Mammoths in Kashmir

Where is Kashmir's 50,000 year old mammoth?

While  doing a little surfing on the internet on the evening of Sunday 28th February, 2021  I put a question to Google to  give me  details of the presence of mammoths in Kashmir Valley. The result I got  surprised me. Staring before me was an entry of Greater Kashmir of dated 31st Jan 2018 updated on 28th Feb, 2021 which carried a detailed report of the disappearance of the  fossil remains of a mammoth discovered in the Valley in the year 2000. It was informed that the fossil remains had been lying in a shed and suddenly disappeared in  the year 2007, and allegedly taken to the Department of Geology in University of Jammu. The department in Jammu University had denied any knowledge of the  display of the fossil received by them. The Wadia Institute branch on Himalayan Geology also denied  any knowledge.

The Greater Kashmir report correctly questioned where had the mammoth fossils disappeared.  The  google entry also carried a display of the fossil which I immediately recognized as I had seen this fossil at site in 2000 when the excavation was on! The story of Greater Kashmir is true; this calls for a deeper investigation by the State Special Branch,  or CBI.

I will now like to share my part of the story with the readers of Greater Kashmir and why I too am interested to know where is that  mammoth now kept and in whose custody, whether it has been smuggled out of the State jurisdiction or surreptitiously sold to some foreign auction house.

In the year 2000, I was the Director General of Indo Tibet Border Police. The year  had seen a lot of  disruptive activities by militant youth who were still  keen to disrupt civilian live in the Valley. Schools and colleges  worked in fits and starts.  I was a regular visitor to the Valley after I discovered that wherever  my police force  was located, the local villagers  were more assured that the ITBP would be less prone to harm them, as their  chief of the force was a Kashmiri.  By previous planning I had stationed a full battalion force of my troop in Bijbehara  situated between the National Highway and the  local Walnut  Treatment Factory campus as the factory was not working.  River Jehlum  flowed nearby. There was also a Sangam point of a Nala that came down from the Pirpanjal  Range.

In 1953, 1954 I had accompanied my father on my maiden visit into the Valley and gone  to the upper parts of Village Tangmarg where a lot of marine fossils were excavated.  And from there my interest in fossils in Kashmir Valley  slowly developed. As boss of this mountain force, I introduced a layman’s interest on mountain fossils among my officers and ranks and thereafter I got regular samples shown  of local discoveries made by the policemen. Likewise the deployment at Bijbehara were familiar  with the topography of the area.

One day two students of geology from the Department of Geology in  a college in Baramula reported  to our battalion seeking permission to explore the  nearby mound located just outside the factory camp.  They explained  the nature of the digging they proposed to undertake.  The ITBP Commandant  made the visitors comfortable and phoned me immediately in my Delhi office  asking for guidance.  I simply replied that we  should verify the identity of the students and get a certificate from the college  on their identity, then get the students photographed and then allow them to  commence their work. We had that letter from the principal from the college, and the students were taken to the site of their choice and allowed to roam around under the watchful eyes of an appointed armed sentry.  The work was dull going; each morning the two students came with their pick axe and marked a small patch of soil and start cutting the soil rhythmically removing the soil,  sieving it and then  take  the debris a little away from their work site. The sentry on duty soon enough got a hang of the practical drill undertaken. One day he proposed whether he could also join in the operations. The students agreed to the extra hand and the sentry too started working on the top soil. That speeded up the excavation.

A couple of weeks passed, when one afternoon one student felt he had hit  something hard. Work now was concentrated to clean out the obstruction which revealed a well crafted quartz axe head. Excitement ran wild. The ITBP Commandant reported the find to me and I replied whether the students needed any assistance from the deployment. The students immediately saw an opening for help and  said they required a still camera to record their finds in future.  I sent a message to our DIG in Jammu that he may purchase one 35 mm camera from the market from the battalion fund and  give that to the students at site as a present from ITBP along with three rolls of Black and White films.  Now more  volunteers from the camp came up to join  in the digging. This threw up now dozens of  stone age  rock pieces all of which were now laid  nearby and photographed along the measuring steel scale. ITBP was truly now in the business of scientific pursuit.

