The man is quite literally colossal. He is standing upright almost in formal position, arms by his side, feet splayed outward. Even in the searing heat of a summer afternoon he holds our attention. We wonder at the quality of the work, and its sharpness after all those millennia. Considering that his creators worked with crude stone tools, the craftsmanship is impressive. And even in the desolation of that laterite plateau we understand that we are not alone; we are in the company of prehistoric humans. The experience is hard to describe but I am sure I will remember it for a long time. 

When we began our search none of the locals we met was certain of the place. So, even at 4 p.m. we were stumbling around under a blazing Konkan sun, bathed in sweat from our exertions. The heat showed no signs of abating and we were getting a little desperate. All we had been told was that our destination was near Devache Gothane village in Rajapur tehsil of Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district.

We were looking for a series of prehistoric rock carvings on open outcrops or plateau in the Konkan country, a narrow ribbon of coastline between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats (here known as the Sahayadris) that extends about 720 km north-south in Maharashtra. These discoveries over the last two decades have caused great excitement among students of prehistory, archaeologists and historians who expect them to throw light on Konkan prehistory, hitherto an area of darkness. Together with an even more significant find, a cavern in Koloshi in neighbouring Sindhudurg district, it is possible to imagine human existence in the Konkan up to 35,000 years ago.

In the end, it was a brick kiln worker returning home who showed us the figure carved on the flat lateritic rock locally known as sada. He went on his way but we stayed in place, absorbed by what was before our eyes. The people who carved it had no modern tools yet the proportions were true and it had survived all those thousands of years in the open, a minor miracle in itself.

After spending a good hour at the site we decided to walk back to our vehicle as it was getting dark. The scene came back to me later while listening to a lecture by Dr. Tejas Garge, director of archaeology & museums with the government of Maharashtra at the INTACH chapter in Nashik. He was looking to establish a connection between the carvings and the Koloshi find.

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he Ratnagiri rock art, as it is called, has been known for some time and written about, especially in the Marathi media. Amateur archaeologists, something of a tradition in the region, have played a key role in its discovery, especially Sudhir Risbud and Manoj Marathe of the NGO “Nisarg Yatri” from Rajapur. Along with my friend Dr. Surendra Thakur-Desai, geographer and vice-principal at Gogte-Jogalekar College in Ratnagiri, they have helped in the discovery and documentation of many of the 1,200-odd figures in Konkan. Risbud and Marathe, engineers, naturalists and avid trekkers, have found hundreds of these engravings since they set out on a quest in 2012.

They have been hiking for years, leading a small group of like-minded souls to interview people in their effort to rediscover this lost art. “We have walked thousands of kilometres,” they said. “People started sending us photographs and we also got support from the schools enlisted by us. We requested students to ask their grandparents and other village elders if they knew about any other engravings.” The result is plain to see.     

The petroglyphs (from Greek petra, or stone, and glyphein, to carve) are called “Katal shilp” in Marathi, a term first used by travel writer P. K. Ghanekar while writing in Marathi newspapers about tourist attractions in Konkan. They were compiled in a book Kokanatil Paryatan (Tourism in Konkan). He assigns the carvings to the prehistoric era.

Konkan had documented petroglyph sites before the hikers started their quest. Many were known to locals before Risbud and Marathe ever began their search. These two met during a bird survey and discovered a common passion. Both remember seeing rock drawings when they were younger. But it wasn’t easy. For the first two years they had no luck. Then, one day they encountered an old shepherd who told them about a newly discovered carving.

After that they began to seek out herders who take their animals to the plateaus after the monsoon to graze in the lush grasslands. They pointed the two to other sites, often recounting a mythology of how the carvings came to be. As in other parts of the country, the Pandavas of Mahabharata are reportedly responsible for the engravings.

