Kerala

A pre-historic site in dire need of better care

Illustration for The Hindu

Illustration for The Hindu  

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Edakkal Caves face serious threats from mining, tourism overdrive, and construction

Whatever be the depredations of colonial rulers, the petroglyphs on the walls of Edakkal caves in Wayanad are a testimony to the sagacity of some imperial officials and their love for the land they ruled. For, it was F. Fred Fawcett, then superintendent of police in the erstwhile Malabar district, who discovered the rock shelter 124 years ago and brought its significance to the attention of the world.

The carvings inside the cave located on Ambukuthimala are pictorial record of dreams, visions, and anxieties of local tribes in the Neolithic Age. Today, the way this archaeological site is preserved leaves a lot to be desired. And, it tells you what makes the difference between a bad conservation and a good one. The woeful state of the conservation of the cave is unjustifiable. The cave’s immense archaeological, anthropological, and historical importance certainly deserves a lot more conservation efforts from the State Archaeology Department, the custodian of the rock art site.

Major threats being faced by the pre-historic site are many — illegal constructions, tourism, mining, and urbanisation.

True, there was an initiative on the part of the State Government to secure the UNESCO World Heritage Monument Status for the petroglyphs. Not only did the Government earmark ₹50 lakh, it also appointed a special officer for the purpose in 2013. Keralam - Museum of History and Heritage, Thiruvananthapuram, was made the implementing agency of the project.

Nothing has come out of this initiative, though. The UNESCO status still eludes the site. Recall a workshop held at Sulthan Bathery in 2013 on conserving Edakkal petroglyphs. The workshop handed over its recommendations to the department. But no action was taken. Though the Archaeology Department appointed an officer to monitor the day-to-day activities at the monument in 2009, the post has remained vacant for the past six years.

To top it all, the Government’s ban on all types of construction activities within 300 metres of the monument a few years ago has not been fully implemented. The proposed survey of the surrounding area by the Revenue Department has been put on hold. After the survey, the land was to be handed over to the Archaeology Department.

Many resorts have already been constructed, flouting all norms in the nearby ecologically fragile area. And, construction activities are still under way in the area.

The local body — Nenmeni grama panchayat — flagged the issue by constituting a sub- committee around three months ago to study the illegal construction and encroachments on the hill slope. The committee has identified illegal constructions including construction of huge structures and water tanks on the hill for resorts. One can just imagine the serious threat such activities are posing to the pre-historic rock shelter and also to families residing on the hill slopes.

Although the custodian of the site is the Archaeology Department, tourism activities in the area are managed by the Edakkal Tourism Destination Committee under the District Tourism Promotion Council. The Edakkal caves being a site of historical importance, there is truth in what historians and epigraphists, who have visited the site, have been saying: “The cave is not well protected at present.”

Maybe there is a solution to the issue of poor conservation of the site. Its takeover by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as a national monument could be an answer.

A national monument it really is. Isn’t it better if it is recognised as such by the ASI before it is granted UNESCO status as a heritage structure?

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 12:42:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/a-pre-historic-site-in-dire-need-of-better-care/article30561811.ece

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