is of great cultural significance to India, and to the world," rock art expert Robert Bednarik told IANS.
He is the convener, president and editor of the International Federation of Rock Art Organisations (IFRAO).
"It is time India asserted itself and took pride in the enormous history of the Lower Palaeolithic culture, which has now been proved to be among the oldest in the world, rivalling Africa, southwestern Europe and eastern Asia."
"While Africa may be the cradle of the hominid evolution, southern Asia is more likely to be the main theatre of initial development of modern human cognition, self-awareness and technological competence," says Bednarik.
He collaborates with the National Museum of Man in Bhopal and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi.
The Early Indian Petroglyphs (EIP) Project is a joint venture by the Rock Art Society of India (RASI) led by Giriraj Kumar and the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA) led by Bednarik under the aegis of IFRAO.
The project is the first to attempt scientific dating of Indian rock art as well as to provide a comprehensive chronological framework for the Palaeolithic periods and reveals how advanced people were in Lower Palaeolithic times, using art as a means of communication and expression.
The Bhimbetka complex of rock shelters was first discovered by V.S. Wakankar near Bhopal in 1957 and declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in July 2003.
The EIP project has demonstrated that currently the oldest known art in the world is in central India.
Certain archaic art traditions - the Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka near Bhopal, Daraki-Chattan cave near Bhanpura in Madhya Pradesh and Bajanibhat, a rock shelter near Kotputli in Rajasthan - are several times as old as the oldest previously dated rock art, that of the Upper Palaeolithic of France, dated to up to about 32,000 years BP in Chauvet Cave.
(BP stands for 'Before present'. 'Present', in this context, refers to 1950, the introduction of carbon dating and the beginning of nuclear contamination in carbon dating.)
"Indians probably don't realise the significance of these ancient paintings. They need to understand what it means in terms of national identity like the French, who have the importance of art ingrained in their psyche, and preserve it," Bednarik said.
Bednarik called on the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to establish a special section dealing specifically with prehistoric rock art and with the Palaeolithic period.
"ASI has been focused on the Indus Valley and Mughal periods, but there has to be an understanding in decision-making circles that India has much more that that."
The EIP Project, which has fostered, in-depth and long-term collaboration between Indian and Australian experts, enjoys the backing and collaboration of several research laboratories and scholars in both countries, besides substantial support from the (ASI, the Indian Council of Historical Research and the Australia-India Council in Canberra.
Bednarik feels it's time for India to move away from its British-centric, colonial model of archaeology to develop its own particular flavour and approach.
"One way of doing this is by teaching rock art science as a specialised course in universities," he said.