As the two explored the area around Rajapur they found new sites near Barsu village. Within a month six new sites were discovered in Rajapur tehsil. The finds were published in the local Marathi newspaper, helping them reach out to more people around other villages. The Barsu plateau is a trove of petroglyphs. One, viewed from the west shows a human figure sandwiched between two tigers, but from the east it looks like a ship. This work inspired the villagers of Barsu to name the place Tarvacha Maal. “Taru” means ship and “Maal” means plateau in Marathi. On the same plateau lies the three-metre figure in Devache Gothane village.

The colossus of Devache Gothane. Photo: Courtesy department of archaeology & museums, Maharashtra.

Konkan, known as Aparanta in ancient times, has a rich archaeological and historical footprint in the form of ports such as Kalyan, Sopara, Chaul and Malvan, forts, and colonies of foreigners including Greeks and Romans among others. The records date to historical, mediaeval and modern periods. But prehistoric evidence of human existence is limited.

(Prehistoric relates to a period where writing is absent. The only evidence is archaeological. Historic times are when we have some written evidence. In the Indian context, historical time begins with the edicts of Ashoka, from 200-300 BCE. As the Indus script has not been deciphered we cannot accord historical status to earlier periods.)

According to Garge, contemporaneous accounts include The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (the journal of an anonymous Roman sailor around the 200 CE). “But the records are from 3000 BCE, so we are talking about a gap of about 20,000 years. No one knew what happened here in that period.”

Archaeological evidence highlighting the transition from late Acheulian (from St Acheul, a village in France, referring to a stage of tool culture of the lower palaeolithic period, about 150,000 years ago) to the early historical period was either missing or not reported. Until recently, there was no evidence of Mesolithic, Neolithic or Chalcolithic cultures. There is another reason for the excitement.

“In Maharashtra’s cultural records, there is no evidence of any art until about 3,000 BCE, when we find the first painted pots and clay figurines. That’s why these petroglyphs are significant.”

Archaeology, according to Dr. Riza Abbas, an expert on the petroglyphs of Goa and Sindhudurg, is based on the study of preserved things. On flat terrain it is relatively easy, as the wealth of Harappa era finds in north India show. In Konkan with its heavy rainfall and sloping terrain that would be a real problem. That is the reason the discovery of these petroglyphs and stone tools is so significant. “They have to be studied and understood in the proper context before arriving at the exact dating.”

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ong before writing developed, people recorded ideas, plans and feelings with marks, on a rock or other material. Sometimes they etched stone to produce figures. Sometimes they painted on rock. The method was typically determined by the availability of pigment, hardness of rock and tools that could be used to carve their message. This is “Rock Art”, an attempt to communicate that spans tens of thousands of years, virtually everywhere on the planet. The Konkan images fall in that category.

The oldest images are usually found in rock shelters or caves where they are protected from the elements. Bhimbetka, 45 km from the Madhya Pradesh capital, Bhopal, is a prime example. But sites abound in France, Spain and elsewhere, too. In arid climates they last 10,000-15,000 years or more. This depends on how the art was produced, the direction that the cave faces, and the type of rock available as canvas.

There are two basic types of rock art, petroglyphs and pictographs. The first is carved as a visible indentation in rock or simply by scratching away a weathered surface to show unweathered material of a different colour below. The Konkan petroglyphs belong to this family. Similar work is found in Ladakh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, but they are not on bedrock. They are on vertical boulders in Ladakh or on the walls of rock shelters. The other feature that makes Konkan’s art unique in the world is the sheer size. They are life size or bigger, which is not the case in Spain, South Africa, England, Ireland or Australia.

Deer at Jambhrun village, Ratnagiri. Fifty carvings were found nearby over a 25 metre by 25 metre site.
Photo: Courtesy department of archaeology & museums, Maharashtra.
A pictograph is a drawing or painting on rock. As they are a surface coating, pictographs tend to be less durable. They are best preserved in caves and dry climates. In places like Konkan with its heavy rainfall, softer rocks like laterite, petroglyphs are a better bet. And just as the World Heritage site of Bhimbetka is crucial to the understanding of prehistory in central India, the Konkan petroglyohs have a similar place in explaining the prehistory of the coast or the Ghats. Moreover, the fact that the images are carved into flat, open rock gives them a scale and look that is unique.

