The Dolmen of Hirapur
Kantikumar A. Pawar
Department of Archaeology
Deccan College PGRI
Pune, 411006- India
India has diverse elements of various cultural complexes throughout its geographical boundaries. Some regions of India are subject matter of attraction among the scholarly world for their identical phenomena viz. northern region for PGW, OCP and NBPW culture, western for Harappan, Rural Chalcolithic and Buddhist caves. Likewise Peninsular India is extremely rich with respect to the Megalithic culture, which is marked by its diverse burial types. The Eastern part of Maharashtra, known as Vidarbha, earlier a part of the Central & Berar provinces, shows a considerable typological diversity in the megaliths. The Middle Wainganga basin is an area subjected to the major findings of several burials and habitational sites which have been explored and a few of them have been excavated. Stone circles, one of the common burial types of the Vidarbha megaliths, is so far known to scholars as the main type prevalent in the region.
In the present paper an attempt has been made to throw light on the architectural variety and associated material culture revealed during the course of the burial excavation at Hirapur in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra which is the first excavation of any dolmen site in central India. Critical analysis of the dolmen architecture and associated finds shows the significance of this type and has raised some questions about the terminology which has been used since the last few decades.
Research on the monuments and burials referred to as ‘Megaliths’ or pandukals or pandukutis in India was initiated in the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Babington (1823:324-30) unearthed an interesting group of the burial monuments at Bangala Motta Paramba in the northern part of Kerala. Since then a number of scholars, antiquarians and treasure hunters have been attracted to the issues related to their origin, chronology, authorship and other aspects (Mohanty and Selvakumar 2002: 313-351). The Indian Megalithic burials and monuments generally belong to the Iron Age and are largely sepulchral in character. In fact in the earlier stages of research, the term ‘megalith’ was used to designate only the large stone monuments, as the term ‘megalith’ derived from the Greek words megas meaning ‘huge’ and lithos meaning ‘stone’ (Wheeler 1959: 150). However, subsequently, in India, the term was applied to all burial and habitation sites yielding the pottery with ‘black-and-red’ surfaces in peninsular India, irrespective of their association with ‘megaliths’ in the Early Iron Age context. Main concentrations of these megalithic graves and habitation sites have been found in Kerala, Tamilnadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra (especially Vidarbha) regions of Peninsular India. This excavation was planned with following aims and objectives;
1) To know the architectural details of the dolmens and the cultural material buried in them. Although some Megalithic stone circles have been excavated earlier by Central/State Archaeology Departments and some Universities at Naikund, Junapani, Mahurzhari, Takalghat-Khapa, Pachkheri, Dhamna(Linga), etc. not a single dolmen excavation has been undertaken by them so far.
2) To know the reasons for erecting dolmens instead of other common types of burials in this particular area as a distinct mode of disposal of their dead by the Megalithians. Has this got anything to do with the existence of divergent socio-economic groups among the Megalithians ?
3) To determine whether or not the eight painted rock- shelters with six cairn circles on their tops in the vicinity of this site belonged to the same group of people who built these dolmens.
4) To explore the possibility of finding an Early Iron age habitation site nearby as the area around the dolmens is littered with iron slag.
5) To know the relationship between the burial customs of the local tribals who are still following the megalithic type of disposal of their dead and the erection of dolmens in this area.
Research on Vidarbha Megaliths
Authority for historiography on the Vidarbha megalithic burials is first credited to Rivett-Carnac (1879) whose interest was ‘antiquarian’ in nature. Actual research work began in the post-independence period. Researchers associated with the Archaeological Survey of India, state Archaeology department and the university departments of Poona and Nagpur undertook extensive explorations and excavations for archaeological remains and the discoveries included a number of sites related directly to the Megalithic culture (Deo 1970a, 1970b, 1973b, 1982b, 1983; Lucas 1981; Joshi 1993, Nath; Jamkhedkar 1982; Deglurkar, Lad 1991-94; Mohanty 2001- 2003, Gupta and Ismail Kellelu 2002, Ismail Kellelu 2004, 2007). As a result of this, a number of new sites have been discovered and many of them have been excavated. Excavations and researches undertaken in the Vidarbha region from 1970 onwards are quite significant for the recovery of biological, zoological and anthropological remains. More than a hundred sites have been reported so far in the region and they are increasing daily (Fig. 1).
