Special Session to be held at 2010 ISPQS
(Indian Society for Prehistoric and Quaternary Studies)
“Revising the Indian Stone Age Sequence: Impact of Recent Findings”
The Indian stone age sequence has not been debated since the early 1960‘s (Allchin 1963, Misra 1962). At that time the debate centered around whether three sub-divisions (Earlier Stone Age, Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age) or four sub-divisions (Lower Palaeolithic, Middle Palaeolithic, Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic) were more appropriate. At the 2009 ISPQS dissatisfaction was expressed with the current Stone Age Sequence both by Vidula Jayasawal in her Presidential Address and by Sheila Mishra in the special ICHR session. It has therefore been decided to hold a special session at the 2010 ISPQS at Lucknow, to be organized by Mishra to try and debate and resolve some of the issues with the present Indian Stone Age Sequence.
The intention is not only to debate the issue but also to evolve a new consensus. I (Sheila Mishra) have come to the conclusion, largely on the basis of my own work, that neither a three nor a four stage sequence is appropriate, but rather there are only two important stages in the Indian Palaeolithic. I argue this briefly below and will circulate a more detailed argument before early November.
- All members of ISPQS or non members who are working in the Indian Palaeolithic are invited to submit their own observations/opinions/suggestions also by 1st November. Please send these to firstname.lastname@example.org
- These will then be circulated by the middle of November.
- Final submissions will be made in the first week of December so each person has been able to consider and respond to other peoples submissions.
- The ISPQS meeting will be organized according to the submitted material.
- We hope to publish the proceedings of the session promptly
A more detailed argument in favor of a two stage sequence for the Indian Palaeolithic will be circulated. However to initiate the discussion a brief outline is presented below.
- The Indian Lower Palaeolithic with the exception of the Riwat and Pabbi Hills is exclusively “Large Flake Acheulian”(LFA) This has been argued extensively (Gaillard et al. 2010, Mishra 2007, Mishra et al. 2010). “Large Flake Acheulian” is defined by (Sharon 2007) and (Mishra et al. 2010)
- Some “middle palaeolithic” assemblages such as the “Nevasian” (Mishra 1986) and “Bhedaghat” (Allchin 1959, Mishra and Rajaguru 1993) are abraded flakes from gravels and are typologically indeterminate. Middle Palaeolithic tool types certainly occur and there is even a phase without large cutting tools but this has clear continuity with the LFA and does not seem to have a long duration independent of the LFA To make this a separate phase is to give a misleading idea of its relative importance. It is better to consider this the final phase of the LFA.
- Most blade assemblages are microlithic. The division between Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic is only based on chronology and signifies no major technological change. As such, the terms are misleading. When the Upper Palaeolithic stage was inserted in the Indian Palaeolithic sequence this primarily signified the Pleistocene age of the blade industries. Now this is well established and the blade versis microblade distinction also does not seem to have a great deal of chronological significance. Microlithic assemblages in India already date to >40 kyr and may extend even further back in time.
- The argument for two phases in the Indian Palaeolithic is that there appears to be only one major discontinuity which is between the LFA/MP on one side and the UP/Mesolithic/Microlithic on the other. Since the second phase has continuity upto the iron age it certainly represents Modern humans and maybe this discontinuity is related to the shift from Archaic to Modern Populations in the Indian context.
- “Early Palaeolithic” and “Late Palaeolithic” are the terms which come most readily to mind as labels for a two stage palaeolithic sequence. However they also obscure the fact that the “Early palaeolithic” has an Acheulian character as it is often used in relation to the non-Acheulian Chinese Lower Palaeolithic. Late Palaeolithic as a term has already been used a few times by Indian Prehistorians but again does not convey the character of the phase (does it need to?). Alternative labels are welcome.
- I think the merging of Upper Palaeolithic” and “Mesolithic” might be easy to agree with. I do realize that merging “Lower and Middle Palaeolithic” will be more controversial. However please consider it before rejecting the idea.
Allchin, B. 1959. The Indian Middle Stone Age: Some New Sites in Central and Southern India and their Implications. Bulletin of the London University Institute of Archaeology 2:1-36.
—. 1963. The Indian Stone Age Sequence. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 93:210-234.
Gaillard, C., S. Mishra, M. Singh, S. G. Deo, and R. Abbas. 2010. Lower and Early Middle Pleistocene Acheulian in the Indian Sub-Continent. Quaternary International 223-224:234-241.
Mishra, S. 1986. Archaeological Assemblages and Basalt Weathering : a Re-evaluation of the Nevasian. Man and Environment 10:91-96.
—. 2007. The Indian Lower Palaeolithic. Bulletin of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute 66-67:47-94.
Mishra, S., C. Gaillard, S. G. Deo, M. Singh, R. Abbas, and N. Agrawal. 2010. Large Flake Acheulian in India: Implications for understanding lower Pleistocene human dispersals. Quaternary International 223-224:271-272.
Mishra, S., and S. N. Rajaguru. 1993. Quaternary Deposits at Bhedaghat near Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Man and Environment 17:7-12.
Misra, V. N. 1962. Problems of Terminology in Indian Prehistory. Eastern Anthropologist 15:113-124.
Sharon, G. 2007. Acheulian Large Flake Industries:Technology, Chronology, and Significance. Oxford:BAR.