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awood Dalvi, a Konkan historian wrote a book about rock-cut caves in Maharashtra where he mentioned sites like Nivali Phata, Barsu and Devihasol (Bhu). He assigned the petroglyphs to the Neolithic period (New Stone Age, started around 12,000 years ago).

Garge says, “Among the reported sites so far, the first with petroglyphs was near Nivali village close to Ratnagiri, discovered when road-widening work was in progress in 1999. It comprised abstract carved lines. This site triggered the study of petroglyphs in Konkan. Afterwards, researchers from Deccan College and the Post Graduate Research Institute, Pune and many unattached scholars started exploring nearby areas.”

In 2018, Ravindra Lad published “Konkanteel Katalshilpe Aani Sindhu Sanskriti” (Petroglyphs of Konkan and Indus culture), in which he compared a few of the relief patterns and some figures; interpreted as goddess type with the Harappan civilisation script and fertility cult respectively. He focused more on the massive carvings from Barsu, Nivli Phata and Devihasol.

By the turn of the century, the professionals had arrived. Vishwas Gogate, Shrikant Pradhan and Prabodh Shirvalkar from Deccan College, Pune began a systematic search in 2000-2001. Their focus was on early historic port sites near Kelshi in Ratnagiri tehsil. They also reported petroglyphs near Pomendi village in Guhagar tehsil, as well as new sites at Palshet in the same tehsil, Nivli and Gawdewadi in Ratnagiri tehsil and Bhu (Devihasol) in Rajapur tehsil.

Dr. Tehas Garge. Photo: Courtesy department of archaeology & museums, Maharashtra.
Garge says, “Though they discovered petroglyphs they did not do much about their exact dating due to lack of archaeological evidence such as habitation mound, pottery, cultural material (the debris of human settlement). However, the engravings have different stylistic forms, indicating that they must have been engraved over a long period of time.”

How old are they? “As per our estimates the oldest are 10,000 to 40,000 years, but dating such images is imprecise. Rigorous study of the collection is just beginning.”

In 2013, Dr Anita Rane-Kothare, head of department of ancient culture and archaeology at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, undertook a small-scale survey in some villages of Ratnagiri tehsil. She discovered two sites near Nivli Phata at Kapadgaon and Umre (Chindravali).The petroglyphs include human and animal figures. She observed that, “An intense study of this region and a few more sites will push its cultural period to a much earlier phase and probably shed light on the early pastoral culture of the region.”

Satish Lalit of Kolhapur, deputy director (Information) for the 2015 Kumbh Mela at Nashik, discovered more sites in Sindhudurg district at Kudopi and Hiwale villages. He noted more than 50 carvings at a single site including human figures, fishes, birds, a mother goddess- (matrikas) type lone figure and geometrical figures. Comparing the sites in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts and the state of Goa, he correlated them with shamanist practices dating back to the Neolithic period. Initially, these carvings were estimated to spread across a 150-km length in a north-south line along the Konkan coast, but Lalit estimates that it extends to Goa, covering around 250 km.


A group from Chave village with three human and three animal figures.The human figure here is shown headless, open arms and legs open, bent at knees. A hole between the legs like a yoni gives it the look of mother goddess figures of a later age. Photo: Courtesy department of archaeology & museums, Maharashtra.

Garge told me that “The directorate of archaeology and museums initiated scientific documentation of petroglyphs from September 2017 to get a land survey and revenue details with an intention to declare theses sites protected monuments. It led to the discovery of more petroglyphs. From three tehsils of Ratnagiri district almost 1,200 pertoglyphs were documented.”

The sizes vary from a few centimetres to almost 18 metres. Ratnagiri tehsil turned up more than 490, Rajapur tehsil over 290 and Lanja tehsil over 70. In a north-south line they span about 170 km and east-west 25 km, along the coast at 46 sites. The carvings have been classified into six categories:

Animal figures—herbivores such as elephant, rhino, deer, family pig, rabbit, buffalo, wild boar, monkeys, etc and carnivores like tigers, etc.

