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Quaternary International 223-224 (2010) 234–241

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Lower and Early Middle Pleistocene Acheulian in the Indian sub-continent Claire Gaillard a, *, Sheila Mishra b, Mukesh Singh c, Sushama Deo b, Riza Abbas d a

´histoire du Muse´um national d’histoire naturelle, 1 rue rene Panhard, 75013 Paris, France Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, De´partement de Pre Department of Archaeology, Deccan College, Pune 411 006, India c Society for Archaeological and Anthropological Research, Chandigarh, India d Rock Art Research Center (IRARC), A Division of Indian Institute of Research in Numismatic Studies (IIRNS), Nashik, India b

a r t i c l e i n f o

a b s t r a c t

Article history: Available online 11 September 2009

Large cutting tools have been known for a long time in South Asia and have always been considered to be related to the Acheulian. The character of the Indian Acheulian, however, has not been well described and its evolution is poorly known, as there are few sites which are dated. Advances in geochronology have yielded increasingly early dates from most parts of the world where Lower Palaeolithic occupation is documented. These techniques have been barely applied to the South Asian sites but it is highly significant that the dating attempts have provided Lower Pleistocene ages. In this paper the handful of sites for which some chronological data is available and are older than 600 ka are presented. Their assemblages are highly diversified, in composition, but their large cutting tools (especially cleavers but also handaxes) are mostly based on the production of large flakes. They compare well with the early Acheulian from other parts of the world. Ó 2009 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction The Indian sub-continent is known for its large number of Acheulian sites. Handaxes and cleavers were the first artefacts to be collected and described (Foote, 1866, 1916; Teilhard de Chardin, 1936; de Terra and Paterson, 1939) and they occur in almost every part of India. Their affiliation to the Acheulian was never questioned, unlike that of the large cutting tools occurring further east, on the other side of the ‘‘Movius line’’. Except the few artefacts from Riwat in the Soan valley (Pakistan) dating back to nearly 2 Ma (Dennell et al., 1988a,b) there are no sites that pre-date the Acheulian. It seems that the ‘‘Soanian’’ from the Siwaliks is usually found in later geological contexts than the Acheulian and it may not be Lower Palaeolithic (Gaillard and Mishra, 2001; Gaillard and Dambricourt, 2008). The Acheulian appears to be the first technical tradition practised in the sub-continent, especially in peninsular India (Gaillard and Mishra, 2001; Gaillard, 2006; Mishra, 2007), but the way it evolved with time is poorly known. The few dates and palaeomagnetic data show that some of the Acheulian sites belong to the Lower Pleistocene. The earliest date is 1.2 Ma from Isampur in Karnataka (Paddayya et al., 2002), and a number of sites show reversed palaeomagnetic components (Sangode et al., 2007). The

* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ33 155432737; fax: þ33 143312279. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (C. Gaillard), [email protected] (S. Mishra), [email protected] (M. Singh), [email protected] (S. Deo), [email protected] (R. Abbas). 1040-6182/$ – see front matter Ó 2009 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2009.08.021

same technological features continue into the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene before shifting to industries with more refined large cutting tools and better control of flake production (Late Acheulian/Early Middle Palaeolithic). This short paper presents some of the most significant early Acheulian assemblages from India (Fig. 1). 2. Southern peninsular India In the Hunsgi and Baichbal Valleys, in the area between the confluence of the Bhima and Krishna rivers, in Karnataka, Paddayya (1982, 2007a, 2007b) documented 200 localities with Acheulian tools during decades of intensive foot survey. Variation in the assemblages from site to site have been interpreted in terms of chronological change (Paddayya, 2007b), but many sites belong to the ‘‘Early Acheulian’’. At the site of Isampur the enamel from 2 bovid teeth has provided ESR dates averaging 1.27  0.17 Ma if linear uptake is assumed, while for early and recent uptake models, the results are 0.73  0.1 Ma and 3.12  0.4 Ma respectively (Paddayya et al., 2002). The main raw material is available at the site itself as slabs of silicified limestone and the settlement has been interpreted as a factory site (Paddayya et al., 2006). In the trench 1, the assemblage (13,000 specimens) is mainly composed of ‘‘debitage’’ (flakes and shatters of various sizes: 93%), cores, large flakes, sometimes retouched into handaxes (48), knives (18) and cleavers (15). They are associated with scrapers, utilised/modified pieces, chopping tools and hammerstones (Paddayya et al., 2006).