Fig 1. Megalithic sites of Vidharbha
A bewildering variety of burial types, with distinctive features, are encountered among the Vidarbha megaliths. Some sites have more than one type of burial, with a lot of variations in their external and internal architecture. Even very popular burial types, for example, stone circles or cairn circles of any particular site, are rarely similar in all aspects like shape, size and nature of deposit (Deo 1970a, 1973c; Deglurkar an Lad 1992; Mohanty 1993-94). It has been noticed that within the periphery of the region, geological features are varied, influencing the burial types.
Stone circles are the most common type of Vidarbha megaliths, followed by cairn circles, cairn heap, menhirs and dolmens. Internal architecture of these megalithic burials have pits or stone chambers or sarchophagi etc. Khairwada, a small village in Wardha district has been dotted with more than a thousand stone circles, whereas sarchophagi, which is quite rare in the region have been found only from the Dhamanalinga excavation, in Nagpur district. Dolmen, which are partly buried and partly above the ground, have been reported only from two sites, prior to Mr. Halkare’s new discovery in 2004.
The Vidarbha region is well known for its geological and mineralogical wealth as well as for its archaeological sites. The region has presented evidences of life right from the Jurassic era, as represented by the Dinosaur egg shells from Pisdura, Takh & Nand. In the geological map of India it is known as Gondwana land, from the ancient Gond kingdoms, south of Narmada. Investigations in other parts the world viz; South Africa, Australia and even South America have brought to light a parallel group of formations, exhibiting much the same physical as well as organic characteristics. It has made known important paleontological discoveries in the Jurassic and Cretaceous systems in India (Wadia 1994; 123).
Vidarbha, lying between lat. 19º-21º N and long. 76º-80º30’ E is the eastern part of Maharashtra, presently comprises of eleven districts, occupying about 93654 sq.km in area. Geographical and climatic features divide this region broadly into two main zones i.e. Western Vidarbha and Eastern Vidarbha. Western Vidarbha, comprising of five districts, lies between the Ajanta (South) and Gawilgarh (North) hill ranges, and has considerably high plains (Chikaldara plateau top has a height of 1200 mt. above M.S.L) and hills (Melghat) throughout its region excepting, of course the nuclear portion of the Purna valley, while Eastern Vidarbha, comprising the remaining six districts of region, portrays a ‘hummocky’ landscape of low and irregular hills and sluggish streams. Ramtek hill, with a height of about 4oo mt. above M.S. L, is one such hill. The entire region of Vidarbha is drained by three major rivers, the Purna (tributary of the Tapi river), the Wardha and the Wainganga (tributary of the Godavari river). The Wardha River divides the Vidarbha region into the above mentioned (two) zones (Fig . 2).
Fig 2. Drainage pattern of Vidharbha
Eastern Vidarbha is drained mainly by the Wainganga River, which originates about 12 Km from Mundara village of Seoni district in the southern slopes of the Satpura Range of Madhya Pradesh, and flows south through Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in a very winding course of approximately 360 miles. After joining the Wardha, the united stream, known as the Pranahita, ultimately falls into the Godavari. The river has developed extensive flood plains, with sweeping graceful meanders and low alluvial flats and meander terraces. The river has high banks, about 10 to 15 m on either side. The Wainganga River receives numerous tributaries on either bank and drains the western, central and eastern regions of the Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Nagpur districts. The chief tributaries of the Wainganga are the Garhavi, Khobragadi, Kathani and the Potphondi on the western bank and the Andhari on the eastern bank (Deshpande 2002: 376).
The site of Hirapur (20 35”N & 79 33” E) is located on an elevated landscape, partly covered by the Mukta-Bai Pahar to the south west of the presently excavated site (Fig. 3).
The site is divided in two parts by a tar road, numbered as Burial Locality number 01 and Burial Locality number 02, covering an area measured by the geo-coordinates.