Birds—peacock and large unidentified species.

Aquatic animals—shark, stingray and many unidentified species.

Amphibious animals such as turtles/tortoise, alligators etc.

Anthropomorphs—human figures including mother goddess-like figures.

Abstract—various geometrical patterns.

 Some of the images appear to relate to a hunter-gatherer phase of human existence before agriculture. Others depict animals of power like tigers and elephants. As elsewhere in India and around the world there are humans, probably fertility figures, accompanied by abstract designs. Some carvings are all abstract. Some images are worn, others still vivid, especially where they have been sprinkled with sand to fill the grooves.

Riza Abbas says they indicate a world before farming. “The absence of bull figures is indicative of a hunter-gatherer life. In nearby northern Karnataka, however, we find many bull figures in the Megalithic context.” Natural condition may explain the difference.

In Konkan, rivers, which are normally the cradle of settled life, are small, from 30 km to 122 km (the Ulhas river in north Konkan). Given the gradient, they flow rapidly and the flood plains are small, which means the banks are not fertile. So the prehistoric dwellers may have decided to remain hunters. In north Karnataka, by contrast, the rivers are larger and so are the flood plains. Agriculture was thus not only possible but also profitable. That could be why bulls are found in petroglyphs there while they are absent from Konkan.

Elephant in Ukshi village, Ratnagiri, inside a protective wall built by villagers. The picture was taken by drone. Photo: Courtesy department of archaeology & museums, Maharashtra.
Without definitive dates Garge puts the range of this prehistoric population at 10,000 to 40,000 years. He has a word of caution, however. “The Stone Age was not homogenous; there were stages. The oldest part is Lower Palaeolithic (broadly 250,000 BCE—100,000 BCE). The Middle Palaeolithic is 100,000 BCE—40,000 BCE) and the latest is Upper Palaeolithic (40,000 BCE—10,000 BCE)”.

Garge said, “There is a bonding between the Stone Age and historical age; a transitional stage which is either Mesolithic or Neolithic, and in some cases, Chalcolithic. The Iron Age started around 1,500—1,000 BCE.”

If the carvings date to before the agricultural revolution they would be at least 10,000 years old. That means, as Garge submits, “When the rest of Maharashtra was in the Chalcolithic era (Copper Age), we don’t know what was happening in Konkan. It was always assumed that there were no Copper Age sites in Konkan, or that it never appeared.

“There are many theories but no scientific data to show prehistoric human life here. We now know that human life in the region goes back 72,000 years following the discovery of a cavern in Koloshi near Kankavli in Sindhudurg district. We are hoping to find more rock shelter sites close to the petroglyphs.”

Abhijit Ambekar, an archaeologist with the Archaeological Survey of India, Goa Circle, has a different view on the date of the petroglyphs. He says, “The dating so far has been based on old assumptions. Many people have worked on these sites and have made their guesses, but one thing is clear. The carvings on laterite which is not a soft rock could not be done with stone only. Sharper tools made of material like iron would be required.

“Comparing the burial sites of central India and Vidarbha regions with south India sites it could be the early historic period. This is my view but we need to use the latest scientific methods to arrive at a conclusion. This is only my prediction. We could try OSL dating, which will tell us when a particular object was last exposed to light before it was covered by soil.

“Since domestic animals seem to be missing in Konkan petroglyphs it suggests a hunter-gatherer society, hence nomadic existence. That is why wild animals are depicted in these petroglyphs. These people could have been living side by side in historic times, then as now. I will suggest this to Dr. Garge.”

The next steps in research  according to Garge are to document each figure with drone photography, photographic mapping, and if the budget permits, three-dimensional laser scans, so that if the carvings are lost to erosion or construction or mining, they can be recreated not only in outline, but in-depth, which can give an indication of the carving technique.

