Palaeolithic Age spanned from 100000 years ago till 10000 years ago. It is divided into 3 ages viz. Lower Palaeolithic age which spans till 100000 years ago. Middle Palaeolithic which spans from 100000 years ago till 40000 years and upper Palaeolithic which spans from 40,000 years to 10000 years ago. 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 term Palaeolithic was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865. It literally means "Old Stone Age." It was marked by the hunting gathering nature. Most Palaeolithic sites in India developed in the Pleistocene period.
Lower Palaeolithic Era
The earliest human settlements in south Asia have been identified with an abundance of stone tool assemblages. 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.
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. The artefacts of these stages were found in three river terraces which were correlated with the phases of the four-fold Pleistocene glaciation. These stages have been named T1, T2 and T3. 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. The tools included the pebble choppers, blades etc.
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 but not limiting to western Rajasthan, Mewar plain, Saurashtra, Gujarat, Central India, Deccan plateau, Chota Nagpur plateau and the Eastern Ghats, north of the Cauvery river. Read more about Acheulian Culture here.
Middle Palaeolithic Era
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.
In some parts of the world, the middle Palaeolithic culture is associated with the Neanderthal man (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis), however, no physical remains of Neanderthal man have been found in India.
But, what has been found in India are the stone tools very similar to those found with this hominid species in Europe and other regions.
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, the middle Palaeolithic populations occupied the same regions and habitats as the preceding Acheulian populations.
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.
Important Middle Palaeolithic Sites in India
- Luni valley, around Didwana, Budha Pushkar in Rajasthan
- Valleys of the Belan, Son river, Narmada river and their tributaries in central India
- Some sparse sites in Chota Nagpur platea, Deccan plateau and Eastern Ghats
Upper Palaeolithic Era
Upper Palaeolithic culture developed during the later part of the upper Pleistocene. The Upper Palaeolithic period has recorded a rich panorama of fossils in the peninsular rivers of India. 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 of Upper Palaeolithic Era
The tools of Upper Palaeolithic Era are essentially 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. Further, the prototypes of traps, snares and nets were probably used during the upper Palaeolithic times. 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.
Bhimbetka Rock Shelters
Bhimbetka rock shelters are located in Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh, 45 km south of Bhopal at the southern edge of the Vindhyachal hills. These served as shelters for Palaeolithic age man for more than 1 lakh years. This is the most exclusive Palaeolithic site in India which contains the rock carvings and paintings. These paintings belong to the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic ages, Chalcolithic, early-historic and even medieval times. Bhimbetka is a World heritage Site.
Please note that it was earlier considered to be a Buddhist site and was later recognized as Palaeolithic site by Vishnu Shridhar Wakankar who is now also called "father of rock art in India ". Bhimbetka Rock shelters were included in the world heritage list in 1970
Important Palaeolithic sites in India:
- Lingsugur in Raichur district, Karnataka was the first site to be discovered from India.
- Lidder river Pahalgam , Kashmir
- Sohan valley Punjab,
- Banks of River Beas, Bangagnga
- Sirsa Haryana,
- Chittorgarh and Kota, Rajasthan,
- River Wagoon, Kadamali basins Rajasthan.
- River Sabaramati and Mahi basins (Rajasthan & Gujarat),
- Basins of river tapti, Godavari, Bhima and Krishna
- Koregaon, Chandoli and shikarpur (Maharashtra),
- River Raro (Jharkhand),
- River Suvarnrekha (Orissa),
- Ghatprabha River Basin (Karnataka).
- Pahalgam , Jammu & Kashmir
- Belan Valley, Allahabad
- Sinsgi Talav, Didwana , Nagaur Rajasthan
- Hunsgi, Gulbarga in karnataka.
- Attirampakkam in Tamilnadu