An international team of archaeologists led by Professor Paul Tacon has discovered India’s earliest directly dated rock art.

The geometric pattern of three concentric diamonds engraved on the limestone wall of a giant cave near Kurnool in South India has been dated to about 5000 years.

Professor Tacon, Chair in Rock Art Research, says they believe the rock art was created by people making a transition from hunting-gathering to early agriculture.

“It is possible the diamond pattern was intended to represent honeycombs or a site for honey gathering, although we’ll never know what exactly this design meant to the people in that age,” he said.

“Across India, there are many rock shelters with paintings that feature diamond, nested diamond, spiralling rhomboid and honeycomb-like designs of varying ages.

“The pattern could have been used to communicate to people across generations that this was an ideal location to collect honey as it continues to be today.”

The archaeologists from Australia, India and Britain, who dated specks of calcium carbonate from the incisions that make up the Billasurgam Cave engraving, published their findings in theJournal of Archaeological Sciencesthis month.

India has dozens of sites of prehistoric rock art scattered across the country featuring paintings or engravings depicting humans, animals and other subjects but none had been directly dated until now.

Professor Tacon and his colleagues will commence a new research program to study and date rock art from sites in northern Australia, Malaysia and China later this year.

“When rock art is more precisely dated across the region, we will be better able to understand how it changed over time as well as why it was important to people in the past.

“We will also be able to better link it to the results of archaeological excavations and environmental change.

“Accurately dated rock art will thus give us a more nuanced look into how past peoples of our region responded to changing circumstances, something of relevance to all of us today”