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The Geo-Climatic Regimes:
India is perhaps the largest peninsular landmass in the world constituting a single country. It lies between 8°4’N to 37°6’N and 68°7’E to 97°25’E. It runs to nearly 3200 Km along its north-south axis. It’s a real coverage is 3,267,500 square kilometers. Prior to 600 million years ago and almost upto 120 million years from today most of its western provinces beyond the Aravallis were under sea.
Archaean gneisses and granites formed the main landmass of the subcontinent. The Aravalli formations, starting to rise around the Pre- Cambrian era (prior to 600 million years), separated the western sea from the Himalayan sea. The Dharwarian group forms- the first mixed sediments to cover the original crust of Archaean formations.
Around 500 million years ago a humid climatic regime developed and this caused several meters deep calcareous depositions. The Cuddapah formation corresponds to this period. The Vindhyan basin was also uplifted during this phase. This was followed by extensive glacio-fluvial deposits from a southern source, not so far specifically identified.
These deposits are names as Gondwana formations. During the middle of the Mesozoic period around 200 million years ago, the continent got separated from Africa, Australia and South America. Subsequent to this, one of the greatest volcanic eruptions took place in the Pacific and most of the earlier deposits were deeply buried under volcanic lava in most parts of the peninsular region.
The rise of the Himalayas and along with this the entire area west of Aravallis was exposed creating a huge landmass that constitutes western Rajasthan and parts of Pakistan today. It was much later during late Quaternary i.e., less than one million years ago that the Ganga-Jamuna trough alongwith numerous water courses of Himalayan origin started filing up the sub-Himalayan depression.
When man evolved, India had acquired its present shape although most of its water courses were still not flowing in a permanent bed. By late Lower Pleistocene and early Middle Pleistocene, India emerged (is a country capped by Himalayan ranges in the north along with the chain of Patkai and the Suleman ranges forming two arms in the east and the west respectively, and the Western and the Eastern Ghats running along the two borders of its peninsular extension.
This brief and oversimplified account of the geological history of the country is the backdrop against which a workable chronology of this region has to be developed. Active geological events have taken place even after Pleistocene depositions and have made this job of working out a chronology for this country very challenging. Most of the archaeological interpretations, besides working out chronologies, depend heavily on climatic interpretations and this is often made possible by comparisons with the present climate of the region.
The various climatic regions within which India is broadly divided can, therefore, be briefly described here as follows:
A. Moist Tropical Forests:
Moist tropical forests are a variety of eco-niche which has been identified in a varied dispersed spread over several regions of the country. Some of the variations, as such, will be more meaningful for our understanding.
1. Tropical Wet Evergreen:
This is an ecological regime which occurs at varied altitudes with a yearly rainfall exceeding 250 cm. In Assam, this occur upto 1070 meters while on the western coast the wet evergreen forest is maintained upto 1370 meter altitude. These are forests with multiple canopies and very rich undergrowth. The plants usually found in this climate are Dipercarps, Shorea and Hopea.
2. Tropical Moist Semi-Evergreen:
This climate regime is mostly confined to the Western Ghats although some specific regions of Assam, Bengal and Orissa may also be included in this group. Here the annual rainfall varies between 200- 250 cm. The main floral character is provided by the Eugenia cinnamomume. Lush undergrowth is also invariably present.
Moist deciduous forests are generally restricted to the peninsular upland between the western and the Eastern Ghats. Sal (Skorea robustus) and Teak (Tectona grandis) constitute the most characteristic species of this zone. Rainfall for this zone can be extremely varied, and depends largely on whether one is nearer to the ghats or in the inland region. It can vary from almost 200 cm near the ghats to less than 100 cm inland.
B. Dry Tropical Forests:
Dry tropical species abound in areas where the annual rainfall does not exceed 100 cm. The Himalayan foot-hills, Satpuras, Maikals, the eastern slopes of the Aravallis and the inner slopes of the ghats provide this climatic zone. The floral variety is usually stunted and may contain berries. Date palms (Phonix sylvestris) abound besides some sprinkling of larger deciduous trees depending on local rainfall and soil conditions.
There is a strong likelihood that most of the present day-dry tropical forest areas must have maintained deciduous forests during the Pleistocene. The increasing aridity off Holocene with the ever-increasing human interference in the recent years has pushed this climatic regime to almost the entire inland areas along the tropic of cancer.
Besides these four main climatic regimes, India maintains a typical desert region to the west of the Aravallis which receives less than 25 cm rain-fall per annum. At high altitudes, several special and characteristic eco-regimes seem to develop along the Himalayas. Finally the biggest drainage of the Ganga-Jamuna trough develops its own climatic regime based on the extremes of the seasons and the monsoon.
