Science News

Mangar Bani cave art and tools may be India’s oldest archaeological find

Vanita Srivastava

doi:10.1038/nindia.2021.110 Published online 16 August 2021

This 5,000-hectare forest of Mangarbani between Delhi and Gurgaon will be protected following the discovery of cave art and tools dating back to the Mesolithic era.

© Dept. of Archaeology and Museum, Haryana Govt.

Rock art, engravings, and tools in recently discovered caves and rock shelters in Mangar Bani, near Delhi, are probably from the Paleolithic era, and may be India’s oldest archaeological find.

The 5,000-hectare forest, between Delhi and Gurgaon, will now be protected, according to Ashok Khemka, principal secretary to Haryana archaeology and museums department.  

Mangar Bani is in the Aravalli hills, one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges that once stretched from the north of India through Haryana and Rajasthan to Gujarat in the west. Delhi sits on its northeast point. Large parts of the range have been flattened to build cities and roads, and environmentalists have long called for Mangar Bani to be declared a sensitive zone for its rich biodiversity.

“This is also the first time rock paintings have been found in the Aravalli hills alongside stone age sites,” Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director of Haryana’s department of archaeology and museums, told Nature India. “The cave paintings are yet to be dated. Some are prehistoric and few from later phases.”

The discovery brought renewed calls for Mangar Bani to be protected. The forest is on the radar of developers for its prime location triangulated by industrial city Faridabad, Delhi and its upscale suburb Gurgaon.

“We will accord state protection to these forest areas under the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1964,” Khemka said.

His department will soon start trench digging, document and map all the rock shelters and open-air sites. Radio carbon dating and accelerator mass spectrometry techniques will be used to date the cave paintings.

Cave paintings such as these dot the archaelogically important site.

© Dept. of Archaeology and Museum, Haryana Govt.

The cave paintings first came to light in May 2021 when a local environmental activist, Sunil Harsana, came across them in a part of the forest in the Faridabad district.

Dotted with villages, the area covering Damdama, Roj Ka Gujjar, Shilakheri, Mangar, Dhauj and Kot is the site of the prehistoric settlements. Of these, Shilakheri, Mangar and Dhauj have rock shelters. Tools discovered around this region include pebble, core and flake-based tools, indicating a site where stone tools were manufactured — this ‘Acheulean’ industry was the first tradition of standardised toolmaking.

“Continuous occupation is demonstrable from 100,000 before present (BP) to 1000 AD. On the basis of this exploration it can be said that Mangar Bani may be one of the biggest Paleolithic sites in the Indian subcontinent, where stone age tools were recovered from different open-air sites as well as from rock shelters,” said Bhattacharyya.

Khemka said the cave paintings may even pre-date those at the world-famous Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh, which are the earliest finds in India from the Paleolithic or Mesolithic era. The caves are located in the Satpura hills of the Vindhya range.