Chandrapur, around 160 km from Nagpur, is known for its black gold – coal. It is also known for the famous Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. But what is largely unknown is that this part of India was also home to some of the earliest Stone Age communities on the subcontinent.
Archaeological finds here are rich is stone tools that date as far back as 1,50,000 years. The region is so ancient that dinosaurs are believed to have roamed these parts, 140-200 million years ago, which is evident from dinosaur eggshells discovered in Pisdura, close by.
I was fascinated by the region’s layered history when I was posted in Chandrapur as an administrative officer with United India Insurance Company Ltd., a Govt. PSU in November 2014. Soon, I began exploring the interiors, following leads from the district gazetteer. Through books and readings, I had come across the site of Papamiyan Tekdi on the banks of the Jharpat river (or Ambe Nullah), a sub-tributary of the Wardha river.
– Spread across 12-15 acres, the site is one of the largest and most significant Paleolithic sites in Maharashtra, dating back from 30,000 BCE to 1,50,000 BCE.
Surprisingly, the site had been almost forgotten by the archaeological fraternity, and it had taken me almost two years to rediscover it. Thereafter, I travelled to the site and found that there had been little surface exploration. But the evidence was rich and I knew this treasure had to be saved.
After constant following up with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the State Archaeology Department, District Collector, State Government and the Union Ministry of Culture, I made some headway. My urgency stemmed from the fact that a large part of the site fell in an area acquired for the construction of the Chandrapur Government Medical College and Hospital (CGMH) building. Besides, work on a protection wall and approach road to CGMH was already underway. This was a prestigious project and, it seems, little could stand in its way.
Thankfully, the Maharashtra Chief Minister's Office (CMO) took cognizance of my detailed report and letters. A high-powered meeting was called and it was decided that the State Archaeology Department and Deccan College of Archaeology, Pune, would jointly carry out excavations on a large part of the site. What’s more, a museum would be set up at the medical college to showcase the artifacts found here. This has since been done.
The significance of the Papamiyan Tekdi site was already well known. It was first discovered by L K Shriniwasan of the South Eastern Circle of the ASI in 1960-61. Shriniwasan had reported Lower-Middle Paleolithic tools from the site along with a thriving blade & burins industry.
Subsequent explorations by Dr S N Raghunath and Dr S B Ota of the ASI had shown that this had been a thriving site because of its location between two rivers, the Wardha and the Wainganga. Paleolithic tools found here included Acheulian and Oldowan (or Pebble) tools such as uni-facial and bi-facial hand-axes, cleavers, choppers, scrapers (side, end and round scrapers), borers, points, burins, blades and hammer stones etc. Most of these artifacts are made from various types of chert viz brown, yellow and red. Chert is a hard, fine-grained sedimentary rock composed of crystals of quartz.
Papamiya Tekdi yields mainly Paleolithic stone tools, displaying all three phases of the Paleolithic phase i.e. Lower, Middle and Upper. Interestingly, the site has also yielded evidence of microliths in stratified context from some of the localities. These tools are popularly known as microliths owing to their small size i.e. 1 to 5 cm. These tools are mainly made up of chert, chalcedony, agate, jasper and carnelian. This phase was present from 10,000 BC to 30,000 BC.
Even today, the area has an undulating surface due to the presence of several streams that flow across it and finally join the nullah or small stream. In the dry months of summer, the stream beds expose the gravel bed, revealing Acheulian stone tools. Lower Paleolithic tools were mainly recovered from these dried streams. Archaeologists believe there is also a high probability of finding fossils from this cultural stage, here.
Stone-age cultures in India first came to light by the path-breaking discovery of a hand-axe at Pallavaram, near Chennai (erstwhile Madras), by Robert Bruce Foote in 1863. Later, extensive explorations were carried out by various scholars, missions, institutes and universities all over India. Early Stone Age sites have since been reported from almost every part of the country.
The archaeological record offers valuable clues to the journey of humans on the planet. But the evidence is fragile and needs to be excavated and preserved before the wages of modern development or natural events obliterate them forever.
Paying heed to the significance of the Papamiyan Tekdi site, the Chandrapur Government Medical College and Hospital (CGMH) is now set to build the first-of-its-kind college with a museum displaying Stone Age tools in one part and a prehistoric site preserved in the other. There are also plans to carry out excavations on a large portion of the site jointly by the State Archaeology Department and Deccan College of Archaeology, Pune, to recover prehistoric stone tools, artefacts, fossils and other antiquities. These antiquities will be kept as exhibited objects along with all the information inside the museum constructed in the premises of the medical college. Also, the excavated area along with a part of the non-excavated undisturbed site will be covered by a glass cage for in-situ viewing for the public.
Not all stories about preserving the prehistoric record have a happy ending. Thankfully, this one appears to be going according to plan.
Amit Bhagat is an independent researcher. He is currently working on the Megalithic and Stone Age culture of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.