The Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological site in central India that spans the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, as well as the historic period. It exhibits the earliest traces of human life in India and evidence of Stone Age starting at the site in Acheulian times. It is located in the Raisen District in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh about 45 kilometres (28 mi) south-east of Bhopal. 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. The rock shelters and caves provide evidence of, according to Encyclopædia Britannica, a “rare glimpse” into human settlement and cultural evolution from hunter-gatherers, to agriculture, and expressions of prehistoric spirituality.
Some of the Bhimbetka rock shelters feature prehistoric cave paintings and the earliest are about 10,000 years old (c. 8,000 BCE), corresponding to the Indian Mesolithic. 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.
Bhimbetka rock art is considered oldest petroglyphs in the world, some of these similar to aboriginal rock art in Australia and the paleolithic Lascaux cave paintings in France. Of the 750 rock shelters, only 12 to 15 are open to visitors.
The Bhimbetka shelters also contain fossils from the Precambrian, hundreds of millions of years before the human era, including the enigmatic basal animal Dickinsonia.
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