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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Petroglyphs’ found on dolmen

CHENNAI: In what has been termed an unusual rock art discovery, petroglyphs, which are engravings made with a hard tool, have been found on the slab-stones of a dolmen for the first time in Tamil Nadu. These were at a spot adjoining Beruthorapatti hamlet, near Kallampalayam, close to the Moyar river in Nilgiris district.

The dolmen, which is in a collapsed state, belongs to the megalithic period (circa 1000 B.C. to 300 B.C.). Significantly, this dolmen is circular in shape and had a slanting roof made of several slab-stones. Normally, dolmens are rectangular in shape with four slab-stones forming the walls and the capstone.

K.T. Gandhirajan, who headed the team that made the discovery on May 20 with the help of a local Irula tribal person, called it “a rare, unusual discovery.” While petroglyphs have been found in three rock-shelters in the State — at Perumukkal in Villupuram district, Erpattu in the Niligiris district and Mayiladumparai in Krishnagiri district — this is the first time they have been found on a dolmen. (Pre-historic men erected dolmens made of granite slabs either to take shelter or to mark a burial place). This particular dolmen has two petroglyphs.

Of the two, one has a unique pattern: a big circle, with concentric lines, placed on a flattened base. It has spur-like projections on either side a little above the base. Inside the circle are nine small circles arranged in a pattern, with three straight lines crossing each other. The big circle is overarched by a semi-circular arc. The other petroglyph, found on an adjacent slab, has the engraving of a fish. It is an “X-ray fish” with the innards chiselled.

Mr. Gandhirajan, who specialises in art history, said the circles were “perfect in shape with a good geometry and a marvellous composition.” The engravings were carved on stones facing the east. He was certain the petroglyphs were contemporaneous to the dolmen, which could be 2,300 to 2,500 years old and belong to the Tamil Sangam age. The dolmen could have been a shrine or the home of the tribal chief, he said.

The team comprising Mr. Gandhirajan, M.V. Ganesh, K. Narendran, photographer Thanigai Mani and an Irula tribal person named Chandran made the discovery while returning from a temple festival of the Irula and Baduga tribes in Allimoyar hamlet. The team found 20 collapsed dolmens near Vanchiyur. On venturing further into the forest, it discovered about 100 dolmens near Beruthorapatti. Most of them had been wrecked by humans or elephants.

The dolmens were of three varieties: normal rectangular ones with a capstone; circular ones made of slab-stones meeting at the top to form a roof; and bigger circular dolmens, with a diameter of about 6 metres, with unfinished roofs. One of the big dolmens had the two petroglyphs.

Mr. Gandhirajan, who is documenting “rock art in Sangam age environment in Tamil Nadu” under a project sponsored by the Central Institute of Indian Languages, said it would be difficult to find even petrographs, which are rock art forms of humans, animals, battle scenes and so on, in dolmens.

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