PALAEOLITHIC AND MESOLITHIC AGE
PALAEOLITHIC AGE (Old Stone Age)
- It was basically a hunting and food gathering culture
- The term Palaeolithic was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865. It literally means “Old Stone Age.” (‘Palaeo’ means ‘old’ and ‘lithic’ means ‘stone’).
- Robert Bruce Foot was the first to discover a Palaeolithic stone in India in 1863.
- Most Palaeolithic sites in India developed in the Pleistocene period.
- The Palaeolithic people subsisted on animals such as ox, bison, nilgai, chinkara, gazelle, black buck antelope, sambar, spotted deer, wild bear, a variety of birds, and tortoises and fishes and on honey and plant food like fruits, roots, seeds and leaves. Hunting is reflected as the main subsistence pursuit in the Rock paintings and carvings found at Bhimbetka.
- People were scared of thunder and lightning and worshiped them. They wore leaves, skin of animals and barks of trees.
- Palaeolithic tools were club, sharpened stone, chopper, hand axe, scraper, spear, Bow and arrow, harpoon, needle, scratch awl etc. The tools made were generally of hard rock quartzite so the Palaeolithic man was called Quartzite Man.
- The artefacts were found in three river terraces which were correlated with the phases of the four-fold Pleistocene glaciation.
- The rivers – Tapti, Godavari, Bhima and Krishna have yielded a large number of Palaeolithic sites.
- The distribution of Palaeolithic sites is linked up with ecological variation like erosional features, nature of soils etc. The Tapti trough has deep regur (black soil), and the rest of the area is covered mostly by medium regur.
- There is scarcity of Palaeolithic sites in the upper reaches of Bhima and Krishna. From Malprabha, Ghatprabha and affluents of the Krishna a number of Palaeolithic sites have been reported. Anagawadi and Bagalkot are two most important sites on the Ghatprabha where both early and Middle Palaeolithic tools have been found.
- The rivers Palar, Penniyar and Kaveri in Tamil Nadu are rich in Palaeolithic tools. Attiranmpakkam and Gudiyam (in Tamilnadu) have yielded both Early and Middle Palaeolithic artefacts like handaxes, flakes, blades, scrapers etc.
Palaeolithic age in India is divided into three phases:
(1) Early or Lower Palaeothic (50,0000 – 100,000 BC)
- It covers the greater part of the Ice Age and its characteristic feature is the use hand axes, cleavers, chopping tools, and related artefact forms.The tools were all made by removing flakes from a block or core of stone until it reached the required size and shape.
- Bori in Maharashtra is considered to be the earliest Lower Palaeolithic site.
- The oldest known tools used by human beings were the simple cores and flakes, and they have been reported from the Siwalik Hills at Riwat, near Rawalpindi in Pakistan. These tools date back to as old as two million years. However, the earliest reliable stone tool assemblages belong to two distinct cultural and technological traditions viz. the Sohanian Culture and the Acheulian culture, which we study under the lower Palaeolithic cultures.
(a) Sohanian culture:
- The name is derived from the Sohan river, a tributary of Indus. The sites of Sohanian culture were found in the Siwalik Hills in North-west India and Pakistan.
- Lower Palaeolithic stone tools have also been found in the Soan valley (now in Pakistan), and several sites in Kashmir and the Thar Desert. These were known as the Soanian industries (while the artifacts found over much of the rest of India were known as Acheulian or ‘Madrasian’) and were dominated by pebble, blades, chopper/chopping tools.
- The animal remains from this deposit included horse, buffalo, straight-tusked elephant and hippopotamus, suggesting an environment characterized by perennial water sources, tree vegetation and grass steppes.
(b) Acheulian culture/ Madrasi Culture:
- Acheulian culture, named after French site of St. Acheul, was the first effective colonization of the Indian subcontinent and is almost synonymous with the lower Palaeolithic settlements in India.
- The Acheulian culture was a hunter-gatherer culture that adapted to a variety of climates including western Rajasthan, Mewar plain, Saurashtra, Gujarat, Central India, Deccan plateau, Chota Nagpur plateau and the Eastern Ghats, north of the Cauvery river.
- The sites are densely concentrated in the central India and the southern part of the Eastern Ghats as this area received adequate rainfall, have perennial rivers, a thick vegetation cover and are rich in wild plant and animal food resources.