Fig 3. Location map of dolmen site
The site is divided in two parts by a tar road, numbered as Burial Locality number 01 and Burial Locality number 02, covering an area measured by the geo-coordinates.
Northern point- N 200 37.476`, E 790 31.759, 906 ft MSL (above Mean Sea Level)
Southern point- N 200 37.286`, E 790 31.811, 914 ft MSL
Eastern point- N 200 37.597`, E 790 32.091, 891 ft MSL
Western point- N 200 37.373`, E 790 31.628 ft MSL
The two burial localities cover about 24 burials which are visible on the surface. Excavation has undertaken only in locality 01 whereas burial locality 02 have been documented in which 3 menhirs are present, made out of sandstone, of which one has cup-marks facing south. Majority of the burials are located in the Locality 01, of which, 14 are stone circles of various diameters, located in the North east side of the locality.
The burial locality 01 is undulating in nature because of its continuing elevation and depression within its landscape. The centre of the excavation site has elevated land showing the possibility that majority of the burials could be covered under the surface. The two other Megalithic burials (Possibly Dolmenied Cists), one toward the west of the trench and another to the north are completely disturbed. Few remains of the Laterite orthostrat are visible in the western dolmen and only the capping stone is visible in the northern one.
Majority of the burials are being destroyed by cultivation and mining activity of soil, which is being used at the houses of the Hirapur villagers for plastering their walls due to the suitable texture and colour of the Laterite soil.
In the burial locality 01, the current excavation was conducted with horizontal method, covering an area of 15 X 15 meter, which was divided into 4 quadrants, which contained two dolmens and two dolmenied cists (Fig. 4). The divided trench is excavated in two quadrants; the SE and SW quadrants. The two excavated quadrants contain four burial structures, of which only one is largest, intact and well conditioned.
In the SW quadrant, two dolmenied cists covered, of which, one was partly visible before starting excavation and the other was visible by its capstone, made out of sandstone. These dolmenied cists were possibly disturbed by natural calamities because any kinds of breakage, which would indicate direct evidence of any human vandalism, have not been observed.
In the SE quadrant only a broken portion of a Laterite orthostrat was partly visible before starting the excavation.
All the four excavated burial structures, within the two quadrants, are catalogued number wise, of which the intact one is numbered as Meg.Br.01 (Megalithic Burial No. 01). The other two dolmenied cists are numbered as Meg.Br.02 (South-west of Meg Br. 01) and Meg. Br. 03 (West of Meg. Br. 01). Meg. Br. 04 is located to the east of Meg. Br. 01. The distances between all the four Megalithic burial structures are as follows:
Between Meg.Br.01 and Meg.Br.02: 2.67 mt
Between Meg.Br.01 and Meg.Br.03: 1.56 mt
Between Meg.Br.01 and Meg.Br.04: 1.39 mt
Between Meg.Br.02 and Meg.Br.03: 1.45 mt
The exposed dolmenied cists in the SW quadrant are almost parallel to each other towards the south direction. Quadrant wise description is given here in this report, based on the sequence which followed during the course of excavation of Megalithic burials.
Excavated Burial Structures
Meg. Br. 01
Megalithic burial 01 is a huge dolmen, which is intact and the largest in the region, where as the other two are known by their trace remains, are towards the South east of the Hirapur village (Fig. 5).
The huge dolmen is made out by using Laterite and Sandstone which is an interesting feature while comparing it with the others in the region. All the vertical slabs of the dolmens are produced out of Laterite blocks; however Sandstone is used only for the capstone. This dolmen is facing north, divided into two compartments which are clearly visible from the eastern side. The average thickness of the vertical Laterite slabs from the northern side is 35cm and height is 1.10m. The inner distance between the two slabs is 2.20m, whereas including the two vertical slabs; it is about 2.75m in breadth in the north direction. The covering sandstone slab is about 0.50m thick and 3.15m long in the east-west direction. A horizontal Laterite slab is kept 0.75m inward from the boundary of the vertical slab for making the partition and is visible from the northern direction. It is 2.75m, east west in length and about 1m above the ground. The inner thickness of this partitioned slab is 25cm from the top. Total height of the dolmen including capstone is approximately 2.10mt above the ground. The capping sandstone slab is broken in the middle and water marks can be clearly seen at its corners, which is probably due to the effect of weathering.
