Exploring Neolithic and Megalithic South India: The Bellary District Archaeological Project. (News & Notes)

Article excerpt

The southern part of the Indian peninsula is an area of outstanding archaeological interest. While its historic cities and temples have long attracted the interest of both scholars and tourists, however, south India's equally remarkable prehistoric period remains have only rarely received the attention they deserve. A new joint Cambridge-Karnatak University research project was thus initiated in 2002 to study the unique Neolithic and Iron Age remains of the southern Deccan. This 2-month pilot project focused its efforts on the Bellary District of Kamataka, where prehistoric megaliths and `ashmounds' (large mounds of burnt cattle dung) occupy a stunning landscape of naturally sculpted granitic rock formations (FIGURE 1). The aim of the project was to explore, survey and record visible archaeological and landscape features in order to acquire insights into the indigenous processes of neolithization and megalithism that lea to the formation of these unique and still enigmatic monuments of ash and stone.


The Bellary project incorporated a range of approaches at different scales of analysis. One particular cluster of sites, known as Sanganakallu-Kupgal, was selected for intensive exploration and survey. This included surface exploration and study of a variety of activity areas, including permanent and temporary habitation sites, stone-quarrying and tool-production areas, rock-art sites, rock-shelters, ashmounds and megaliths. In addition, systematic fieldwalking was undertaken on the plain that surrounds the large granitic outcrops upon which most prehistoric activity seems to have focus6d. Fieldwalking tended to confirm this general south Deccan land-use pattern, since finds off the granitic tors were predominantly of the Early Historic and later periods. Nevertheless, several small rock-art sites and a rock-shelter rich in microliths and containing a partially exposed human burial were also discovered during this phase of the project.

Exploration of sites in the region surrounding Sanganakallu-Kupgal was also undertaken in order to investigate the relationships between archaeological and landscape features. This aspect of the project made use of theoretical concepts and methodological approaches that have not previously been applied in studies of south Indian prehistory, including symbolic and phenomenological approaches to understanding the perception and use of landscapes in the past. This research demonstrated that the location of sites, and particularly ashmound sites, was influenced by patterns of visibility and movement, the presence of visually dramatic landscape features and the east-west movement of the sun across the sky. It suggests that the evocative landscape of the southern Deccan was not just a backdrop for Neolithic activities, but rather a mythical and possibly sacred `force' that permeated many aspects of Neolithic (and subsequent Megalithic/Iron Age) life.

Some preliminary efforts were also made to analyse the rock art found at Sanganakallu-Kupgal and other sites in the Bellary district. Rock-art motifs, predominantly in the form of pictographs, are found in remarkable quantities at Sanganakallu-Kupgal. …