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Desi Stones and Bones

Desi Stones and Bones

Author: Desi Stones and Bones

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A podcast about fossils, stone tools and cave art in India. Stories on India's natural history and prehistory.
4 Episodes
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The landscape was a geological crumb cake.  It was a tableland bristling with a garrison of boulders, rocks and pebbles. For archaeologist Jinu Koshy every step was an ankle twist, an accidental shuffle dance. At some point in the trek, echoes of bleating goats boomeranged. Jinu had come closer to a ravine. He stood at the nibbled edge of this chasm, spying rock shelters. Early last year, the 42-year-old archaeologist made his first trip to this desolate mesa. The upland was located in the south-Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. A bird’s eye view of an online map showed a rumpled terrain, very similar to a spot nearby that Jinu had helped excavate. That archaeological dig had happened more than a decade ago and had unwrapped some of south India’s oldest rock art on the walls of cave shelters — prime studio pads for prehistoric man. Since the landscapes bore close resemblances, Jinu was sure that this site too could have housed doodling hunter gatherers. On his debut march across this tableland, Jinu climbed up and down ravines, combing craggy cave walls for ancient art but the Chennai-based archaeologist was left twiddling his thumbs. Ravines in a mesa located in Andhra Pradesh. Archaeologist Jinu Koshy sits at the lip of a valley. The landscape up the mesa bristled with rocks and pebbles. Rock shelters. Kangaroo-like drawings? Images of kangaroo-like creatures. Image courtesy Jinu Koshy Images of kangaroo-like creatures. Image courtesy Jinu Koshy Images of kangaroo-like creatures. Image courtesy Jinu Koshy
Imagine being shipwrecked and solitary on an island. I know that sounds like a cliched introduction to a reality show. But hang on to that that driftwood. Archaeologist Akhilesh Kumar flaking a quartzite stone to make a handaxe — a stone tool that is often referred to as the Swiss Army knife of ancient man. Stone-tool experiments such as these have revealed that archaic man came to India much earlier than previously assumed.Being alone in the wild is certainly a terrifying idea for screen-staring city-slickers because most of us don’t even possess mildly practical skills to survive like Robinson Crusoe.But for tool-making archaeologists, the real McCoys with Sherlockian skills, a castaway’s life is clearly, elementary. Meet the authentic Flintstones!This is a story about reliving the past. A narrative about archaeologists rewriting dates of early human migration to India, new-age stone-tool butcherers and a deerskin-clad hunter. A map of Attirampakkam, an archaeological site close to the south Indian city of Chennai that has been studied for more than a century. Archaeologist Akhilesh Kumar knapping -- chipping stones to make tools. Akhilesh and Shanti Pappu consider the chips falling off a stone-tool experiment to be critical clues to the past. The process of knapping involves chipping a stone to create sharp edges and sometimes a symmetrical, aesthetic tool like the handaxe. (Illustration inspired by Encyclopedia Brittanica) The flakes of a stone tool could serve as a sharp blade or help piece the jigsaw puzzle of a missing tool. Handaxes are considered as early artistic creations of our ancestors. In the foreground is one made by Akhilesh, a copy of the prehistoric tool in the background that was found in Attirampakkam. Some of the oldest stone artifacts, crude stone tools, were found in the Olduvai gorge in Tanzania. Copy of Copy of Handaxes and cleavers, palaeolithic man's Swiss Army knives. Copy of Copy of Kathy Schick cutting through an elephant hide. (Picture courtesy: Kathy Schick) Copy of Copy of Bill Schindler trying to spark a fire in one of the episodes of National Geographic Great Human Race series. (Picture credit Griffin Kenemer, National Geographic Studios) Copy of Copy of As stone tools evolved, they got smaller during the middle palaeolithic period-- a bit like the shrinking sizes of mobile phones and laptops of today. Copy of Copy of Neolithic tools or new stone age tools were polished and smoother and often attached to a piece of wood to make what is called a composite tool.
Vishal Verma is a 48-year-old fossil-hunter and conservationist who lives in Manavar, a sleepy town in Central India, surrounded by rolling hills of pale limestone and dark volcanic basalt. Dinosaurs once walked on these lands. The moonlighting palaeontologist had found numerous breathtaking fossils in his lifetime. But one particular kind eluded him — those of dinosaurs. This is a tale of triumphs and disappointments. The story of an Indian fossil hunter.
Scoop a spade through the soil beneath your feet and you could reveal eye-popping, fantastical proofs of creatures that existed a hundred, thousand, million or even a billion years before you. The book Indica -- A deep natural history of the Indian subcontinent with its vivid illustrations and lucid prose, slices through India’s mountains, rivers, rocks and fossils to reveal the intricate layers of India’s natural history.In this interview, Pranay talks about the inspiration for Indica, his mentors, the crisis facing geological monuments in India and the recent push for conservation of these relics.
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