In the eastern side, the total face of 4.40m is divided into two compartments with two big portholes for offering foods and for the worship of the dead, as the megalithic people believed in life after death. We have so many evidences of placing of various offering materials with burials from various excavations in the region. The left port hole is open 1.15mt along the South-north and 0.80mt from the ground level where as right porthole is open 2.90mt along the south- north and 0.52mt from the ground level. The distance between the two portholes is about 1.15mt. The right compartment is smaller in comparison to the left compartment. The left compartment is 1.30mt and the right one is 0.75mt from south to north. Some small bushes grow in front of the eastern side which has reduced the visibility of dolmen.
In the southern side, a horizontal Laterite slab covers the whole area between the two vertical slabs. A portion of the right vertical slab is slightly projected outward where as a portion of the left slab is projected inward. The height of the horizontal slab, upto the capping stone, is 1.45m and east-west length, excluding the measurement of the vertical slabs is 2.05m.
In the western side, length of the vertical slab is about 4.05mt which is quite smaller than the opposite vertical slab. The capping stone slab is broken in the centre and becomes narrow on both sides, taking a conical shape. This is also probably due to the same weathering effect. The length of the capping stone from north to south is about 5.20mt and from east to west is about 4.00mt.
The intact structure is divided into two separate chambers, each with a separate rectangular porthole as mentioned above. Four huge Laterite slabs are placed vertically, making an angle of almost 900 between each other. The porthole of the left chamber is 0.43 X 1.35 mt. The two chambers are separated by a Laterite slab, which is not as thick as the other Laterite slabs. The distance between the southern slab and the central slab is 1.25 mt. The southern slab was exposed to about 1 meter before excavation. Its total vertical length, from the foundation, is 2.70 meter.
The left chamber is exposed in section, which is excavated upto the natural soil. The total depth measured is about 1.75 mt. divided into 6 layers .
Layer 01- This layer is humus layer, top of the section has loose in nature and brownish in colour, the total thickness of this layer is 6 cm. frequent disturbance have been observed in this layer.
Layer 02- This layer is again loose silty in nature and yellowish brown in colour, showing the pit in the southern corner of the section containing Laterite and sandstone nodules. This layer has been exposed upto 67 cm which is end of this layer.
Layer 03- This is the thickest layer of this east facing section which is very compact in nature and brownish black colour. This layer yielded huge quantity of potsherds, stone nodules and few brick bats. The total thickness of this layer is 95 cm.
Layer 04- This layer is somewhat loose and in some parts it is compact in nature having blackish brown in colour. Large number of Laterite nodules and small stones has been found in this layer. This is the second smallest layer of this section having thickness of 11 cm.
Layer 05- This layer is 32 cm thick and reddish brown in colour. This compact layer is full of Laterite nodules but few potsherds have been yielded.
Layer 06- This layer is a natural layer exposed upto 18 cm at the bottom. This layer has not yielded a single potsherd or any other object. This layer is last bottom point for the vertical orthostrat of megalithic burial 01The porthole of the right chamber is 0.33 X 1.13 mt. The right chamber is not excavated.
The average thickness of the eastern slab is 35 cm. This slab, exposed by the excavation, is averagely measured at 70 cm, which has revealed the structural length of the port hole. Possibly, the left chamber is made for an elder and/or an important member of the family, whereas the right chamber could be purposefully made for another, younger or equivalent member of the family. It was clearly visible, during excavations, that the left chamber is bigger that the right one. The top of the eastern slab above the port hole, which might have fallen into the left chamber due to some unknown reason, was recovered during the excavation of the left chamber at 87 cm.
From the excavation of the left chamber of Meg.Br.01, several types of ceramic wares, stone polisher, glass bangles, copper bangle, stone Celt (?), bricks etc. were recovered.
