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Citing damage to ancient rock carvings, experts red-flag mega oil refinery project

  • Published
    26th Dec, 2022
Context

The rock art estimated to be 20,000 years old and classified as protected monuments by the state archaeology department and the Archaeological Survey of India, is citing damages by the oil refinery project proposed in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra.

Background:

  • The initial discovery of these sites was done in 2012, though the locals had known about some of these petroglyphs as something cultural left by their ancestors.
  • Now these Konkan petroglyphs find themselves in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The largest among all Konkan petroglyphs, the one of an elephant found at Kasheli (Maharashtra) has some 70 to 80 other animals carved inside the elephant carving.

Some of the carvings are of sharks, sting rays, tigers, rhino and birds. One can only imagine the kind of biodiversity the region must have enjoyed back then.

About

The issue:

  • The site proposed for a mega oil refinery in Barsu village of Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district is at the centre of a row over whether it might damage ancient rock carvings found in the area.
  • The rock art, or petroglyphs, estimated to be 20,000 years old and classified as protected monuments and have been added to the tentative list of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
  • More than 250 petroglyphs have been identified in the area where the petrochemical refinery will be built. 
  • If the project starts at Barsu, the rock carvings will get destroyed due to construction and chemical reaction at the site.

The project is being developed by Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals Limited, a joint venture of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd, known as Ratnagiri oil refinery and petrochemical complex.

  • A committee of experts appointed by the Union Ministry of Science and Technology visited Ratnagiri to inspect and study the petroglyphs scattered across several villages, and propose measures for conserving them.

What are Petroglyphs?

  • Petroglyphs are rock carvings (rock paintings are called pictographs) made by pecking directly on the rock surface using a stone chisel and a hammerstone.
  • When the desert varnish on the surface of the rock was chipped off, the lighter rock underneath was exposed, creating the petroglyph. Archaeologists have estimated there may be over 25,000 petroglyph images along the 17 miles of escarpment within the monument boundary.

The Petroglyphs found in the region:

  • They are also called katal shilpa, spread across 70 sites in Ratnagiri district.
  • The carvings are in the shape of human figures, birds, animals and geometric forms, though they vary in shape and size from site to site.
  • Seven sites in Ratnagiri district (Ukshi, Jambharun, Kasheli, Rundhe Tali, Devihsol, Barsu and Devache Gothane), Kudopi village in Sindhudurg district, and nine sites at Pansoimol in Goa have been added to the tentative list of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.

Nisarga Yatri Sanstha, a Ratnagiri-based non-profit organisation, has been working for the last few years to find and preserve petroglyphs in Konkan region.

How they are made?

  • Petroglyphs are drawn by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving or abrading.

Suggestions:

  • The petroglyphs can be saved if the project is shifted 5-6 kilometres away from the sites.
  • Maharashtra State government is planning to create a project for conservation of all petroglyphs in the Konkan region and get their carbon and geological dating done.
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