In this article we will discuss about the history of Peninsular India.
This triangular region is bound by the Western and Eastern Ghats along the two borders and the southern flanks of the Vindhyan ranges from its northern limits. In the north the distance between the two coasts exceeds 1000 km while near the tip of this reversed triangle the same distance is often less than 50 km.
Although most of Orissa comes within this triangle, we have considered the Lower Palaeolithic occurrence of this region along with Chhotanagpur discussion in the eastern zone. If Orissa forms the eastern corner of the base of the triangle, Maharashtra forms in the same way the western corner of the triangle.
Both these states have populations speaking languages which represent branches of Indo-European families. Rest of the zone speaks languages belonging to the Dravidian family. Further, most of this region, comprising of 4 states and 4 major branches of Dravidian family of languages, fall below 18° N latitude.
The southern zone except for parts of Maharashtra and Orissa is a mono- climatic region. The Western Ghats extend a greater amount interiorly in the landmass of the peninsula and hence render it a hilly topography. The Eastern Ghats are much more denuded and discontinuous. Rainfall for the entire region is fairly high and maintains fairly thick sub-tropical plants and allied species.
However, the central region of this triangle, which constitutes parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra, falls under rain shadow and hence is perhaps as dry as the Saurashtra region in the Western zone. The rainfall in the drier regions can be as low as 60 cm per year while along the coasts it increases to as much as 300 cm per year.
The rivers Godavari and Krishna- both originating in the Western Ghats-flows south-east through Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra, finally these rivers open in the Andhra coast. Although majority of the landmass of the entire region is composed of the Basalt or Deccan trap, yet, at suitable gaps, there are almost the oldest Archaean rocks exposed within this region.
The Lower Palaeolithic occurrence in this region is perhaps as prolific as in the central zone. One of the earliest reports of Lower Palaeolithic culture in good detail from this region is from the Kortalayer valley in the Chingleput district of Tamil Nadu. Here a very rich and varied Lower Palaeolithic assemblage was reported by Krishnaswami in 1938.
Since the river flows over a primary lateritic plain and also since the boulder conglomerate marking the first aggradation of the river occurs in two distinct terraces, an attempt was made by Krishnaswami to identify an internal evolution of the culture. The boulder conglomerate from Vadamadurai is non-laterized and hence is taken to be older than the boulders exposed at Attirampakkam terrace which is highly laterized.
The tools from the former terrace yield a mixture of Abbevillian to Acheulian types and have further been divided into several groups and series to demonstrate how the Acheulian types can be shown as having evolved from within the Abbevillian base.
Leaving aside the question of stratigraphy and internal evolution of Lower Palaeolithic in Kortalayer valley we might pay some attention to the techno-morphological features of this find. Besides a large variety of massive asymmetrical Abbevillian types entirely prepared by primary flakings, there are many specimens who compare with the Rostro- handaxes described by Reid Moir in Ip swich (England) and known as Victoria West in East Africa.
Symmetrical handaxes include both the elongated varieties like amygdaloid, lanceolate and micoquian as also the smaller Upper Acheulian forms such as ovates and cordates. Cleavers are prepared both bifacially as also on flakes. The cleavers and some of the handaxes show a distinct technique of thinning a biface by a tranchet blow delivered along its length so that one of the lateral borders of the biface becomes sharp edged.
Such specimens naturally develop a V-shaped cross-section. In Africa this technique was identified near Vaal and hence was named as Vaal technique. Francois Bordes had once argued that since this technique involves first preparation of a core and then delivering a flaking blow, it must have formed the inspiration for the levalloise technique which was to evolve later. Consequently he named this technique as para-levalloise.
Besides these varieties of bifaces a large number of discoidals and flakes are also illustrated in this industry. What should appear as rather surprising is the fact that the report does not record any pebble tool types from Kortalayer. The absence of any flake tool types is another peculiarity of this industry. It is sufficient to note that this is not entirely correct because a number of pebble tools and also flake tools have subsequently been reported from many of the recent explorations and excavations- especially at Gudiyam caves.
However, considering the fact that the Kortalayer industry was analysed at a very early date when flake tool types were not so well developed even in France, one can understand why Krishnaswamy thought of designating his find with a regional emblem, The Madrasian culture. This was to demonstrate an opposition to another regionally designated term – the Sohanian culture, which was at that time gaining popularity.
Zeuner’s expedition along the Gundlakamma River in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh yielded a rich harvest of Lower Palaeolithic sites. K.V. Soundara Rajan, as a member of this expedition, reported several localities along the Sagileru (a tributary of Gundlakamma) and named them as Giddalur I, II etc. The stratigraphic context of the finds is the first cemented gravel which is exposed at several places. The lithic reportoire includes a large variety of Abbevillio- Acheulian handaxes and cleavers besides the Rostro and both clactonian and levalloisean flakes.
At Nagarjunakonda on river Krishna and at Karempudi due south-east from it on Naguleru river, similar other rich Lower Palaeolithic sites are reported. In Prakasam district of coastal Andhra Pradesh Madhusudhana Rao discovered a rich Acheulian site called Paleru. Almost 65 percent of the collection contains handaxes, cleavers and knives and the rest constitutes of worked flakes and pebbles.
Rami Reddy has recorded two more clusters from Chittoor district lying only 40 km. north of Tirupati town. These are Maratipalam and Chintalapalam. The tools include handaxes, cleavers, side scrapers, scraper-cum-borers, discoids, macro lunates and levalloise flakes.