Meg. Br. 04
Megalithic Burial 04 (MB4) is located to the east of MB1. It is another huge structure, exposed during the excavation upto 1.10 mt. from the ground level . The right orthostrat of MB4 is exactly perpendicular to the southern corner of the eastern slab of MB1. It is a dolmen facing the east direction, of which it was clearly visible upto the 50 cm from its southern side. This structure is exposed to a total of 1.60 mt. including its previously visible level. The structure has only one chamber, enclosed by two orthostrat having a thickness of 38 cm and its average length, in the E-W direction, is 2.50 mt. The gap between the two orthostrat is 0.75 mt. In the eastern corner of this burial, one horizontal slab, having the N-S length of 2 mt. is properly placed and continues into the SE section, which is averagely exposed upto 23 cm. Interestingly, at the North corner of this horizontal slab, the slab curves into the section.
This single chambered Megalithic structure was probably disturbed by human activities which is clearly evident by its missing capstone. The chamber itself is floored by 7 properly dressed Laterite blocks, which are placed in the east-west direction, upto the length of 2.50 mt. differing in sizes. The block wise measurements of these Laterite blocks from east to west direction are as follows 18x75 cm, 43x63 cm, 45X60 cm, 45X60 cm, 45X35 cm, 35X23 cm and 60X61 cm .
In the west corner of this chamber, above the dressed stone block, a huge ceramic assemblage was placed, very close to the southern orthostrat. In the same way, in the eastern corner, close to the northern orthostrat, one punch marked coin, having the “Three-arch hill” symbol was placed. This shows some sort of royal treatment to the dead buried inside the chamber.
Below these placed Laterite blocks, a thick deposit of Laterite soil, upto 25 cm thick, was provided for the support and for the strength of these heavy blocks. These dressed stones could have been the floor level for the burial because below this, not a single potsherd was discovered.
In the centre of the southern slab, on its outer side, a human bone fragment was recovered, which was placed at the same depth as that of the ceramic assemblage.
Fig 5. Megalithic burial 01 (MB1)
This burial is exposed from its eastern section to upto 4 mt in the east-west direction for giving relief to the adjoining structures and to observe the positions of the orthostrat, as well as to maintain the stratigraphy.
The northern corner of the right orthostrat, the southern corner of the eastern slab of MB1 and the southern corner of the eastern slab of MB3 are exactly parallel from the eastern direction, which could be built for a specific purpose. The southern corner of the left orthostrat of MB4 is again parallel with northern point of the eastern slab of MB2. In this way, the calculative distance of the single chambered dolmen from N-S, is exactly the same as that of the distance between the northern orthostrat of MB2 and the southern orthostrat of MB3. In this way, the location of all the burials could have been the result of proper planning and the treatment of the dead.
Towards the northern direction, from the right orthostrat of MB4, a huge and unknown structure was produced out by using several dressed and semi-dressed Laterite blocks. It was exposed during the excavation to upto 1.10 mt. from the ground level, divided into 4 layers, divided by a thin layer of Laterite soil
The exposed heavy structure continues into the northern section of the NE quadrants of B1, B2. Averagely, a 2.20 mt. portion from the right orthostrat was unearthed towards the northern side into B1. The east-west length of this heavy structure is 1.8 mt. in which, three sections of semi-dressed Laterite blocks are placed upon each other and curving into the NE quadrant on both the east and the west sides.
The westward line of the Laterite blocks, which are continuing into the northern side, has two courses of Laterite blocks, of which the lower one contains three huge Laterite blocks, measuring 95 cm in average. Whereas, the upper course has 5 irregular, semi-dressed Laterite blocks, varying in diameter from 65 cm to 33 cm. The middle line has four small Laterite blocks and one huge Laterite block of 90 X 125 cm. The third line or the section of the structure has 3 blocks, of which maximum N-S diameter is 83 cm and the minimum diameter is 41 cm, having the average thickness of 40 cm. Because of its continuation towards the north, as well as its complexity resulting out of its adjoining nature to MB4, it is very hard to draw any definite conclusion.
On the top of this exposed structure, ceramic assemblage was absent, indicating a non-occupational layer without any ceramics or offerings.
From the east section of the SE quadrant, the structure is 1.62 mt. away whereas, and from the eastern slab of MB1, it is 3.06 mt. away.
