Archaeologists have discovered cave paintings in a rocky and forested corner of Haryana, not far from the national capital, that they believe belong to the Upper Palaeolithic age, which could potentially make them one of the oldest cave arts in the country.

The caves are nestled amid a maze of quartzite rocks in the Aravalli mountain ranges, just outside the national capital, and a stone’s throw from the region’s only surviving patch of primary forest, a holy grove called Mangar Bani.

“So far, cave paintings in Delhi-NCR have only been found here. Most pre-historic sites have been traced in the Aravalli region. The paintings are yet to be dated but at least some of them belong to the Upper Palaeolithic period in all likelihood. We are viewing the paintings in continuation with the Soanian culture which has been found in Shivalik hills, Narmada and Aravallis,” said Banani Bhattacharyya, deputy director of the department of archaeology and museums.

The team encountered cave paintings comprising images of human figurines, animals, foliage, and geometric, some that have paled over time, but others that are still very visible. It also encountered rock art and open-air ceremonial sites. While some could be spotted in the open air, a majority of them are on the ceilings of the rock shelters.

The Upper Paleolithic Age began around 40,000 years ago and lasted till around 10,000 years ago.

To be sure, the findings have to be validated, dated, reviewed, and published. The department plans to undertake further explorations in the area.

The caves and the paintings themselves are reminiscent of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, which is home to the oldest known cave art in India, dating back to the Mesolithic Age (around 10,000 years ago).

The Mangar cave art is 20,000-40,000 years old, according to Bhattacharyya, but this is something that can be established through archaeological dating. Experts also use qualitative techniques, by comparing the cave art to other cave art, and that found in other excavations.

Most of the paintings are ochre, but some are white. Experts say cave paintings in white are usually from a later stage (early contemporary era), while Stone Age paintings are more often than not, ochre. “Stone age paintings generally use red and ochre colours. Stones of these colour used to be available locally and inhabitants crushed the stones for preparing the colour for paintings,” said Bhattacharyya.