Rock Art and Rock Music: Petroglyphs of the South Indian Neolithic

By Boivin, Nicole | Antiquity, March 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Rock Art and Rock Music: Petroglyphs of the South Indian Neolithic

Boivin, Nicole, Antiquity

Rock art studies in India

Rock art in South Asia exhibits a wide geographical and chronological distribution. Petroglyphs and pictographs on natural stone surfaces are found across the subcontinent, and date from the Palaeolithic period through to the present day (Bednarik 1993, 2002; Brooks & Wakankar 1976; Chakrabarti 1999; Chakravarty & Bednarik 1997; Neumayer 1983). Nonetheless, South Asia has been largely overlooked in more recent studies that have sought a more theoretically-informed and interpretative approach to rock art (e.g. Chippindale & Tacon 1998; Goldhahn 1999; Helskog & Olsen 1995; Whitley 2001). In keeping with patterns in other realms of archaeological study in the subcontinent (see Boivin & Fuller 2002; Fuller & Boivin 2002), the study of rock art in South Asia remains largely descriptive and theoretically uninformed.

As such, rock art studies in South Asia have generally failed to contribute significantly to an understanding of the South Asian past, or of rock art production in general. This preliminary study offers an attempt to demonstrate the benefits of moving beyond a purely descriptive and image-focused approach to rock art in South Asia. An associated aim is the generation of interest in rock art traditions, both past and present, that are threatened by economic and social transformations currently underway in the region. South Asia badly needs scholars to study and record both ongoing rock art traditions and the remains of past rock art practices in the face of unprecedented social change and site destruction.

The south Indian Neolithic

This study will focus in particular on the rock art of the Neolithic period of south India, and specifically the site of Kupgal in Karnataka (see Figure 1). Although it is later in date than the proto-Harappan Neolithic of the Indo-Iranian border region (dating from the early third to first millennium BC, the south Indian Neolithic actually overlaps with the Mature phase of the Harappan Civilisation), the Neolithic of south India may in some ways be considered of greater interest than this latter period. This is because, in contrast to the Neolithic of Baluchistan and eastern Afghanistan, which has much in common with the Neolithic of neighbouring South-west Asia (Allchin & Allchin 1982; Piggott 1950), it features a distinctively Indian, and probably independently domesticated crop package (Fuller 1999, in press, forthcoming; Fuller et al. 2001), a distinctively Indian emphasis on cattle pastoralism (Allchin 1963; Korisettar et al. 2001; Paddayya 1998; Paddayya et al. 1995), and a distinctively Indian form of ritual involving the burning of large quantities of cowdung (Zeuner 1960; Allchin 1963). The latter is a particularly unique feature of the south Indian Neolithic, and resulted in the formation of large 'ashmounds' up to 30 feet high at specific places in the landscape.


Despite the obvious richness of the south Indian Neolithic, this archaeological entity has received surprisingly little sustained attention from South Asian archaeologists. Raymond Allchin's Neolithic Cattle-Keepers of South India, published in 1963, remains the major synthetic work on this period. Recent years have, however, seen somewhat of an upsurge in interest in the Southern Neolithic (as it is known within India), with the launching of a number of new excavation and survey projects aimed at systematically addressing particular questions concerning the origins and development of the Neolithic in the central Deccan (Devaraj et al. 1995; DuFresne et al. 1998; Fuller 1999, in press, forthcoming; Fuller et al. 2000-2001, 2001; Korisettar et al. 2001; Paddayya 1993, 1998; Paddayya et al. 1995).

In 2002, I initiated one such project, in collaboration with Ravi Korisettar of Karnatak University (Boivin forthcoming; Boivin et al. 2002, 2003 and forthcoming). As one small component of this project, I made a preliminary investigation of some of the rock art associated with the south Indian Neolithic.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Rock Art and Rock Music: Petroglyphs of the South Indian Neolithic


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?