Significance of non Acheulian assemblages of Narmada – Durkhadi, Samnapur and Mahadeo Piparia

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:–

  1. The three assemblages do have some characteristics in common.
  2. Typology and stratigraphy does not support them being “Pre-Acheulian” in any way.
  3. 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.


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2 Responses to Significance of non Acheulian assemblages of Narmada – Durkhadi, Samnapur and Mahadeo Piparia

  1. Giriraj says:

    Continuity of cultural process and evolution in Stone Age in Chambal basin
    Giriraj Kumar
    For presentation in the workshop on “Revising the Indian Stone Age Sequence: Impact of Recent Findings”, organised by Dr Sheila Mishra in the ISPQS Conference, Lucknow 2010.
    Upper Chambal basin has been my study area since 1970s (Kumar 1983:431-435, table 15-16). Here I am presenting the gist of my observations made while studying the Stone Age of the region (Kumar 2008, Kumar et al 2005). Study of the stone tool industries and their techniques of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic cultures and phases there in presents the successive stages of the evolution and overlaps between the industries of the succeeding and preceding cultural periods.
    Whether Acheulian bifaces developed from Oldowan type pebble/cobble tools is doubtful, but there are evidence to prove the development of handaxes from pebble/cobble tools through protohandaxes. Thus at present we are not in a position to postulate whether the Acheulian cultures were the evolution from the peblle/cobble tool cultures or intrusions from outside. Only further research can through light on this problem.
    But, from the Acheulian onwards the picture is quite clear. From the Acheulian up to Mesolitihic there was a continuous development from age to age and industry to industry. The lithic industry forming the characteristic features of the particular culture age had its elements already developed in the previous age. Similarly, the tradition of the previous culture also survived up to considerable time in the succeeding cultural period, sometimes even up to its middle phase. Thus, in each stage an overlap between the industries of the succeeding and preceding cultural periods is clearly visible.
    The so dominant scraper industry of the Middle Palaeolithic had already started in preliminary form in late phase of Oldowan-I type industry. But the bio-ecological settings did not support its further development. In the early Acheulian conditions changed and the scraper industry contributed much to the need of early hominins. It formed an important constituent of the biface industry. In the advance Acheulian importance of the scrapers was well established, but because of the classical big spearheads and sharp edged cleavers they were still in secondary position.
    Fortunately in the following Middle Palaeolithic the climate change produced the most favourable environment. The fertile and sensitive mind of the hominins responded to this change, and soon the use of bifaces was dropped. The scraper industry was evolved to its extreme, to which some new types like cordiform small points, atterian points, burins and some geometrical form artefacts were added to meet the challenge of the time.
    During the Upper Palaeolithic subarid climate resulted in the development of grasslands. Soon the fauna adapted to the grassland habitat dominated the entire region. The invention of bow and arrow by Upper Palaeolithic man was the result of the changed environment. His arrows were now tipped with small-sharp points and barbed with lunates. But, bow and arrow was not a sudden invention in Upper Palaeolithic. The early man had already witnessed such dry phases in the Middle Palaeolithic, and he had already been trying to meet that challenge. Hence, by the late phase of Middle Palaeolithic he had developed light projectiles with cordiform small spear heads, atterian points or leaf-shaped thin sharp points tied on their heads. They form the proto type of arrows in Middle Palaeolithic and were probably thrown with the help of a projectile thrower.
    Mesolithic culture was clearly a refined development of the Upper Palaeolithic. Though the principle of the compound tools was invented in the Upper Palaeolithic man, it was the Mesolithic man who made its application in the multiple fields for making different kinds of tools and inplements to serve the varied needs of his daily life. Sophisticated bows and arrows, boomerangs, multibarbed spears, other typical spears and so many other implements were produced by using microliths besides the implements of domestic activities.
    Gradually the Mesolithic communities started cattle domestication. Soon in most of the region cattle rearing became the main economy for subsistence. With it developed new faiths, rituals and social life. These early pastoral communities in the river valleys were succeeded by more advanced agricultural communities using wheel made pottery and metal tipped arrows. These agricultural communities established their settlements along the rivers and streams and developed vedic culture in the region. From where these agriculture communities came is a problem to be solved by future research. The communities living in the hilly region and plateaus were still following the cattle rearing and hunting food-gathering economy, though some of them also adopted primitive cultivation later on.
    In the light of the above observations the divisions of Stone Age in to Palaeolithic with its subdivisions in to Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic in Chambal basin appears false. The distinctions established for Homoerectus, Neanderthal and Modern man associated with Lower Palaeolithic, Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic onwards respectively have also been questioned in the light of latest discoveries. The favoured explanation of the rise of ‘modern humans’ is without adequate base (Bednarik 2008: 41-48). The earliest sophisticated rock paintings in France and Spain considered to be the work of modern man (Clottes: 1-105) are being considered as the work of Middle Paleolithic man (Bednarik 2008: 41-48). In Australia Middle Palaeolithic continues quite a long up to Holocene period and created a wealth of rock art (Bednarik, R.G. 2010). In India, particularly in the Vindhyas and in Chambal basin petroglyphs have been discovered associated with Lower Palaeolithic industry (Kumar et al: 2005: 13-68; Kumar 2008: 63-75).
    The time has come to reconsider the use of European terminologies for Stone Age in India. Let us continue the discussion to come forward with suggestions to replace these terms with more scientific ones.

    Giriraj Kumar
    Professor in Indian Culture and Rock art Science
    Faculty of Arts
    Dayalbagh Educatioal Institute
    Dayalbagh, Agra-282005. India

    Bednatik, R.G. 2008. The origins of ‘Modern Humans’ and palaeoart reconsidered, in Robert G. Bednarik and Derek Hodgston Ed, Pleistocene Palaeoart of the world. England: BAR International Series 1804, 2008: Archaeopress, Publishers of British Archaeological reports, Oxford OX2 7ED.
    Bednarik, R.G. 2010. Indian Pleistocene rock art in a global context. Paper presented in the Symposium, Pleistocene art of Asia’ in the IFRAO-2010 International Rock art congress, at Tarascon-sur-Ariege, France, 6-11 September, 2010.
    Clottes, J. 2008. Cave Art. London: Phaidon Press Limited, Regent’s Whart, All Saint street.
    Kumar , G. 1983. Arcaheology of northwestern Malwa. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Vol. I: 431-435, table 15-16. Ujjain: Vikram University.
    Kumar, G. 1983. Archaeology of northwestern Malwa: Prehistory and Protohistory, Vol. I: 431-435, table 15-16, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Ujjain: Vikram University.
    Kumar, G. 2008. Lower Palaeolithic petroglyphs from excavations at Daraki-Chattan in India, in Robert G. Bednarik and Derek Hodgston Ed, Pleistocene Palaeoart of the world. England: BAR International Series 1804, 2008: Archaeopress, Publishers of British Archaeological reports, Oxford OX2 7ED.
    Kumar, G, Robert G. Bednarik, Alan watchman and Richard G. Roberts. 2005. The EIP roject in 2005: A preliminary report. Purakala 14-15: 13-68.

  2. Bishnupriya Basak says:

    I have one question about Samnapur. Even if you do not have prepared cores and retouched flakes here, can it still be a regional variant of the Middle Paleolithic? Or perhaps a transitional stage? Middle Paleolithis is so confusing in the Indian context, it becomes difficult to talk about the ‘presence’ or ‘absence’ of it sometimes.

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