faridabad Aravalli stretch should be declared a heritage-eco zone. This will guarantee the area is protected from illegal mining and encroachment.

“We don’t even know how many of these sites must have been destroyed because of mining and exploitation of the Aravallis. They need urgent protection. As the oldest mountain range in the world, they carry important clues to help us understand our origins and have a lot of stories to tell about the Indian subcontinent,” Bhattacharya said.

Ashok Khemka, Principal Secretary to Haryana government, told Hindustan Times earlier this month the department will be issuing orders to protect Mangar Bani under Section 4 of the Punjab Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1964, and that experts in palaeolithic cave paintings will be carrying out an extensive survey of the area.