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Bhimbetka & the first modern humans in India

I was reading a pre-history book – Early Indians by Tony Joseph – when I stumbled upon the below paragraph.

If you want to get as close as possible to the lives of the first modern humans in India, one of the best places to go to is Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh’s Raisen district, about forty-five kilometres from the state capital, Bhopal.

Tony Joseph, Early Indians

The reason I got so excited about it was that just few weeks ago, my wife and I had named one of threada.in dresses, the Bhimbetka Dress! I had never heard of Bhimbetka before!

threada (pronounced thread-aa) is her clothing brand btw. I just help her in marketing and stuff, and of course photography and illustration. Anyway, back to the caves. Below is a photograph of one of the caves at Bhimbetka (sourced from Wikipedia). How old do you think these line-drawings (technical word is petroglyph) are?

Since I have never been to this place myself, let me borrow Joseph’s description to share more about these caves and the drawings / paintings we see there.

The caves were first occupied some 100,000 years ago! Ever since, the area has never lain vacant for too long.

The paintings are not well-dated, so it is quite likely that most of them, though not all, were made within the last few thousand years, rather than many tens of thousands of years ago. But there are a few petroglyphs that could be the earliest evidence of art created by members of the Homo species anywhere in the world – a few perfect cupules (small cup-like depressions) with lines beside them.

The location itself deserves a mention too. The overall area is spread over seven hills that are full of naturally occurring rock shelters. The elevation of the hills makes it possible for the residents to keep track of who is approaching them: food or predator, nilgai or leopard!

There are perennial springs, creeks and streams filled with fish; plenty of fruits, tubers and roots; deer, boar and hare; and as many quartzite rocks as you need to make all the tools you want.

In the world of early humans, this must have been the equivalent of a much sought-after luxury resort.

Tony Joseph on Bhimbetka Caves, Early Indians

Now here’s the big question – even when we know that the caves were first occupied about 100,000 years ago, do we know exactly when the first modern humans set foot in Bhimbetka (or, for that matter, in India)?

The answer to the above question is pretty much what the book Early Indians explores. Read it if you want to (I am yet to finish it – there is a lot of info in there and I am not really a pre-history reader as such, so going slow – this is probably the first book in this genre that I have picked up).

Is there any pre-history book that you want to recommend? Do let me know! Let me end this post with an overtly dramatic 7 min History channel video on Bhimbetka (it’s in Hindi though).

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