- The most known sediments are found in rock shelter at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh . Acheulian people occupied a variety of microhabitats in different regions of India.
- The hunter-gatherers of Acheulian culture were more concentrated in Nagaur and Didwana of Rajasthan, Vindhya Hills of Central India (Bhimbetaka), Barkhera near Bhimbetka and at Putlikarar in Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. The rock shelter and open-air sites represent seasonal camping places of the same populations.
- The Acheulian industries was characterized by bifacially flaked artefacts – hand axes and cleavers – along with denticulates, scrapers, spheroids notches, flakes, blades and picks amongst other tools.
- They served a variety of functions like hunting, butchering and skinning of animals, breaking bones for extraction of marrow, digging of roots and tubers, processing of plant foods, and making of wooden tools and weapons.
- The main raw material used for making the weapons of the Acheulian era was hard and durable Quartzite, though occasionally quartz was also used. In some parts of India such as Hunsgi in Karnataka limestone was the main material, at Lalitpur in Central India, pink granite was chosen while in parts of Maharashtra and Central India basalt was preferred.
(2) Middle Palaeothic (100,000 – 40,000 BC)
- The Acheulian culture was slowly transformed into the middle Palaeolithic by shedding some of the tool types and by incorporating new forms and new techniques of making them.
Tools of middle Palaeolithic Era:
- Middle Palaeolithic tools were primarily made on flakes and blades made by finely trimming the edges. Some of them were used for manufacturing the wooden tools and weapons and also for processing animal hide. There are little hints of use of wooden shafts.
- In comparison to the lower Palaeolithic era, the tools in middle Palaeolithic became smaller, thinner and lighter.
- Then, there was also a significant change in the choice of raw material for making tools. While quartzite, quartz and basalt continued to be used, in many areas they were replaced or supplemented by fine-grained siliceous rocks like chert and jasper. Tool Factory sites at chert outcrops occur at many places in central India and Rajasthan.
Middle Palaeolithic Sites in India:
- The first general observation about the Middle Palaeolithic era is that in comparison to the lower Palaeolithic era, the distribution of sites is sparse. The reason for this is that the middle Palaeolithic culture developed during the upper Pleistocene, a period of intense cold and glaciation in the northern latitudes. In those times, the areas bordering glaciated regions experienced strong aridity. However, generally, Middle Palaeolithic hominids largely continued to occupy areas inhabited during the Lower Palaeolithic. But, in some parts of India such as Tamil Nadu, rock shelters began to be occupied for the first time.
- The Belan valley (UP), which lies at the foothills of the Vindhyas, is rich in stone tools and animal fossils including cattle and deer. These remains relate to both the Lower and Middle stone age.
- Rohri hills of upper Sind
- Luni valley, around Didwana, Budha Pushkar in Rajasthan
- Son river, Narmada river and their tributaries in central India, also at several sites, south of the Tungabhadra river.
- The Wagaon and Kadamali rivers in Mewar are rich in Middle Palaeolithic sites.
- At Bhimbetka, the tools representing the Acheulian tradition were replaced at a later stage by the Middle Palaeolithic culture.
- Some sparse sites in Chota Nagpur platea, Deccan plateau and Eastern Ghats.
- By and large open-air sites along streams on hill slopes, stable dune surfaces and rock-shelters continued to be used as is evident from the finds from Sanghao cave in Pakistan, Luni river basin in Rajasthan, the sand dunes of Didwana, the Chambal, Narmada, Son and Kortallayar river valleys, the plateaus of Eastern Indian and the Hunsgi valley in the south.
(3) Upper Palaeolithic (40,000 – 10,000 BC)
- It marks the appearance of Homo Sapiens and new flint industries; widespread appearance of a figurines and other artifacts reflecting art and rituals; the appearance of wide range of bone tools, including needles, fishing tools, harpoons, blades and burin tools.
- One important discovery is of the ostrich egg shells at over 40 sites in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which shows that ostrich, a bird adapted to arid climate, was widely distributed in western India during the later part of the upper Pleistocene.
- There were very important changes in the Palaeolithic-environment which had its own impact on the distribution and living ways of the humans. Some of them were as follows:
- There was extremely cold and arid climate in the high altitude and northern latitudes.
- There was extensive formation of deserts in North west India
- The drainage pattern of western India became almost defunct and river courses shifted “westwards”.
