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31 December 2010
A prehistoric map painted on a cave in India

A team of researchers from the Archaeological Survey of India has unearthed maps depicted on the roof of a cave in Karnataka (India) that date back to 1500-2000 BCE. What was once thought to be a megalithic burial site with just paintings of animals and humans, could be the proof of the cartographic skills of prehistoric Indians.
     The discovery by deputy superintending archaeologist T.M.Keshava and his colleagues a few months ago in the caves of Chikramapura village on the Tungabhadra river's left bank (Koppal district) is believed to be the first-ever aerial map of a region drawn by prehistoric people.
     While paintings of animals such as cows, hunting scenes and human figurines are common across prehistoric settlements, only the Chikramapura village caves, also called Kadebagilu rock shelters, feature maps. "We were stunned by the discovery," said Keshava. "A previous study in 1984 at these caves by scholars like Dr R Sundara had concluded they were just megalithic burials, but we can now say that they are maps," he said.
     According to Keshava, the prehistoric man obtained a bird's eye view of an area by climbing a hillock and standing at a vantage point. He would then observe his settlement - houses, pathways, waterbodies, etc. With these images in mind, he would paint them in his cave. "We compared them with the present maps and we were dumbstruck with the findings," he said
     Deciphering the exact meaning of the paintings was not easy for the experts, but they found many similarities with the modern-day maps. The triangular marks used to represent hillocks on these maps are similar to the symbols used by surveyors. Furthermore, a narrow passage has been compared to the figure of a human being, while the ladder-like symbol indicates a pathway. It took Keshava and his team almost a year to confirm the findings.
     The paintings have been depicted on granite and done with red laterite clay. The circular-shaped settlement is 35 metres in radius. "However, due to the exposure to elements, some parts of the paintings have got spoilt," said an archaeologist. The experts say credit for the discovery goes to some shepherds of Anegundi village. The paintings, however, are in danger of being lost forever, unless measures are taken quickly to safeguard them. Areas surrounding rock shelters have become quarrying centres and this could destroy the paintings.

Edited from Bangalore Mirror (28 December 2010)

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