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As always, dating the art is a thorny problem which has been tackled in various ways, with not completely satisfying results, right from the first discoveries in the 19th century until now. In general, Indian rock art has been divided into three main periods each with (or without) a number of phases. Leaving apart the possibility of Palaeolithic art, which until recently was discarded by a number of scholars and is still being discussed, the "traditional" chronology distinguished the Mesolithic art of the hunter-gatherers, with naturalistic animals, from the Chalcolithic art of the agriculturalists, with the appearance of cattle and chariots, and finally the Historical periods, with an emphasis on fighting (Neumayer 1992). Pandey (1992: 25) brought in the weathering of the art, as, according to him, Mesolithic paintings were invariably patinated, whereas those of the Chalcolithic sometimes were while it was never the case with Historic art.
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala
Geometric humped bull in two colours
rock art India
Geometric motif
The latest attempt is due to Dr. Giriraj Kumar, who, after establishing the presence of rock art in thirteen of the Indian states, in nearly 700 "complexes" -which means in fact many thousands of individual sites-, has most clearly stated the methods which have been used by him and others to provide a chronological classification of Indian rock art: "Using archaeological evidence obtained from rock shelters, comparison of animal drawings in rock art with that on Chalcolithic pottery, superimpositions and stylistic developments in rock art, observation of the mode of human life, wild and domestic fauna apparently depicted, etc" (Kumar 2000/2001: 8). These methods, pending systematic radiocarbon datings which sooner or later will bring incontrovertible new data, have been the time-honoured ones to assign a chronology to rock art the world over.
In addition, Kumar's "fresh attempt" "involves three approaches (…): 1. Classification of rock art on the basis of evolutionary traits visible in the development of forms, motifs, styles, inventions, technology, fauna, and human cognitive and creative abilities. 2. Periodization on the basis of internal evidence from the rock art and rock art sites, and external evidence provided by other scientific disciplines. 3. Establishing antiquity of the rock art by a) indirect dating methods, and b) direct dating methods" whenever they are available (Kumar 2000/2001: 9).
Kumar's new scheme is not really contradictory with the preceding classifications, though he now considers two main groups, separated by the advent of cattle-rearing: I. The Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. II. The pastoralists and agriculturalists. Each group, though, is subdivided into different phases.
Each group, though, is subdivided into different phases
I. The Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers
Non iconic, pre-pattern, pre-design. Acheulian
Pseudo patterns of cupules. Middle Palaeolithic
Linear patterns of cupules. Middle Palaeolithic
Appearance of simple motifs. Upper Palaeolithic 1, with dynamic dancers in green
Appearance of simple forms of humans, implements, wild bovids. Upper Palaeolithic 2
Exuberance of human creativity and activities. Mesolithic
II. The pastoralists and agriculturalists
Appearance of first domesticated humpless cattle. Transition Mesolithic-Neolithic
Appearance of humped cattle
Pre-chariot breeders of cattle. Metal implements. Neo-Chalcolithic 1
Chariots and charioteers with metal implements. Neo-Chalcolithic 2
Appearance of post-Harappan! Letters with figures. Neo-Chalcolithic 3
Appearance of inscriptions in Ashokan Brahmi characters, religious symbols and figures. 3rd century AD
Appearance of caparisoned horses, elephants and warriors with iron implements. Historic
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala
Sexual scene
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala
Woman carrying objects on shoulders
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala - A man lying prone
and three others walking towards him
rock art India
Bhimbetka - A person is bending over
another in a probable curing scene
rock art India
Chaturbhujnath Nala - Dynamic figures
have been attributed to the Mesolithic
rock art India
Bhimbetka - Green & red figures attributed
to the end of the Upper Palaeolithic
India with its innumerable monuments stands in the top rank of all nations for the importance of its cultural heritage. If this has long been known, Indian rock art, on the other hand, is just starting to achieve the fame that it deserves. In the years to come, much more work will be done on its dating and on registering its innumerable paintings and engravings. The amount and the quality of the work achieved since Vishnu Wakankar began his famed work in Central India are a good omen of what is in store.
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