The students now moved a little away from the original site and  sought our permission. This came without a hitch but I felt our joining in this venture  should be acknowledged by the students and suggested  that they give in writing that in all future finds, mention will be made in the  formal scientific paper of the help rendered by the officers and ranks of the battalion located nearby. That assurance came without any hitch.

The new site selected was near the river bank but not touching the waters. Digging started. The soil was damp and soft and progress was fast. Within a week of work the men at site again hit  something hard. This time the obstruction was not any stone structure, but material that looked pieces of bone. The find revealed that it was a piece of vertebra from the back of a big animal. The students took one sample  to the college and returned with a verdict that the bone piece discovered was of a  fossilized rhinoceros. The rough age of this item was guessed to be around 30,000 BC. That was the time when the Ice Age glaciers around the area were receding due to the warming of the Valley.  Further digging  revealed  bigger  fosillised bone of the animal, many of which carried cut marks  indicating that the hunters of the time knew how to use the quartz axe to cut out the meat from the bone for their meals.  I started reading on the geology of the valley and passed  my information to my ITBP Commandant. Yes,  the Valley was greening fast with trees of the tropics and  attracting animal life which was moving in North India normally found today in Assam, part of UP, North Bihar.  Rhinos were no strangers in this area at that time.

The students by now were pretty tuned up on their interest. They had spent nearly three months at the site. Now they wanted to move towards a high mound a little away from the factory boundary  and did not need our  permission. A transmission tower for power stood high.  Digging and scraping started; our staff had lost their interest in the proceedings. Then one day, one of the students  scrapped his  axe on something hard. He tried to clear the soil around it but the more he scraped, the more the object   exposed itself. In three days labour, all agreed that they were clearing away a big piece of bone with an inordinate length. More work continued and finally the discovery was made that the digging  was exposing a six feet length of ivory of a mammoth. News of the discovery spread fast into the nearby village and people turned up to see the tusk. The power line maintenance also came  and found that the students had been digging around the leg of a power transmission tower and if more digging took place the tower  could collapse.  They asked the students to stop further work.  The students ostensively decided to stop their work and withdrew, but they returned after one week and this time  performed a section cut on the soil nearby. Now they hit another tusk. It was agreed that the high mound was the  grave of a woolly mammoth of the Ice Age ,and a significant  geological discovery had been made.

The news of this discovery now reached militants who were assigned the area  for their patrolling. They send a note to the village headman stating that the  digging must cease immediately as it would attract people from the outside world including tourists and if  digging  was resumed, the students would be kidnapped. That settled the issue. We got the message and so did the students.  The two students packed their belongings and their “finds” and returned to Baramula.

Four months passed; my commandant phoned me that the two students had visited him and complained that their college professor had threatened that unless his name was not shown as number one member of the digging team, he would not allow the two student’s scientific paper to be forwarded for publication. The student sought my help. Immediately I wrote a letter addressed to the principal of the college indicating the proposed foul play in the making, and threatened the principal that unless he sorted this problem to the satisfaction of the two students, he and his staff will, have to deal with me which  would be bad for his career.  The teacher’s demand was promptly withdrawn and peace returned. I too retired from my career.

From the press report filed in the Greater Kashmir google section I have inferred that later digging was resumed, and the other tusk and  skull head was excavated. There is no mention what happened to the scientific paper which should have come  into reality, or the fate of the students who made the first discovery. While writing my experiences of working in Kashmir  I sent  an enquiry note to the Principal of the Baramula College, to know  if any one was aware of this ‘find’, but I got no reply.

I could not find an answer to: where has that mammoth fossil disappeared? Is this a new cover up on the age of the Valley. I only want a scientific disclosure that this mammoth skull and tusks are safe and within India. That will settle for me the new age of human civilization in Kashmir Valley, and push it back to about 30,000 BC  when the  Neanderthal humanoids were moving here.

Gautam Kaul is former DG ITBP