Sunshine story: Pune villagers come together to save volcanic soil from Indonesia

Updated: Dec 12, 2018, 15:13 IST | Chaitraly Deshmukh | Pune

Villagers band together to save prehistoric volcanic soil that landed in Pune all the way from Indonesia centuries ago

Researchers study the tephra, which is up to two metres thick in certain spots in Bori Khurd
Researchers study the tephra, which is up to two metres thick in certain spots in Bori Khurd

Can you believe that 8 lakh years after a supervolcano erupted in Indonesia, the ash from the explosion can still be found all the way here in India, in a tiny village 100-km from Pune? But it won't be around much longer if left to the neglectful authorities, who have done nothing to preserve the archaeological marvel.

For years, this prehistoric ash and gravel has been washed away by human activities such as sand mining. Fortunately, the locals now have taken matters into their own hands. The villagers of Bori Khurd and Bori Budruk have pooled together R3.5 lakh, and on December 6, they began barricading the archaeological site, to prevent trespassers from damaging it.

An Acheulean stone tool
An Acheulean stone tool

Rare findings
Around 35 years ago, researchers studying the soil along Kukdi river in Junnar taluka discovered rare deposits of Toba tephra there. Tephra refers to rock fragments and particles ejected by a volcanic eruption. This particular deposit was found to contain ash, gravel and volcanic glass shards all the way from a prehistoric volcano, where Lake Toba now lies in Indonesia. The eruption would have been catastrophic for the volcano's ash cloud to spread across the 3,200 km between Indonesia and India.

But that's not the only prehistoric finding here. Researchers have also found Acheulean tools or ancient stone instruments that date as far back as 6 to 7 lakh years ago. These distinctive oval and pear-shaped implements are vital evidence of very early tool-making. They also helped researchers date the tephra on the riverbed.

Sheila Mishra, retired professor of prehistoric archaeology at the Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, said, "This tephra is a rare occurrence and is evidence of a rare and catastrophic event in human history.

This volcano erupted a number of times, around 8 lakh years, then 5 lakh years and 75 thousand years ago. In each of these eruptions, material spread from Toba across the Indian Ocean. While many people attribute such tephra to the most recent eruption, the Bori tephra is associated with stone tools made by the Acheulean technology. This technology had disappeared 6 to 7 lakh years ago, and so the Bori tephra must have originated from the oldest eruption 8 lakh years ago."

Sarpanch says
Pushpa Korde, sarpanch of Bori Budruk, and her husband Amol have been researching these findings along with Lahu Gaikwad, a history professor from Mandal's College, Narayangaon. Pushpa said, "It's a matter of pride for us to be connected to such history. At one time, the tephra could be found at 10 spots, but it has vanished over time. We fought to preserve it. Earlier, sand mining used to take place there, and we had fought a legal battle all the way to the high court to put an end to it. The CM also sanctioned a 300-mt archaeological area as a no development zone last year."

She added, "Now we have collected money and are building a compound wall to avoid any damage. We will also preserve it with glass walls, so the tephra is still visible. We have also made a display board to provide information to tourists. We want researchers come to our village and conduct research studies."

Vilas Vahane, assistant director of the Archaeological Survey of India (Maharashtra) said, "This is a welcome initiative. We are guiding the villagers and are working to get the area declared a protected site."

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