“Consensus View?”

“Consensus View?”

I had planned to discuss the Haslam et al paper on the “youngest Acheulian” but Dennell’s statement in his perspective to the dating of Indian Acheulian to 1.5 myr (Pappu et al. 2011) that “the Indian Acheulian was less than 0.6 to 0.5 Ma” was the consensus view is disturbing me.  “Consensus” means agreed, discussed.  I was not part of this consensus.

There are a number of issues—

  1. Some people’s opinions are taken more seriously than others.  Obviously I am one of the people whose opinion is not taken seriously.  Pappu et al’s paper shows that my expectations of the results of further work were closer to reality than the “consensus”.  However my (now) justified interpretation of the data faced strong opposition and worse — ridicule.
  2. What is the consensus view?
  3. How did the “consensus” come to such a wrong view?

The first point is one I am long used to but the second and third have really been “bugging” me the last week.  I have been piecing together the “consensus view “ from the publications of Dennell-Chauhan-Petraglia et al.

What was the “consensus view”?

1. The Indian Acheulian was less than 0.6 to 0.5 Ma

This view is actually first expressed by Dennell (2009) in his book “The Palaeolithic Settlement of Europe”, although he cites Chauhan’s comment on our paper (Gaillard et al 2010 Chauhan 2010) for it in his perspective piece.  Chauhan (2009 a & b) and Petraglia (2006) have not strongly endorsed an earlier age for Indian Acheulian, but neither did they categorically state that the Indian Acheulian was less than 0.6 to 0.5 ma years as Dennell has.

2. The earliest lithic assemblages outside of Africa are all non-Acheulian

This I have inferred from the papers by Dennell, Chauhan and Petraglia in the recently published book “Out of Africa 1” which I am reviewing.  I therefore had to really read the papers carefully.  None of the above authors actually makes the statement above, but all of them totally ignore the Indian Acheulian in their discussion of the earliest hominin evidence in India!  They concentrate only on the “mode 1” entities, like Soanian and Durkhadi-Mahdeo Piparia-Samnapur.  My conclusion is that their strong opinion that the Indian Acheulian is younger than 0.6 to 0.5 Ma is because they think Acheulian did not disperse out of Africa until that time. A basic premise seems to be that Out of Africa 1 is non Acheulian. This fits with the European scenario, but why did they apply it to the Indian sub-continent?  Although the dates are not very reliable or numerous all the available evidence was that the Indian Acheulian was older.

3. India was not occupied in the Lower Pleistocene as there are no Mode I assemblages

After making valiant attempts (really Chauhan is exhaustive!) to find “good” mode 1 assemblages in the Indian sub-continent and failing, Dennell, Chauhan and Petraglia each concludes, somewhat reluctantly, that India was not colonized in the Early Pleistocene or if so, only sporadically.  Explanations then shift to the unfavorable factors within India for early hominins…. Large rivers, lack of stone etc.

This view which I have reconstructed from Dennell 2009 and the papers in the Out of Africa 1 volume is surprising.  The actual evidence from India is so contrary to this.

So why was the Pappu et al date not a surprise to me?

  1. I interpreted the absence of mode 1 in the Indian sub-continent in a different way from the “consensus” .  I explain the absence of mode 1 as due to the early presence of mode 2.  I think the first lithic tradition in India is Acheulian.  I don’t think it is preceded by mode 1.  I don’t expect to find mode 1. Since Acheulian dates to around 1.6 ma in Africa, it could easily be similar in age in India.  I expected it to be a similar age.
  2. The Indian and African Acheulian is different from the European Acheulian.  It is “Large Flake Acheulian” (LFA). It is not about “shaping” but about carrying artefacts habitually (see my earlier post of the Indian Acheulian, link in references) Most probably this difference in the LFA from European Acheulian is due to it being older.  Thus while the “consensus” thought the Indian Acheulian couldn’t be older than 0.5-0.6 Ma, I thought it couldn’t be younger.
  3. Pappu et al. is not the only date for the Indian Acheulian.  All the dating evidence indicates probability of an age similar to that of Africa.  There never is a last word in research and the dates could be wrong and some Acheulian could be young (even youngest), but that is hardly a basis to conclude that all the Indian Acheulian is younger than half a million years.

So how did the “consensus” come to that particular view?

Perhaps they will tell me in the “comments” section…

I think since all the other “earliest” assemblages are non Acheulian  and the only Acheulian site comparable in age to the African Acheulian is Ubeidya, they concluded that the earliest dispersal from Africa was with mode 1 technology and mode 2 technology is a later dispersal. I think the further inferences followed from this interpretation of the available data.


Chauhan, P. R. 2010. “The Indian Subcontinent and ‘Out of Africa I’,” in Out of Africa I, Edited by J. G. Fleagle, J. J. Shea, F. E. Grine, A. L. Baden, and R. E. Leakey, pp. 145-164-164: Springer Netherlands

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.

Chauhan, P. R. 2009. “The South Asian Paleolithic Record and Its Potential for Transitions Studies,” in Sourcebook of Paleolithic Transitions: Methods, Theories, and Interpretations. Edited by M. Camps and P. R. Chauhan, pp. 121-140. New York: Springer

Chauhan, P. R. 2009. The Lower Paleolithic of the Indian subcontinent Evolutionary Anthropology 18:62-78.

Dennell, R. 2011. An Earlier Acheulian Arrival in South Asia. Science 331 1532-1533.

Dennell, R. 2010. ““Out of Africa I”: Current Problems and Future Prospects,” in Out of Africa I, Edited by J. G. Fleagle, J. J. Shea, F. E. Grine, A. L. Baden, and R. E. Leakey, pp. 247-273-273: Springer Dorchect

Dennell, R. W. 2009. Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Mishra, S. 2010. Review of “The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia”. Man and Environment 35:119-122.

Mishra, S. 2008. The Lower Palaeolithic: A Review of Recent Findings. Man and Environment 33:14-29.

Mishra, S. 2007. The Indian Lower Palaeolithic. Bulletin of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute 66-67:47-94.


Petraglia, M. D. 2010. “The Early Paleolithic of the Indian Subcontinent: Hominin Colonization, Dispersals and Occupation History,” in Out of Africa I, Edited by J. G. Fleagle, J. J. Shea, F. E. Grine, A. L. Baden, and R. E. Leakey, pp. 165-179: Springer Netherlands

Petraglia, M. 2006. “The Indian Acheulian in global perspective,” in Axe Age. Edited by N. Goren and G. Sharon, pp. 389-414. London: Equinox.

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2 Responses to “Consensus View?”

  1. sushama says:

    Hi Sheila
    Yes I do agree with you fully about so called “concensus view”. You are rightly pointed it out here. Their consensus view is based on wrong assumptions. Hope they will clarify it!!!!!
    congratulations for bringing out this point of view so clearly. keep it up.

  2. arvind says:

    a small intro abt palaeolithic age in India

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