Much of the identified eco-zones are fast changing because of a combination of several factors but the occurrence of such species as Rhinoceros within the sand dunes of northern Gujarat and Hippopotamus from almost all river deposits in both central and western Indian only indicate that the tropical wet evergreen forest which is found today in areas of more than 250 cm annual rain fall must have covered most of the coastal regions of India during the early and mid-Pleistocene.
Human colonization of these areas would, therefore, seem not very likely. It is only in the other two varieties, i.e., tropical moist semi-evergreen and deciduous forest regions that human occupations must have occurred. The amount of human cultural debris found from the heart of the desert, in both, the Indian and Pakistan part of it, also tends to indicate that much of the northern part of the desert had maintained a dry tropical forest, if not actually a deciduous forest regime, in certain places.
Climatic reconstruction of the desert, in recent years, has attracted so much attention from the experts that one can almost reconstruct the climatic fluctuations of the area with accurate dates for at least the last 20,000 years. For the rest of the Pleistocene, however, it has to be based on such chance finds of faunal remains as the rhinoceros shoulder blade from Mehsana district, Gujarat.
Towards a Regional Perspective:
Earlier we have seen the how and the why of the existence of diverse climatic regimes in India. While most of the peninsular region remains essentially tropical the rest of the country is governed by a number of seasons of which summer, monsoon and winter are the dominant ones.
The Himalayas, covering almost the entire northern Boundary, and its two axial chains, viz., Sulaiman in the west and Patkai in the east, forms a fairly good barrier for the country from the Siberian cold winds. The height of the Himalayas being almost of the same level as the westerly currents, a predictable monsoon for the country is almost assured by the giant mountain maintaining the line of Inter-Tropical Discontinuity constantly to the south of the mountains.
It is a common experience for anybody who visits India to see this diversity and almost accept this landmass as a conglomerate of several entirely ‘different worlds’ which are merely wrapped up together with a common history. It will not be quite illogical, therefore, to conceive India as forming distinct culture areas with almost insular boundaries.
Subbarao (1958) had already attempted this using the then available archaeological data. He could quite successfully demonstrate ‘areas of attraction’, ‘areas of relative isolation’, ‘areas penetrated recently’ and the like. It is not surprising that all the large river valleys like Indus, Ganges, Godavari and Krishna have been shown as areas of attraction or “nuclear zones”.
Obviously the perspective chosen is from the standpoint of early cultivators. Most of Narmada, Sone and Mahanadi or Burhabalang in this sense have been considered as areas of isolation in the light of the Neolithic sites known till then. Today, we have Navdatoli near Narmada and Kuchai near Burhabalang – both demonstrative of a farming community settlement.
Further, what has been counted as nuclear zone may not have been really an area of that big an attraction for early hunter – gathers? In fact we have reasons to believe that the rocky or hilly areas maintaining deciduous forests with less than 200 cm annual rainfall may have been the most likely areas of attraction for the Lower Palaeolithic populations.
One of the richest caches of Palaeolithic concentration from India lies in the area which includes Narmada, the entire Chhotanagpur, northern Andhra and the Vindhyan segment of Uttar Pradesh. Areas of Palaeolithic occurrence outside this region are basically different in their character, and in great likelihood, also in origin.
The adaptations chosen in these extra-nuclear zones for Palaeoliths and hence also their cultures are bound to be quite different from the majority already found. Thus, although the very character of India would seem to tempt one to a regional approach, yet such an approach may temporally be a failure.
No study was specifically undertaken in India to construct a Pleistocene chronology applicable to the whole country till 1935 when the Yale-Cambridge expedition arrived. The detail study of the Kashmir and Potwar region, by the team led by De Terra and Paterson, helped to extend the already identified Siwalik succession into Pleistocene.
De Terra and Paterson demonstrated a series of degradation and aggradation in the river Sohan near Rawalpindi and argued that the Potwar Lake was forming during the entire Lower Pleistocene. During the early Middle Pleistocene the lake got filled and drained out because of the tilting of the land and over this laccustrine deposit the river Sohan started flowing – thus depositing the freshly brought glacio-fluvial material on top of it.
They could also demonstrate that the Villafranchian horse Equus hysudricus which was found in direct association with the first Himalayan glaciation at Malshahibagh Karewa in Kashmir was also found in Tatrot – the penultimate deposition of the lake. Thus, all the other subsequent geological events could be conveniently arranged within the fourfold Alpine glaciation scheme.
The following details put it in simpler manner:
1. Northwest Punjab or Potwar was demonstrated by early geologists working there as being formed through the building of seven laccustrine units. These geologists named the deposits and gave them tentative Quaternary names on the basis of comparable faunal groups identified in them. These deposits together were termed as ‘Siwalik succession’, with three sub-divisions, shown, for convenience.
