In this article we will discuss about the history of mesolithic culture.
With the change of climate in our planet after Pleistocene ended (10,000 years ago), many plants and animals went extinct. The ecology changed drastically and man had no alternative but to readjust within the changed environment. Since the subsistence base during the Palaeolithic was always very broad it did not require altogether a new adjustment.
For instance, we have evidence of fish and turtles having been occasionally used during Palaeolithic period. In Mesolithic period riverine and maritime food resources are intensified. The tool kit naturally reflects these changes easily. Racial diversification which may have started around 20,000 years earlier than the onset of Mesolithic culture tends to cause more stable adaptive equation of the various groups with their given ecology.
This leads to a limit in the migratory range of the various groups. Archaeologically, art and cults act as a very good indicator of the ideological sphere of early man. Upper Palaeolithic remains are, therefore, quite explicit in their generalized meaning. With the onset of Mesolithic these explicit expressions of mind become quite few and far between. The elimination of these tangible remains from our early ancestors’ mind is a loss to archaeology.
We have enough anthropological studies to indicate that this strongly suggests man’s entry into the complicated symbolic world. Man adds the current of implicit meaning to his activities and functioning network with the society. Consequently to say that Mesolithic period shows a regression in art is saying half the truth. Cause of art has merely found alternate channels of expression, which did not leave any tangible remains.
Mesolithic Culture in Europe:
Mesolithic period is more strongly discernable in areas where during Palaeolithic time the climate was similar to subarctic regions. In Europe, therefore, one can easily identify the new traditions designated as Sauveterranean, Austrian, Maglamosean, Kitchen Midden, Campignian, Ertboel, Lyngby and many others.
These are all predominantly microlithic cultures where such tiny blade tool types as lunates, trapezes, points and triangles are prepared to be hafted in series on wooden handles to form effective implements. The main technological advantage of this period lies in the fact that a number of new combination of tools can be now prepared within a second by arranging the microliths on a suitable rod.
Thus, few microliths can form a harpoon or an efficient arrow without much problem merely by selecting and arranging the microliths. Further, unlike the Palaeolithic age a tool in Mesolithic need not be discarded on being damaged. New microliths can be added in place of the damaged ones and the tool is again renewed for use.
Mesolithic culture in Europe shows a longer duration as one proceeds from East to West. The waves of change in the Middle East entered Central and Eastern Europe at a much earlier date than such Western European regions as Denmark, Netherlands or Northern England.
Ecologic conditions made the people concentrate near coastal regions along river banks. He became almost semi- sedentary and this influenced his demographic picture. Smaller bands fishing and fowling did not have to be as mobile as the Palaeolithic large mammal hunters.
With the increase of population density in these bands intergroup fighting broke out for possession of females or even for areas which are environmentally rich. Some Mesolithic cave paintings depict these intergroup fights very vividly. Although still egalitarian in structure these bands became strongly organized for warfare.
Cultural ramification into numerous regional bands with distinct socio-cultural characteristics is a direct outcome of this semi-sedentary pathway chosen by man. It is likely that the foundation of the cultural difference in modern Europe had a beginning traceable within the Mesolithic period.
When plant and animal domestication had started along the Euphrates and Tigris most of Europe was still continuing to survive as Mesolithic hunters and gatherers. It is important at this juncture to mention that the mere knowledge of botanical reproduction was not responsible for the onset of the Neolithic culture with agricultural economy.
Agriculture is a labour intensive economy and its fruitful adaptation requires an entirely differently organized social structure. Social stratification and emergence of semi-professionals with a sort of leadership organizing the distribution of the product are some of the basic requirements of an agricultural society.
In all probability organizing slave labour (found in the subsequent metal age) may have been conceived by the early agriculturalists. Pottery for the storing of surplus was another technological evolution which required professionals to process clay, cut fire wood and finish the product.