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he Koloshi discovery was made by Dr. Ashok Marathe, an archaeologist from Deccan College in 2001-02 around Guhagar in Ratnagiri. Earlier, two Acheulian cleavers were found on the surface near a cave at Sursrondi in Palshet, Ratnagiri district. These are microliths (small stone tools), characteristic of the Mesolithic period, which stretches back 40,000 years. Quartz and quartzite microliths were also collected within 20 metres of the elephant figure in Kasheli village of Rajapur tehsil. This process may have continued as late as 1,000 BCE, according to Garge.

The tools may not have been used to carve the images but they indicate human activity. The carvings are not much deeper than 5 cm and lines are 3-4 cm wide. Most of the petroglyphs in Ratnagiri appear to be made by the pecking technique, hammer on stone. As the images include rhinos and hippos they may date back beyond 20,000 or 30,000 years ago. Fossil evidence indicates that was when those animals lived in the region. The realistic details, like the shape and placement of horns, suggest personal knowledge of the animals.  

Garge’s department will also be looking for evidence of the artists who created this body of work. Dating the petroglyphs is complicated by a lack of cultural evidence. Many sites were reported by amateurs who cleaned the entire surface, removing all traces of such material. But their work has borne fruit, with petroglyphs reported from various parts of Konkan. Among the fauna depicted are certain species that are now locally extinct.

The rhinoceros roamed the Deccan as late as the Chalcolithic period in the Manjara river valley. Some sites date from the pre-pastoral Stone Age, as the lack of domestic animals or metals suggests. Worldwide, rock carvings indicate a time when humans were beginning to grapple with the meaning of the elements and forces that affected their lives, perhaps when the first religious ideas were forming. Many of the animals featured could have been objects of fear, Garge said, “Elephants, rhinos, sting ray, shark,” not to mention tigers.

It makes sense to invest these potentially dangerous animals with spiritual power. “You always worship malevolent gods first,” he said.

All the sites are windswept hills that flood during the monsoons, places without shelter, suggesting that the artists came to these places to carve the figures. All are near water bodies, lakes, small ponds, the sea, etc. Ponds and lakes are not perennial here; they go dry by February. As Konkan is a high rain region and the sites are on sloping plateaus, cultural material may have flowed into the Arabian Sea. The petroglyphs suggest that the region was exploited by hunter-gatherers. For now, they pose interesting questions about the people.

“Do you think society was advanced enough to pay for artistic work,” Garge wondered, or did they  free a group member from hunting to carve stone?

“The rock art of central and southern India is rich and the petroglyphs from Konkan may have had a link between the regions. Furthermore, they are an authentic commentary on man-land relationship in the so-called Dark Age of Konkan,” he hypothesises.

Konkan rock art is also different from other examples in the Western Ghats. Garge says, “They reflect life when society had not taken shape. Humans were solitary. There are a few examples of painted rock at Chandrapur, Gavilpada, not on walls or standing rock, but on basalt. But these images, unlike Stone Age carvings around the world, are cut into the exposed stone of flat hilltops along the coastal plateau. The style is realistic for the animals, more stylised for humans. Most of the animals, including elephants, are life-size and one site with multiple carvings is the largest in South Asia.”

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r. Parth Chauhan, assistant professor at IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research), Mohali, is an authority on prehistory. He was involved in excavations and studies organised by Maharashtra’s archaeology department. Chauhan has visited Koloshi in connection with research about these mysterious cave dwellers. He is also interested in the question whether they also created the petroglyphs. Who were these people and how did they reach Konkan and survive? He has his own ideas about the phenomenon.

”This zone is unique ecologically,” Chauhan says. “Our early ancestors adapted differently, or avoided it. We have evidence going back 1.5 million years for other parts of India. But the Western Ghats, Konkan , Kerala and North-East India are blanks. They are similar to each other ecologically and climate-wise, with very high rainfall, similar types of rock, vegetation and landscape. When ecology is different, wildlife is different and when it is different humans, who have adapted, may also have done so differently. Or they may avoid areas where they do not find mammals to hunt or proper vegetation.” 

Garge points to the fact that so far no signs of farming have been found. “This man knew about animals and sea creatures; that indicates he was dependent on hunting for food.”

