STRONG EVIDENCE has emerged from ancient rock art at Bhimbetka that the area between Rivers Betwa and Narmada (from Bhopal to Hoshangabad) might have been one of the earliest witnesses to gradual development of intelligence in pre-historic man. This notion challenges the existing theory that either Africa or Europe was the epicentre of human evolution.
Rock art has always been considered as evidence of cognitive capacities (perceptive intelligence) of understanding landscapes, symbols and rudimentary languages in human species. Some of the most ancient rock art forms found in the rock shelters of the region – including the cupules (cup marks) at world heritage site Bhimbetka - have been independently dated to be around 40,000 to one lakh years old in contrast the rock art in Africa and Europe that are dated as maximum 30,000 years old.
This suggests that intelligent human species inhabited Central Indian regions as early as that and Europe or Africa need not be focal points for human evolution, superintendent archaeologist of Bhopal Circle of Archaeological Survey of India Mohammad K K has said.
Another pointer to the region being one of the epicenters of development of cognitive intelligence in pre-historic man was discovery of the Hathnora skull – that is supposed to be remains of a more evolved homo-species than the Java Man – in the Narmada Valley, just 40 kms from Hoshangabad, the senior archaeologist mentioned.
Saying further detailed research is needed to prove that Central India might be the very basic arena of human evolution, Mohammad pointed out that the cupules etched into the vertical surface of a boulder at one end of the large tunnel shape rock shelter (auditorium shelter) at Bhimbetka offer the most interesting evidence of this theory.
A study conducted by assistant archaeologist of ASI Bhopal Manuel Joseph - suggests that the cupules at Bhimbetka might be most ancient power symbols hinting at the primitive urge of the stronger individual among a homo group to exert power, particularly by associating oneself with supernatural.
The cupules might have been used for some ritualistic purpose by the bandleader to prove himself/herself as the medium of the supernatural, apparently with the objective of keeping unity and order in the band, the study puts forth.
The presence of these ancient ritualistic symbols – very clearly used by homo groups with advanced cognitive ability – suggests that during that age (about one lakh year ago) the region was witnessing a advanced form of human evolution, Mohammad said.
Talking to Hindustan Times, Manuel said though the cupules on this vertical rock face have not been directly dated, a cupule found in a serpentine lime boulder within ancient deposits in the same rock shelter was independently dated to be of lower palaeolithic age (about one lakh year old) using very advanced scientific methods.
This substantiates experts’ belief that cupules engraved on the vertical surface of the boulder in auditorium shelter also belong to same age.
Cupules – found in various settings world over – are distinguished from grinding holes – as they are smaller in size and often found in vertical or slanting surfaces and have no apparent utilitarian values.
However, there are theories put forth that they might have been used a lithophones (sound making devices) to congregate the band or frighten the animals or might be related to some other rituals/myths.
The research paper on this study was presented at the Indo-French Seminar on Rock Art held in City under the aegis of the Indian Council of Historical Research.