In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Nevasian 2. Middle Palaeolithic 3. Upper Palaeolithic 4. Muchchatla Chintamanu Gavi 5. Belan Valley and Baghor II.
For long time this specific stone age was not separately identified in India. The primary reason for this was our not having a specific stratigraphic context for it. Flakes of 5 cm-8 cm length, often finely retouched into tool types, have been discovered and recorded from as early as the beginning of this century. Around the second decade of twentieth century these started getting ascribed also as Series II tradition/culture.
Thus, a typological category – Series I for core tools, Series II for flake tools and Series III for blade tools, soon got elevated to the status of cultural nomenclature. In 1956, Sankalia for the first time recorded and demonstrated these flake tools occurring in association with the second aggradational deposit of the river Pravara at Nevasa (Maharashtra) and then within the same context of Godavari from north Karnataka.
Soon Sankalia could organise a large group of river-valley surveys along Narmada, Son, Burhabalang, Krishna and its various tributaries to show that what he had then provisionally called as Nevasian was not a local feature but instead was a generalized feature of Indian stone are culture. Thus, the general term Middle Stone age was adopted to refer to the Stone Age culture of the last segment of Pleistocene.
It is important to mention here that unlike the preceding Stone Age for which we have more than one primary site to enable us the reconstruction of lifestyle in the past, Middle Palaeolithic sites of this nature are still unknown. Further, while some of the river valleys have yielded huge concentration of evidence of Middle Palaeolithic culture, there are others where such evidences are not so distinct.
No wonder that this had earlier led many people to believe that Middle Palaeolithic is a Central and Deccan Indian phenomenon. True, that if one was to take the De Terra and Paterson report of the succession of Sohan, a true Middle Palaeolithic in this region will be found wanting, but in the light of the recent evidences, and delineated earlier Sohan will be expected to record only a late Pleistocene culture.
In this light the recent claims of Mohapatra of Middle and Upper Palaeolithic sites from Solan-Kalka-Shimla ranges will become extremely significant. Allchins ‘Hokra and Bada Pushkar’, sites from Rajasthan desert are other examples of this Stone Age in north India.
Another feature of the Middle Palaeolithic in India that has generated a great deal of interest among archaeologists is that in almost 80-90 percent cases there is a complete change of raw material from the Lower to the Middle Palaeolithic. It is not surprising that such a situation was utilized to the hilt by diffusionistic theoreticians.
Although it is quite difficult to find a suitable anthropological explanation for the total changeover of the raw material, yet it will be equally illogical to disregard the prolific evidence of Bhimbetka III F-23 or for that matter the secondary sites from Andhra or Pushkar. These evidences clearly indicate that change of raw material is neither universal for India nor all that uniform in terms of the raw material chosen.
The typological spectrum of Middle Palaeolithic for these diverse sites can be listed as follows:
1. Side Scrapers of a large variety of sub-types including convergent side scrapers (often prepared on levalloise flakes).
2. Rather sharp points with triangular cross-sections and a sturdy body. There are a few cases where these points are also bifacially worked. There are also isolated cases of tanged points known.
3. Fairly moderate frequency of borers with thick and sturdy body. Many of these specimens show such wide and open notches that Sankalia termed them as scraper-cum-borer. In addition to the above the following types may occur in some sites, but not all, and always in very insignificant frequency.
4. Handaxes and cleavers,
5. Choppers or chopping tools,
6. Atypical end-scrapers,
7. Burins, and
8. Retouched blades.
The raw material in which the latter 5 types occur is invariably the same as that used for the main bulk of the industry.
2. Middle Palaeolithic:
If we can take a river-valley survey of the country we find that the western dry zone shows quite rich, although isolated, pockets of occupation during this period. Sites around Pushkar Lake, or for that matter at Didwana, show no clear indication of these being purely Middle Palaeolithic occupation centers.
Although the now extinct river Luni lies several kilometers south and south east of Didwana one cannot fail to note that an equally rich Middle Palaeolithic occupation is recorded here as well. The credit of discovering both these two groups of sites goes to Misra.