The earliest remains of tool-using humans in India date to about 1.4 million years, found recently in Bori, Maharashtra. They include hand-axes, cleavers, discoids, etc, made of quartzite, a hard stone typical of palaeolithic cultures. For that reason these people are also called “quartzite humans”. Tools of roughly dressed stone have been discovered throughout the country with the exception of the alluvial plains of the Indus, Ganga and Yamuna rivers. Such tools dating 20,000 BCE-30,000 BCE were found in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. They were also found recently in Ratnagiri.

Caves and rock shelters used by humans in this phase have been discovered at Bhimbetka (Madhya Pradesh) and in Koloshi. Chauhan says Koloshi is the first cave supposed to belong to prehistoric Homo sapiens. Over 800 stone tools, including tiny blades used by humans about 52,000 years ago were discovered after a 15-day dig in a 30 metre-long cave. This find is expected to shed light on early human life in Konkan, a region not explored for traces of prehistoric communities as much as other places in Maharashtra.

Hundreds of artefacts date from the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age), according to Garge. Before the excavation, Garge made a field trip with experts and members of Deccan College, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, Delhi University, Bombay Environmental Action Group and Maharashtra Biodiversity Board. A nine-member team finally carried out the Koloshi dig. Further research, including studies on the nature and purpose of the tools is now being conducted with the help of Deccan College, IISER and other organisations.


Deer at Jambhrun village, Ratnagiri. The animal figures are life size. Photo: Courtesy Dept. of Archaeology & Museums, Maharashtra.

Chauhan is looking at the role of ecological conditions and the impact of weather and biogeography on adaptation and tools early humans in this region used for hunting and gathering. He says biological hotspots play a different role in the hunting practices of humans. “The earliest humans hunted large mammals. The Konkan is a high rainfall region and may have been even wetter in the distant past, especially along the coast. Large mammals are comparatively rare in such places. So these early settlers were avoiding these places.

“In Kerala and other places large rocks were unavailable to make tools. We need rocks to make large stone tools. These regions were devoid of them hence for a few places we didn’t come across such tools in cave excavations. We found some in Koloshi, however. Ashok Marathe of Deccan College conducted excavations in 2001-02 around Susrondi cave in Guhagar tehsil of Ratnagiri but dating the artefacts found in the excavation was inconclusive.”

Garge in a research paper said a few early Acheulian choppers and a cleaver were collected from the surface near a cave at Mandav Karwadi in Palshet, and Guhagar and Ratnagiri. A number of animal bones with chopper marks were collected inside a cave near Hedvi. Excavations at Sursondi in Palshet by the same researcher revealed that the cave was occupied by early humans in the Late Pleistocene (earlier than 90,000 BCE, Marathe 2005).

According to him, Acheulian man occupied the cave in this phase, the first definitive evidence of late Acheulean cave occupation on the coast. “The discovery of palaeolithic artefacts from a cave site in a stratified context is of great significance for deducing the chronology of early humans and related sea level and environmental changes in Konkan,” he wrote.

Chauhan says the Koloshi site is unique in two ways. “There are a few cave sites in India which belong to Homo sapiens. One is in Andhra Pradesh. But this is the first in western India. Interestingly, we have found not only microliths but also evidence of spear points or arrowheads. Based on the size of the spear points it could be said that they hunted medium-sized mammals. Such spear points are not found at other microlithic sites.

“As for the biogeography, lack of sediments (probably washed away by the heavy runoff) means we are not able to understand it. We need sediments from the Pleistocene era, one or two million years old. Without that we cannot say anything about the ecological conditions, but human occupation in the region provides information about their movement patterns. They were using this zone as a corridor from the coast to the interior and vice versa.

“At this moment there is no evidence for sea faring because wood or other organic material would not survive in the heavy rainfall. But we hypothesise based on archaeological and genetic evidence that they moved along the coast. For example, they moved from Africa to India to Australia. The only way to reach Australia was by boat. So we have evidence going back 65,000 years in Australia that proves they reached on some kind of craft, boat or raft.

