Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 12: Proposed changes in Indian Stone Age Sequence

Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 12: Proposed changes in Indian Stone Age Sequence

As discussed in the previous post, an earlier expectation that the stone age sequence in different parts of the world would be similar has been shown to be wrong.  Europe, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Eurasia, SE Asia, all have quite different sequences.  Even if one part of the sequence matches (such as LFA in India and Africa), it is one match only.  Use of the same words for different things creates misunderstandings and hinders communication.

I have been struggling to come up with some terms for the Indian Stone Age sequence but I have come to the conclusion that English does not have enough terms to differentiate the sequences in different parts of the world.  The words “Palaeolithic” with two sets of prefixes – Lower Middle and Upper and Early and Late are in use in Europe and China respectively.  In Africa Palaeolithic has been substituted with “Stone Age” to form a different terminology.  Any combination of these terms invites confusion with the entities they already are assigned to.

I suggest we introduce some new words into “English”.  The term “Ashmayug” is already in common use in Indian languages for “Stone Age”  I suggest that this term could be used—Early Ashmayug for the Earlier Palaeolithic and Late Ashmayug for the Later Palaeolithic.

An alternative?—Early Indian Palaeolithic and Late Indian Palaeolithic?

Posted in Indian stone age sequence | 2 Comments

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.



Posted in Indian stone age sequence | 1 Comment

Indian Stone Age Sequence 10:Archaeological discontinuities and population replacements?

Indian Stone Age Sequence 10:Archaeological discontinuities and population replacements?

I decided this topic does not need a whole post.  I have discussed this in the last paragraph of the next post. Basically it seems likely that the first phase of Indian Palaeolithic is Large Flake Acheulian with Homo erectus and the second phase is modern humans and microlithic blade technology.  The first is argued from the Java evidence and the second by its continuity upto Chalcolithic

Posted in Indian stone age sequence

Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 9: Upper Palaeolithic Mesolithic continuity

Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 9: Upper Palaeolithic Mesolithic continuity

The division between Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic in the Indian context is absolutely arbitrary.  While Murty (1979) made a case for typological differences between the Mesolithic and Upper Palaeolithic based on the occurrence of blade industries made on fine grained quartzite in Andhra Pradesh, in Western India Sali (1974, 1985, 1989) labeled microlithic blade assemblages from Patne and elsewhere “Upper Palaeolithic” solely on the basis of their Late Pleistocene age.

Microlithic Blade Industries

Microlithic blade industries were first dated to the Pleistocene at Patne by Sali.  Even before dating the Ostrich eggshells from Patne, Sali had concluded that microliths belonged to the Pleistocene period as he had observed them eroding from Late Pleistocene alluvium.  His excavation at Patne was motivated in part, to prove what he already knew to be true.  In Western Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh where I worked subsequently to Sali (1980’s onwards) I found his observation to be completely true.  Almost every exposure of Late Pleistocene alluvium yields at least a handful of microliths.  By 2003 a number of radiocarbon dates had accumulated from the alluvium of different rivers, and  these were also dates for  the associated microliths.  In 2003 I compiled the available dates, mainly to understand the relationship of river aggradation to Pleistocene climatic change.  The dates from microliths ranged from >42,900 to the Chalcolithic (3-4 kyr).  No doubt technological change did occur during this period but the Pleistocene microliths which represented the longest time span did not change a lot.  Recently Clarkson et al. (2009) have obtained 4 radiocarbon dates between 27-29 kyr (calibrated to 30-34 kyr) for microliths from the Jwalapuram loc 9 rockshelter.  The older dated horizon is not associated with many artefacts and the bulk of the cultural material from this rockshelter dates to the period of ~10-12 kyr with a single date inbetween of ~16 kyr.  Nevertheless the continuity of the microblade tradition upto ~35 kyr is seen.  Thus two widely separated parts of India yield evidence for the continuity of the microlithic blade tradition from 35-45 kyr until the last few millennia.  All parts of Peninsular India are in conformity to this finding but dates older than 25 kyr are not common.

These microlithic sites are rarely associated with animal bones.  Charred shells from sites like Mehtakheri (M.P.) and Kalas (Maharashtra) show that gathered component was significant in these sites.  In eastern India, many Pleistocene microlithic sites have yielded ringed stones and grinding stones (Raju 1988).  Sali (1989) also reports grinding stones from the microlithic horizons at Patne. It does not seem that subsistence changed drastically over the Pleistocene Holocene boundary in India unlike Europe, where a shift from big game hunting to gathering occurred.  In the Indian context, intensive gathering with some hunting occurs throughout the Pleistocene and the shift in subsistence is related more to the adaptation of agriculture and permanent settlements.

