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The early human movement

Our road to the discovery of our roots mostly meanders through the mountain passes in the Sahyadri. But we do not have much archaeological material to trace the movements of our ancestors – not because such material does not exist; but not much effort has been made to unearth it. As for Goa, we have remained preoccupied with just one or two sites of rock art; but even there we have not made any attempt to search for pre-historic tools or human remains in their vicinity. That could have enabled us to reconstruct a part of our history. After Sali discovered a quartz chopper at Sigamv and some arrowheads, scrapers and blades made of quartz at Arali in 1964, we have not done much, except for some finds by Shirodkar and Marathe and the two explorations by Goudeller and Nambirajan in connection with their doctoral work. Most of the finds have been restricted to the Dudhsagar valley, and very little in the rest of Goa. [Through The Dudhsagar Valley, October 28, 18] The last find of pre-historic artefacts was in 1994. The few caves found have hardly been investigated; we do not even know whether they are pre-historic or more recent. The ubiquitous term ‘pandava caves’ and the popular tendency to convert them to Siva shrines, has preempted all search for their origin. More importantly, there has been no study of the debris within them to look for any evidence of human habitation. In that respect, slightly better work seems to have happened in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra and the Ghataprabha – Malaprabha valley in Karnataka. The amateur attempts to locate sites of interest have to be followed by professional exploration and analysis; this has to be done by the government agencies and the academic institutions. Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune stands out for its superb field investigations across the country; Department of History and Archaeology, Karnataka University, Dharwad too has done excellent work.

We have therefore to rely entirely on the more recent records of movements through the mountain passes in the Sahyadri, and extrapolate backwards in time. The Portuguese texts describe many passes through which trade happened between Goa and Deccan. The Talkati Ghat in the Tilari basin connects Colvale, via Halarne, to Camdgad (Chandgad) and beyond; the present State Highway 130 (Maharashtra) passes through this ghat. This is just 20 kilometres to the south of the Amboli Ghat, through which the State Highway 134 (Maharashtra) passes connecting Savantvadi to Sankesvar. Dighi and Kuvesi Ghats, along the southern bank of the Dudhsagar basin, connect Supa/Joida to Ponda on the north and Veroda / Paroda on the south, and further to the Cuncolim and Chinchinim markets. They were known for the caravans bringing cloth from Deccan. [de Souza, 1989 : Goa Through the Ages, Vol II, 103] Two commodities that emanated from the coast were salt and rice.

It appears that this network of routes coming from across the ghatmatha, or what Arcamone called interiori terrae, was well integrated with the caravan tracks and waterways on the coast; the rivers seem to have been extensively used. We find references to waterborne trade along the distributaries of Mandovi connecting Sarmanas, Narve and Britona; along the distributaries of Zuari connecting Rachol, Bandode and Madkai. The same is true of the smaller rivers like Chapora in the north and Sal in the south. We have already seen the numerous ports that dotted the coast and the river basins. [The Lost Ports of Goa, 20 May 18]

How long back into the past could this mobility and the movement across the coastal plain and into the mountains beyond have existed? We have seen earlier that the landscape of coastal Konkan underwent a drastic change between 44,000 and 1,500 BCE; the wet evergreen forests and the myristica swamps giving way to an environment more suitable for human habitation and mobility. [The Jurassic Forest, August 19, 2018; Wading Through The Myristica Swamps, August 26, 2018] So, most probably the coast must have got populated sometime during this period. We are saying this specifically about the coast. The environment at higher altitudes of the Sahyadri could have been different; but the effect of changing rainfall pattern on vegetation might have been felt there too. The rain shadow region of the eastern slopes of the Sahyadri and the plains of the Deccan, were much drier, covered by dry deciduous forests and a savanna landscape. So overall, post-40,000 BCE or so, passage from the coast to the Deccan and vice versa must have been relatively easier. Note that there could have been several migrations across the Sahyadri. But at this point we are focused on ‘the migration’ that peopled Konkan, that is the first migration of homo sapiens (modern man) into Konkan. We do not restrict our search to migration in any one direction; for we do not know in which direction it happened.

We could perhaps now look at the scanty information available about human presence in coastal Konkan. That takes us back to the rock art and the pre-historic artifacts. The tools found in the Dudhsagar/Mhaday basin and the Ghataprabha/Malaprabha basin are said to be Acheulian or early palaeolithic. [Nambirajan, 1994: Archaeology of Goa – Early Period, 27] ‘Acheulian’ or ‘early palaeolithic’ implies not later than about 3,50,000 years ago. [Mishra, 1994: The South Asian Lower Palaeolithic, in Man and Environment, XIX (1-2), 63] Whether we accept that date or not, it simply means we are probably dealing with the very first homo to roam this land.

For that we need to go beyond the restricted domain of Dudhsagar–Mhaday-Ghataprabha-Malaprabha basin, and ask the question: Did the habitation of the pre-historic humans extend to the coast? Or, more audaciously, could they have moved from the coast to the interior? To speculate on the answers to these questions, we once again dip into Nambirajan and Goudeller.

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