“Besides the lack of direct evidence there is one more problem. If they used the coastal zone for movement, now what has happened is a rise in sea levels since that time. So the evidence could be under water. These sites will be heavily disturbed,” he said. That means it would be premature to get too excited about these finds. There is a long way to go before we reach certainty.

Chauhan does, however, feel the Koloshi discovery is of great importance. “lt is the first known Pleistocene site in Konkan that is well preserved and has evidence  of Homo sapiens. We are trying to link it to the petroglyphs. It is possible that the people who made these engravings, at least some of them, might have occupied the cave also. Konkan has other cave sites, too and they could be investigated in future.”

The discovery of these sites marks the commencement of what is likely to be a long project. Dr. Erwin Neumayer, archaeologist and art historian and author of Prehistoric Rock Art of India published by Oxford University Press recently visited these petroglyphs and acknowledged their importance in furthering knowledge of rock art. He said these petroglyphs have changed the contours of his understanding of rock art completely.

Dr. Shrikant Pradhan, a researcher and art historian at Deccan College, said the work was clearly inspired by things observed by people at the time. Does that mean hippos and rhinos were present in the region?

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ow can the link between the rock art and the cave dwellers be established? Chauhan replied, “Though we cannot be hundred percent sure, we are trying an indirect approach. For example, some of the engravings resemble prehistoric rock art in other parts of India. They are usually associated with microliths. We are using the paintings plus microlith and comparing it with the microliths in the cave site for possible mesolithic associations.

“There are two kinds of engravings based on style, ranging from maybe 10,000 years all the way to historical times. In the Mesolithic they might have used sharp stones and in historical times iron. The Mesolithic starts some 50,000 years ago in India and continues into historical times. Even after the invention of iron they were many hunter gatherers using microliths, many tribal groups. So the prehistoric lifestyle continues into historic times. For now, we don’t know the makers of these engravings. But experimental archaeology may yield the true picture in future.”

Garge and Chauhan believe there could be a connection between Koloshi and the rock artists. But Surendra Thakur-Desai has reservations. “We don’t know much about the time period. The second reason is geological, the rate of erosion of laterite in which the cave is located, which is faster than basalt. Specifically, the edges of the laterite plateau erode faster due to heavy rain and strong winds in Konkan. Considering the period of the engravings, estimated between 37,000-40,000 years for the oldest art I am doubtful whether this cave would have remained unaffected by natural and human interference to correlate to these petroglyphs.

“The cave inhabitants may not be from that period. There is a possibility of later humans living in the cave and using the microliths and megaliths found there. Also, megaliths like cleavers found in the caves could have been a product of natural process. Geologically, cleavage is the breaking up of rocks. Quartz normally splinters due to natural process. So I think we must consider these possibilities before arriving at any conclusion.”

Unlike Bhimbetka or France, the rock carvings in Konkan were on open outcrops in lateral instead of vertical settings. As a lot of water may have flowed over them the tools used for etching may be more powerful than that elsewhere, Thakur-Desai said.

The petroglyphs have been etched on what is called secondary laterite, which formed 130,000-110,000 years ago. The other type found in Konkan is on mountaintops or in Ghat sections and is much older. So there is tentative evidence for the earliest cutoff. From what we see in the rock art, biodiversity in the Konkan was high and humans were there, maybe not 100,000 years ago but definitely 40,000 years ago. This means the history of human activity in the Konkan could be much older than what is presumed now. Koloshi and the engravings are gradually opening the way for a complete reconsideration.

After a long, stony silence the field of archaeology in Konkan has petroglyphs and a prehistoric cave to investigate. The buzz created should draw many more researchers to the area to tease out the problem that they present.

Garge is ecstatic, understandably, and is optimistic about a “World Heritage Site” tag. So a region that is bordered by the Arabian Sea, dotted with forts and ports, mango orchards and coconut groves has something even more substantial, a new chapter written in stone by perhaps its oldest inhabitants.