Non Microlithic Blade Industries

Non microlithic blade industries  are not as prominent as microlithic blade industries in India.  None of them have been dated and their stratigraphic relationship to microlithic blade assemblages is also unclear.  Thus these industries might be earlier than the microlithic blade phase or they could be isolated episodes of use of large blades probably related to choice of raw material.

In the initial establishment of the Upper Palaeolithic phase in Indian Prehistory, the presence of large blade based assemblages from Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere was important in validating two blade tool phases in Indian Prehistory.  Murty’s Kurnool cave assemblages were not dated.  Dating by ESR of sandstone slabs used in construction of a fireplace (Nambi and Murty 1983) to only ~18 kyr implied that such assemblages with large blades were not older than those with microblades.  However the  ESR date, which was done as a dating experiment, might be an underestimation of  the true age.  The recent dating of microliths from Jwalapuram loc 9 rockshelter to 27-29 kyr (uncalibrated) 30-35 kyr (uncalibrated) indicates continuity of microliths in the region at least from that time.

At Patne, undated non microlithic blade assemblages stratigraphically underlie the microlithic blade assemblages. Varma and Pal (1997) report blades ranging in size from 4-8 cm from Amaradan near the Rehi and Son confluence which they assign to the first phase of the Upper Palaeolithic apparently on typological considerations.  A slightly more “advanced” stage is seen at Patwadh and Bhakraur with blades from 3-6 cm in length also from the Son river.


Some large blade tool assemblages do exist in India, but almost no stratigraphic or absolute dating evidence is available to determine whether this phase is earlier than the microlithic phase or a regional facies of microlithic phase.  In regions where dates are available the microlithic blade assemblages show continuity over the last  at least 40 kyr.  This definitely shows that the division between Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic is unjustified.  On the other hand the transition from Middle to Upper Palaeolithic is far from clear.  This might have happened earlier than 40 kyr.  Although I have argued in an earlier post for a discontinuity between the Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic this period is actually a blank.  Perhaps when we have more sites dated to the time period of 80-40 kyr the picture will be different

Clarkson, C., M. D. Petraglia, R. Korisettar, M. Haslam, N. L. Boivin, A. Crowther, P. W. Ditchfield, D. Fuller, Q., P. Miracle, C. Harris, K. Connell, H. V. A. James, and J. Koshy. 2009. The oldest and longest enduring microlithic sequence in India: 35,000 years of modern human occupation and change at the Jwalapuram Locality 9 rockshelter. Antiquity 83:326-348.

Mishra, S., Naik, S., Rajaguru, S.N., Deo, S. and Ghate, S., 2003. Fluvial Response to Late Quaternary Climatic Change: Case Studies from Upland Western India. Proceedings of Indian National Science Academy, 69(2): 185-200.

Murty, M. L. K. 1979. Recent Research on the Upper Palaeolithic Phase in India. Journal of Field Archaeology 6:301-319.

Murty, M. L. K. 1966. Stone Age Cultures of Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, University of Poona.

Nambi, K. S. V., and M. L. K. Murty. 1983. An Upper Palaeolithic Fireplace in Kurnool Caves, South India. Bulletin of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute 42:110-116.

Raju, D. R. 1987. Fresh light on the Upper Palaeolithic from the Eastern Ghats, Andhra Pradesh Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 7:17-22.

Raju, D. R. 1988. Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers : An Ethnoarcheaology of Cuddapah Region, South-East India Pune: Ravish Publishers.

Sali, S. A. 1974. Upper Palaeolithic Research Since Independence. Bulletin of Deccan College Research Institute 34:154-158.

Sali, S. A. 1985. “The Upper Palaeolithic Culture at Patne, District Jalgaon, Maharashtra,” in Recent Advances in Indo-Pacific Prehistory. Edited by V. N. Misra and P. Bellwood, pp. 137-146. New Delhi: Oxford-IBH

Sali, S. A. 1989. The Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic cultures of Patne, District Jalgaon, Maharashtra. Pune: Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute.

Varma, R. K., and J. N. Pal. 1997. “The Upper Palaeolithic Cultures of the Vindhyan Region,” in Indian Prehistory:1980 Edited by V. D. Misra and J. N. Pal, pp. 94-102. Allahabad: Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, University of Allahabad.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 8: Middle Palaeolithic – Acheulian continuity

Indian Stone Age Sequence Question 8: Middle Palaeolithic –  Acheulian continuity

The continuity between the Acheulian and the Middle Palaeolithic is generally accepted among Indian Prehistorians.  This is seen in widespread occurrence of retouched flake tools (scrapers, borers, etc) prepared cores which are typical of the Middle Palaeolithic along with handaxes and cleavers typical of the Acheulian.  The best documented site for this is Bhimbetka:–

Misra (1978b) states:

“The Bhimbetka Acheulian industry is characterized by a very low percentage of bifaces, high standard of workmanship in bifaces, especially cleavers, predominance and great diversity of non-biface tools, high percentage of end scrapers and levallois flakes and complete absence of chopper-chopping tools…It is to be noted that layer 5 which overlies the Acheulian deposit is stratigraphically and culturally a continuation of the Acheulian culture except for the disappearance of the biface element….”