Meg. Br. 02
MB2 and MB3 are excavated in the SW quadrant, exposed on all four sides on an average of 30 cm from the ground level, which is 1.08 mt. from the datum point in the north
MB2 is a single chambered Dolmenied cist with an inclined cap stone, supported from the southern direction by a Laterite block. It was visible, prior to the excavation, from the north, south and west direction, and averagely about 20 cm. From the eastern direction, the Laterite orthostrat makes an angle of 450 with its covering capstone .
The measurement, from the supportive Laterite block to the northern orthostrat is 2.30 mt. The single chamber of the Dolmenied cist is exposed to about 1.20 mt excluding the visible measurement before excavation.
During the excavation, very close to the eastern side of the Dolmenied cist, one vertical dressed Laterite slab, placed vertically into the ground, with a small passage at the centre measuring 20 cm, was exposed upto 40 cm. It could be the passage used for offerings. From the centre of this passage, both sides of the Laterite slab is broken, which could have been at the same level as that of the three other orthostrats.
The covering sandstone slab is oblong in shape. In the northern part of this slab, 43 cup marks can be noticed within an area of 60 X 70 cm. Also, one long and complete engraved mark running north to south, measuring about 1.20 mt. can be observed. In its southern corner, it becomes cylindrical. The sandstone slab has been exfoliated in several places due to natural weathering.
The north-south length between the two orthostrats in 60 cm and the east-west length is 1.20 mt. This shows the geometrical and mathematical skills of the megalithic builders.
The eastern side of the capstone is perfectly straight cut, which is similar feature with MB1. The present direction of the sandstone slab is NW-SE, showing that during the span of time, this capstone probably could have inclined or have moved. It could be a strong possibility that when this burial structure had been erected, in the memory of some person, this capstone could have been horizontally placed with the support of all four orthostrats, which is the typical feature of the Dolmenied cist, as observed in the other parts of this region as well as with the rest of the Indian megaliths.
Very few potsherds have been recovered during the excavation of the chamber, without any bone remains or antiquities, which shows its commemorative feature.
Meg. Br. 03
MB3 is close to the MB2, with a distance of 1.40 mt. in the northern direction. This Dolmenied cist is the smallest burial when compared with the other excavated burials. Before excavation, only the sandstone capstone was visible, at an average thickness of 28 cm. It was visible from east-west, upto 2.80 mt. and north-south upto 1 mt. This slab is possibly continued into the NW quadrant, which is not excavated in due course of time for avoiding the removal of the soil which is giving support to MB1, whose west vertical slab is very close to the capstone of the MB3.
During the course of the excavation, a very small chamber of 34 X 86 cm was exposed, with its four orthostrats. The total depth of 90 cm was exposed within the chamber for giving relief and for knowing the base floor level of the chamber (Fig. 9). It has also been noticed that this too is a small Dolmenied cist, covered by a sandstone slab, just like MB2.
The western orthostrat is of 94 cm in length, having the thickness of 25 cm. The southern orthostrat is 85 cm in length and 25 cm thick. Interestingly, the northern orthostrat also has the same dimensions. Whereas the eastern slab is 1 mt. long, in the north-south direction and 29 cm thick. It has a centre passage of 30 cm and its depth from the top of the slab is 40 cm. This is also an east facing dolmenied cist, angling nearly 900 between the joints of each of the orthostrat.
The eastern orthostrat of MB3 is exactly parallel, in the eastern direction, with the western vertical Laterite slab of MB1 and perpendicular to the southern vertical Laterite slab of MB1.
One heavy chunk of iron ore has been recovered from the inside of the chamber of MB3. The absence of ceramic assemblage and antiquities shows that it could have been raised or constructed at the later period, in view of a commemorative purpose. Also, it shows the possibility of the reserved nature of the burial made for a person who was in the last stage of his life, as we have seen examples of these kinds from other megalithic burial sites, dotted at several places in India.
Getting the iron ore from such a depth again reveals the strong possibility of the presence of iron ore in the vicinity of the site. This is somehow connected with the iron working area which has been noticed around 100 mt. to the west from the excavated site.
The complete features of MB3 will be revealed with further excavations.
