Bhimbetka, Auditorium Cave, Madhya Pradesh: Acheulian Petroglyph Site, c. 200,000 - 500,000 BP

Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka World Heritage Site, Madhya Pradesh, near the Narmada River, Raisen District, in central India. It is some forty kilometers north of the Narmada hominid site. The quartzite formations of Bhimbetka comprise 754 numbered shelters, over 500 with rock paintings. Archaeological investigations began in 1971 and eleven (11) shelters were partly excavated. It was shown that some of these sites contained well-stratified sequences from Lower Paleolithic cobble tools and ending in historical times.

The quartzitic sandstone towers of Bhimbetka are dominated by a spectacular rock, Auditorium Cave, which consists of a spacious horizontal tunnel about 25m in length, ending in a cathedral-like hall that opens in three directions, so that the overall form of the cave resembles a cross. At the center of this cross visible from all four entrances is a large rock, 2.5m high and 3.4m wide, called Chief's Rock by local archaeologists; it faces the eastern entrance tunnel.

In 1990 eleven petroglyphs were observed, nine cupules on Chief's Rock, which also bore marks of red pigment, and two petroglyphs, a cupule and meandering line, on a boulder in trench II, site III F-24, excavated by V. S. Wakankar. [Bednarik RG, Kumar G and Tyagi GS. (199l). Petroglyphs from central India. Rock Art Research 8:33-35.]

For the most comprehensive research on and analysis of the Bhimbetka petroglyphs see Bednarik RG, Kumar G, Watchman A and Roberts RG. (2005). Preliminary results of the EIP [Early Indian Petroglyphs] Project. Rock Art Research 22,2:147-197; and Harrod J. (2006) Comments with Bednarik RG, Kumar G, Watchman A and Roberts RG Response, Rock Art Research 23,1:113-118. Also Bednarik RG. (1996). The cupules on Chief's Rock, Auditorium Cave, Bhimbetka. The Artefact 19:63-72.

Dating. Trench II, Site III F-24, Auditorium Cave (excavated V. S. Wakankar): overlying layer 8 of cobble tool choppers and scrapers, a sterile layer is topped by two Acheulian layers: Layer 6, quartzite handaxes, cleavers, scrapers; Layer 5, quartzite cleavers, handaxes, scrapers; overlain by a Middle Paleolithic layer and above this, Mesolithic, Chalcolithic & historical layers [Wakankar VS. (1975). Bhimbetka - the prehistoric paradise. Prachya Pratibha 3,2:7-29]. In the general scheme of Indian dating (considering Bori and other Maharashtra sites and Attirampakkam, Tamil Nadu) the Later (and Middle) Acheulian dates back to ca. 500-700K BP and the Final Acheulian ca. 200K BP, and thus the Bhimbetka petroglyphs would fall within this range.

The cupule and meandering line petroglyphs in the Wakankar trench are buried by the Middle Paleolithic layer and a portion of the Acheulian layer, the former being "so solidly cemented by calcite deposition that the possibility of post-depositional disturbance can be ignored" (Bednarik et al 2005) and the cupules, based on cupule production constraints, must have been made by artists standing in one of the two Acheulian levels, and hence are of Acheulian origin (Bednarik et al 2006). The Bhimbetka cupule and meandering line are currently the oldest dated petroglyphs in the world and move the beginnings of petroglyph art back to the Later Acheulian period.

Bednarik examined one of the nine cupules on Chief's Rock and reports that "an antiquity well in excess of 100,000 years is confirmed" by microerosion analysis [Bednarik et al 2005; Bednarik 1996]. Thus, these cupules can be attributed with high likelihood to the Acheulian. Middle Paleolithic dates for central India range around 75K BP at Samnapur (Narmada) and Baghor (Son) to roughly 100-150K BP at Patpara (Middle Son); the Chief's Rock cupules would seem to predate the Narmada Middle Paleolithic.

Illustrations © Rock Art Research. OriginsNet thanks Robert Bednarik for permission to publish images credited to Rock Art Research and to Robert Bednarik. Photo © James Harrod or as otherwise noted. All James Harrod site photos taken on tour of Bhimbetka, International Rock Art Congress - 2004, Rock Art Society of India, 12/4/2004. This gallery first posted 10/13/2006.

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