The gradual transition from Acheulian to Middle Palaeolithic seen at Bhimbetka is also seen in other localities where “Late Acheulian” is identified.  This includes the Orsang valley in Gujarat (Ajithprasad 2005), the Malaprabha Basin, (Joshi 1955), and Andhra Pradesh (Raju 1985, 1989, Reddy 2003, Reddy & Bhaskar 1983).  The references cited are not exhaustive (uncited scholars, please don’t be offended!!).  The continuity between Acheulian and Middle Palaeolithic has never been seriously disputed in the Indian context.

Anyone who has an argument for discontinuity between the Acheulian and Middle Palaeolithic please comment!


Ajithprasad, P. 2005. Early Middle Palaeolithic:A Transition Phase between the upper Acheulian and the middle Palaeolithic Cultures in the Orsang Valley, Gujarat. Man and Environment 30:1-11.

Joshi, R. V. 1955. Pleistocene Studies in the Malaprabha Basin. Poona Dharwar: Deccan College

Karnataka University.

Misra, V. N. 1978a. The Acheulian Industry of Rock Shelter III F- 23 at Bhimbetka, Central India. Australian Archeaology 8:63-106.

—. 1978b. The Acheulian Industry of Rock Shelter III F- 23 at Bhimbetka, Central India – A Preliminary Study. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 1:130- 171.

Raju, D. R. 1985. Handaxe Assemblages from the Gunjana Valley, Andhra Pradesh : A Metrical Analysis. Bulletin of the Indo- Pacific Prehistory Association 6:10-26.

—. 1989. The Lower Palaeolithic Culture in the Gunjana Valley on the Southeast Coast of India. Bulletin of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute 47/48 283- 300.

Reddy, K. T. 2003. “Lower Palaeolithic cultures,” in Pre-and Protohistoy of Andhra Pradesh upto 500 BC Vol1 Comprehensive History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh. Edited by M. L. K. Murty, pp. 29-38. New Delhi: Indian History Congress in association with Dravidian University Orient Longmans.

Reddy, V. R., and S. Bhaskar 1983. “Maralipalem and Chintalapalem : Two Late Acheulian Sites in Southeast Andhra Pradesh,” in Rangavalli : Recent Researches in Indology. Edited by A. V. Narsimha Murty and B. K. Gururaj Rao, pp. 19-43. Delhi: Sandeep Prakashan.




Posted in Indian stone age sequence | 2 Comments

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.


Posted in Indian stone age sequence | 2 Comments

Acheulian of sub-himalayan India, Pakistan and Nepal

Indian stone age sequence question 6

Acheulian of sub-himalayan India, Pakistan and Nepal

The Acheulian evidence

In Pakistan handaxes have been found insitu by Rendell and Dennell (1985).  These were found within the section at Dina and Jalapur and are dated to post-Bruhnes time (<800 ka) and pre-tilting of the sediments and so estimated to date to 400-600 kyr.  As pointed out by Mohapatra (1990) Acheulian tools have been reported by de Terra and Paterson (1939) from 7 additional localities in Pakistan , but the number of artefacts is low and the context unclear.

In Nepal, Corvinus (2006) recovered 20 handaxes from Satpati.  These handaxes were found on the surface of Siwalik sediments but as no other sediments occurred from which they could be derived she inferred that they originated from a particular sandstone bed above which no artefacts were found.

In India Mohapatra (1981, 1982, 1987), Mohapatra & Singh (1981), Kumar and Rishi (1986) have reported Acheulian artefacts from 21 “findspots”.  The number of artefacts is not large, with the total assemblage barely exceeding 100 artefacts.  Most of the findspots consist of from 1-3 artefacts.  The exception is Atbarpur where over 50 artefacts were collected.  Recently Gaillard et al (2008) have published a study of the Atbarpur assemblage which shows its close resemblance to the Large Flake Acheulian (LFA) of Peninsular India.

The problems:low numbers and sporadic occurence

The Acheulian in the sub-Himalayan regions therefore is widespread, found wherever work has been carried out (except Pabbi Hills), and by varied individual researchers.  The number of artefacts is low, except for a few localities like Atbarpur and Satpati.  The artefacts are usually surface finds.  Only Dina and Jalapur have been related to the magnetostratigraphy and both of them are late in date.

