ASI has done little to conserve the site or make it accessible to people
One of the largest prehistoric megalithic settlements where some funerary monuments are still intact remains hidden away owing to lack of any conservation or development by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Although this important site near Hirebenkal village, 10 km from here, was declared a protected monument in 1955, the ASI has done little to conserve it and make the site accessible to people.
Though the site is located on a rocky hilltop near the Raichur-Koppal State Highway, the ASI has failed to put up a board signalling the presence of the site. Thorny bushes and slippery rocks too act as deterrents.
Climbing up the steep hillock, which the local people call ‘elu guddagalu' (seven hillocks), to view the megalithic settlement is a challenging task. Without the help of the local people, it is impossible to climb and view the breathtaking megalithic settlements, which include several dolmens (three-sided chambers, with or without portholes, and with large stones called capstones forming the roof.)
The site consists of several buried and semi-buried dolmens called cists and dolmenoid cists respectively, in arranged circles. There were other structures such as irregular polygonal chambers and rock shelter chambers. Historians and researchers date these megaliths to between 800 B.C. and 200 BC.
Hirebenkal is one of the very few Indian megalithic sites found with associated habitations. Archaeologists have unearthed rich cultural material at the site, including pre-megalithic implements, iron slag, pottery of Neolithic, megalithic and early historic period.
The rocky hillocks of Hirebenkal also contain rock art from the Neolithic period. At least 10 rock shelters contain lively paintings in red ochre, depicting people dancing, hunting, holding weapons and taking part in processions. There are also paintings in geometric and mystic designs and show animals such as deer, antelopes, peacocks, humped bulls, cows and horses.
Another important discovery was a unique stone kettledrum resting on a 10-metre high boulder. The hemispherical stone has a diameter of over 2 metres and is 1.5 metres high. When beaten with a stone or wooden hammer, the sound can be distinctly heard 1 km away, both in the burial complex and habitation site. Although historians point out that there were more than 400 funerary monuments in Hirebenkal, most of these monuments have collapsed and the remaining are on the verge of collapse.
“This place is seldom visited by anybody. In a month, around 50 foreign tourists visit the site,” said Ramesh and Ibrahim Pasha, residents of Hirebenkal.