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Fig. 1. Map of South Asia and location of the early Acheulian sites presented in this paper.

Paddayya et al. (2000) report that the dating of the Isampur assemblage was ‘‘unexpected’’, and this has been quoted as a reason to dismiss the date by Dennell, (2008). The unexpectedness of the date is entirely due to the lack of any previous dates which would allow such an expectation. The Indian Acheulian is a ‘‘Large Flake Acheulian’’ (Sharon, 2007) which is typical of the Acheulian in both India and Africa. The Isampur assemblage is remarkably similar to other Acheulian sites dated to more then 1 Ma. The only thing is that all the other sites of this age are in Africa. Contrary to Paddayya and Dennell the present authors expected a date from Isampur to be similar to that of sites yielding comparable assemblages in Africa. 3. Deccan Plateau In the central part of the peninsular India where the bedrock is basaltic (Deccan Traps), Acheulian sites are rare. Although this was initially considered to reflect aversion of hominins to the basalt terrain, it is better explained by the rapid weathering of basalt artefacts on the surface (Mishra, 1982). A number of very rich sites are now known as well as the occurrence of single tools in alluvial context. Several Acheulian sites are associated with tephra. The Toba volcano in northern Sumatra, where the tephras are assumed to come from, had several eruptions dating to 75 ka (Youngest Toba Tephra/YTT), 540 ka (Middle Toba Tephra/MTT) and around 800 ka (Oldest Toba Tephra/OTT). Archaeological assemblages associated with different tephra occurrences range from Middle Stone Age (Petraglia et al., 2007) to Early Acheulian (Korisettar et al., 1989), so that it is likely that all the tephra occurrences are not YTT. However the chemical compositions of samples from different tephra outcrops have shown to be very close to that of the YTT (Westgate et al., 1998). Radiometric dates and palaeomagnetic studies of some localites suggest older ages. Morgaon is located on the left bank of the seasonal Karha River, a tributary of the Bhima, flowing in a basalt landscape. The artefacts

are eroding out ancient sediments exposed by gullies (Fig. 2 n 2-6). The deposits from 2 m to 15 m thick include a layer of tephra, undated so far but very weathered. Palaeomagnetism of the clays above and below the tephra at Morgaon was studied by Sangode et al. (2007). The samples from Morgaon proved to be multicomponent with normal as well as reversed components occurring both as primary and secondary components. This complex palaeomagnetism shows large role of post depositional processes in altering the original depositional signal. However the presence of reversed components is difficult to explain except by the sediment experiencing reversed magnetic field during some part of its history. The multi-component nature of the palaeomagnetism is not compatible with a Bruhnes excursion. None of the Toba tephras is close to any known Bruhnes excursion. Gridded surface collection from a recently levelled field at Morgaon yielded 282 artefacts of which 63 were cores, 198 flakes and 11 tools (mostly flakes with one or two secondary flakes removed). Between 2002 and 2004 a trench was excavated in which artefacts occurred in three separate horizons. The largest number of artefacts came from the surface of clay covered with weathered basalt rubble. This horizon of which 6 m  4 m was exposed yielded 180 artefacts. From this trench and from the levelled field the assemblages mostly comprise large sizes flakes and cores. They are made in the basalt available in the form of large core-stones (balls or lumps), weathering from the local bedrock. After the removal of a small flake to eliminate the weathered cortex, the core-stone was split into two. For this it is likely it was struck against an anvil. A number of probable anvils were recovered in the excavation. Throwing is unlikely as it would be impossible to strike the core-stone exactly on the spot from which the cortex had been removed. Flakes, sometimes very large ones, were then detached from the surface formed by splitting. This results in Kombewa flakes with a positive bulb (nearly flat in the case of the split surface) on both faces and maximum length of sharp cutting

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Fig. 2. Large cutting tools from Morgaon. (1–4): cleavers; (5, 6): handaxes (scale ¼ 10 cm).

