Time-travel to the Stone Age | Daily News


Time-travel to the Stone Age

It was indeed a fascinating experience to have visited Fa Hien cave, located at Yatagampitiya village, near the Bulathsinghala Divisional Secretariat, in Kaluthara district, on the very first day of 2020. As the day marked the beginning of the current year, the cave sounded the beginning of our cultural civilization with many aspiring artefacts unearthed by archaeologists from time to time.

Beyond a mere simple visit, it was a musical journey to the prehistoric era led by Maestro Sagara Suresh Wijesinghe. His has composed a musical score titled Stone Age Music with his multi-talented troupe to perform the new Opera.

His is a quiet unusual theme for the Sri Lankan audience, Stone Age Music. It is an experiment of a new dimension to explore the cultural mind of our native habitats that prevailed in the location surrounded by tropical greens. It goes back to almost 40,000 years down the historical lane.

Fa Hien Cave is named after Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monk who migrated to the country in the 5th century on a religious mission. This cave is known to be the most ancient and the largest prehistoric cave, with a grand height of 175 feet high and 200 feet long. Incidentally, it has a pre-historical relevance to the age of archaic humans - similar to Neanderthal when extinct around 40,000 years ago. Human remains and animal bones have been discovered here around the 60s and 80s which re-forged a sudden impact in the study of human settlements in Asia.

The first fossil related to this was discovered in 1856 from the Neander Valley, Germany. Thus the Homo Neanderthalensis means ‘Human from the Neander Valley’. Nothing more than that. The skull of Maba from China and the skeleton of Balangoda Man of Sri Lanka share similarities confirming the presence of the same scattered across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The most significant feature of Neanderthalensis population is their ability to perform musical skills. Cognitive Archeologists Steven Mithen, John Blacking, Nils Wallin have armed themselves with impressive knowledge in most of these subjects to scientifically prove the ability to use proto-musical multi-modal language by Neanderthal Man.

‘The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body’ - authored by Steven Mithen has been an eye-opener with the vast range of supportive evidence for all enthusiasts who draw their attention on the subject of this sort.

Balangoda Man or the local Neanderthal who had been living in these areas are believed to be the first near-human with ‘motor effect’ which senses the musical rhythm to perform singing and dancing. This very fact inspired us to visit Fa Hien Cave upon the invitation of Opera Park Foundation headed by Maestro Sagara Suresh Wijesinghe.

Our 30-minute climb led to the summit that rises roughly 300m above. Through the carefully arranged stepping stones under the cool shade of the robust full-grown jungle was a musical event organized to showcase a crosscut of cultural behaviour of the stone age. The local Neanderthal lived here. He could also have been a primitive singer cum musician, according to the international research papers presented by Anthro Archeologists who observe other caves scattered around the world during the same period of history.

This is a very interesting subject which explores the fossil evidence for linguistic and musical capacity along with their neuroanatomy of music development of the stone age. The acoustical landscape of caves has paved the way to create an artistic space inside of the location for the caveman to draw pictures of animals: bison, bears, lions where echoes in rocky grottos bounce back to human ears. This symbolic and acoustic interplay had served the ancient human to develop a cross-modality information transfer system, compared to the modern era.

Meanwhile, they had organized group performances based on the hotspots seen in the caves, where they had most likely been used in prehistoric times as some sort of auditorium. We may surmise these events in terms of sounds, rather than music or symphony, in classical terms.

Listening to the sounds of the past is a new entry to understand the behaviour of the prehistoric ancestors who had devised sound-making systems with the footsteps and background noises.

Everyone might have participated by clapping, stomping, banging or singing while bone scrapers, seashells and river stones had been used as simple musical instruments.

Maestro Sagara Suresh Wijesinghe, an innovative thinker, performing Stone Age Music opened a wide new vista to experience the culture of caves, within our present context. A memorable event. Well trained players and singers performed well to usher all participants to the historical age as a time-travel.

This invisible meet of the ancient caveman reminded us of the mineral meaning of sound kept in our subconscious derived from the ancient times.

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