A Cave In Meghalaya Gave Us The Meghalayan Age!
For anyone who was a child in the 90s (or after!), the one Geologic Age we can all name is the Jurassic period!
Of the twenty longest caves in Meghalaya, Mawshun is the shortest at 3,339m and Liat Prah is the longest at 30,957m.
For anyone who was a child in the 90s (or after!), the one Geologic Age we can all name is the Jurassic period! And rightfully so! Dinosaurs are big, scary, fascinating… and dead. In fact, it is the dinosaurs’ mass extinction that makes this age so exciting to geologists – on a geologic time scale, these incidents jump out in stark relief, and by dating these, geologists forward our understanding of our beautiful planet and of life itself. Geology is, after all, the study of the sediments we leave behind, generation after generation, for millions and billions of years. So, when something as big as an extinction event happens, you see it in the rock strata.
Our current epoch, the Holocene, is also marked by such an event, though, maybe not as dramatic as the dinosaurs’ last hurrah. Around 11,700 years ago, the huge glacial ice sheets that covered North America, Northern Europe, and Asia began to finally melt. According to the United States
Geological Survey, permanent summer ice covered about 8% of Earth’s surface and 25% of the land area during the last glacial maximum. So, it was a pretty significant thing, when these glaciers began to melt. But that’s not what makes the Holocene important.
The Age of Man
The Holocene is best known as the “Age of Man”, and is the epoch in which you, and all the ancestors you can name, have lived. In fact, any artifacts you’ve seen in any museum anywhere in the world, come from this epoch. This is when human beings spread across the globe, learned how to grow food and create communities, learned how to make pottery and jewellery and coins and practiced commerce, and learned how to write, and tell our stories and histories.
Obviously, that’s a huge slice of time. But as human beings continued to shape their environment to suit them, the sediment they left behind also changed, and became more recognisable, making fields like archaeology possible. However, geologically speaking, the Holocene has been split into three parts, the latest of which (our current age) is the Meghalayan Age! Yes, we Indians have a geological age named after one of our states!
The Meghalayan age begins around 4,200 years ago, with an abrupt mega-drought that caused a collapse of several civilisations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze River Valley. How do we know this? Because geologists from the International Union of Geological Sciences found proof of this event in Meghalaya’s Mawmluh Cave system. Ergo, the Meghalayan Age!
Mawmluh Caves: A world within a world
Being inside the Mawmluh Caves can sometimes feel like walking inside the maw of a large dinosaur! The stalagmite formations resemble jagged teeth, and the caves themselves give one the sense of walking in forbidden, dark places at times and then suddenly opening into grand echoing cathedrals of nature. It’s thrilling, and nothing compares to the feeling of walking through history, visible in the stone. The striations that geologists’ study are front and centre here – visible to the naked eye!
Since these caves are located in wet, wet Sohra (Cherrapunjee), some scientists are studying the stalagmites to help predict monsoon patterns and droughts. Researchers from Vanderbilt University studied the last 50 years of growth on a stalagmite here and found an unexpected connection between winter rainfall here and climatic conditions in the Pacific Ocean. Even if you aren’t a scientist, Mawmluh caves are must-see.
The best way to reach Mawmluh is via taxi from Sohra (Cherrapunjee). It is also highly recommended to use a guide, for ensuring your safety and to show you the best sites and give you context. Rubber boots are recommended too, as you’re going to wade through water. Of course, since water collects here, the monsoon can be a challenging time to visit. (Also, this is no ordinary monsoon. This is Sohra (Cherrapunjee), remember? The best time to visit is between November to February.
Of course, if you do find that caving is your thing, then Meghalaya is the place for you. The whole state is crisscrossed with cave systems. Of the twenty longest caves in Meghalaya, Mawshun is the shortest at 3,339m and Liat Prah is the longest at 30,957m. You’ll never run out of adventures, or new places to see. Some of these cave systems are still being mapped out, so who knows, maybe you’ll even discover something new!
This year is Meghalaya’s 50th year of statehood and the entire state is celebrating. Think of it as a year-long birthday party with a smorgasbord of experiences on offer. If you haven’t been to Meghalaya yet, there’s never been a better time to visit. Make a plan. See the Meghalayan Age through a different lens at the Meghalayan Age Festival, and be a part of the celebration. Whether it’s food, culture, adventure sports, ecotourism or leisure holidays, Meghalaya has something for every kind of traveller. Talk about living in the Meghalayan Age!