I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be an archaeologist. Ever since I saw my first Indiana Jones film (The Temple of Doom, to be exact), I’ve been fascinated by these intrepid souls, who go marching off into thick jungles, arid deserts and whatnot and set about looking for skulls and similarly diverting objects. Of course, as I grew older and a little less stupid, I realized that Indy was a one-off – not all archaeologists loosed off wry one-liners, cracked bullwhips and got the girl (sometimes all at once, in his case). Most were likely to be fairly normal individuals, with an overriding passion for learning about mankind’s past, and when they made an important discovery, its impact was likely to be far-reaching. Take a moment and think, for example, of John Marshall, who excavated the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization and the ancient university of Taxila. Imagine the sort of sheer excitement the man would have felt when he finally uncovered the sites’ remains – he would have been like a champagne cork about to go off, I wager.
I’m not sure if Dr V S Wakankar liked his champagne (he could have been a teetotaler for all I know), but there’s no doubt he would have felt more than a little carbonated when, on his way by train to Nagpur from Ujjain, he noticed caves above the hills in the distance. He had just finished unearthing some rock shelters in the Chambal Valley, so he was a man who knew a thing or two about archaeology. Going purely by instinct, he went off into the thick forests of teak and cut his way right through to the amazing caves of Bhimbetka, the largest collection of prehistoric art in India. It was here that I found myself one sweltering morning, wondering whether the drive from Bhopal (a relatively short one, but still) was going to be worth it. It obviously wasn’t a tourist hot spot, considering that I was the only person there, but that’s usually a good thing in my line of work, so I walked into the cave complex to see what the fuss was all about.