News from Tamil Nadu, courtesy of ‘Frontline‘ magazine, relating how rock art that has been dated to between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago, was found there as recently as May this year. The sites were found after the four man research team asked amongst others, students and local people in outlying villages, particularly pastoral workers, if they had come across any cave paintings or rock art in the course of their daily travails.

Mavadaippu is the latest discovery by the team. It had discovered a prehistoric rock art site at Porivarai (2003), and ancient rock paintings at Salekkurai and Sundasingam (2005), near Karikkiyur, about 40 km from Kothagiri in the Nilgiris. In fact, the team was totally unprepared for what awaited it at Porivarai. It turned out to be the largest rock art site in South India with about 500 paintings in an area that is 53 m long and 15 m wide. Experts say the rock paintings at both Mavadaippu and Karikkiyur could be dated to 2000 B.C. to 1500 B.C.

The paintings in white ochre include a procession of bison, monkeys clambering up a tree branch, a herd of deer grazing, human beings welcoming one another with outstretched arms, a battle scene with men aiming at each other with bows and arrows, men on horseback engaged in battle, a shoulder-clasping dance after a successful boar-hunt, a man with a mask, the depiction of sun and its rays, a spiral, a tiger fighting another animal, and a man and his dog sleeping.

The site of Mavadaippu has been the subject of artists’ attentions for an estimated 3,000 years, and in some cases there is evidence of older paintings being modified by artists visiting the same site – applying their own touches of colour here and there. Now that these sites have been found there is some concern that members of the modern day public will further deface some of the images, by adding their own grafitti over the top of some of the petroglyphs, and there are calls for the sites to be given adequate protection against further damage. Technically, those people who have added the recent graffiti are merely carrying on a tradition which as we saw earlier, had been extant for some 3,000 years, but obviously such ancient sites are of a greater significance than the doodlings of ourselves, and should be protected and curated accordingly.

As well as their fortuitous discovery of previously undocumented rock art, further surprises lay in store for the team, comprising Prof. G. Chandrasekaran, Principal of the Government College of Fine Arts in Chennai, his colleague K. Natarajan and K.T. Gandhirajan and P. Manivannan, who had heard talk of ‘stone houses’, i.e. dolmens referred to by villagers nearby.

In fact, the team got a bonus on reaching Mavadaippu late in the afternoon on May 17: it discovered not just a rock art site, but about 20 dolmens in four different locations just about a kilometre from the village. Most dolmens are in good shape, some are broken down and in ruins. A few are big enough to accommodate four persons. The dolmens are in different shapes – square, rectangular and even circular. A particular big dolmen has a run-down “compound wall”, about a metre tall, around it.

I’d previously been under the vague impression that dolmens, or cromlechs, were mainly to be found in north western Europe, dating from around 7,000 bp to about 4,000 bp, but according to this entry at Wikipedia, they are to be found at many other locations around the ancient world.

Similar tombs can be found all over the world. Korea has many of the Asian dolmens, dating from the 1st millennium BC. The dolmen in Ganghwa is a northern-type, table-shaped dolmen where ancestral rites were held. It is the biggest stone of this kind in South Korea, measuring 2.6 by 7.1 by 5.5 metres. The number of dolmens in North and South Korea, approximately 30,000, is about 40% of the total number of dolmens in the world. There are also dolmens in Kerala, India, about 7 km from Marayoor, Kerala, near a small village of Pious Nagar, also known as Alinchuvad.

Similar tombs can be found all over the world. Korea has many of the Asian dolmens, dating from the 1st millennium BC. The dolmen in Ganghwa is a northern-type, table-shaped dolmen where ancestral rites were held. It is the biggest stone of this kind in South Korea, measuring 2.6 by 7.1 by 5.5 metres. The number of dolmens in North and South Korea, approximately 30,000, is about 40% of the total number of dolmens in the world. There are also dolmens in Kerala, India, about 7 km from Marayoor, Kerala, near a small village of Pious Nagar, also known as Alinchuvad. These dolmens are set in clusters of two to five dolmens obviously for the burial of a family. There are hundreds of such dolmen clusters in the area. Apart from overground dolmens, underground burial chambers built with dressed stone slabs are also discovered in Marayoor. All these dolmens are made from heavy granite slabs, mined using primitive technology. This was a burial ground for several centuries for a noble tribal dynasty known as Adi Cheras. Dolmens are also found in Russia, Syria, Jordan as well as Israel in the Golan Heights.

To this day, and partly in common with the ubiquitous hand-axe of the Pleistocene, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty regarding the origins, methods of construction and purpose of many of even the best known megalithic structures, especially Avebury and Stonehenge, stone circles like Callanish, or the massive effort that went into creating Carnac, 6,000 years ago, or the sublime temples of Malta and Gozo, although some dolmens are believed to have links to passage graves, and related burial and care of the dead, many are but anonymous stone monuments erected by complex cultures, who lacking the written word, were unable to transmit their stories through subsequent generations. (TJ)

see also: The Hindu – “Ancient Rock Art Dating To 1500 B.C. Found In Tamil Nadu

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