In search of stone age tools and rock paintings
History always fascinates me. Traveling through the annals of history unfolds many mysteries and reveals the culture and life style of a civilization of bygone eras. When the lure of finding stone artifacts and looking at rock paintings was thrown towards me, I grabbed the opportunity. The team consisted of “Green Walk” Muthukrishnan, Saravan and myself from Madurai , Christopher Jayakaran, the renowned geologist , joined us from Bengaluru. Manonmani PuduEzhuthu and Krishnakumar hosted us and guided us through the journey.
Kaveripattinam is a small town situated in between Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri on the banks of river Then Pannayaru. This town is famous for its milk gova , which serves as a base for the milk sweets produced throughout Tamilnadu. The peculiarity of this town is, you can’t have non vegetarian diet on Saturdays. No hotel supplies you non- vegetarian food on Saturday in honour of Lord Venkatachalapathy.
We travelled to ErraGada after a hefty breakfast in Krishnagiri. ‘Erra’ means Red and ‘Gada’ means hillock in Telegu. We scaled the hillock and looked at the excavations for stones, we realized that the hillock is made of gneissic rock and the top soil is red in colour, hence the name ErraGada. Krishnakumar took us to a point where the stones from the field which are under cultivation and from the surfaces nearby had been piled up in rows. I was astonished to see so much stones neatly arranged as hedge. My first impression was that they were all tools. It looked as if an organized factory was run there, manufacturing tools. All the stones there were not stone age tools, I realized later. There were also natural stones which to an untrained eye could pass it for stone tools. We found abundant stone tools and the core stones from which the tools were cut.
Jayakaran, Manonmani and Krishnakumar , the veterans in their field started to converse in their jargons. The words “ Paleolithic, Megalithic, Middle megalithic”were all Greek and Latin to me, though I am well versed with ‘Jurassic’ , thanks to Steven Spielberg!
What I learnt from Jayakaran was, that these stones would probably belong to the period more than 50000 years back. To determine the exact date if there were associated artefacts thermo luminescence dating could be done.
Jayakaran explained us , that the core stone would be selected first and then cracking and chipping the core with another stone . Thus small stones would be cut out of it and then sharpened to use according to the usage. The worked stone tools were used for cutting, hacking, digging and the sharp chips probably as arrow or spear heads. After collecting quite a few specimens, and loading them in my cargo pants, we started our journey down the hillock. A slight deviation from the path that Jayakaran, took us further away and we roamed about half an hour and finally ended up a kilometer away from the starting point.
Our next target was to visit a Rock Art site found by a friend of Manonmani. Unfortunately we couldn’t identify the spot in the hillock. We had a brief rest enjoying the harmony of the nature, feeling the flow of the gentle breeze and munching the groundnut seeds provided to us by the family nearby , who were sowing. This is the first time I’m seeing a hillock abundant with lemon grass and Palmyra trees growing on it. From distance it was as if the hillock was made of jade with boulders of stones scattered.
I have to congratulate Krishnakumar at this juncture. While we were struggling to climb the path, Krishnakumar was seen hopping from one boulder to another carrying a bag of specimens, roughly weighing 20 kgs, in search of the rock art site which we could not locate though. So we had to abandon the wild goose search as it were!.
Krishnakumar and Manonmani were determined to show us another rock art site instead. So from there we moved on to Mallapadi village. This is rock art site was the first one discovered in Tamilnadu. The Government of Tamilnadu Department of Archaeology , publication “Rock Art of Tamilnadu (2005) edited by TS SriDhar , Special commissioner, reportsthat this site was discovered and interpreted by Prof. Raman in 1982 which is debatable. As far I could gather in 1972 a group of archeological students from the Madras University where the ones who discovered these rock art. Probing into a small rock shelter by the foothills Jayakaran came across a rock painting of probably earlier period drawn in white using , Kaolin, what seems like the picture of man on a horse. The paintings below are faded unfortunately.
Finally we were lead to the cave where the well preserved rock painting can be seen. There are many drawings. But the important ones are two men on horsebacks, facing each other holding spear like objects. The proportions are very good except for the object they are holding which is too long for a spear . This is also interpreted as fighting scene , which is debatable. The cave where this rock art is situated is situated in a lonely place and has a very low entrance. This could also be the reason why the rock paintings have been preserved, since the entry for human beings is restricted. Jayakaran’s view on this cave was it should have been much deeper and time has covered its depth.
As usual , the state of the cave was of much concern. The locals have used it as bar and have littered with empty and broken liquor bottles. It was a heart breaking moment. When you travel down a path in the history and find some of the roots of our civilization, and then realize they are being defecated , one could only wonder whether we are civilized. There is no point in blaming the archeological department of India for its attitude . Unless the locals are educated about the value of these archeological wonders, the desecration will continue.
It would be ingratitude if I am not mentioning the hospitality of Manonmani Puduezhuthu and Krishnakumar ( fondly called as Murugan and Kittu respectively). From the day we arrived at Kaveripattinam we were not allowed to spend a dime. Both these gentlemen spend their leisure probing into the nearby hills in search of hero stones and rock art.
This travel was an entirely a different experience for me. I felt elated when I realized that , I was holding in my hands, from stone age tools and crouching a in a cave where a clan belonging to 200 BC would have stayed. Thanks to Muthukrishnan for the opportunity. While returning, Jayakaran pointed to a sisal plant ( a type of Katrazhai from which Chinnalapatti silk is made) . While opening, the outer blades of sisal seem to have left an impression of the leaves, forming fascinating geometric pattern. It was a wonderful sight.
In the future Green Walks , you can be rest assured to see Saravanan and myself collecting , starring at stones and discussing whether they are from Paleolithic or Neolithic period , if they are broken stones or a core or finished stone age tool.
Cruz Antony Hubertt