The Luni industry is not only more varied and richer in its typological content than the Nevasian but also show a very high quantity of repeatedly re-worked flakes. The types recorded are convex and concavo-convex side scrapers, points of various types, burins, side choppers, handaxes, cleavers and edged blades. Upper Palaeolithic types such as retouched blades and blade cores are not very infrequent in this zone.
Therefore, in all probability, these represent a much younger variety than what has been recorded at Godavari or Narmada. The Nevasa and northern Karnataka sites yield rather larger chunky jasper of a number of shades with several typical levalloise flakes in them. The point of impact of almost all these flakes maintains pronounced positive bulbs of percussion indicating stone hammer technique as the principal technique of manufacture.
The most predominant type among these is the side scraper. Borers form the next frequent type while points occur with a frequency of around 10 to 15 percent. Several of these are thin and leaf shaped and often carry a suggestion of shoulder formation nears the butt-end. Abrupt retouching as also alternate retouchings is quite common.
In Andhra, Middle Palaeolithic is not known in as clear a stratigraphic context as in Maharashtra or Karnataka, neither is there as clear a break in the raw material as is observed in the western region. Cammiade was the first to make a large collection of series Ii tools from the district of Kurnool.
Subsequently, Chittor and Nalgonda districts were also systematically explored. Ramatirthampaye and Raigirvagu on Krishan are two of the richer sites. The tools are prepared on fine grained quartzite and show extensive use of cylinder hammer technique.
Many of these tools maintain pebble cortex and at times some are prepared on cores. There are several discs or round scrapers and elongated blades with burin edges prepared on them. Likewise, typical end scrapers are also prepared on such thick blades. It is significant that levalloise technique in these sites is not as frequent as in Nevasa-Karnataka sites.
In Madhya Pradesh and Bundelkhand region the Middle Palaeolithic culture is perhaps best represented. Besides the main Narmada deposits, the Betwa, Shivna, Chambal and numerous other water courses in the general area have yielded rich evidences of this cultural phase, Gonchi and Sihora on Betwa show patinated chert tools which include small handaxes, cleavers, choppers as also numerous retouched flakes and flake cores.
The important types include side-scrapers of various kinds measuring 13 cm to 7 cm in length. Levalloise technique is well marked although not as much as in the western region. Bold retouching, often in an abrupt or semi-abrupt manner, is seen in the preparation of these types. Flakes are often flat and retouched bifacially. There are some burins also identified on these flakes.
Flake tools start occurring with the Acheulians but by about Middle Palaeolithic they start dominating the scene. In India all the European types have been found but they occur nearly 100,000 years later than in Europe and Africa.
As one moves into the Chhatisgarh region and finally into the Chhotanagpur forests the Middle Palaeolithic again tends to lose its identity and merge with the Upper Palaeolithic. Blade cores abound in these assemblages. Mohapatra has recorded Middle Palaeolitnic from almost all the Orissa Rivers and has shown how both pebble choppers and blade cores abound in them. Moving northwards across the Narmada into the Gangetic plain we find that Middle Palaeolithic, like the early Palaeolithic predecessor, had also colonized the Belan valley in Allahabad district.
The nature and status of Middle Palaeolithic in India has not been adequately understood so far. This is primarily because a primary habitational site of this period is still eluding us. At Bhedaghat on Narmada near Jabalpur a classic section of Narmada has been exposed in recent flood. Sheila Mishra (1993) reports this.
The section reveals four distinct Quarternary phases; the lowest among these also yielded some Acheulian types. The layers yielding Middle Palaeolithic types had a date of 25,160 B.P. The Middle Palaeoliths are prepared on chert and include varieties of side scrapers besides medium sized cleaver made on chert.
The solitary evidence of Bhimbetka right from the heartland of the Narmada zone, in fact, goes to show a classically Mousteroid industry developing right from within an Upper Acheulian base. In this regard Bhimbetka seems perfectly logical within the process of litho-cultural evolution.