Some pebble tools are also recorded. The richness of the Lower Palaeolithic content of all these sites with their numerous localities makes Andhra one of the richest centers of early Palaeolithic population. There had been attempts to show that Andhra shows a regional feature of having some so-called burinated bifaces which the neighbouring regions had not developed but these are not very convincing.
As far as pebble tools are concerned it has been argued that such specimens are not usually associated with the advanced bifaces, instead they are found with either Abbevillian cores or clactonian flakes. These claims are clearly aimed towards demonstrating an internal evolution, but unfortunately, cannot be substantiated in any better way than what Krishnaswamy could achieve for his Kortalayer valley.
Further west, the state of Karnataka offers two very distinct climatic zones. The northern regions can be as arid as to maintain a rain fall of merely 40-50 cm per annum while the western coastal strip is typically coastal in climate. Both Malaprabha and Ghataprabha in the northern districts and Tungabhadra in the central districts have yielded many Lower Palaeolithic sites in the state.
Sheshadri, Pappu and Joshi have surveyed these zones extensively. The evidences, however, do not yield any different features than what has already been repeatedly witnessed in the other peninsular rivers both in stratigraphic as also in techno-morphological characters.
There is some indication of a generalized paucity of pebble tools in Karnataka when one compares them with the evidences known from Andhra. Recently Paddayya reported a remarkable evidence of a primary site from Hunsgi from Shorapur doab in Gulbarga district.
It seems that Lower Palaeolithic people lived on the natural floors littered with granitic blocks. Limestone pebbles and cobbles have been carried to the site to make various tools. Since no fire hearth or faunal debris is recovered to indicate a living floor, Paddayya tries to demonstrate its primary context on two basic indicators.
(a) A remarkable freshness of the finished tools and
(b) The high concentration of artifacts on the floor.
The density of occurrence of the total 291 artifacts (recorded till 1977) is as high as 13 pieces per square meter. Finished tools form a density of 4.8 tool types per square meter. The finished types include 25 percent cleavers, 16 percent handaxes, 13 percent knives, 8 percent choppers and 14 percent side and end-scrapers.
The typo-technological features of the industry are typically upper Acheulian although the bifaces at times are as big 18-20 cm in length. Paddayya has since then added 27 more localities of the Hunsgi complex. All these occur along the course of the river of the same name. At one of these sites on a terrace at a height of 5 meters from the stream even a living floor has been claimed.
Proceeding with the assumption that the claim of Hunsgi being primary is correct, one will have no other alternative but to concede the fact that to consider chopper- chopping as a regional feature in India is totally erroneous. It is a type which has been found as an integral part of both Abbevillian separately (Giddalur-I) as also Acheulian.
Its preponderance is found to decrease progressively as one progress from the earlier to the later stages in Lower Palaeolithic. In this light we might recall the Bhimbetka and Adamgarh (both primary sites) dichotomy. The former which lies 40 km away from Narmada did not yield any pebble tools while the latter which lies within couple of kms from Narmada yields an overwhelming frequency of chopper-chopping types.
It is significant that the accompanying biface component in both the sites is not only identical but also late Acheulian in character. Thus, mere availability of pebbles will have to be accepted as having played a significant role in deciding the occurrence of the pebble types.
Going further north along the arid inland plain we come across the rolling landmass drained by Godavari and its tributaries in Maharashtra. More than one Palaeolithic occurrences from these river systems have been recorded but in their totality Lower Palaeolithic concentration in this state appears to be far lower and thinner than both Andhra and Karnataka.
However, the site Chirki-Nevasa on river Pravara, a tributary of Godavari in Ahmednagar district requires a special attention. Here Gudrun-Corvinus uncovered a 20-40 cm thick alluvial mantle and exposed a concentration of Lower Palaeolithic industry below it.
Like Paddayya she has argued about the site being primary on the basis of artifact concentration and freshness of the tools. The primary categories of types are handaxes 34 percent; cleavers 25 percent, and choppers 36 percent. Surprising though but Chirki seem quite peculiar in many features, the most important of all these being the total absence of flake tool types which otherwise form quite a significant percentage of an Upper Acheulian industry.
The handaxes and cleavers are also fairly thick when compared with the Adamgarh, Barkhera, Bhimbetka types. Furthermore, the handaxes, unlike the Central zone sites, are more often than not, shaped as a pick rather than the lanceolate forms known usually in late Acheulian areas. In terms of the degree of retouchings and final dressing, however, Chirki-Nevasa qualifies perfectly as a late Acheulian albeit with important component of flakes missing in them.
To sum up, we might note that the Lower Palaeolithic cultures in India can tentatively be accepted as emerging around early Upper Pleistocene. Even this late beginning surely was not universal for the whole sub-continent. Areas like Western zone, in this regard, might have been one of the areas of late colonization.
Narmada, Krishna, Mahanadi and Burhabalang represent perhaps the most thickly populated regions in this sense. With regards to the cultural metamorphosis we have no doubt that the Abbevillian types are purely intruded within the Acheulians. We have more than one evidence of Late Acheulians without any Abbevillian indicators, and consequently the Abbevellio- Acheulian industries known from the secondary sites are definitely not representing a single stage of our Lower Palaeolithic.
The Acheulian tradition within our Lower Palaeolithic, therefore, has to be much younger in date than the Acheulian in France. A very conservative estimation for this should be anywhere between 100,000 to 60,000 years ago. Thus, to expect a kind of human evolution with cultural association in the line of Olduvai Gorge in India would not be entirely correct.