Monday, June 29, 2009

Cave Art Discovery Story...

You must have read it in the newspaper (Times of India, 25 June 2009) by now, if not these are the few online sites that covered the story too...

But here's the story about how I came upon this discovery...

It was the earlier part of the morning when it jumped out at me from behind the bushes; a giant piece of rock shouting at me for attention like it was waiting for millions of years just for my arrival.

This journey started some time back when I decided that I need to take a hike into the valley, it was like my intuition was guiding me towards somewhere but the work pressure and the deadlines kept steering me away from it but finally after juggling my schedule and working around the hot sun, I took the decision to hike into the valley early one morning. It was the 19th of June…
Though I knew that this area once supported pre historic man and that there were an abundance of Neolithic tools found in this valley but when I ventured into its vicinity I didn’t exactly knew what I am going to find. There was a conviction in mind that day and I kept it open for all possibilities; there could be inscriptions, sculpture, stone tools; ancient remains, the sky was the limit or so it was proved.

The terrain of the hike was treacherous with steep slope and dense vegetation; the views were spectacular and the serenity breathtaking but that is not what I was looking for, I wanted to find some signs of human presence, an inhabited cave, a stone rest, some other object of interest and I did find stone structures square in shape and around 8 ft X 8 ft in dimension and about 2 to 3 feet high. But these structures weren’t of any particular curiosity as I have seen many such structures all over the hill range and its size and shape don’t particularly point towards their purpose.

After the usual hike over the hill I ambled into the dense Rajgir valley hoping to find some tools or something like it, little evidences of life that might have existed here. It wasn’t particularly welcoming, there were big bee hives and cob webs preventing human invasion and guarding a secret long kept. Once I braved through that there were monitor lizards and sharp edged rocks waiting to greet me, and all these obstruction made it more fascinating and more worthwhile to explore it further and see what is it that they are preventing me to get to, what are they hiding?

I didn’t have to go very far inside the valley when I encountered this piece of pre-historic story. I have never met a more vocal piece of rock in my life, it attracted my attention with its vibrant red color, screaming at me, telling me a story and I could understand the emotions it carried but I couldn’t understand it completely because there was a language barrier and a gap of several centuries; I just stood there for several minutes looking at the face of this small stone rest with a red colored painting. I did not understand what that piece of art meant, if it was a name, a message, an icon or an artistic expression but whatever it was, it was asking me to announce its existence to the world.

I was invigorated to find more, to explore and I moved just a few steps to find my next bit of surprise, there was another small stone rest surrounded by dense bushes and I was tempted peek inside and my curiosity was well rewarded. There under the stone I saw three pots and with the experience that I have had so far with such discoveries, I knew they were ancient. They looked fragile braving against weathering time and yet so intact and there was a sense of relieve in them, like my hands were the destination they were hoping to reach in their lifetime. Their long and mountainous journey ended when I found them, it was a feeling beyond explanation.

Although I didn’t exactly knew what century, what era or which set of settlers these pieces of history belonged to, it was clear I had just discovered something marvelous, these evidences of existence of life from so long ago that the distinction between art and science vanishes. These seemingly utilitarian stamps of a life long gone will probably serve as a clue about the earliest settlers of the area and provide the scientists develop and progress some tangible theories.

It was so interesting that these mesmerizing discoveries didn’t stop me in my tracks with triumph but motivated me to move on and keep exploring and I did continue. I found many interesting details and several thoughts and ideas kept crossing my mind. As I trekked some more I found a small pond; it looked like a regular water body but there was something in its eerie silence that prompted me to start my return journey for the day. I was also getting anxious to share my amazing discoveries and find out about its origin and see how far they have traveled in time.
As I safely found my way back and talked to the experts I now know that the red colored stone art is made by rubbing hematite (iron oxide) on the stone. From the features it appears to be Pre-Paleolithic stone art i.e. around 30 to 40 thousand years old…

My first hike into the valley and with the success I had with these discoveries intoxicated me to explore the area further and I returned there the next day. The area was full of possibilities and so the day after that I took my colleague Sailesh pandey with me. I didn’t want to leave any possibility unexplored; I wanted to find as many clues of history as I could. On these following days, I went deeper into the valley and went inside each cave for possibly more evidence of human settlement, more art or pots or something unexpected waiting to tell the story; though there were signs of inhabitation but nothing that would jump out and become an important piece of puzzle. Out of the many caves, four have been identified to have been occupied by the Paleolithic people and the signs are very evident that the caves were abandoned at some point in time and I would assume that there should be more of these kinds in the valley supplying us with more information about the past.
We did find a giant piece of rock with some horizontal and vertical lines but at this point we’d need more research to establish any link if there is any.

The valley it seems is hiding a lot of secrets and promises a lot more than what is visible to an untrained eye. The treasures could not have been hiding in more apt places the serenity of valley, the peace and quiet was gravitating and this is just the tip of the iceberg; I can totally picture other explorers from around the world visiting the area. Though I already had some queries about the law and order situation here and I have sent out a positive message but it is not something that any enthusiast needs to worry about, with a little help from a local interpreter you could be on your way to a new discovery too.

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