Inspite of these problems the iconic nature of Acheulian Large Cutting Tools is such that even with this low density and sporadic occurrence the presence of Acheulian is confirmed.  The finding of a single Large cutting tool is actually not very uncommon. This is perhaps not widely appreciated as single artefacts are rarely written about.  In my personal experience single artefacts, or  a few single artefacts are quite commonly found at Acheulian sites.  Thus at Mandwara, on the Narmada river I recovered a single unabraded cleaver from the eroded surface of the older silt, a second cleaver from the gravel dug out of a well 20 m below the surface (Utawad), a handaxe from Gunore on the Kukdi river, 3 cleavers from Nasre on the Krishna river found on different visits, 4 cleavers from Saswad, also on different visits.  The pattern of occurrence of Acheulian tools therefore is not necessarily different from Peninsular India.  Probably where large numbers of tools occur we are seeing a surface exposed for a significant time span, or concentration of artefacts by erosion.  I have argued in the “Large Flake Acheulian” post that these “fragmented chaine operatoires” are a signature of Acheulian and indicate the habitual transport of finished tools.  A single Acheulian artefact is typically a Large Cutting Tool. The low numbers of artefacts therefore are not a serious problem in establishing the presence of Acheulian in sub-Himalayan zone of the Indian sub-continent.

The problems: Where do the tools come from?

In India, Nepal and Pakistan Acheulian tools have been found in/on sediments equivalent to the Pinjor formation of the Siwaliks.  The Pinjor formation has been dated between the Gauss Matuyama boundary (2.5 myr) and the Boulder Conglomerate.  The Boulder Conglomerate was deposited in response to the renewed uplift of the Himalayas and varies in age from sector to sector.  The terminal date for the Pinjor formation therefore varies from 1.3 myr to younger than the Bruhnes Matuyama boundary ( Nanda 2002, Patnaik & Nanda 2010).  Thus the Siwalik frontal range exposes sediments of lower and middle Pleistocene time.  A figure from Patnaik and Nanda (2010) shows the palaeomagnetically dated sections from the Indian Siwaliks.  I have highlighted the time interval between the Olduvai event (1.8 myr) and the Bruhnes Matayama boundary (0.8 myr).  At least 4 sections—Parmandal-Utterbeni, Patiali Rao, Ghaggar and Nadah contain sediments belonging to a time span when Acheulian is known from Africa.  Infact Patiali Rao, Ghaggar and Nadah sections continue well into the Bruhnes epoch.  Thus derivation of Acheulian artefacts from erosion of the Pinjor sediments seems to be more probable than them dating to post sediment exposure, which would be very recent.  In the early 1980’s when the discovery of Acheulian artefacts in the Siwalik frontal range was made, the age of the Acheulian in Africa had not been established so that a “Pinjor” age for the Acheulian was considered impossible.  Post 1980 work has led to an earlier dating for the Acheulian as well as showing “Pinjor” sediments to continue past the Middle Pleistocene.

click for larger view

How young is the Soanian?

A final question is the reported presence of “Soanian” assemblages as well as Acheulian on surfaces of the “Frontal range” (Mohapatra 1990).  Are they contemporary to the Acheulian?, eroding out of the later Siwalik sediments or do they post date the exposure of the sediments?  Soni and Soni 2008 infact have found “Soanian” artefacts in contexts as young as 7 ka.  A post exposure date for the “Soanian” therefore may not be impossible.

Kumar, M., and K. K. Rishi. 1986. Acheulian elements from Hoshiharpur Region (Punjab). Man and Environment 10:141-142.

Mohapatra, G. C. 1981. Acheulian Discoveries in the Siwalik Frontal Range Current Anthropology 22:433-435.

—. 1982. “Acheulian Distribution in the Siwalik of Punjab,” in Indian Archeaology : New Perspectives. Edited by R. K. Sharma, pp. 28-37. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan.

—. 1997. “Re-identification of Acheulian Element in the Western Sub-Himalayan Lithic Complex in the Light of New Discoveries,” in Indian Prehistory:1980. Edited by V. D. Misra and J. N. Pal, pp. 43-50. Allahabad: Department of Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, University of Allahabad.

Mohapatra, G. C., and M. Singh. 1981. Acheulian Discoveries in the Siwalik Frontal Range of Western Sub-Himalayas. Punjab University Research Bulletin 10:65-77.

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

Soni, A. S., V. S. Soni, and D. S. Dhillon. 2008. Large assemblages of flakes and cores found on dated young terraces of River Satluj and its tributaries. Current Science 94:577-580.

Posted in Indian stone age sequence | 2 Comments