Megalithism is a tradition and that was continued in the region in its full form upto the early historical period as suggested by literature and still some of the tribals from the region are practicing this in another form. Large amounts of ceramics assemblage have been reported during the course of present excavation from all four megalithic burials. Micacious red ware is the predominant ceramic ware in this assemblage. Besides this, dull red ware, Micacious black ware are the other wares recovered. In Vidarbha megaliths, Micacious red ware is the common ware found all over the region. Potteries from this excavation are slightly different than elsewhere in the region .
Potsherds collected from MB1 are coarse in fabric, oftenly ill levigated with little exceptions and well fired as its red colour shown. Main shapes include bowls, dish, Handi and basins. As earlier mentioned very few potsherds have been recovered from MB2. These are also coarse in fabric and could not show much shapes except flattened bowl. From MB3 not a single potsherd has been reported. 70% of the ceramic assemblage has reported from MB4. Coarse and fine, well and ill levigated and well and ill fired ceramics are contained in this assemblage. All the potsherds are made out by mixture of mica and semi-fine clay but showing diversity with other megalithic sites where the mica flakes are used to produce pottery. Instead of mica flakes, potter used mica powder for producing ceramics. The main shapes are dower plates, bowls, globular pots, basins, handi and dishes.
Present condition of this ceramic assemblage shows that the potsherds were waterlogged for the longer period. All the potsherds are eroded in such a way that the red colour coming out when handled likes those of Ochre Colour pottery of Chalcolithic tradition in Northern India. Though this region is undulating in nature and small streams and lakes are watered this area, exact answer for the waterlogged condition of ceramics could not be clear.
During the survey, on some of these megalithic structures, many cup-marks have been noticed. These are the most conspicuous factor associated with megalithic burials in the region. Many megalithic burials of the Vidarbha region have cup-marks identified on the surface of the peripheral boulders, Viz., Junapani, Naikund, Mahurjhari, etc. but the presence of cup-marks on the capstone of one of the dolmenied cists in locality 01 and on a menhir of locality 02 is interesting evidence as it is being noticed for the first time in the region.
On the surface of the capstone of burial no. 2, forty nine cup-marks have been observed (Fig. 11).The cup-mark patterns seem to point to north-south, assuming that the dolmen has not changed its orientation while falling down. In locality no.2, one menhir has 36 cup-marks, which again runs north-south. These cup-marks could possibly have been associated with the astronomical situation of the time when the burials has been erected (Wahia 2011).
Few pieces of iron slag and a chunk of Iron ore have been yielded during the excavation of these burials. Their occurrences were needs to be investigated by extensive explorations. While exploring 100 mt. towards the west side of excavated trench large amount of iron slag have scattered all over the area. It is observe that this region is storage of minerals, especially iron and manganese ores reveals the possibility of iron smelting zone used in ancient days. Until the excavation and electric resistivity survey could have been undertaken it is very difficult to draw any definite conclusion. Before this from Megalithic site Naikund in Nagpur district an iron furnace have been found to the excavators (Gogte 1982).
From the excavation at left chamber of Megalithic burial 01 (MB1), two bricks have been reported which were kept jointly in inclining position under which stone Celt (?) was placed. Two more bricks have been placed horizontal in the bottom of the left port hole of this burial. Association of these bricks with this burial is interesting fact that could not be found in previously excavated any megalithic burial so far. Ratio of these bricks are 1:2:4 (8cm:16cm:32cm) and 1:3:4 (9cm:27cm:36cm).
Few antiquities so far have been reported during excavation due to its commemorative nature. One stone Celt, broken polisher and one microlithic scraper are among the stone antiquities. Various sizes glass bangles yielded during the excavation of MB1. Four small coins belongs to 3rd – 2nd Cen. B.C., broken bangle are included in copper. One iron rod and one nail with flattened top has included in iron antiquities. Antiquities in terracotta are absent in these megalithic burials.
Two broken parts of Human femur from MB1 whereas from MB4 one broken part of radius? have been recovered. These burials are mainly non-sepulchral in character as it is categorized by scholar but findings of human bones from these megalithic structures questioned its categorization.
