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close this bookBiodiversity in the Western Ghats: An Information Kit (IIRR, 1994, 224 p.)
close this folder8. Reptiles, birds and mammals
View the document8.1 Snakes
View the document8.2 Crocodiles
View the document8.3 Birds
View the document8.4 Mammals
View the document8.5 Animal diversity in prehistoric rock-art

8.5 Animal diversity in prehistoric rock-art

Since their hunter-gatherer stage of prehistory, people have used rock-paintings, scrapings or engravings-as a major medium to depict their lifestyles, beliefs, dreams, fears and fantasies.

World rock art dates from about 50,000-5,000 B.C. In India, 36 centres of rock art have been identified. Most are located in central and south India.

Animal and plant biodiversity as depicted in rock art provides a glimpse of ecological resources of the past ages and throws light on paleoclimatic and environmental changes.

Exhaustive studies on animal forms in India's largest rock art complex, Bhimbetka, have provided useful insights. The rock paintings show giraffes, ostriches, rhinos and hippos-animals now extinct from that region.

In May 1993, researchers discovered the first evidence of rock art in the Western Ghats-at Usgalimol-Kevon-Dhandode, on the banks of the Kushavati river, 30 km from Margao (South Goa). This rock art is in the form of engravings on manganese-containing laterite. It is a rich treasure opening a door to our knowledge of macrofauna of this part of the Western Ghats.

These 100+ engravings (known as petroglyphs) have been tentatively dated to 2500-6000 B.C.

Over 90% of the engravings depict wild animals in the foothills of the Western Ghats. Not much is known about this "earth mother goddess" (a primitive form of Durga or Shakti) worshiping society of the prehistoric hunters. However a careful analysis of the rock-art site and the animal forms depicted therein reveals several clues.

· The rock-art appears to show a paleoenvironment which was far richer in ecological resources such as forest and resident fauna.

· People of this period had an intimate knowledge of animal forms, habitats, mating season, locomotion and behavior.

· Some animals (e.g., gaur, wild humped bull [zebu]) were dominant and were widely hunted.

· While no carvings of weapons have been found, some animals are shown bearing wound marks, as if inflicted by composite weapons (i.e., stone + wood).

· Wild asses and horses are absent, as is sloth bear.

· Hunting was done through “mass chase" by trapping the animal in a lagoon-like waterhole, located close to the carving site.

· Carvings of wild dog and jungle cat imply probable efforts of their domestication.

· Some animals, e.g., elephant, Indian wild dog, zebu and wild goat, are not depicted and may not have existed in the area.

· The art includes a puzzling carving: of a look-alike of Rhinoceros deccanensis, known to be extinct about 20-25,000 years ago (i.e., in the late Pleistocene)-well before the art is thought to have been carved.

· Animal fauna may correspond to the environment of the period intermediate to sea-level regression (18,000 B.C.) and the Holocene transgression (6,000 B.C.), as recorded globally and on the west coast.

· Animal diversity depicted at Usgalimol gives useful information when compared with the one found in Bhimbetka rock paintings, and the present diversity of the Western Ghats.


Common Langur


Wild Hare


Elephant


Gaur

Significance of animal diversity

Although prehistoric humans faithfully left imprints of familiar animals in rock art, those which provided food for them occupied centre stage. The rock art at Usgalimol gives us insights into the life of the wandering hunter-food gatherer tribes of the pre-historic Western Ghats. The implied purposes of animals as cited show the first steps of humankind's evolution of primitive language and religion. Animal diversity has always fascinated humankind, but this fascination is deeply rooted in the trying and testing periods of human evolution. Besides capturing prehistoric animal diversity, the rock art also provides a useful cultural link to bridge the present with the past in the context of the current concerns about animal diversity.


Significance of animal diversity

Animal diversity through the ages

Animal

Usgalimol rock art

Bhimbetka rock art

Presently found in


Figure

Freq.


Goa

W. Ghats

Common langur

1

+

-

+

+

Wild hare

2

++

-

-

+

Elephant

3

+

+


+

Gaur

4

++++

++

+

+

Indian wild dog

5

++

-

-

+

Jackal

6

+

-

+

+

Jungle cat

7

+ +


+

+

Chital

8

++++

+

+

+

Barking deer

8

+ + + +

+

+

+

Indian wild bull (zebu)

9

+ + + +

+

-

+

Antelope

10

+ +

+

-

+

Wild goat

11

++

-

-

+

Indian wild boar

12

+

+

+

+

Striped hyena

13

+

+

-

+

Giraffe

-

-

+

-

-

Ostrich

-

-

+

-

-

Rhinoceros

-

+/-?

+

-

-

Hippopotamus

-

-

+

-

-

+, ++, etc. indicate frequency of occurrence - indicate absent


Animal diversity through the ages

Animals at Usgalimol

The carvings appear to fall into four categories:

· Animals hunted as game for food: figures 3, 4, 8, 9, 12
· Animals probably domesticated for hunting or pets: figures 5, 7, 11
· Animals with ritualistic uses such as in shamanism or sorcery: figure 3
· Animals used only for artistic purposes: figures 1, 13


Animals at Usgalimol

Prepared by Nandkumar Kamat