Bhimbetka Caves

  • The Bhimbetka Caves or Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological site in MP that spans the prehistoric Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, as well as the historic period.
    • The term ‘Bhim-betaka’ refers to the ‘sitting location of Bhima’, one of the Pandava brothers.
  • Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka exhibits the earliest traces of human life in India and evidence of the Stone Age starting at the site in Acheulian times.
  • Bhimbetka Caves are located in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh, about 45 kilometres (28 mi) south-east of Bhopal.
    • The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka are in the foothills of the Vindhyan Mountains on the southern edge of the central Indian plateau.
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of seven hills and over 750 rock shelters distributed over 10 km (6.2 mi).
  • At least some of the shelters were inhabited more than 100,000 years ago.
  • Discovery: The Bhimbetka rock shelters were found by V S Wakankar in 1957.
    • The extent and actual significance of the Bhimbetka rock shelters were only discovered and documented in the 1970s.
    • More than 750 rock shelters have been discovered since then. There are 243 of these in the Bhimbetka group, and 178 in the Lakha Juar group nearby.
  • It is popular for its prehistoric cave paintings done in red and white. The rock shelters and caves provide evidence of human settlement and the cultural evolution from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, and expressions of prehistoric spirituality.
    • These cave paintings show themes such as animals, early evidence of dance and hunting from the Stone Age as well as of warriors on horseback from a later time (perhaps the Bronze Age).
    • The Bhimbetka site has the oldest-known rock art in India, as well as is one of the largest prehistoric complexes.
Paintings in Rock Shelter 8, Bhimbetka
Bhimbetka rock painting


  • The first period, which corresponds to the Upper Paleolithic epoch, features enormous animals such as bosons, rhinos, and tigers.
  • The Mesolithic period, or the second phase, is marked by miniature, stylized human figurines.
    • Weapons such as barbed spears, pointed rods, and bows and arrows are displayed on these figurines.
    • They also depict social interactions such as dancing, burials, drinking, eating, and so on.
  • The Chalcolithic phase is the third stage, characterised by agricultural activities and exchange between nomads and agriculturists.
  • Prehistoric cave paintings may be seen in some of the Bhimbetka rock shelters, the oldest of which date back to around 10,000 years ago (c. 8,000 BCE), dating to the Indian Mesolithic.
    • They have a widened colour pattern with red, white, and yellow used in the paintings.
    • These paintings also depict magical creatures, sky chariots, and tree gods.
    • The paintings discovered in the rock shelters bear striking resemblance to those discovered in Australia’s Kakadu National Park, as well as to Bushmen cave paintings in the Kalahari Desert and Upper Palaeolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France.
  • The use of manganese, wooden coal, and hematite can be seen in the last period, which can be classified as early mediaeval.
  • The ‘Zoo Rock,’ which depicts elephants, bison, deer, and Sambar, is the most striking feature.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India has done an excellent job of preserving the site.
Bhimbetka Caves (Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka)
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