Though the present site is comes under protected forest zone, maximum part of the site is inhabited by the villagers. Still this site is used as burial ground for cremation of dead from the village. This shows sort of the continuous tradition in incineration of dead bodies, only a form is changed through the time period. Earlier in megalithic tradition dead had been buried under the ground heaped by stones and boulders but nowadays that has been cremated.
Though the site has Laterite bed rock, the soil of this region is suitable for plastering the walls and verandah of the village houses. Due to the lack of awareness amongst the villagers, they daily transporting the soil form these megalithic stone circles to their houses. Another major problem responsible for the destruction of this heritage is the superstitious belief prevalent among the common people, about an ancient treasure which is supposed to have been buried under these stone structures.
The excavation of season 2010/11 is suggestive in nature, indicating the potentiality of the site. The complete landscape of locality 01 shows that the site has been disturbed continuously in different periods of time by the inhabitants of the region, intentionally or indirectly, as they have occupied and built their houses near the burial site in due course of time. The huge size of MB1 and MB2 as well as the other two dolmenied cists suggests that these burials were erected at different time periods.
The recovery of human bone fragments from the excavated burial MB1 and MB4 shows its secondary type of burial nature. In the absence of human bones in the MB2 and MB3 shows its commemorative nature. The absence of ceramic assemblage, human bones and other artifacts in MB2 and MB3 reveals that this could be built in a later period for the members of same family group or clan. Due to the systematic arrangement and close proximity of all four excavated burials to one another shows some kind of a strong social relevance between the same groups of people.
The absence of iron from the chambers of the burial shows that these burials were erected in the early historic period because when the metal had been used in various forms, it could have been possible that the megalithic people were psychologically not ready to bury these important artifacts inside the architecture which they had erected for a commemorative purpose.
The use of sandstone for the capping purpose shows their excellence in geological study. Perhaps these people could have had good knowledge about the porous nature of Laterite, as well as the granular strength of sandstone. The Laterite blocks, which are available locally, in the vicinity of the burial site, were used for giving the vertical support and the use of sandstone to restrict the accessibility of rain water and for giving horizontal support. This also shows their ritual aesthetic sense, in that; they wanted to protect the dead, as well as the offering made to them, from nature.
Placement of the bricks inside of MB1 in different positions is again questioned that when megalithic builders knew the knowledge of brick making then why they had need to erect such huge architecture by spending large amount of laborious work and time? The region was under the rule of Satvahanas and Vakatakas for longer period. The evidence of bricks suggests the early historical time frame for these burials. Perhaps these bricks have been placed for ritualistic purpose after completion of this architecture.
Enclosing structure of MB4 is very interesting to find out whether it could be connected to the right chamber of MB1 or it is running parallel in north direction. If it is connected with right chamber of MB1 then why megalithic builders needs to build such architecture? or it could be a ramp built for placing the huge and heavy capstones. All the ancient architecture like temples and pyramids had been built through the same procedure by using ramp to place heavy stone up to the top.
Coins having Three-arched and Ujjain symbol are the typical identity of early historical period 3rd Cen. B.C. to 4th Cen. A.D. (Satvahana to Vakatakas). All the four coins are produced out by casting technique and very small in size.
All the associated evidences indicate towards the possibility that these burials had been erected in early historical period and continued its worshiping nature even in the modern period.
The complete picture of the site will be revealed only after the next season’s excavation.
I am grateful in being able to acknowledge Prof. V.S Shinde, Prof. Mayank Wahia, Dr. Ismail Kellelu, and Dr. Yashadatta Alone for providing us with their time, their valuable guidance and their encouragement. We are also thankful to the members of Tarun Paryavarvadi Mandal, Sevabhavi Samajdrushti Sanstha, the Local NGOs of Shankarpur village and the Members of the Village-Panchayat of Hirapur for all the support and help which they had provided us during our excavation and exploration. Without them, it would have been very difficult to complete this excavation and to explore such remote places.
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List of Figures
Fig. No. 1- Megalithic Sites of India with Special reference to Vidarbha
Fig. No. 2- Drainage Pattern of Vidarbha, Central India
Fig. No. 3- Location Map of Dolmen Site
Fig. No. 5- View of Megalithic Burial 01 (MB1)