First progress report (November 2001)

Robert G. Bednarik

Pre-Historic rock paintings at the Bhimbetka site complex, which comprises several hundred rock art sites
Progress report of the EIP Project— November 2001
IntroductionThe Early Indian Petroglyphs (EIP) Project is a joint venture by the Rock Art Society of India (RASI) and the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA) under the aegis of IFRAO. It includes scientific analyses and dating at four central Indian petroglyph sites as detailed below, and of rock paintings at Bhimbetka and Chaturbhujnath Nala.During November 2001 I travelled in central India to help with preparations for the main field campaign of the EIP Project in 2002. This involved numerous site visits as well as meetings in Delhi, Bhopal and Agra. The work also included the production of a TV documentary film for Prasar Bharati (Broadcasting Corporation of India), chiefly at two site complexes. As a result of the extensive co-ordination efforts as well as the tireless work of my project co-director, Dr Giriraj Kumar, the project has not only gained further momen-tum in India, it also has been significantly enlarged in its overall scope. Perhaps the most important new develop-ment is in the expansion of the excavation program. It will now include the largest ever Pleistocene excavation in India, to be conducted together with the EIP project by the Bhopal office of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It will also include an excavation by the Directorate of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh.

Because the key element of the EIP project is the secure dating of the Bhimbetka petroglyphs, it had always been intended to open up a small trench somewhere in the vicinity of Chief’s Rock in Auditorium Cave. This prompted the decision of the ASI to come to our aid and immediately commence a large-scale dig, involving two major trenches in Auditorium Cave. Numerous methods are to be employed in this three-year project, such as flotation analysis, studies of microfossils, pollen, phytoliths, microwear and residues on stone implement edges, detailed sedimentology etc. I have proposed that this site might contain the entire sequence of the human occupation on the Indian subcontinent. In its lower strata it contains a layer of Oldowan pebble tools, which amazingly have received almost no attention so far. It must be borne in mind that the entire region between southern/eastern Africa and Levant in the west and Java and China in the east remains profoundly neglected, in terms of its hominid history. Yet we have no realistic choice but to assume that India was occupied for at least 1.9 million years. There are no credible Middle or Lower Palaeolithic dates available from India, and few questionable ones from the Upper Palaeolithic. It is a reasonable expectation that this project will in a single stroke supply a skeleton chronological framework for Indian Pleistocene archaeology. Suffice it to say that this in itself will be a massive achievement.

I have with Dr S. B. Ota, Superintending Archaeologist of the ASI in Bhopal, and Dr N. Tahir from the same office determined the proposed excavation strategy and area in Auditorium Cave. A geophysical survey is being conducted as I write this report, using ultrasound, to determine the bedrock morphology below the sediment and the presence of any large boulders beforehand. Excavation will commence during late December 2001 and it is expected to involve the removal of more than 120 m3 of very ‘difficult’ cave sediment (extensive sub-merged roof falls are present). Both trenches must reach the lowest bedrock. Dating will at least initially focus on the OSL analyses by Dr B. Roberts.

Dr G. Kumar and I have also accepted a proposal of collaboration by the Directorate of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh. Their excavation of the important Daraki-Chattan cave near Bhanpura will involve archaeologists seconded by Dr O. P. Misra. This authority will also provide substantial supplementary funding for the EIP project. The excavations at the two Bajanibhat sites in Rajasthan will be conducted by our own teams.

Preliminary fieldwork

Various preparatory works have been conducted at the four EIP sites from April to August 2001. Apart from literature research, funding applications and administrative work, preliminary studies were conducted as follows:

Bajanibhat in Alwar district and Cupule Rocks 1 and 2 in Ajmer district, Rajasthan (by Giriraj Kumar, M. L. Sharma, M. L. Meena, Shri Surgyani, Chhajuram Tanwar).
Daraki-Chattan and Chaturbhujnath Nala in Mandaur district, Madhya Pradesh (Giriraj Kumar, Pradyum Kumar Bhatt, Ramesh Kumar Pancholi, Aniruddha Kumar Bhatt, Gagan Kumar Modi, Kailash Rathore, Ashutosh Bhatt).
Bhimbetka in Raisen district, Madhya Pradesh (Giriraj Kumar, G. L. Badam, Joseph Manuel, Deepak Chaudhary, Praveen Narad).

This fieldwork included the preparation of site plans at all sites; the preparation of contour maps of the first-named three sites; field surveys of Bajanibhat and Daraki-Chattan; the location of suitable calibration sites for microerosion analysis at an ancient temple on the River Rewa near Daraki-Chattan, an unfinished sculpture and two inscriptions at Bhanpura; and the identification of three rockshelters for proposed attempts to date pictograms. Dr Kumar and Dr Badam also had planning meetings with Dr S. B. Ota, Dr Narayan Vyas and other ASI officers in Bhopal.