edge formed along their intersection. Very few flakes are trimmed into cleavers, with a minor shaping (Fig. 2 n 1), and handaxes are absent. In 2007, a 5 m  5 m trench exposed 162 artefacts including 5 cleavers and 2 handaxes (Table 1), on the surface of an armoured gravel bar. In this second trench the artefacts are slightly smaller in size and the raw materials include some imported varieties of basalt (Deo et al., 2007; Mishra et al., 2009). The site of Bori (Kale et al., 1986) is located on the left bank of the river Kukdi, and the artefacts occur within a gravel cutting into a tephra layer. One large Kombewa flake, a small flake, a bola and a hammerstone/polyhedron were recovered from exposures below the tephra, which has been dated by Ar/Ar to 670  3 ka (Mishra et al.,1995). The artefacts are slightly weathered but not abraded and have therefore not been significantly transported. The assemblage above the tephra consists of flakes, a few cores and some Acheulian large tools, mainly trihedral picks (Table 1; Fig. 3). It is interesting to observe that none of the artefacts were made on pebbles or cobbles from the gravel they were discarded on. This is shown by the presence of a more deeply patinated unflaked surface compared to the flaked one. Since pebbles from the river do not have a weathered cortex, this means weathered nodules were brought to the site (Deo et al., 2007). The particular feature of this assemblage lies in its well

mastered flake production, from nearly parallelepipedic nodules, exploited along orthogonal surfaces taking advantage of the natural ridges for the production of elongated flakes. The products are rather small (6 cm long in average) and almost none of them are retouched. The large tools comprise 7 trihedral picks made on parallelepipedic nodules, 2 handaxes (1 on flake, 1 on cobble) and 2 cleavers (on flakes). The dominance of picks could have some relation with the catastrophic context of volcanic ash fall, as suggested by the gravel cutting into the tephra. This gravel witnesses a change in the sedimentation regime with silts below the gravel and tephra and clays above it. Mishra et al. (2005) have suggested that in the post tephra fall environment, when vegetation would have been destroyed, hominins might have survived on buried food sources by utilizing the trihedral picks as digging tools. The Bori assemblage is almost the only assemblage where trihedral picks dominate to such and extent. Single cleavers, which are a typical occurrence, are found below and above the pick dominated assemblage, and therefore there is no chronological significance to the absence of cleavers. A number of localities around Nevasa, on the Pravara River, have yielded early Acheulian artefacts. The two main localities are Chirki, a few kilometres downstream of Nevasa town, and Laxmi nala, a few kilometres upstream. Two gravel facies were identified by

Table 1 Distribution of the techno-typological groups in the main Early Acheulian sites of India. Atbarapur

Singi Talav, layer 4

Chirki-Nevasa, trench VII, layer 3





Handaxe Trihedral pick Cleaver Other large flake (>10 cm), retouched or not Ordinary flake (<10 cm), retouched or not Other debitage product, retouched or not Chopper, other core tool, core

15 – 37 13 1 – 26

16 – 40 14 1 – 28

20 1 3 – 381 445 41

2 0.1 0.3 – 43 50 4.6




n 146 25 184 553 231 194 122 1455

Bori, above tephra

Morgaon, 2007 excavation






10 2 13 38 16 13 8

2 7 2 3 173 – 12

1 3.5 1 1.5 87 – 6

2 – 5 48 57 – 50

1.2 – 3 30 35 – 31



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Fig. 3. Large cutting tools from Bori. (1) Trihedral pick/handaxe; (2–4) trihedral picks; (5) pick or core; (6) unifacial pick on large flake (scale ¼ 10 cm).

Sankalia (1956) and Corvinus (1983). These are a rubbly gravel which is rich in artefacts, including bifaces, and a cross bedded sandy pebbly gravel with almost no bifaces and only flakes. At the Chirki locality the rubbly gravel is the lowest unit and is overlain by the cross bedded gravel. At Laxmi nala the cross bedded gravel is

the lowest unit and is overlain by a horizontally bedded gravel. The richest horizon of artefacts is at contact of the two first gravels which is also rich in mud balls showing ephemeral stream processes. Black fissured clay covers the eroded surface of the cross bedded gravel. This last unit overlying all the other units was

Fig. 4. Large cutting tools from Chirki-Nevasa, trench VII. (1–3) Cleavers; (4–6) handaxes (from Corvinus, 1983; scale ¼ 10 cm).

