Guf’kraI of Tral

Akeel Rashid

The GUF’KRAL (meaning guf-cave, kral-potter), a place inhabited by potters who use caves dug into the karewa for both residential and storage purposes, is located 41 kilometres southeast of Srinagar, near the Tehsil town of Tral in the Pulwama District of Jammu and Kashmir State, at 35°54' N, 75°60' E. It is accessible by the Awantipora-Dadsar-Tral road. It is located on a large upper karewa deposit adjacent to the settlement of Ban-Mir, between two nallahs that connect Jhelum almost 10 kilometres to the west. The mound is 400 metres long north-south and 75 metres wide east-west at its peak. The mound reaches a maximum height of 35 metres from the road level on the western side.

The Prehistory Branch of the Archaeological Survey of India examined the GUF’KRAL from August 18 to October 20, 1981 (GU'fkraI1981: An Aceramic Neolithic Site in the Kashmir Valley by A. K. SHARMA). A multitude of caverns, both single and multi chambered with pillars, may be found on the slopes of the 35 m high mound. Krals (potters) occupy some, mainly on the southeastern side. Others, which are now empty, have had their apertures closed owing to the earth's collapse. So far, the oldest Kral is believed to have been born in one of these caverns. The concerned local authorities are planning to examine a couple of these caves in order to determine their age.

Cross bedded sand, light yellow slit, and karewa could be visible in the exposures on the northern extension of the mound, indicating a thick layer of conglomerate. Limestone, trap, and quartzite with boulders make up the conglomerate. A number of menhirs on the hill can be discovered on the eastern edge of the mound, almost in the centre. None of them are in their original, upright position. The Krals utilise a few that have rolled down to the bottom of the mound to wash their garments.

The Frontier Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India inspected the site in 1962 and 1963. The objective was to learn more about the site's culture sequence, so the excavation was limited to practically the centre of the mound, where a maximum of 3.10 m of habitat iona I deposit was found over natural soil. Rain gullies and side scrapings suggested that another 5 m of deposit was projected on the mound's northern flank. In the rain gullies, scrapings were made that revealed round and rectangular pits.

Settlement Design

The settlement design consisted of large and small housing holes carved into the loessic deposits, with narrow mouths and wide bottoms and round or oval in shape. At the peak, their diameter ranged from 3.80 m to 1.50 m. Unlike the Burzahom living pits, which were very deep, large habitation holes mainly belonged to phase 1 and were just 20 to 30 cm deep (up to 3.96 m). These pits were bordered by hearths and storage pits. A number of postholes were discovered around the pits and hearths to support the grass and reed superstructure.

The discovery of mud chunks with reed impressions suggests that the superstructures' bases were most likely plastered with mud to give them strength and prevent water and snow from entering from the sides. The floors of the habitation pits and storage pits were cut into the loessic deposit (natural soil's top layer), and their working levels were plastered with red ochre paste in phase 1.

The floors in phase 2 were not equipped with this treatment. As demonstrated by the successive deposits inside these pits, several living pits cut in phase 1 were subsequently extended and utilised in phase 2. Two-chambered habitation holes were also available in phase 2 and were deeper than their phase 1 counterparts.

Phase 1 hearths were rectangular, whilst phase 2 hearths were both round and rectangular and formed of burnt clay. The floor and sides of one of the circular hearths were covered with mud. This circular hearth has a (outside) diameter of 93 cm and a depth of 30 em. It had postholes around the outside. The presence of these postholes, as well as a huge amount of ash from inside the fireplace, as well as pebbles, suggests that the animals were cooked by hanging them over the fire in the hearth, which was supported by the poles.

Artefacts found at Guf’kral

Polished stone celts, both finished and unfinished, stone points with one and both sharp ends made of Himalayan Trap, one broken unfinished ring stone, pounders, and querns are among the objects utilised by the settlers. The red ochre-treated floor near the habitation hole in one of the trenches yielded a huge quem with a depression on the working surface and red ochre paste clinging to it.

Twenty-seven bone tools were discovered, both polished throughout the body and solely at the working tips. Long bones, splinters, and horns were used to create them. The majority of these were arrowheads and points. In addition to two awls, piercers and scrapers were discovered. A polished bone needle with a damaged eye, on the other hand, deserves extra attention. The majority of the instruments' tips had been burned to provide the working ends the strength they needed.

After the animal was slaughtered and skinned, piercers were used to make incisions and tear open the flesh; scrapers were used to scrape fat from the meat. Green bones, such as those from sheep, goats, cervus, and ibex, were commonly used to make bone tools. Different sorts of tools were created by utilising the natural curves, depressions, and articulation ends of diverse elements. Arrowheads were microscopic, with only the tips burned and polished, like microliths.

From the Aceramic Neolithic through the Historical Period, excavations at Gufkral have revealed five periods of habitation. For the first time, it has been proven that there was an Aceramic Neolithic Period in the Kashmir Valley prior to the introduction of pottery. It was during this period that the process of domestication of chosen species of animals was tried. People began collecting various grains such as wheat and barley because they realised their nutritional worth. Tools made of bone and stone were made. People lived in the open and in huts with flooring buried into the loessic deposits to protect them from the bitterly cold air.

They painted the flooring red-ochre to keep them neat and lovely. Hunting was their main source of income. Handmade ceramics were introduced in Period IB. Grey ware and rough dull red ware were used to make jars, bowls, basins, and other items. There was a shift in the pattern of settlement. Pits were demolished, and mud and rubble walls were built in their place. Bone tools with a high degree of polish were created. The domestication of animals took off in a big way.

The Neolithic culture had attained maturity by Period IC. In dwellings, thick whitish flooring with "Chunam" mixed soil was installed. The variety of items and their ornamentation has increased. It was possible to make a vast quantity and diversity of well-polished bone tools. Larger stone artefacts were used less frequently. Agriculture had become well-established. Woolen fabric weaving had begun. Hunting activities reduced once animals were domesticated and agriculture was fully developed. People now had more time on their hands to create ornaments, toy pots, and other products.

The advent of menhirs in Gufkral signalled the beginning of Period II. It's unclear whether the same people practised the worship of creating massive memorial stones or if a new group of neolithic settlers arrived on the scene and began living alongside the previous settlers. Wheel-made dull red ware, vessels with channelled spouts, copper artefacts, spindle whorls with medium-sized holes, rice, and millet were all associated with the menhir phase. Although the bone tool industry was overlooked, bone handles were produced. Jars, bowls, cups-on-stand, and lids with bowls from Period III reflect the historical phase with wheel-made thin bright red ware. Stamped motifs and paintings in black on red were introduced. During this time, iron arrived at the site.

Present Status

A team from Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) recently examined the site and declared it to be India's most threatened neolithic site. "Encroachment, vandalism, and growing occupancy pressure are all present. The caves have been encroached upon and sealed by a family. Outside archaeological evidence has vanished, and there is no public access to it," INTACH state convener Salim Beg remarked. "I've witnessed big encroachments at different such sites in India, but I've never seen such massive encroachment and total abandonment by ASI and the state government." Prior to the visit, INTACH attempted to obtain information about the site from ASI and the Department of Archives, Archeological, and Museums, but were unable to do so because they have all conveniently abandoned it.

"This site has been investigated by ASI, but it has not been alerted. The local department washes its hands of the location by declaring it ASI property. State, in reality, has its own act that it might investigate. Under the statute, even a local Tehsildar can defend it," Beigh remarked. "This is an ancient site that has been excavated and has evidence of its importance, although it is still abandoned. It is India's most endangered prehistoric site, according to its current state."