But only a hundred kilometres away Shivna and the main Narmada valley, Middle Palaeolithic appears as completely exotic because of the complete change of raw material that heralds this new Stone Age. The Mousterian in Afghanistan and the Zagros mountains farther west seem to have many similarities with our desert zone Middle Palaeolithic and in this regard a chronological bracket from them would also be not very difficult to surmise.
Bridgette Allchin speculates a period of 45,000 to 25,000 B.P. for them. For the rest of India it would be very difficult to explain a Middle Palaeolithic outside the preceding local cultural character. Maharashtra-Karnataka adopts a proper levalloise based Middle Palaeolithic and hence comes closer to Mousteroid character. Even thin leaf- shaped tanged points are also known from these sites.
Kurnool to Chhattisgarh, on the other hand, develops a Middle Palaeolithic which although quite effective, was entirely a local development. Narmada, by the very fact of maintaining two distinct varieties of Middle Palaeolithic (the Mousteroid variety without changing the raw material at Bhimbetka and the Shivna to Damoh variety with changed raw material but containing handaxes, cleavers), would tend to suggest that perhaps we are dealing with two different kinds of groups under this period.
Those adapted to the arid zones or selected mountain abodes were the groups which developed Mousterian-like characters. In contrast to these an indigenous population was developing quite independently in the forested low-lands along large river courses.
The entire Andhra Middle palaeolithic, or for that matter those from Orissa, can serve as the best example of this differential growth. The leaf shaped points or the emphasis on levalloise technique are no longer important. In fact borers increase tremendously in frequency while points become peripheral. The remarkable decrease of good points from the industry renders it a very benign look.
In fact, it becomes difficult to visualize how this scraper and borer dominating tool-kit could be of any use for an actively hunting and gathering population. In this regard Sankalia seems to have a point when he proposes that most of the Middle Palaeolithic industry in India was probably designed to shape ultimate weapons of hunting and trapping in wood, bone and antler.
3. Upper Palaeolithic:
Upper Palaeolithic as a distinct cultural stage in India is still not comparable to what we would understand by this term in south west France, or for that matter Ukrainia. It is essentially a typologically identified stage for most part of India. That is to say that except for the leaf-points of Europe and Africa we have all the Upper-Palaeolithic types of both Europe and Africa known from India.
It is true that some sub-type specializations like the busque burins or Noailles burins have still not been reported so far from this subcontinent but the profusion of worked blades, by no means, should be considered any less significant. The bone tools and art objects, which form a major characteristic of Upper Palaeolithic in Europe, are also more or less absent from India. In the face of this major missing character many scholars in the West and at home have been taking Indian Upper Palaeolithic claims with some doubt.
To date the best evidence of a distinct Upper Palaeolithic comes from the site Renigunta in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.
M.L.K. Murthy reported three-four localities along the river Ralla Kallava. These localities are called Timmayyagunta, Venkamanayanipalli, Chundi, Vedullacheruva and Nallagundlu. Of these the latter two localities yield Upper Palaeolithic mixed with Late Stone Age industry.
A trial trench dug at Nallagundlu yielded 5973 artifacts from nearly 18 cm below the surface. Murthy argues that the Late Stone Age artifacts can be easily isolated because these are prepared on milky quartz while the Upper Palaeolithic types are prepared on fine grained olive green quartzite.
The industry contains on overwhelming number of blades which at times attain length of as much as 10 cm. Many of these blades are 3 to 4 cm in breadth and nearly 2 cm in thickness. There is no doubt, therefore, that here we are dealing with a culture which is entirely based on blade tool manufacture.
The types identified by Murthy are:
Burins (16 p.c.)
Backed Blades (67 p.c.)
Awls (4 p.c.)
Points (2 p.c.)
Scrapers (8 p.c.)
Choppers (3 p.c.)
Upper Palaeolithic is a very late phenomenon in India. But the types known show very little change from what has been established as Upper Palaeolithic types elsewhere.
The illustrations of the tools leave no doubt that the Renigunta industry is more akin to the generalized East- Gravettian of Central Europe and hence should not be compared with the rather early and also specialized French Aurignacian.
