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Durable Link to this BlogTuesday, January 30, 2007

Wakankar and his Vindhyan Discovery

Dr. Wakankar and his Vindhyan Discovery

Dr. Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar (1919-1988) was one of the great archaeologists of independent India. We owe him the discovery of several prehistoric sites of central India and extensive study of Bhimbetka caves. He found the earliest homosapien home in the Indian subcontinent, which was more than 25,000 years ago. I stumbled across his presidential address at the Prehistory session of the Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies held in Jaipur (in Rajasthan) in December 1976. His observations are given in a nutshell below which record day-today activities of Early Man on this earth. It also speaks of the hard labor Wakankar put in for more than three decades in the wilderness of Bhimbetka, excavating and discovering earliest human activities.

Bhimbetka excavation represents different stages of human civilisation from pebble tools to early Iron Age. This is a very long span, which provides continuous glimpses in one spot of central India. No skeletal remains could be found for the early period, due to decaying lateritic soil of the times. Only lithic remains help trace early history of man.

See: Timeline of Development of Cave Paintings in India

The sandstone tools show different varieties that existed, and the movement of the primitive man from Narmada Vally to Malwa plateau could be traced only through such tools. Small stone chisels and hammers helped to shape hunting tools. "Open air factories" of such tools are found where large stone blades and scrapers were discovered.

Even at this early period the primitive humans developed urge towards creative art, Wakankar feels. The invention of archery had taken place and group hunting was possible. Life became collective. Rituals for hunting and dance followed. The art of decorating the body by designs, wearing masks and headdress, necklaces made of ostrich eggs appeared.

© K.L.Kamat
Migrating Herd
Migrating Herd
Prehistoric cave painting from Adamgad

Earliest burial of a human body is found at Bhimbetka as also the earliest figures Mother goddess in bone and stone.

The main diet of the tribe was fruit, onion and honey besides meat of porcupine, boar and deer. Fish, tortoise and birds including peacock were relished. No sign of wine or liquor is seen.

Mass burial have been unearthed at Bhimbetka. The earliest burial being upper Paleolithic showed two important customs. The dead were buried with their ornaments and if the dead person was of advanced age, his loose tooth was well preserved in leather bag and buried along. Snails and shells were found with remains suggesting that food was offered to the dead. Iron axes and hand made clay bowls were noticed. Hides were used as garment. Fibery barks were also woven in some sort of dress.

Epidemics were known and cure by magic played an important role.

Rituals

Dance around fire in a line of 10, 12, 20 and 30 are depicted, masks were worn, and horns of wild animals were attached to headdress. Whether the dancing was to avert the evil spirits or to please a deity or with a magico-religious purpose is not clear. But these themes predominate in all aboriginal dancing. Group dancing among Madhya Pradesh tribes has retained the traits till date.

Dr. Wakankar has tried to establish relation between the perforated jars discovered during chalcolithic period in the region with jars with similar design mentioned in Vedic literature. These were found in every house of those times, to avoid wrath of 'Sinivali' the Vedic mother-goddess. He felt that knowledge of Vedic and Puranic traditions was essential for modern day archaeologists, to avoid injustice to many of the archaeological findings.

© www.kamat.com
Tools of Early Mankind
Tools of Early Mankind
Stone implements of the earliest man found in excavation of Bhimbetka.

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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