Coronavirus lockdown: Pre-historic heritage conservation takes a back seat

The lockdown and resource crunch will lead to an unexpected casualty —the conservation and upkeep of India’s 10,000 year old pre-historic heritage will be affected.

Confronted with declining revenues, the state government has imposed a cut on the funds for the conservation of all monuments by the directorate of museums and archaeology. “The directorate was expected to get Rs 30 crore in 2020-21 for this purpose, but this may be trimmed to just Rs 10 crore,” said a senior official from the department of culture.

This will affect the proposals to conserve pre-historic petroglyphs (rock art engraved on the ground) in Ratnagiri. These reliefs are estimated to have been carved out in laterite rock by pre-historic humans in a period between 10,000 years and 2,000 years ago, and are the oldest known evidence of art in Maharashtra.

Coronavirus lockdown: Pre-historic heritage conservation takes a back seat

Ratnagiri has over 1,200 carvings at 62 locations. In Sindhudurg, 60 carvings have been discovered at around five sites. However, none of these reliefs have protected status.

The directorate had proposed the conservation and protection of 17 sites in Rajapur, Lanja and Ratnagiri talukas, without acquiring the land in this Rs 6 crore project. The official said the consent of land owners for right of way was to be taken and approach roads, fencing, viewing galleries and signages would be constructed along with amenities for tourists. However, the funds crunch and resultant austerity measures will lead to new projects being curbed.

“The directorate has a spillover of Rs 10 crore to be paid for conservation works done last year. This means there may be little or no fiscal space for fresh projects, including conservation on forts,” he explained.

Some animals represented in these petroglyphs include rhinos and elephants, which do not have a natural habitat in the Konkan today.

The official added that the recent cyclone and heavy rains and winds had damaged some works undertaken on forts like Rajgad in Pune, which would have to be repaired. The assessment was underway.

Coronavirus lockdown: Pre-historic heritage conservation takes a back seat

The widest petroglyph is an elephant carving at Kasheli in Rajapur (18 meterX13 meter), which is the largest petroglyph in South Asia, while the smallest is 2cmX3cm was found at Jaigad.

One petroglyph at Ranapur has a human holding a tiger in each hand, which is a common Harappan symbol found on seals and is a common motif in West Asian art.

However, the identity of the people who carved these petroglyphs is yet unknown. Further research would have revealed more evidence of the history of Konkan and Maharashtra before the Satavahana era set (2 BC onwards) and do away with this “dark age” in our understanding of human evolution.

The oldest archaeological finds in Maharashtra are the around 75,000-year-old stone tools in the Godavari river basin at Gangapur in Nashik.

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