Stone-age tools dug out of ‘tiger hole’


G.S. MUDUR, June 10, 2006

The ‘tiger hole’ that turned out to be a cave shelter; implements found by archaeologists. Telegraph

New Delhi, June 12: An assortment of stone-age tools buried in a cave in the western coastal district of Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri has provided the first evidence of a cave shelter of human ancestors on India’s coastline.

What local village folk had shunned as a “tiger hole”, archaeologists from the Deccan College and Postgraduate Research Institute in Pune have shown was a shelter that preserved relics of ancient craftsmanship.

“The shape and features of the tools indicate that they are about 90,000 years old,” said Ashok Marathe, a prehistory specialist at the Deccan College who had excavated the cave as part of an effort to scour Ratnagiri for stone-age human settlements.

“We’ve been looking for something like this for years,” said Marathe, who began exploring the Ratnagiri coast five years ago and had stumbled upon the cave in 2002. After months of analysing the tool designs, Marathe reported his findings in the journal Current Science on Saturday.

While scientists have previously excavated stone-age relics — some much older than 90,000 years — from 22 other sites in India, there has been no sign yet of settlements of human ancestors from anywhere along India’s coastline.

The cave — near a village called Palshet, about 2 km from the sea — had 54 stone-age tools, including handaxes, choppers and cleavers with razor-sharp edges.

Another cave in a nearby village had cattle bones with chopping marks on them.

A villager, Srinivas Oak, led the Deccan College archaeologists to two or three caves along the Ratnagiri coastline. The cave near Palshet is rectangular with passageways that lead east and north.

“This was a prehistoric stone-age shelter where early humans lived,” Marathe said.

Although archaeologists have previously discovered stone-age artefacts along the Saurashtra coastline, they were all scattered close to the surface of the ground and not close to obvious shelters.

The archaeologists had to use explosives to clear the entrance to the cave blocked by a boulder the size of a double-decker bus. The tools lay buried underneath a layer of pebbles and rubble.

India’s oldest stone-age tools are more than 1 million years old and were found in Hunsgi valley in Karnataka’s Gulbarga district many years ago. Unlike the cave near Palshet, Hunsgi was a stone-age “factory” — a site where prehistoric humans manufactured tools.

Archaeologists say there are still unanswered questions about the cave shelter in Ratnagiri. The raw material for the tools was not local rock. It was carried there from somewhere else, said Sharad Rajguru, former professor of archaeology at Deccan College.

“We also don’t know anything about the tool-makers,” Rajguru said.

The tool designs point to an antiquity of 90,000 years. Modern humans entered India only about 60,000 years ago. “So existing theories suggest that the tool-makers of Ratnagiri were Homo erectus, a species that preceded modern humans.”