Cave painting

Cave paintings are paintings found on cave walls and ceilings, and especially those of prehistoric origin, which date back to some 40,000 years ago in both Asia and Europe. The exact purpose of the Paleolithic cave paintings is not known. Evidence suggests that they were not merely decorations of living areas since the caves in which they have been found do not have signs of ongoing habitation. They are also often located in areas of caves that are not easily accessible. Some theories hold that cave paintings may have been a way of communicating with others, while other theories ascribe a religious or ceremonial purpose to them. The paintings are remarkably similar around the world, with animals being common subjects that give the most impressive images. Humans mainly appear as images of hands, mostly hand stencils made by blowing pigment on a hand held to the wall.

The earliest known cave paintings of animals are at least 35,000 years old, at Maros on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, according to datings announced in 2014. Previously it was believed that the earliest paintings were in Europe. The earliest figurative paintings in Europe date back to the Aurignacian period, approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago, and are found in the Chauvet Cave in France, and in the Coliboaia Cave in Romania. The earliest non-figurative rock art dates back to approximately 40,000 years ago, the date given both to a disk in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain and a hand stencil in Sulawesi. There are similar later paintings in Africa, Australia and South America, continuing until recent times in some places, though there is a worldwide tendency for open airrock art to succeed paintings deep in caves.

INDIA – Bhimbetka rock shelters

The Bhimbetka rock shelters exhibit the earliest traces of human life in India; a number of analyses suggest that some of these shelters were inhabited by humans for more than 100,000 years. The earliest paintings on the cave walls are believed to be of the Mesolithicperiod, dating to 30,000 years ago. The most recent painting, consisting of geometric figures, date to the medieval period. Executed mainly in red and white with the occasional use of green and yellow, the paintings depict the lives and times of the people who lived in the caves, including scenes of childbirth, communal dancing and drinking, religious rites and burials, as well as indigenous animals.

Bhimbetka rock shelters:-

The Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological site of the Paleolithic, exhibiting the earliest traces of human life on the Indian subcontinent, and thus the beginning of the South Asian Stone Age. It is located in the Raisen District in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, near Abdullaganj town and inside the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary. At least some of the shelters were inhabited by Homo erectus more than 100,000 years ago. Some of the Stone Age rock paintingsfound among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 30,000 years old. The caves also deliver early evidence of dance. They were declared a World Heritage Site in 2003.

The name Bhimbetka (भीमबैठका) is associated with Bhima, a hero-deity of the epic Mahabharata. The word Bhimbetka is said to derive from Bhimbaithka, meaning “sitting place of Bhima”.

Discovery

 As reported in the UNESCO citation declaring the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka a World Heritage Site, Bhimbetka was first mentioned in Indian archeological records in 1888 as aBuddhist site, based on information gathered from local adivasis. Later V. S. Wakankar, while traveling by train to Bhopal, saw some rock formations similar to those he had seen in Spain and France. He visited the area with a team of archaeologists and discovered several prehistoric rock shelters in 1957.

Since then more than 750 such shelters have been identified, of which 243 are in the Bhimbetka group and 178 in the Lakha Juar group. Archeological studies revealed a continuous sequence of Stone Age cultures (from the late Acheulian to the late Mesolithic), as well as the world’s oldest stone walls and floors.

Barkheda has been identified as the source of the raw materials used in some of the monoliths discovered at Bhimbetka.

Rock art and paintings

The only painting in the caves showing, “a man” being hunted by a beast, a horned boar

 Bhimbetka rock painting showing man riding on horse.

The rock shelters and caves of Bhimbetka have a large number of paintings. The oldest paintings are considered to be 30,000 years old, but some of the geometric figures date to as recently as the medieval period. The colors used are vegetable colors which have endured through time because the drawings were generally made deep inside a niche or on inner walls. The drawings and paintings can be classified under seven different periods.

Period I – (Upper Paleolithic): These are linear representations, in green and dark red, of huge figures of animals such as bison, tigers andrhinoceroses.

Period II – (Mesolithic): Comparatively small in size the stylised figures in this group show linear decorations on the body. In addition to animals there are human figures and hunting scenes, giving a clear picture of the weapons they used: barbed spears, pointed sticks, bows and arrows. The depiction of communal dances, birds, musical instruments, mothers and children, pregnant women, men carrying dead animals, drinking and burials appear in rhythmic movement.

Period III – (Chalcolithic) Similar to the paintings of the Chalcolithic, these drawings reveal that during this period the cave dwellers of this area were in contact with the agricultural communities of the Malwa plains, exchanging goods with them.

Period IV & V – (Early historic): The figures of this group have a schematic and decorative style and are painted mainly in red, white and yellow. The association is of riders, depiction of religious symbols, tunic-like dresses and the existence of scripts of different periods. The religious beliefs are represented by figures ofyakshas, tree gods and magical sky chariots.

Period VI & VII – (Medieval) : These paintings are geometric linear and more schematic, but they show degeneration and crudeness in their artistic style. The colors used by the cave dwellers were prepared by combining manganese,hematite and wooden coal.

One rock, popularly referred to as “Zoo Rock”, depicts elephants, sambar, bisonand deer. Paintings on another rock show a peacock, a snake, a deer and the sun. On another rock, two elephants with tusks are painted. Hunting scenes with hunters carrying bows, arrows, swords and shields also find their place in the community of these pre-historic paintings. In one of the caves, a bison is shown in pursuit of a hunter while his two companions appear to stand helplessly nearby; in another, some horsemen are seen, along with archers.

In one painting, a large wild boar is seen (see thumbnail picture). It is not known whether such large boars existed that time (note that, according to the skeletons found, those humans were about 7 feet tall) or the humans drew it with enlarged scale.

Ancient Cave Art – Bhimbetka

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