De Terra and Pater son could first demonstrate that the Tertiary fauna ends with Dhok Pathan and, secondly, in Pinjaur occurs the first Villafranchian fauna which, in a contiguous region in Kashmir, is also found directly associated with the episode of the 1st Himalayan glaciation.
2. The entire succession in the rest of the Pleistocene period is recorded in the form of a series of terraces caused by a number of earthquakes. The deposits which were older and once formed the surface of the terrain, thus, got pushed up and the river Sohan cut a bed in the lower level to deposit its new, and hence younger, material there.
These terraces are named by their position from the top. The original bed which marks the first descent of the river is called TD and is composed of huge boulders found almost in the form of a conglomerate. This bed is now shifted to almost 147 meters above the present course of the river.
Between this first episode and the present level of the river there are five more terraces and they are named serially. De Terra could demonstrate these with the succession of Pleistocene climatic episodes. Thus, if Tatrot represented the first glaciation, Pinjaur must be co-eval with first Interglaciation, TD – IInd Glaciation, T1 = II Interglaciation and so on, as shown below.
Although this was a mere transplantation of European chronometric model to India, one cannot deny that as a pioneering work De Terra and Paterson’s geological study in Punjab and Kashmir provided Indian archaeologists with a firm time-frame for the first time on fairly logical grounds.
De Terra and Paterson realized that they are dealing with essentially a tropical country and hence a chronology tied down with glacial events cannot be applicable to the whole country. It is perhaps with this idea that they surveyed the Narmada and identified parallel alluvial deposits for all the six terraces of Punjab. They argued that Narmada was not born during the Lower Pleistocene stage (comparable to Tatrot and Pinjaur in Potwar).
Excessive leaching of the base rock occurred during this period and caused the formation of a specific eroded rock type called laterites. Thus, corresponding to Tatrot they identified a fine film off homogeneous clay called mottled clay which is laid down by the meandering water flow.
That this chronology was not applicable to quite a number of specific instances, is clear from the fact that no sooner Mortimer Wheeler took up the helm of the Archaeological Survey of India he invited Fredrick Zeuner, a Quaternary geologist at London School, to India to provide a Pleistocene chronology for India.
The first Gujarat Archaeological Expedition was thus undertaken in 1944 with Zeuner and Sankalia as the main experts. The team surveyed almost all the rivers in Gujarat and demonstrated that most of these recorded only two gravel beds. That is, unlike the five Pleistocene deposits demonstrated at Potwar and Narmada, only two wet phases are seen in other rivers.
In other words, the oldest deposit in these rivers has to be accepted as belonging to the third glacial phase of the temperate chronology. Since then several discoveries in many areas have grossly changed the Pleistocene chronology established in the forties. We shall briefly look into these evidences before finally modifying the available chronometer.
1. A third gravel was identified at Belan in UP. It had not only yielded different cultural material than the preceding gravel but also provided a C-14 date of 23840 ± 830 B.C.
2. The oldest C-14 date recorded from the second gravel at Mula Dam is > 39000 B.C. (Dattawadi).
3. In a recent restudy of the Himalayan geology it was found that a thick moraine descended up to Potwar around 1.9 million years ago. Apparently this conglomerate had been identified as the TD terrace by De Terra and Paterson.
4. Near Saurastra a single Lower Palaeolith was found buried under a miliolite deposit which could be indirectly dated to 120,000 B.P. Thus, the Palaeolith could apparently be dated from earlier than 120,000 B.P.
All these evidences put together would seem to indicate that taking the whole of India together the broad period of occurrence of the three conventional stages of Palaeolithic past are as follows:
Lower Palaeolithic Culture – 1 million year in Punjab to 39,000 B.C. in the Deccan.
Middle Palaeolithic Culture – 39,000 B.C. to 23,000 B.C.
Upper Palaeolithic Culture – 23,000 B.C. to 10,000 B.C.
Possehl (1975), who had critically examined the faunal and tool typological features of the sites known till then, felt that “The entrance of man into the sub-continent as it has been documented so far, was comparatively late, being in the third interglacial or Upper Pleistocene”.
It would seem, in the light of the above evidences that he may be correct for some parts of India, but surely the antecedents of man in this country can be pushed to well within Middle Pleistocene in some other parts, especially in the valleys of the north western region of India.
The finding of the Homo erectus from Narmada would also indicate a greater antiquity of man’s presence in this zone than what the faunal and geological evidences would indicate. This is on the assumption that an archaic erectus has to be pre-existing in this area in order to give rise to the advanced form discovered there. For most of the other evidences of what we call as Acheulian from India, Possehl may be broadly correct.
Acheulian in India must have flourished between 100,000 to as late as 50,000 years before present. This is a time bracket in which most of Europe, excluding perhaps only the Mousterian zone in south west France, continues with a well-developed upper Acheulian form. In Africa as well, the Acheulian continues till this date at many sites.