A principal purpose of my visit of India was to shore up financial support of the project as required by the significantly expanded terms of reference and work volume. For this purpose, Dr Kumar (who is making all applications for funding in India) and I had numerous meetings and also lobbied many potential supporters in positions of influence. In Delhi we had meetings with the Director General of the ASI (Ms Kasturi Gupta Menon, IAS), the agency that remains our principal supporter even with the greatly enlarged version of the project. The ASI is a huge body, with a workforce exceeding in size that of any Australian corporation, and it now regards this project as a high priority. Dr R. S. Bisht, Director of Excavation and Exploration, has been appointed to supervise the project for the ASI, and he has been fully briefed about it. The DG guaranteed funding ‘as required’. Further financial support has now been pledged by two other agencies, the Indian Council of Historical Research, with whose Chairman, Professor M. G. S. Narayanan, we have had most cordial and detailed discussions; and by the Directorate of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh. We also had separate meetings with Dr R. C. Agrawal, Member Secretary of the ICHR, who once had himself worked at Bhimbetka; and the Chairman of the Archaeological Society of India, Dr S. P. Gupta (who is most sceptical that rock art can be dated, but who nevertheless supports our project enthu-siastically). It should be noted that several further applications for supplementary funding are still pending, at least one of which is thought will be successful. It is to be emphasised that the substantial funds we will thus secure only relate to the EIP project, the excavation costs will be borne by the respective authorities collaborating with us.

In Agra we had a meeting with Professor P. S. Satsangi, the Director of the university there, and I gave the inaugural lecture of a series introduced by the new Director of the ASI, Dr. K. K. Mohammad. It was no coincidence that the Chairman of the ICHR, Professor M. G. S. Narayanan, chaired this event. It not only facilitated that agency’s support of the EIP project, it also led to an unusually productive and animated debate about the introduction of new policies of site protection. The Director Superintending Archaeologist of the ASI, Dr I. D. Dwivedi, suggested that a set of recommendations be produced by IFRAO as a matter of some urgency, and a new system of ‘local site custodians’ was discussed intensively.


It was initially envisaged that the fieldwork of the projects main stage would commence in late January 2002, and would be completed within several weeks. Whilst the above-detailed preliminary fieldwork was conducted and completed as per original time plan, the substantial enlargement of the second stage seems to render it impossible to maintain this time table for the rest of the project. In particular, the OSL samples can only be collected after all relevant sections have become exposed. This means that the pace of the EIP project will be set by the ASI team under Dr Ota. This part of the related work, attached to the EIP Project by the ASI, is now playing a crucial role not only in the overall objectives, but also in the timing of the more flexible components of what has become a very complex project. The rock art dating work can be conducted independently, but project logistics would become difficult if we were to split the Australian team. The following critical path was agreed to present the best solution under the circumstances.

ASI Bhopal will notify me at least four weeks before their sections become available. Two weeks later I will travel with Dr Kumar and teams to the Bajanibhat sites and establish the excavation teams there. At that point, Dr Misra’s team from the Directorate of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh, commences the Daraki-Chattan excavation. After a further two weeks we will receive the remaining Australians in Bhopal and the EIP work of several days commences there. In Bhopal, accommodation is no problem. We then travel together to Daraki-Chattan by minibus, staying in Bhanpura in a comfortable engineer’s guesthouse of the Gandhi Sagar dam. After completion of work there, we travel on to the Bajanibhat sites where we will stay in tents and have supplies ferried in. The work of Drs Watchman and Roberts could perhaps be completed within two to three weeks.

Concerning actual dates, the middle part of the year is out of the question, due to the unbearable heat. So unless the work can be completed before May 2002, we would need to wait for the late part of the year. This aspect is entirely in the hands of the Bhimbetka excavation team under Dr S. B. Ota and Dr N. Tahir.


It is clear from the aforesaid that this project depends much on the effectiveness of programming, and it is essential that any unforeseen variations be communicated to all project partners. Bearing in mind that the project involves the collaboration of well over a hundred persons it is obvious that good communication is essential. IFRAO as the international agency overseeing the EIP project has agreed with the two principal research partners (ASI Bhopal and M.P. State Archaeologist) that all scientific publications, including the major monographs to be produced, will be co-authored by the principal scholars of the three partners, except in cases of papers addressing only specific technical aspects of the work. It is expected that numerous publications will ensue, and the project will, because of its outstanding significance, use any additional means to promote its results widely. For instance there are discussions under way concerning the possible production of a TV documentary series on the project, and National Geographic is being considered as a venue of promotion and support.

To appreciate the significance of the project, it must be considered that its current terms of reference can realistically be expected to lead to the following main achievements:

1. The presentation of the first scientific rock art dating evidence from India, from both petroglyphs and pictograms.
2. The clarification of the claims that Indian petroglyphs represent the oldest rock art currently known in the world, dating back to the Acheulian period.
3. The presentation of the first comprehensive chronological framework from the entire duration of the human presence on the Indian subcontinent.
4. The first assessment and dating of the Oldowan pebble tool industry in India.
5. The introduction and international transfer of rock art dating technology.

On the basis of these principal objectives alone it is entirely reasonable to describe this project as the finest archaeological project ever undertaken in India. We intend to convey this message very effectively not only to the academic community, but also to the public of the world. India possesses one of the most important Pleistocene archaeologies in the world, rivalling Africa, south-western Europe and eastern Asia, but until now this has been entirely neglected. Southern Asia was per-haps the original centre of hominid cognitive evolution during the Early Pleistocene, an aspect that has been completely overshadowed by the east African evidence of physical evolution. We will correct this imbalance. I feel truly privileged to be associated with this project.

Robert G. Bednarik
Co-Director, EIP Project