Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 11:Comparing Indian Stone Age sequence with Europe, Africa, SE Asia, and China

Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 11:Comparing Indian Stone Age sequence with Europe, Africa, SE Asia, and China


The terminology we are using in India today is derived from that used in Europe.

However new discoveries in Europe have made this terminology virtually obsolete in Europe itself.  The major division is no longer between the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic but between the “mode 1” sites which are found in Southern Europe during the Early Pleistocene, associated with Homo georgicus at Dmanissi and Homo antessor at Atapuerca.  The appearance of Homo heidelbergensis along with Acheulian is very significant.  Although it was initially thought that Acheulian appeared first in Southern Europe, it has recently been suggested (Falgueres et al 2010) that the earliest Acheulian in Europe occurs in the previously unoccupied Northern region rather than the already occupied Southern region.  Despriee et al. 2010 date some Acheulian sites in the Loire valley to between 600 and 700 kyr.  After the arrival of Homo heidelbergensis and Acheulian in Europe, the trend towards the evolution of Neanderthals begins.  Neanderthal derived features appear in a mosaic fashion with the full Neanderthal complex of traits seen at least by the Last interglacial times.  The Acheulian now forms a fairly small part of the European Palaeolithic story and many researchers now place the Acheulian/Middle Palaeolithic boundary at the appearance of the Levallois technique during Oxygen Isotope Stage 9.  There is a lot of variation in the stone tool assemblages during this time with the Rhine river being a boundary between the Handaxe zone of NW Europe and the non Handaxe zone of Central Europe.  A number of non Acheulian technologies flourish during the Middle Pleistocene including LPMT (Lower Palaeolithic Microlithic Tradition) and the Clactonian.  The Middle Palaeolithic/Upper Palaeolithic transition is one of replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans between aprox. 30-40 kyr.

The current understanding of the European Palaeolithic therefore shows sweeping changes from that of the early 1960’s when it was adopted for India.  Without formally repudiating the earlier terminology or replacing it with a new one, usage of the terms “Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic” have reduced drastically.

Two surprises have emerged from the new work—the similarity of the European sequence to that of Africa, with earlier appearance of Mode 1 followed by Mode 2 but with a different timing , and the failure to substantiate any obvious inferiority of the Neanderthals with Middle Palaeolithic technology to the Modern Humans with Upper Palaeolithic technology.

Middle East/Northern Africa

The palaeolithic of the Middle East and Northern Africa is very rich and has been studied for a long time.  European workers in this region interpreted the record through a European lens.  Equivalents to both “Middle Palaeolithic” and “Upper Palaeolithic” as well as modern humans and Neanderthals were found.  A big shock came in the 1990s’ when absolute dates on “Neanderthal” associated levels in Kebara and Amud caves  dated younger than those with “Modern Humans” at Skhul and Qafzeh.  The association of “Modern Humans” with non Upper Palaeolithic technology, the replacement of Modern Humans by Neanderthals created a very complex story.  This has led to a total rejection of any link between ancient human “species” and any particular technology.  The situation gets more and more complex with the recent paper by Barton et al.(2009) reporting Aterian levels interstratified  with non Aterian levels three times in the Dar es-Soltan I cave in Morocco!  The reversed relationship of “Middle Palaeolithic” and “Upper Palaeolithic” and the complexity of unraveling which of multiple hominin species is associated with which stone tool industries has made this area extremely challenging to understand.  Suffice it to say that any terminology in use in this region 20 years ago has only survived with greatly transformed meaning.

Sub Saharan Africa

The Acheulian of Sub-Saharan Africa has close similarities to that of India and has been labeled “Large Flake Acheulian”  However the lengthy pre-Acheulian Oldowan means that the term ESA encompasses both the Oldowan and the LFA.  Thus India and Sub-Saharan Africa do not have an identical ESA.

Modern Humans are found at the transition from Acheulian to Middle Stone Age.  The Middle Stone Age in the African context encompasses entities similar to both Upper palaeolithic (such as Howieson’s Poort) and Middle Palaeolithic.  Thus using the term Middle Stone Age in the Indian context confuses the issue as NO example of “Middle Palaeolithic” stratigraphically overlying “Upper Palaeolithic” has ever been found in India.  While early microlithic industries occur in Africa, they do not have continuity as they do in India.

