A decrepit sign off the Tilamol-Rivona road in south Goa, read 'Protected Site - Pansaimal Petroglyphs'. A smaller road wended westwards and ended abruptly at a temple. No further sign to illuminate the journey, no sign of a rock face that might bear petroglyphs, just a cowsherd nearby. We asked for directions, some vague hand gestures followed, and we drove further along a dirt track that led to the river Kushawati. Voila! Another faded sign, and we knew we'd reached our destination.
A one-foot moat forded by a few pieces of not-too-sturdy bamboo brought us to a massive laterite rock dipping towards the rushing, roaring river - another sign hastily explained what the 'gallery of rock art' depicted. We gingerly made our way through the rain, across the slippery rock to find the engravings.
As the rain collected in depressions, we began to see the outlines: a stick-like man, a hump-backed bull, a circular labyrinth, a four-legged horned creature (a goat?). The rock seemed to come alive, as we learned to distinguish the engravings from the rock's natural texture.
Petroglyphs, originating from the Greek words for 'stone' and 'to carve', are images that are cut, carved, incised, or picked into rocks. These are distinguished from rock paintings, also known as petrographs, or pictograms - where natural colours or dyes have been used. Both petroglyphs and petrographs are attributed to prehistoric civilizations, and examples of these can be found on every continent except Antarctica!
Interestingly, most examples of petroglyphs from across the world have been approximately dated back to 10,000-12,000 years, or the Neolithic/New Stone Age, or Upper Paleolithic/Old Stone Age periods, though some date back even further.
The Pansaimal (or Usgalimal, as they are better known, named after the nearby village) petroglyphs approximately date back to 20,000-30,000 years, as per a study by Dr P.P Shirodkar, a former Director of the Goa State Department of Archives and Archaeology - and is among South India's most significant prehistoric sites. Discovered in 1993, they were extensively researched though little of that seems openly available. Yet the state of the site, and the sketchy interpretation signs were a disheartening reminder of just how little we value our (pre)history.
The nearby Kazur/Cajur petroglyphs, I'd heard were more popular. We drove further along that road, followed a sign, and ended up in a patchwork of paddy farms. A gaudy temple and another sign invited us across a mucky landscape, with no path, only the narrow bunds or banks that divided the farms.
Upon reaching, we found one sign that read 'Dudha Fator', the stone of milk, and no further context was provided. The rock itself was a dark slab of basalt (nothing milky about it), busy with ancient scribbles. From where the sign stood, the rock tilted towards us, and it took a while to realise the engravings were upside down. We tried in vain to make sense of the engravings based on the few details provided but saw no axe, nor vulva, just some long-horned animals. Perhaps you'll have better luck deciphering the images below (remember, the figures are upside down)
As we left, I saw a herd of buffaloes with long horns grazing in the fields nearby - they seemed to perfectly connect the threads of the past and the present. A prehistoric, pastoral community tcarved images of their livestock into the rocks nearby, and millennia after, another pastoral community grazes their cattle along the same stretch of river.