Indian Stone Age Sequence question 7:
Significance of non Acheulian assemblages of Narmada – Durkhadi, Samnapur and Mahadeo Piparia
Not Middle Palaeolithic — S.B. Ota
Not Acheulian – S.G. Deo
Not Oldowan — Sheila Mishra
I have made an argument in these posts that the only Lower Palaeolithic entity in the Indian Sub-continent is Large Flake Acheulian (LFA). I have argued that the Soanian is not Lower Palaeolithic in age, nor does it have the characteristic complete chaine operatoires found in Early Lower Palaeolithic assemblages like Oldowan, European Mode 1 and Nihewan Basin. Soanian is not part of a Lower Palaeolithic “chopper chopping” tool industry contemporary with the Acheulian but rather part of Late Pleistocene and Holocene core and flake assemblages found throughout SE Asia (and Southern China?) and are contemporary to the microlithic blade assemblages of the Indian sub-continent. Although this is a radically different interpretation of the Soanian, it is one which fits the data as it has emerged since the 1980’s and is also one independently arrived at by workers in the Soanian region, although they may not have stated it in the same words as I have.
After the Soanian, the other candidate non-Acheulian Lower Palaeolithic for the Indian Subcontinent is the Pabbi Hills and Riwat. I argued that the Riwat core R001 is actually much more like LFA than anything else and that while Acheulian is absent from Pabbi Hills, quite high numbers of Acheulian findspots have been reported from probably contemporary locations elsewhere in the sub-Himalayan zone.
The third candidate for a non-Acheulian Lower Palaeolithic entity in the Indian sub-continent are a series of sites in the Narmada valley – Mahadeo Piparia, Samnapur and Durkhadi –the subject of this post.
All three of these sites have been excavated. All the three assemblages are characterized by the absence of handaxes or cleavers, absence of small sized scrapers and prepared cores. The large size of the tools also distinguishes them from other early lithic industries. The assemblages therefore lack the defining characters of Oldowan, Acheulian or Middle Palaeolithic….
Khatri (1962) was the first person to claim a pre-Acheulian horizon in the Narmada valley. He labeled this stone industry “Mahadevian” after Mahadeo Piparia where he collected “pebble tools” This claim was challenged by Supekar (1968) who excavated the site. Armand (1983) discovered and excavated the site of Durkhadi, near Maheswar in the early 1970’s. Like Khatri he also made a claim for the emergence of the Acheulian from a Pebble tool horizon in India. Finally the site of Samnapur (Misra et al. 1990) was excavated, although labeled “Middle Palaeolithic” rather than “Pebble Tool”. The sites of Samnapur and Mahadeo Piparia are barely 5 km apart, making it likely that they sample the same geological horizon.
The main problem with a claim for any of these assemblages being Pre-Acheulian is that this claim is based entirely on the typology of the assemblage, primarily the absence of handaxes. Our improved understanding of the earliest lithic industries has resulted in the recognition that they are small flake industries rather than “pebble tool” industries. In most cases it has been demonstrated that it was the flakes that were used as tools and the “pebble tools” were actually cores. The large size of both cores and flakes in all these Narmada assemblages is against them being “Pre-Acheulian”. Supekar showed that the exposed Narmada alluvium was only the upper 20-30 m of upto 150 m of buried sediment. At Mahadeo Piparia itself bedrock could not be reached in the excavation. Recycling of quartzite gravels (along with the tools) is a real possibility. The Durkhadi assemblage is found directly on bedrock, but is not overlain by very old sediments. Misra et al (1990) labeled Samnapur as “Middle Palaeolithic” because it was considered to stratigraphically succeed the Acheulian in the Narmada valley. The salient points can be reduced to the following:–
- The three assemblages do have some characteristics in common.
- Typology and stratigraphy does not support them being “Pre-Acheulian” in any way.
- The lack of prepared cores and retouched flakes also makes it inappropriate to label them “Middle Palaeolithic”
For the question in hand — Revising the Indian Stone Age Sequence – I would like to suggest that these sites be set aside for the moment as better study of the assemblages themselves, dating, stratigraphy is needed. Although a definite episode in the Indian Stone Age, these sites do not characterize a major “stage”. It is futile to debate the significance of these sites without a more complete and comparable typological and technological studies and some additional stratigraphical and chronological information. The available data from these sites suggests some phase within the Late Acheulian/Middle Palaeolithic time span. There is little support to date to place these sites in a “Pre Acheulian” context.
Armand, J. 1983. Archaeological excavations in Durkadi Nala : an early palaeolithic pebble-tool workshop in Central India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
Khatri, A. P. 1962. Mahadevian : an Oldowan Pebble Culture in India. Asian Perspectives 6 186-196.
Misra, V. N., S. N. Rajaguru, R. K. Ganjoo, and R. Korisettar. 1990. Geoarchaeology of the Palaeolithic site of Samnapur in the Central Narmada Valley. Man and Environment 15:107-116.
Supekar, S. G. 1968. Pleistocene Stratigraphy and Prehistoric Archeaology of the Central Narmada Basin, University of Poona.