4. Muchchatla Chintamanu Gavi:
In district Kurnool of Andhra Pradesh a cave site with the above name was excavated by Murthy subsequent to his discovery of Renigunta. It became immediately famous because here, for the first time, Upper Palaeolithic with a bone tool component could be demonstrated from a primary context.
The lithic industry comprised of only 9.70 percent while the bone industry formed nearly 90.30 percent. Most of the blades are not retouched except 5 side-scrapes, 1 burin and 4 retouched flakes identified. The bone implements are identified as scrapers, perforators, chisels, scoops, shouldered points, barbs and spatulae.
Of these shouldered points form the highest frequency (18 p.c.). The animals identified from the bones are- Presbytis entellus, Viverra sp., Felix sp., Hystrix sp., Equus sp., Equus asinus, Cervus sp., Boselephas sp., Bos sp., Bubalus sp., Antilope sp., and Gazella sp. Sankalia feels that many of these bones show the evidence of Groove and Splinter technique.
These caves and rocks shelter from Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. The excavation in the cave number III F-23 yielded a deposit between the Middle Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic which is distinctly Upper Palaeolithic in its character.
A proper typological analysis of this industry is not complete; hence nothing more (beyond this fact that these are a 6 to 10 cm long blade based industry) can be recorded at the moment. The usually illustrated types include 4 × 8 cm broad blade end-scrapers, burins and backed blades (Micro-Gravette Points).
5. Belan Valley and Baghor II:
Belan is the small river in district Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh which received maximum attention from G.R. Sharma and his other team mates. There are many other such small rives like Seoti or Kon which rise in the eastern Vindhyas and flow into the Gangetic system.
A large number of Upper Palaeolithic finds have been collected from these rivers from the days of Cockburn but Belan was excavated at Baboori and Jogdaha in 1965 through a cliff section of nearly 18 metres. There was also a radio-carbon date-available for the Upper Palaeolithic layer from this excavation. This was 17,000 B.P.
Recently a joint exploration was undertaken by G.R. Sharma and J. Desmond Clark in an area between river Son and the Kaimur escarpment.
Four major alluvial and three wide spread loess depositions were mapped along Son as well as Belan valley.
Sihawal formation was identified as the oldest Quaternary formation formed by a conglomerate of colluvial/alluvial cobbles within a gray clay matrix, Lower Palaeolithic Acheulian handaxes have been found in this group.
Patpara formation is a loessic clay formation overlying the Sihawal. The artefacts collected from this level has been described as ‘final Acheulian’ or ‘Acheulian’ ‘of Mousterian tradition’ finally giving place to Middle Palaeolithic lying slightly above. There is a TL date for this deposit and it is recorded as 103,800 ± 19,800 B.P. The tools are not adequately discussed.
Baghor formation – Close to the stream courses two depositions have been identified. The lower one is a carbonised cemented gravel and coarse sand. This layer yields many fossil fauna. The upper component is a layer of fine silt and clay. The lower one contains Middle Palaeolithic artefacts and the upper one yields Upper Palaeolithic tools. Baghor loess with Upper Palaeolithic blades have been dated to approximately 26000 B.P. Some Epi-Palaeolithic artefacts are reported from the upper four meters of this formation and this has a date of 12,000 to 10,000 B.P.
Khetaunhi formation – This is the youngest formation in this region and has a date of C.3000 to 4000 B.P. It consists of gravels, sand and clay and contains Neolithic pot-sherds and microlithic blades.
Baghor formation has yielded more than one area or locality. At Baghor-I, the excavation revealed in-situ remains of macro and micro blades, prismatic cores, backed and truncated blades and bladelets, shouldered blades, denticulated blades, large scalene Triangles and percoirs (borers). A small artificial stone structure uncovered in the excavation has been described as a shrine.
The shrine is a circular platform of sand stone blocks in the centre of which is a natural concretion having a series of concentric triangles etched by weathering. Similar stones are still used today in the local folk worships in the adjoining villages. These are worshipped as symbols of mother goddess; the site is spread over an area of 200 sq-meters and is about 10 cm in depth. This is taken to indicate a very temporary occupation.