South East Asia/China

I have recently (Mishra et al 2010) explored the relationship between India and Java.  I have argued that Homo erectus in Java has LFA technology, based on the artefacts from the 1993 Ngebung excavation.  Homo erectus in Java is is associated with fauna related to the Indian Siwalik fauna. Thus during the Lower and Middle Pleistocene India and Java (and probably part of mainland SE Asia such as Burma & Thailand) had a Savannah grassland ecosystem, LFA and Homo erectus The “chopper chopping tool” industries of SE Asia and Java most probably belong to the Late Pleistocene rather than Middle Pleistocene, as is the case with the Soanian.  In Java a major ecological shift occurs, probably during the Last interglacial.  At this time fauna (Punung fauna) more similar to that of Southern China, with species indicative of tropical rainforest such as gibbons and sun bears enters Java.  Probably modern humans are part of this fauna.

Chinese archaeologists divide China into a northern zone and southern zone and have recently suggested that “middle palaeolithic” phase does not exist.  The terminology of Early and Late Palaeolithic is becoming accepted.  The presence of handaxes in some assemblages has sparked extensive debate on the relationship of such assemblages to “Acheulian”  Some cleaver dominated assemblages also occur.

The Palaeolithic on a global scale has gained in complexity with our increase in knowledge.  The stages, chronology and transitions between stages differ from continent to continent.  Dispersals bringing homogeneity are followed by regional differentiation as should be expected due to varied ecological conditions.  The Indian sub-continent shows two major continuous sequences.  The first is the Large Flake Acheulian, likely to be as ancient in India as Africa, which continued with slow elaboration and refinement throughout most of the Lower and Middle Pleistocene.  Since Homo erectus in Java is associated with an Indian derived fauna, it is logical to consider that Homo erectus also reached Java from India and that during this phase the hominin in India was Homo erectus and advanced Homo erectus .  The Narmada homnin would belong to the endpoint of this phase. The second phase in the Indian palaeolithic is the Microlithic Blade Technology which continues from >40 kyr to the Chalcolithic.  Since by the Chalcolithic there is no doubt the population is “modern humans”, modern humans probably are responsible for this phase of the Indian Palaeolithic from the beginning.


Barton, R. N. E., A. Bouzouggar, S. Collcutt, J.-L. Schwenninger, and L. Clark-Balzan. 2009. OSL dating of the Aterian levels at Dar es-Soltan I (Rabat, Morocco) and implications for the dispersal of modern Homo sapiens. Quaternary Science Reviews

Ciochon, R. L. 2009. The mystery ape of Pleistocene Asia. Nature 459:910-91

Ciochon, R. L. 2010. “Divorcing Hominins from the Stegodon-Ailuropoda Fauna: New Views on the Antiquity of Hominins in Asia,” in Out of Africa I, Edited by J. G. Fleagle, J. J. Shea, F. E. Grine, A. L. Baden, and R. E. Leakey, pp. 111-126: Springer Netherlands

Despriée, J., P. Voinchet, H. Tissoux, M.-H. Moncel, M. Arzarello, S. Robin, J.-J. Bahain, C. Falguères, G. Courcimault, J. Dépont, R. Gageonnet, L. Marquer, E. Messager, S. Abdessadok, and S. Puaud. 2010. Lower and middle Pleistocene human settlements in the Middle Loire River Basin, Centre Region, France. Quaternary International 223-224:345-359.

Falguères, C., J.-J. Bahain, M. Duval, Q. Shao, F. Han, M. Lebon, N. Mercier, A. Perez-Gonzalez, J.-M. Dolo, and T. Garcia. 2010. A 300-600 ka ESR/U-series chronology of Acheulian sites in Western Europe. Quaternary International 223-224:293-298.

Mishra, S., C. Gaillard, C. Hertler, A.-M. Moigne, and H. T. Simanjuntak. 2010. India and Java: Contrasting Records, Intimate Connections. Quaternary International 223-224:265-270.

White MJ, Ashton NM. 2003. Lower Palaeolithic core technology and the origins of the Levallois method in north-western Europe. Current Anthropology 44: 598–609.



This entry was posted in Indian stone age sequence. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 11:Comparing Indian Stone Age sequence with Europe, Africa, SE Asia, and China

  1. Bishnupriya Basak says:

    This is highly enlightening. It has enriched my knowledge, and am in complete agreement with you.

Comments are closed.