The field of archaeology is crucial to understanding Dravidian history. This is where one encounters terms like cairns, megaliths and dolmens. As I had mentioned in a previous post, these are prehistoric monuments from a phase known as the Megalithic Period of the Deccan. Another term associated with South Indian history is the Southern Neolithic Agricultural Complex (which marks the Dravidian tribes’ shift to a lifestyle combining pastoralism and agriculture). There are sites littered with megaliths of those ancient inhabitants of the peninsula, in every state where Dravidians form the majority (Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala). Eastern Maharashtra, which was once inhabited by Dravidian Gondi tribesmen is no different, with a profusion of megaliths.
In March, 2017, a major discovery was made in Narmeta Village of Nangunuru Mandal, Siddipet District of Telangana State (one of the two Telugu-speaking states of peninsular South Asia). But the episode passed without much comment in the national (which is usually a byword for the English- and North Indian press) and state media (which continues to mistake mythology for history, and has little knowledge or interest in linguistics or archaeology). They did not find it exciting enough that the discovery involved one of the largest megalithic structures in this part of the world, or that its study could shed vital clues on the ancestry of the Telugu people. Given below is a report ‘Archaeologists unearth 40-tonne capstone in Telangana, the largest ever found in South India’ that was put up by Scroll on March 27, 2017:
The discovery of the structure, which was used to cover graves, was made at a prehistoric menhir megalith burial site in Siddipet’s Neremetta village. A team of archaeologists in Telangana have unearthed a 40-tonne capstone, believed to be the largest discovered in South India. A crane was used to remove the stone – 6.70 m long and 4 m wide – in a four-hour operation, Deccan Chronicle reported. Officials have found at least 50 megalith burial sites, which have been classified as menhirs, cairns and dolmens. Scientists said capstones were used to protect corpses from predators as prehistoric people believed that the soul continues to live even after death.
“We cannot say it is the world’s largest as there could be much larger ones. But we can safely say this is the largest capstone found in South India and one of the largest in the country,” D Ramulu Naik, Assistant Director of Telangana Archaeology and Museums Department, told Deccan Chronicle. The excavation began a week ago after megalith burials were discovered in the neighbouring village of Pullur Banda. It was led by the department’s director NR Visalatchi. “First they may have dug a grave near the huge capstone, filled it with gravel, and then moved the capstone by rolling it over round stones or logs of wood. Or they could have dug the earth beneath the stone and buried the dead under it,” Naik told Deccan Chronicle. The capstone was lifted at the excavation site on March 21, department officials told PTI. Naik added that it was a “stunning discovery”. Some of the smaller bones discovered at the site have been dispatched for DNA testing to the Deccan College of Post Graduate Research in Pune.
Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and taken from ‘Rude Stone Monuments in all Countries’ by James Fergusson, a Scottish historian and architect. It appeared in ‘Kongl. Vitterhets Historie och Antiqvitets Akademiens Månadsblad’ (1872-1905), a magazine published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities.