In this article we will discuss about the history of central India.
The Central region is an expanse of landmass of more than 1200 Km length along the tropic of cancer. It covers the whole of the present state of Madhya Pradesh perhaps with the exception of the district of Bastar which lies too far in the south to be considered within the central region. Aravalli ranges in the west and Maikal ranges in the east mark its northern border while the rivers Tapti in the west and Mahanadi in the east mark its southern border.
Deccan Lava covers most of this region-specially lying south of the river Narmada which flows from east to west. Several other affluents of the Ganga-Jamuna system originate in the north of the Narmada and flow northwards. The entire area of this region has yielded one of the richest amounts of Palaeolithic sites. Almost all the river valleys and their numerous tributaries have yielded Palaeoliths from almost the earliest typo-technological stage to the most advanced forms.
Narmada, of these, has attracted many archaeologists from as early as 1939. De Terra, after his experience at Sohan, wanted to link up the glacio-fluvial depositional cycle observed in sub-Himalayan zone with the depositional history of a purely pluvial area. Narmada, flowing along the tropic of cancer, was a natural choice. In the main Narmada between the cities of Hoshangabad and Narsinghpur several denuded evidences of Pleistocene deposits could be identified by them but a proper stratigraphy of these deposits, which could enable the reconstruction of the past climatic regimes, was possible from a tributary of Narmada near Harpur.
Six depositions were identified overlying a primary lateritic bed forming a two terraced structure. The river is flowing over the first or the oldest deposit. This along with younger concretionary clay called the Pink clay was designated as the Lower Group of Narmada. The Basal conglomerate of the group yields Bos namadicus and Elephas namadicus in large number and on the strength of these and other archaeological evidences the Lower Group was designated as co-eval with TD and T1 at Sohan.
Likewise, the Upper Group, which occurs over the Lower Group, was taken as co-eval with T2 and T3 terraces at Sohan. These constitute a sandy gravel deposit and an orangish silt. Finally this thick deposition was cut by the river and the deposits are spread at a lower level in a terraced structure.
This lower terrace is termed the cotton soil or Regur Group and is constituted by sandy loose gravel followed by a thick black soil. Extending the same logic, De Terra correlated these to T4 and T5 of Sohan. Thus, he could propose almost a complete successional history of rivers of pluvial zones from second Glaciation onwards.
The recent discovery of the calvarium of Narmada Man and the numerous archaeological discoveries of the classic Abbevellio-Acheulian industry are all attributed to the oldest Narmada deposit and hence belonging to early Middle Pleistocene. Gregory Possehl in 1975 took stock of the available date and concluded that no alluvial deposit in India can be put to a date older than last Interglacial.
Therefore, the correlations sought with Potwar would seem entirely discarded. The tools collected from the Narmada Basal gravel also would seem to support a much younger date for this deposit, especially in view of the late Acheulian types of handaxes and cleavers described in these assemblages. The fauna which have been often referred to by various authors would indeed seem to appear to be more correctly belonging to Upper Pleistocene than otherwise.
The total Narmada industry has yielded massive sized handaxes, cleavers, choppers, chopping tools and several clactonian flakes. Together, they produce a picture which spans the cultural evidence of at least a million years (in one geological stratum) if one can compare the Lower Palaeolithic duration of E. Africa or even parts of Europe.
There are, at least two clear evidences of the fact that the Narmada Lower Palaeolithic known so far is actually a mixed deposition. One of these comes from a site called Hathnora where Homo erectus was discovered on the Narmada and the other is a primary site 40 Km away from the river in the rock shelters of Bhimbetka.
Hathnora is replete with large mammal remains of late Pleistocene date. Equus, Bos, Cervus, Bubalus, Hexapradon and numerous other mammal remains have been found in association with the late erectus calvarium. The conglomerate which yields all these evidences is what De Terra had described as Basal Conglomerate, and what would now appear to be of the last interglacial date in terms of international chronology. A huge late Acheulian assemblage has been discovered from across the river from Dhansi from the same or similar geo-morphological context.
Two things become immediately clear from this spectacular discovery.
1. The tools are made on ortho-quartzite, which is not available within 60-40 km of the site. Both at Bhimbetka and Barkhera, the same raw material is used and is also locally available. This would mean that Hathnora assemblage should, quite logically, be only an extension of the Bhimbetka Lower Palaeolithic culture.
Chopper chopping tools or Abbevillian handaxes are conspicuous by their absence in these three industries. That is, Narmada and their near-around rock-shelters wee occupied by late Acheulians in late Pleistocene period and in all probability the author was an early sapiens of the Hathnora kind.
2. Chopper-chopping tools and the massive Abbevillian handaxes which form an integral part of the Acheulian tools in almost all riverine sites may in all probability represent an earlier phase of Lower Palaeolithic existence and are not contemporaneous with the Acheulians.
This early phase may be at the most dated to the beginning of the last interglacial. That is, around 160,000 years ago these regions of India get populated and nearly around 100,000 to almost 80,000 years ago late Acheulians take over. It is important, at this juncture, to mention that all late Acheulians do not occur without chopper-chopping element.
Adamgarh, which is another late Acheulian rock shelter in this very area, shows chopper-chopping types occurring in fairly good frequency along with the late Acheulian bifaces. This feature of chopper omnipresence is recorded in many other sites of both Europe and Africa and hence need not be taken to identify a mixed industry.
On the other hand, Abbevillian types or Clactonian flakes are virtually absent in all these Acheulian sites. Many authors have even tried to distinguish these late occurring choppers on the basis of technological features and we would tend to agree with them. That is to say, if choppers or chopping tools show cylinder hammer scars or evidence of resolved flaking technique, these need not be identified as pre-Acheulian in cultural or chronological terms.
Bhimbetka is the name of a cluster of an unusually large number of caves and rock-shelters in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. It lies about 40 km north of the northern bank of Narmada while Adamgarh, another cluster of 9 rock shelters lies only 3-4 km south of the southern back of Narmada in Hoshangabad district. In the entire area more than 700 caves and rock shelters have been numbered by V.S. Wakankar who discovered them in 1962.
One of the largest of these caves measuring nearly 40 × 12 × 15 meters and numbered III F-23 was excavated by V.N. Misra during 1966 to 1976. Almost 4 mt deep cave soil interrupted by unusually big caved in boulders could be dug out by the excavators. Layers were identified on the basis of associated archaeological material alone. In all 8 layers we recorded, of these, the oldest three layers, viz., layers 6 to 8, yielded Late Acheulian industry. Layer 5 produced Middle Palaeoliths and layer 4 yielded Upper Palaeoliths.
The next three layers superimposing these were Mesolithic. Although this excavated cave did not contain much painting but others adjoining them, in fact almost 70 percent of the total caves, yielded a large number of paintings in yellow to deep tan ochre. Most of these paintings are ascribed to the Mesolithic period although few of them are suspected to be late Upper Palaeolithic in age also.
Misra records nearly five thousand artifacts from this excavation and these include several mammoth flake cores and hammer stones. The latter leaves no doubt that the tools were prepared right within the cave. Finished tools account for nearly 32 percent of the total collection. Bifaces among these account for nearly 4 percent.
These are one of the most spectacular types known from Bhimbetka. Some of them are as long as 22 cm and yet the thickness never exceeds 25 percent of the length. In technique these exhibit one of the best forms of Upper Acheulian types from the whole of India. Cleavers are almost as a rule prepared on large flakes and constitute a ratio of 3: 1 with the handaxes.
Such a preponderence of flake cleavers, often with only truncated scars forming the dorsal surface, is only a peculiarity of Bhimbetka Acheulians. Levalloise flakes form a very high percentage of the finished types (12 percent). Side scrapers, points, backed knives, denticulates, notches and end-scrapers constitute nearly 28 percent of the total types. Absence of chopper-chopping and Abbevillian type isolates this from almost all the known Lower Palaeolithic sites of India.
Adamgarh A series of rock-shelters on the bank of the Narmada in Hoshangabad district were excavated by R.V. Joshi. These provide several features which are comparable to Bhimbetka and hence are always mentioned together. The paintings which abound in these shelters are almost of the same pattern as those known from Bhimbetka. The tools are also prepared on the same variety of raw material.
The Acheulian artifacts are recovered from only two trenches and they number only 93 in total. Microlithic level, however, shows much denser occupation. The Acheulian tool types identified are more than 34 percent choppers while handaxes and cleavers together form only 15 percent. Besides these there are some discoids, side-scrapers and points also identified.
Further East in Vindhyan Uttar Pradesh, the Lower Palaeolithic industry described from Belan region in Pratapgarh district offers another peculiarity of this period. Here G.R. Sharma has claimed a basal gravel exposure with almost the same range of Upper Pleistocene fauna as it known from Narmada.
The Lower Palaeolithic types recorded from the surface and attributed to this basal gravel show a large range of moderately sized (10-12 cm) handaxes and cleavers with very fine-shouldered butt-end. Many of these handaxes are also made on flakes. One can again see that these Lower Palaeolithic types are almost on the threshold of transition of Middle Palaeolithic. The flake component of these Lower Palaeoliths compares perfectly with the French Mousterian.
It is important at this point to remember that a typical Mousterian of the kind described from France is not known in either England in the East or W. Germany in the West. In fact if one was to compare our central region Acheulians with either Baker’s hole (England) or Lehringen and Salzgitter-Lebenstedt (W. Germany) one may not find any particular dissimilarity. Perhaps an absolute date for our late Acheulian (at least in Central Region) would have made our problem of ascription much easier.