- Vegetation cover over most of the country thinned out during this period.
- Coastal areas of south-eastern Tamil Nadu, Saurashtra and Kutch developed quartz and carbonate dunes as a result of the lowering of the sea level.
- During terminal Pleistocene south-westerly monsoons became weak and the sea level decreased by scores of metres.
- Due to the harsh and arid climate, the vegetation was sparse though the faunal fossils show presence of grasslands. The human population faced rusticated food resources and that is the reason that the number of Upper Palaeolithic sites is very limited in the arid and semi-arid regions.
- The most opulent archaeological evidence of this period comes from the Belan and Son valleys in the northern Vindhyas , Chota Nagpur plateau in Bihar , upland Maharashtra, Orissa and from the Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh.
Tools and art of Upper Palaeolithic Era:
- The tools of Upper Palaeolithic Era are characterized by blade and they show a marked regional diversity with respect to the refinement of techniques and standardization of finished tool forms.
- The middle Palaeolithic tradition continued but in this period we see the parallel-sided blades struck from standardized prismatic cores.
- The bored stones and grinding slabs have also been found giving hints to advancements in the technology of tool production. The bored stones are still used by fishermen as net sinkers in riverine fishing and marine fishing.
- The Upper Palaeolithic settlements also show a distinct trend of being associated with permanent sources of waters. The use of grinding stones might have been for processing plant foods such as wild rice.
- The earliest form of art is found in the form of ostrich egg shell pieces engraved with cross-hatched designs from the upper Palaeolithic period.
- The earliest paintings at Bhimbetka belong to Upper Palaeolithic when people lived in small groups.
Society during Palaeolithic Age
- It was like ‘Band Society‘. Bands are small communities, usually consisting of less than 100 people. They are nomadic to some extent moving fro one place to another, depending on the seasonal availability of the animals they hunt and the plant food they gather. members of the bands are usually related to each other through kinship, and their division of labour is based on age and sex. The exchange of good is based on reciprocity, not on commercial exchange. No single person owns the natural resources they all depend on.
- No formal government or chief or leader in the band.
- In most modern hunter gatherer communities, men hunt and women gather food, and a similar division of labour probably existed in palaeolithic times. But if plant food had greater dietary importance, it can bee inferred that women must have contributed in major way to the subsistence base of palaeolithic communities.
MESOLITHIC (Middle Stone) CULTURE(10000BC-4000BC)
- The transition from the Palaeolithic period to Mesolithic period is marked by transition from Pleistocene period to Holocene and favourable changes in the climate.
- The climate became warmer and humid and there was expansion of flora and fauna contributed by increased rainfall. This led to availability of new resources to humans and thus the human beings moved to new areas. This period is marked with increased population, though core economy of this period continued to be based on hunting and gathering.
- The early period of Mesolithic age marks the hunting, fishing and food gathering which turn to hunting, fishing, food gathering as well as domesticating the animals.
- Animal bones have been reported from almost all the excavated sites of the Mesolithic settlements, and an analysis of these bones indicated that the bones of the domesticated varieties of animals like cattle, sheep and goat constitute nearly fifty percent.
- The earliest evidence of domestication of animals has been provided by Adamagarh in Madhya Pradesh and Bagor in Rajasthan.
The Mesolithic culture paved the way for the Neolithic, where pastoralism and agriculture supplemented hunting-gathering as the prevalent mode of subsistence.
- One more important fact about the Mesolithic era in India is that the first human colonization of the Ganga plains took place during this period. There are more than two hundred Mesolithic sites found in Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Varanasi districts of Uttar Pradesh.
- This era also marks the dramatically increased settlement in deltaic region of Bengal, the areas around Mumbai and other places of western coast of India.
- The Pachpadra basin and Sojat Area of Rajasthan is a rich Mesolithic sites and lot of microliths have been discovered.
- Bagor in Rajasthan is the almost largest Mesolithic site in India. Another major Mesolithic site in Rajasthan is Tilwara.
- In Guajarat some places on the banks of river Sabarmati are Mesolithic sites which include the Akhaj, Valsana, Hirpur, Langhanj etc.
- Sarai Nahar Rai in Allahabad-Pratapgarh of Uttar Pradesh is a Mesolithic site. Other sites in Uttar Pradesh are Morhana Pahar and lekkahia.
