Significance of Riwat and Pabbi Hills

Indian stone age sequence Question 5

Significance of Riwat and Pabbi Hills

In my last post I have argued that

  1. Lower Palaeolithic artefacts do not survive on the “surface” but need to be buried to survive.
  2. Therefore artefacts on the surface today are usually derived from the underlying sediments being eroded.

I have therefore always been quite willing to accept the Pabbi Hills artefacts as being derived from the Siwalik age sediments they have been found on.  The Riwat artefact has been extracted from the section and so there is no doubt about it being insitu.

The Riwat evidence is primarily a flaked piece – R001.  The dating is based on palaeomagnetism.  Rendell, Hailwood & Dennell 1987 and Dennell, Rendell and Hailwood 1988 date the Riwat artefacts to the Olduvai event.  In this time range,(~1.8 myr) there are the Oldowan sites in Africa and the Dmanissi site in Georgia.  Recent dating of some occurrences in the Nihewan basin to 1.6 myr places northern China close in age to the Riwat sites (Zhu et al. 2004).  All these sites have stone tools.  The Oldowan sites normally show large accumulations of flaked stone with complete chaine operatoires.  At Dmanissi stone tools appear to be fewer in number and de Lumley et al (2005) have labeled it as “Pre-Oldowan” as none of the flakes have any retouch.  A large number of manuports seems to be implied by the large proportion of unmodified pebbles in the assemblage.  The Nihewan  basin assemblages have recently been compared to the Oldowan by Braun, Norton and Harris (2010) who concluded that the earliest East Asian sites show significant differences from the African Oldowan sites.  The earliest stone tool assemblages in China and Europe therefore lack of any close resemblance to the Oldowan, except in the absence of handaxes, but nevertheless all of them consist of small sized flakes and cores along with a percussion component.  The R001 core with a maximum dimension of 16 cm and large flake scars is highly divergent from the contemporary stone tool assemblages in Africa, Europe and China.  Large flakes and cores are the hallmark of the Acheulian which appears at a marginally younger date in East Africa (1.7 myr).  The Riwat artefact has closest affinities to the Acheulian.  Of course, one artefact, and the absence of Acheulian from the Pabbi Hills sediments which date from 2.2 to 0.9 myr makes this suggestion difficult to substantiate

The Pabbi Hills stone tool assemblage is even more difficult to interpret.  Dennell (2009):140 states “Overall, 607 pieces were found that were considered to be artefacts.  Most of  these are simple cores (41%) and flakes (58%) …The overall density of flaked stone was extremely low.  Although flaked stones were found in 211 places, they were found as isolated pieces in 45% of all cases, and in 78% of cases not more than three were found.  Almost all (96%) of the lithic assemblages was made of quartzite, and this assemblage is typologically consistent with the very simple, unstandardised type of assemblages that are elsewhere classed as Oldowan.”

Although the Pabbi Hills artefacts do conform to other Pre-Acheulian assemblages in being small in size, the low frequency of lithics is in contrast to Oldowan sites.  Frequency of  lithics is lower in Chinese and European sites than in Africa.  In European sites however the low numbers of stone artefacts is combined with large numbers of animal bones (Carbonell et al 1999).  Large numbers of bones were collected from the Pabbi Hills, but they were not associated with the artefacts.  No cut marks were found either.

The sediments exposed in the Pabbi Hills are the equivalent to the Pinjor formation of the Siwalik rocks in India.

The question raised by the Pabbi Hills material is whether the absence of Acheulian from the area searched by Dennell’s group is sufficient reason to infer the absence of Acheulian from the Indian sub-continent during the period 2.2-0.9 myr.? Dennell (2009) does consider the Acheulian in India to be equivalent in age to the European rather than the African Acheulian.  The close similarity of the Indian Acheulian to the African Acheulian (see my post on Large Flake Acheulian) is the main reason for my contrary view.  The available dating evidence (Gaillard et al 2010) whatever its limitations (Chauhan 2010) is certainly in conformity of earlier age of Acheulian in India and supports its equivalence to the African Acheulian.

The absence of Acheulian at Pabbi Hills is balanced by its presence at other sites in India, Nepal and Pakistan which indicates that the absence of Acheulian in the Pabbi Hills is not indicative of its absence from the entire Indian sub-continent.  I will discuss this in my next post.

Braun, D. R., C. J. Norton, and J. W. K. Harris. 2010. “Africa and Asia: Comparisons of the Earliest Archaeological Evidence,” in Asian Paleoanthropology, Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology. Edited by C. J. Norton and D. R. Braun, pp. 41-48-48. Netherlands: Springer

Carbonell, E., M. Garcia-Anton, C. Mallol, M. Mosquera, A. Olle, X. P. Rodriguez, M. Sahnouni, R. Sala, and J. M. Verges. 1999. The TD6 level lithic industry from Gran Dolina, Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain): production and use. Journal of Human Evolution 37:653-693.

Chauhan, P. R. 2010. Comment on ‘Lower and Early Middle Pleistocene Acheulian in the Indian sub-continent’ by Gaillard et al. (2009) (Quaternary International). Quaternary International 223-224:248-259.

Corvinus, G. 2006. “Acheulian handaxes from the Upper Siwalik in Nepal,” in Axe Age:Acheulian Tool-making from Quarry to Discard. Edited by N. Goren-Inbar and G. Sharon, pp. 415-428. London: Equinox.

de Lumley, H., M. Nioradzé, D. Barsky, D. Cauche, V. Celiberti, G. Nioradzé, O. Notter, Zvania David, and D. Lordkipandze. 2005 The Pre-Oldowayen lithic industry from the beginning of the Lower Pleistocene at the Dmanissi site in Georgia. L’Anthropologie 109:1-182.

Dennell, R. W. 1998. “Grasslands, tool making and the hominid colonization of southern Asia : a reconsideration,” in Early human behaviour in global context – the rise and discovery of the lower Palaeolithic record. Edited by M. D. Petraglia and R. Korisettar, pp. 280-303: Routledge, One World Archaeology.

Dennell, R. W., H. Rendell, and E. Hailwood. 1988. Late Pliocene artefacts in Pakistan. Current Anthropology 29:495-498.

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.

Nanda, A. C. 2002. Upper Siwalik mammalian faunas of India and associated events. Journal of Asian Earth Sciences 21:47-58.

Patnaik, R., and A. C. Nanda. 2010. “Early Pleistocene Mammalian Faunas of India and Evidence of Connections with Other Parts of the World,” in Out of Africa I, vol. 0, Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology. Edited by J. G. Fleagle, J. J. Shea, F. E. Grine, A. L. Baden, and R. E. Leakey, pp. 129-143-143: Springer Netherlands.

Rendell, H., and R. W. Dennell. 1985. Dated Lower Palaeolithic Artefacts from Northern Pakistan. Current Anthropology 26 393.

Rendell, H., W. Hailwood, and R. W. Dennell. 1987 Magnetic polarity stratigraphy of Upper Siwalik Sub-Group, Soan Valley, Pakistan: implications for early human occupance of Asia. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 85:488-496.

Zhu, R. X., R. Potts, F. Xie, K. A. Hoffman, C. L. Deng, C. D. Shi, Y. X. Pan, H. Q. Wang, R. P. Shi, Y. C. Wang, G. H. Shi, and N. Q. Wu. 2004. New evidence on the earliest human presence at high northern latitudes in northeast Asia. Nature 431:559-562.

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One Response to Significance of Riwat and Pabbi Hills

  1. Bishnupriya Basak says:

    I agree

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