In the Mesolithic tradition called Ertboel in Germany crude pottery types already make their appearance. This demonstrates that socio-culturally speaking Mesolithic was a more or less preparatory stage which finally culminated into a cultural form suitable enough to shift the basic economy of collecting into producing.
Mesolithic Culture in East Africa:
In the tropical area a clear cut emergence of Mesolithic is not quite discernable. With the end of Pleistocene there was a period of extreme dryness and many of the deserts of the world were in the process of formation. Sea level increased and the rivers dried up into many fresh water pools. Man automatically shifted his exploitable environment to the water species and fishing and fowling emerged as the main economy like in Europe (although caused by a different kind of change in the environment).
This process of change must have been felt much earlier in the tropical and subtropical regions. We have seen how right in the late Palaeolithic the Capsian showed a distinct adaptation to microliths. During early Holocene this microlithic trend is further specialized into Elementeitan and Wilton in Kenya and Magosan and Lupemban in Uganda. The tools are mostly prepared on black obsidian and are accompanied by crudely baked hand-made pottery as well.
Mesolithic Culture in India:
The microliths in Africa and also in India are found from late Palaeolithic to metal age. It is only the accompanying cultural indicators other than the microlithis which decide the finds as being from the Mesolithic, Neolithic or Chalcolithic age. Further, there are many sites where a purely Mesolithic culture is flourishing in the neighbourhood of an advanced tradition. Thus a chronological delimitation for the definition of this culture is not helpful.
Microliths have been noted in India and described from as early as 1863. Till the identification of this separate microlithic culture, the tools were variedly referred to as Proto-Neolithic depending on the collective character of the assemblage. A distinct microlithic site associated with shells was discovered from as far in the east as the Andamans. Microliths have been collected from almost all over India except the coastal stretch in Kerala and parts of Punjab and Haryana.
A very few of these microliths actually come out of stratigraphic layers. Whatever knowledge we have of Indian Mesolithic period it is based only on the few excavated sites. The excavated sites are Birbhanpur in West Bengal, Teri sites in Tamil Nadu, Langhnaj in Gujarat, Bagor in Rajasthan, Bhimbethka and Adamgarh in M.P. and Sarai Nahar Rai in U.P.
The basic informations gathered from the excavated sites may be summarized as follows:
1. Mesolithic people had not only achieved their special adaptation but also settled in artificially erected structures in as early as 8000 B.C. This, in other words, can be taken to indicate that the time of onset of this culture agrees with the same in both Europe and Africa. So far we have only one site with such an early date from India (Sarai Nahar Rai). The rest of the sites ranges from 5000 B.C. (Bagor) to 2000 B.C. (Langhnaj).
2. Most of these sites show total adaptation to microliths and do not contain any such heavy duty tools as picks or axes. Antlers or for that matter ivory are rarely used in Indian Mesolithic. Haematite with evidence of its having been rubbed, and spherical stone balls used as sling bolas are the other important features of the Mesolithic way of life and their hunting method.
Some of the rock paintings discovered from Mirzapur district in U.P. and Bhimbethka could be isolated from the large number of art executions as being of Mesolithic antiquity. All these show animal forms with isolated hunting and fishing scenes. The hunting implements are spears with multiple barbs apparently obtained easily by attaching microliths.
3. At Bhimbethka there is evidence of a special structure erected outside the cave mouth to act as a wind break. At Bagor natural concrete from river bed seems to have been specially transported to the living site to pave the living floor.
4. At Adamgarh, a large number of animal bones were found to be domesticated although associated finds were mainly suitable for hunting functions. The domesticated animals could not have been taken to indicate pastoral economy because there were about six varieties of mammals found in this domesticated group. Further, Adamgarh is a cave site and pastorals cannot live in caves for longer duration. Apparently our information about this site is not quite complete. It may be representing a younger industry.
5. That intergroup fight or warfare is not merely a conjecture for this period is proved by the skeleton found at Sarai Nahar Rai with a microlith embedded into one of its ribs.