A team of researchers from the University of Madras has discovered prehistoric rock art dating back to the mesolithic period (10,000 to 6,000 BC) from two villages in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh. The team from the department of ancient history and archaeology unearthed 145 rock shelters with artworks in Kunukuntala and Racherla, making it the biggest such site in south India.
“We have recorded more than 41,000 paintings of abstract symbols, signs, geometric patterns, animals and human figures in these rock shelters. This is the only region in south India where rock shelters with rock art are found in such large numbers,” said Jinu Koshy who led the team.
Situated near the famous prehistoric site Jwalapuram, Kunukuntala and Racherla have many smaller valleys formed by faulting. The slopes of these valleys are littered with numerous large quartzite boulders. Of the 14 major and minor valleys, only six have been surveyed by the team. “From the total area of study, only 40% has been explored,” said Koshy whose team comprised of archaeologist Malar Koshy, Ajay Kumar Rammoorthy, Ramesh Masethung, V Pradeep, John Juvan and D Balaji.
Koshy said most of the artworks portray figures of animals, signs and abstract symbols rather than anthropoids. “The animal motifs are portrayed with decorations on their bodies including geometric bands and patterns. Most of the non-figurative art forms are complex with dot decorations in between the lines and patterns,” he said.
Figures of animals such as deer, salt water crocodile, giraffe, wild boar, camel, turtle, hyena, butterfly, monkey and donkey, as well as a boat with two humans and a human with raised hair and hands and legs extended outward, were recorded. “The butterfly could be indicative of the spring season which would be the ideal season for habitation in this valley,” said P D Balaji, head, department of ancient history and archaeology, University of Madras.
Different types of spears and many abstract symbols were also noticed on the walls of the rock shelters. Some animals, especially the deer, are seen with spears penetrating their bodies.
“Of the 145 rock shelters, four have evidence of the use of white pigment for painting the rock surface. The themes and style of these artworks are different from those executed with red ochre. The paintings executed with white pigments have many human figures with abstract symbols,” said Koshy.
Artefacts like microlithic stone tools, hematite nodules with serration marks indicating they were used for extracting colour and calcified bones were noticed on the surface of these rock shelters. Balaji said two cultural phases can be observed in the paintings that use hematite and white pigments. “Phase I can be dated to the mesolithic period based on stylistic grounds, themes and superimposition of paintings while Phase II can be dated to the Iron Age,” he said.
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