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52,000-year-old stone tools found in western India cave site

After a long, stony silence, a cave in Sindhudurg district has revealed its prehistoric secrets to a nine-member team from the state archaeology department.

52,000-year-old stone tools found in western India cave site
Credit: Mumbai Mirror
Over 800 stone tools, including tiny blades, used by humans about 52,000 years ago were discovered at the site on Wednesday after a 15-day dig. The 30-metre-long cave is located in Koloshi village, Kankavali, about 490 km from Mumbai.

The remarkable find is expected to shed light on early human life in Sindhudurg region, which is a part of the larger Konkan belt. It will also draw more archaeologists and researchers to the area, which has not been explored for traces of prehistoric communities as much as other places in Maharashtra. Already, villagers have informed the excavation team that there are similar caves in the area. These potential sites will be inspected next year.

“This (the haul in Koloshi) is a big success, which will help us study prehistoric human existence in Konkan,” Tejas Garge, the director of the state Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, told Mirror.

The unearthed stone tools and tips, called microliths, are of different sizes. Hundreds of artefacts in the batch are from the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age) and some from the lower and upper Palaeolithic periods (subdivisions of Old Stone Age), according to Garge.

The cave became a point of interest for archaeologists following the discovery of hundreds of ancient rock carvings called petroglyphs in the neighbouring Ratnagiri district. Goa also has petroglyphs sites.

“The discovered microliths may give some stratigraphic context to the petroglyphs in Ratnagiri. If we preserve the natural landscape, this entire stretch (Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg-Goa) can get the World Heritage Site tag under ‘mix category’, which covers natural and cultural heritage,” Garge said.

52,000-year-old stone tools found in western India cave site
Credit: Mumbai Mirror
Before undertaking excavation at the cave, Garge made a field trip with experts and members of Deccan College in Pune, Indian Institute of Sciences, Delhi University, Bombay Environmental Action Group and Maharashtra Biodiversity Board. The nine-member team that finally carried out the 15-day dig this month obtained a licence from the Archaeological Society of India. Further archaeological research, including studies on the nature and purpose of the tools, is now being conducted with the help of Deccan College, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Mohali and other organisations.

The state archaeology department is studying around 1,200 petroglyphs figures in Ratnagiri. The first rock carvings were discovered here in 1990s. In recent years, several sites have been found on privately held land.

Garge said the earliest research on old stone tools in India began in Mumbai after independence. “Stone Age was not homogenous; there were stages. The oldest part of Stone Age is called Lower Palaeolithic. Then there’s Middle Palaeolithic and the latest is Upper Palaeolithic,” Garge said. “There is a bonding between the Stone Age and historical age; a transition stage which is either Mesolithic or Neolithic, and in some cases, Chalcolithic. Iron Age started around 1,500 BC.”

Garge said there had not been enough scientific data on prehistoric human activity in Konkan. “When rest of Maharashtra was in Chalcolithic period [Copper Age], we don’t know what was happening in Konkan. It was always assumed that there were no Copper Age sites in Konkan, or that the Copper Age man never dwelt in Konkan,” he said. “There were many theories, but no scientific data or research to show prehistorical human life here. We now know for sure that human life in the region goes back to 72,000 years.”

Parth R Chauhan, assistant professor of humanities and social science at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Mohali, had visited the cave site before excavation. He noted in a technical report: “Such caves are extremely rare in the Konkan region and one with prehistoric evidence, even more so.”

Author: Alka Dhupkar | Source: Mumbai Mirror [March 28, 2019]


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