Palaeolithic Age in India

Who coined the term Palaeolithic?

The term Palaeolithic was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865.

What are three stages of the Palaeolithic Period?

Palaeolithic phase is also divided into three parts with their rough timelines as follows:

  • Lower Palaeolithic (3.3-2.7 million years ago–100,000 years ago)
  • Middle Palaeolithic (300,000 years ago to 20000-30000 years ago)
  • Upper Palaeolithic (around 45,000-30,000 years ago till 10,000 years ago).

All these given time periods are just broad; the transition of one phase to another phase was never clear and even today we can find some people living in stone age.

What are the main features of transition from Lower to Middle to Upper Palaeolithic phases?

The transition from each of these phases to successive phases was very slow and marked by increased fineness in the stone tools and technology of the time as follows:

  • Lower Palaeolithic age tools – Hand axe and cleaver
  • Middle Palaeolithic ager tools – Flakes
  • Upper Palaeolithic tools – Flakes and blades

Further, this division is not uniform around the world because of several factors such as time lag, climatic vagaries, great distances, numerous geographical and physical barriers etc. Palaeolithic age finally ended with the end of Ice Age in about 10,000 BC.

Was our species Homo sapience present when Palaeolithic phase started?

No. We came much later (between 2-1 Lakh years ago). Beginning of Palaeolithic marks the presence of first tool making humans such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis, Homo ergaster etc. Neanderthal man and our species came later. Neanderthal man disappeared around 40,000 years ago.

What is Narmada man and how it is important?

Fossil of Narmada Man or Narmada Human was found on banks of Narmada River in Hathnora Village of Madhya Pradesh in 1982. Narmada Man used to live 2.5 Lakh years ago and belonged to Homo erectus species. The importance of Narmada man is that it is only authentic record of a Homo species fossil from Stone Age in India.

What are main features of tools of the Lower Palaeolithic Period?

In lower Palaeolithic phase, the tools were mainly hand axes and cleavers with some flakes also. These tools were relatively blunt and have been found all over India except plains of Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra {because raw material may not be available in these plains to make tools}. Main material to make tool were quartzite, Quartz and basalt.

What were the main features of tools of Middle Palaeolithic Period?

In comparison to the lower Palaeolithic era, the tools in middle Palaeolithic became smaller, thinner and lighter.  Due to this, middle Palaeolithic period is also known as Flake tool industry.

Further, 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.

What were the main features of the tools of the Upper Palaeolithic Period?

The tools of Upper Palaeolithic Era are further refined upon the lower and middle periods and show a marked regional diversity with respect to the refinement of techniques and standardization of finished tool forms. Man started using prototypes of the traps, snares and nets during the upper Palaeolithic times. The advancement in tools is evident from bores in stones, grinding slabs etc. The bored stones are still used by fishermen as net sinkers in riverine fishing and marine fishing. The use of grinding stones might have been for processing plant foods such as wild rice. Another important discovery of upper Palaeolithic period was of rubble built in circular form.

What do the terms Mousterian, Acheulean and Oldowan signify?

The Mousterian refers to a techno-complex (archaeological industry) of flint lithic tools associated primarily with Neanderthals. Acheulian refers to the ancient industry of stone tool manufacture characterized by distinctive oval and pear-shaped “hand-axes” associated with Homo erectus and related species. Oldowan is the oldest-known stone tool industry and dates back as far as 2.5 million years ago.

What are the main sites / Cultures of Palaeolithic Period in India?

The most remarkable sites of lower Palaeolithic period include Soan River Valley (Soan Culture), Attirampakkam near Madras (Madrasian Culture). The middle and Upper Palaeolithic sites are spread all over India in various river valleys, mountains and plateaus.

Soan Culture

Soan river is a tributary of Indus the name of this culture is after Soan Valley. Soan Culture (also known as Soanian / Sohan culture) are Palaeolithic sites, located in Shivalik region of current India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Madrasian Culture

Madrasian Culture was discovered by British archaeologist Robert Bruce Foot in 1863 in Attirampakkam near Madras (now Chennai). This was a lower Palaeolithic site with tools found as old as 1.5 million years ago. Most of the tools were made of quartzite.

Other lower Palaeolithic settlements are spread in peninsular India, Deccan, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, East and North East. Most of them have been categorized in Acheulian culture because they are similar to the tools found at French site of St. Acheul.

How was Palaeolithic Environment in India?

The Upper Palaeolithic culture coincides with 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.
Why Palaeolithic sites in India are less in comparison to Mesolithic and Neolithic sites and why most of them are found in arid and semi-arid regions only?

Due to the harsh and arid climate, the vegetation was sparse though the faunal fossils show presence of grasslands. The human population faced difficulty in food resources and that is the reason that the number of Upper Palaeolithic sites is very limited in the arid and semi-arid regions.


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