- In Madhya Pradesh Bhimbetka along with Adamgarh are major Mesolithic sites.
- In Jharkhand Chhota nagpur plateau is a major Mesolithic site in India.
- In Orissa Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh are a major Mesolithic site in India.
- In south India Godavari basin is rich in microliths.
Mesolithic people preferred the following environment:
- In Gujarat and Marwar hundreds of dunes of varying sizes are found on the alluvial plain. Some of them enclose a shallow lake or pond, which were the great sources of getting aquatic creatures.
- Again, the dunes themselves were covered with thorny scrub bushes; many animals used to live there. Naturally the Mesolithic inhabitants in sandy dune faced no difficulty in collection their food.
- The Vindya, Satpura and Kaimur hills of Central India are very rich in caves and rock-shelters. The place was therefore favorite to the Mesolithic people.
- Not only that, as Central India received ample rainfall, the hills had grown a thick deciduous forest, which provided a variety of plants and animals. Some of the rock-shelters have been found to be occupied as early as the Acheulean times.
(c) Alluvial plain:
- From early Palaeolithic period man has preferred to live in riverbanks because of the availability of water and games. Numerous Mesolithic sites therefore have been recovered from the alluvial plains. The Birbhanpur site, for example, is located at Damodar’s alluvial plain in West Bengal.
(d) Rocky plain:
- On Deccan Plateau, many microlithic sites are found. Some are on the hilltops and others are on flat rocky soil. Such occupations must be the seasonal or of short duration, except where there is no river nearby.
- A few Mesolithic settlements are centered round the shore of the lakes as found in the Gangetic Valley of District Allahabad and Pratapgarh. The settlers perhaps used to get the food supply from the respective lake and the dense primeval forest of the fertile alluvial land.
(f) Coastal environment:
- A large number of microlithic sites have been recovered from coasts, for example, from the Salsetle Island and from the teri dune in District Tirunevelli. The inhabitants used to feed upon the marine resources.
- Since Mesolithic produced the micro-blades by pressure technique, beautifully fluted cylindrical or conical cores as well as thin parallel-sided blades are common in the sites.
Tools of Mesolithic Era:
- The tools are Mesolithic Era are smaller in size and better in finishing (more geometric) than the Palaeolithic age and are called Microliths. These microliths are tiny tools of one to five centimetres length, made by blunting one or more sides with steep retouch. A microlith is usually made of flint or chert. (Microlithism is totally absent in north India)
- The main tool types are backed blades, obliquely truncated blades, points, crescents, triangles and trapezes.
- Some of the microliths were used as components of spearheads, arrowheads, knives, sickles, harpoons and daggers.
- They were fitted into grooves in bone, wood and reed shafts and joined together by natural adhesives like gum and resin.
- One characteristic feature is that the sudden disappearance pebble tools which were conspicuous in the preceding cultures;
- Hunting-gathering way of life was slowly replaced by food production from about 6000 B.C. Thus we see that the use of the bow and arrow for hunting had become common in this period, which is evident from many rock paintings.
- Bored stones, which had already appeared during the upper Palaeolithic, became common during this, and the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. These are believed to have been used as weights in digging sticks and as net sinkers. Similarly, shallow querns and grinding stones also occur at several sites.
- These new technological elements led to enhanced efficiency in hunting, collection and processing of wild plant foods.
Changes in Life- Mesolithic Era:
(a) From Nomadism to Sedentary settlements
- There were some more interesting changes in lifestyle of the Mesolithic era humans. The favourable climate, better rainfalls, warm atmosphere and increased food security led to reduction in nomadism to seasonally sedentary settlement.
(b) First Disposal of dead and making of Graves:
- The sedentary settlements lead to beginning of the tradition of various ways of intentional disposal of the dead.
- Mesolithic human burials have been found at Bagor in Rajasthan, Langhnaj in Gujarat, Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh etc.
- The dead were occasionally provided with grave offerings which include meat, microliths, animal bone and antler ornaments, and pieces of haematite.
- The evidence from different sites indicates that four types of burials were prevalent.
- Extended burial
- Flexed (folded) burial
- Fractional (secondary) burial
- Double Burials (two individuals were buried in a single grave): Probably the double burials indicate the development of family units, consisting of male and female.
