Question 1: Why is it important to revise the Indian Stone Age sequence?
“Even where the northern and western European cultural sequence is being emulated, such as in India, … I have the impression that this is largely due to a polite deference to European models.”
– Robert Bednarik in A global perspective of Indian palaeoart –read it at
My involvement in Indian Prehistory began in 1976 as an MA student at Deccan College. Even in 1976 it was obvious that the terminology of Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic did not fit the Indian data. However, the view then was “not to bother”. We used these ill fitting terms but in an altered sense. I think most of us involved in Indian Prehistory in the 1980’s and 1990’s did understand the entities behind the terms “Middle Palaeolithic” “Upper Palaeolithic” etc. So the question is not actually “Why bother?” but rather “Why bother now?”.
I think I never did come to an adjustment with the term “Middle Palaeolithic”. It is a term I always avoided. Upper Palaeolithic was not as problematic. I used it for “Pleistocene microliths”. “Holocene microliths” were Mesolithic and undated sites could be either. The fact that chronological information was needed to distinguish them shows their inadequacy as archaeological terms.
My change from “not bothering” to “bothering” started with reading Kennedy’s article in Mesolithic India where he states that the earliest dates for microlithic technology in India are from Baghor II in the Son Valley dating to ~10 ka while the earliest microlithic technology in Sri Lanka dates to ~30 ka from Fa Hien cave. He speculates on why the Sri Lanka microliths are so much older than the Indian ones, not realizing that as all pre-Holocene microliths were called “Upper Palaeolithic” – 10 ka was just the date of the Holocene – Pleistocene boundary and not any archaeological boundary. Patne (25 ka), Bori (30 ka), Mehtakheri (30 ka) are all dates for microliths. If the wrong terminology had misled a person so intimately involved in Indian Prehistory then how many others are too? Maybe the idea that everyone understands the “altered sense” (or polite deference) in which the terms are used is wrong. Everyone does not know that Indian “Middle Palaeolithic” is not “Middle Palaeolithic”, that “Upper Palaeolithic” is a chronological and not archaeological term, that Indian Acheulian is not like European Acheulian etc. There is no longer a single shared community of scholars who communicate and therefore know in what sense certain “jargon” is used. This sense of misunderstandings generated by the wrong terminology has only increased with recent accelerated pace of publications. After 35 years of involvement in understanding the Indian Palaeolithic I think the time has come to bother. We cannot make progress unless some problems are thoroughly debated. Individuals and groups can publish their papers, but a dialogue is needed. Parallel discussions don’t resolve anything. Let us consider alternative viewpoints be convinced and convince others by arguments. Lets accept disagreement when (as too often) multiple explanations could explain the data. It is this spirit that I invite everyone to participate in this discussion.
It is hardly surprising if the “European Terminology” does not fit the Indian evidence – It no longer fits the European Palaeolithic Sequence! Europeans have not formally debated the issue but terms like “Lower Palaeolithic” are increasingly being replaced by “Mode 1” and “Mode 2” and locality based terms like “Acheulian” and “Mousterian” or just “Palaeolithic” without a prefix. More on this in question 11.
So let me know, do you think the Indian Stone Age sequence needs to be revised? Why or why not…
My one sentence answer to this question:–
We need to bother because the terminology doesn’t fit the data and its continued use leads to serious misinterpretations of the Indian Palaeolithic.
Kennedy, K. A. R. 2002. “Mesolithic India,” in Mesolithic India. Edited by V. D. Misra and J. N. Pal, pp. 67-80. Allahabad: Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, University of Allahabad.