(c) Emergence of arts:
- The Mesolithic man was a lover of art, evident from the paintings in several thousand rock shelters in the Vindhyan sandstone hills in central India. The paintings have been found in both inhabited and uninhabited shelters.The rock painting of Mesolithic period is found in Adamgarh, Bhimbetka of Madhya Pradesh and Pratapgarh, Mirzapur of Rajasthan.
- The paintings are made mostly in red and white pigments, made form the nodules found in rocks and earth. (Red made by minerals of iron oxide and white by limestone)
- We can have an idea about the social life and economic activities of the Mesolithic people from the art and paintings. It also tells us about division of labor on the basis of sex.
- The subject matter of the paintings are mostly wild animals and hunting scenes, though there are some related to human social and religious life such as sexual activity, child birth, rearing of children, burial ceremony, gathering plant resources, trapping animals, eating together, dancing and playing instruments.
- Animals are the most frequent subjects. Other subjects include animal headed human figures; squares and oblongs partly filled in with hatched designs which may represent huts or enclosures and what appears to be pictures of unusual events, such as the chariots waylaid by men armed with spears and bows and arrows at Morhana Pahar group of rock shelters near Mirzapur.
- Clothing and ornaments: The human figures in the rock shelter paintings are shown wearing a loin cloth. Some of the figures are elaborately decorated with ornaments, headgear, feathers and waistbands, shell, ivory and bone beads also are evident from sites.
- Recreation: Mesolithic man in rejoicing moods is to be seen in the paintings at Bhimbetka. Some of the dances may be of ritual significance. The musical instruments depicted are the blowpipes and horns.
- Hunting Methods: The use of composite tools revolutionized hunting, fishing and food gathering. The Mesolithic paintings at Bhimbetka throw interesting light on the contemporary hunting practices and the kinds of weapons used in hunting. The bow and arrow, barbed spears and sticks were used in hunting. Ring stones were used as stone clubs. Masks in the form of animal heads such as of rhinoceros, bull, deer and monkey were used as disguises to deceive the game. In one of the scenes animals are shown falling down a cliff. Probably animals were driven down a cliff and done to death. The paintings show men carrying dead animals suspended on a wooden bar.
- A fantastic animal,called Bhimbetka Boar has the body of a boar, but a snout like a rhinoceros, the underlip of an elephant and horn of buffalo.
- No painting or engraving of snake is found in any Mesolithic site.
- A very interesting and abstract painting has been found in a rock shelter at Jaora (MP) perhaps meaning that world consisting of air, earth ad fire.
- Interesting feature of the rock art of Orissa is the co-existence of painting and engraving in the same shelter.
- To know more about individual sites like Bhimbetka in detail, visit HISTORY THROUGH MAP
(d) Food Production:
- The hunting-gathering way of life was slowly replaced by food production from about 6000 B.C. A study has suggested cultivation of plants around 7000-6000 years back near Sambhar lake in Ajmer, Rajasthan.
- Agriculture had not fully developed.
- The core economic activities were now included hunting, fowling, fishing and wild plant food gathering. The first animals to be domesticated were dog, cattle, sheep and goat and the first plants to be cultivated were wheat and barley. The cultivation of yams and taro also took place in this region.
- This new subsistence economy based on food production had a lasting impact on the evolution of human society and the environment.
- In the humid lands, extending from the middle Ganga valley to China and Southeast Asia, rice cultivation and domestication of pig was accomplished probably around the same time because rice and pig existed in wild form in this region. Domesticated animals proved to be useful not only for meat but also for milk, hide, agricultural operations, and transport.
- Pottery has been reported from a number of excavated sites like Langhnaj, Bagor, Nagarjunakonda, Chopani Mando, etc. Pottery came to be associated with the Mesolithic culture after the introduction of geometric tools. At most of the sites the sherds were very small and it was very difficult to make out shapes. Shallow and deep bowls with featureless rim are the most popular types.
- Pottery was wholly hand-made and usually coarse grained with incised and impressed designs rarely.
(f) Structural Activity:
- Evidence of structural activity in the form of hutments, paved floor or wind screens come from a number of Mesolithic sites.
- The houses were roughly circular or oval on plan with postholes around them. Some hutments had stone paved floors. Paved floors and wattle have been noticed at Bagor. The Mesolithic folk at Bhimbetka too made floors with flat stone slabs.