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studied for palaeomagnetism. In contrast to the tephra sites of Bori and Morgaon where primary and secondary components of the palaeomagnetism were anti parallel, at Laxmi nala both primary and secondary components were reversed (Sangode et al., 2007). All the three Acheulian sites for which palaeomagnetic studies have been attempted therefore are in the Matuyama period. Chirki provided a very significant assemblage, excavated from the river deposits (Corvinus, 1983). Several trenches have shown its richness and all together have yielded more than 700 large cutting tools, mostly handaxes and cleavers (slightly more cleavers). Trench 7 is the richest and in the lower layer (layer 3) 355 large cutting tools have been recovered, representing 25% of the lithic material (Table 1). The basalt used for making the industry belongs to two varieties, an amygdaloidal basalt available at the site and a more compact basalt from a dyke located several kilometres away. As in Bori, most of the artefacts show weathered cortex. Almost all the cleavers and half of the handaxes are made on flakes (otherwise on cobbles or split cobbles). Among the cleaver blanks, some Kombewa flakes have been noted, but most interesting are the large flakes detached from prepared cores according to a standardised method (Corvinus, 1983). These cleavers may appear technically advanced, but their lateral sides are unifacially trimmed in most of the cases and their shaping implies a minimal work. The assemblage also comprises a high proportion of large flakes, many being shaped into tools such as knives (Fig. 4). 4. On the margin of the Thar desert In the dry environment of the western Rajasthan, the palaeolake deposits near Didwana have recorded a phase of human occupation belonging to the early Acheulian. These lacustrine deposits have turned into nodular calcretes due to pedogenetic processes; they appear as a whitish formation especially well represented in Amarpura (3 km west of Didwana), where it was deeply quarried in the 1980s (to 10 m depth). It is covered by aeolian sands forming dunes at places. Its silt and clay content increases downwards, the fine sand content upwards. This so called Amarpura formation can

be observed in the landscape on more than 10 km wide. In the Singi Talav depression (2 km south of Didwana) a shallow quarry yielding lithic industry called for a systematic excavation. This resulted in exposing 2 Acheulian layers (3 and 4) which represent settlements on the lake shore (Misra et al., 1982; Misra and Rajaguru, 1986). At Amarpura, a sample from 1 m below the contact between the calcrete and the sand cover has been dated by ESR to nearly 800 ka (Kailath et al., 2000). On the basis of clay and silt content, the Singi Talav sequence was considered as corresponding to the middle part of the Amarpura section and this date would therefore be a minimum age for the Acheulian occupation. The industry is made of metamorphic rocks, mainly quartzite, collected 3 kms from the site; some quartzitic cobbles were also used: the nearest source of such cobbles known at present is 20 km away. The assemblages from the 2 layers do not differ much, except that the proportion of handaxes decreases in the upper layer 3, and the proportion of cores increases. These assemblages mainly include flakes and debris, in equal proportions. The high amount of debris (debitage products without distinctive flake features) is linked to the quality of the raw materials (vein quartz and schist besides quartzite). These were differentially selected for producing the various components of the industry. The flakes were usually struck from rather homogeneous quartzite and the large cutting tools (mostly handaxes) were struck or split from schistose quartzite which provided slabs rather than flakes, while for the spheroids, polyhedrons and especially hammerstones cobbles of medium to coarse-grained quartzite were preferred. The small tools on flake or debris mainly consist of denticulates and scrapers. The handaxes and rare cleavers (Table 1) are sometimes very roughly shaped (Fig. 5), since the original rectangular or lozenge shape of the slabs provides readymade thin, symmetrical and often pointed tools (Gaillard et al., 1983, 1986; Gaillard, 1993). Three kilometre south of Singi Talav, a 19 m thick step-excavation in a fossil sand dune, at 16R, has yielded several archaeological levels and has been carefully studied in order to establish the chronology and the isotopic variations. The only available TL date is of 163  21 ka (Williams M.A.J., pers. com. 1984 in Misra,

Fig. 5. Large cutting tools from Singi Talav. (1–5) Handaxes; (6) cleaver (scale ¼ 10 cm).

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Fig. 6. Large cutting tools from Atbarapur. (1–3) Cleavers; (4) cleaver-cum-pick; (5, 6) handaxes (scale ¼ 10 cm).

1995) for the upper part of the unit 3 (12 m from top; Misra and Rajaguru, 1986). The dates based on U/Th measurements, reach the maximum for this method (390 ka) at the bottom of the section (Raghavan et al., 1989), but the results seem to be biased due to high initial contents in Th daughter (Achyuthan et al., 2007). There are a few handaxes in 16R: only 2 in the lower unit and 7 (1% of the total artefacts) in the archaeological horizon of the unit II. This latter horizon is considered Upper Palaeolithic (Misra et al., 1982; Misra and Rajaguru, 1986) due to the 14C date, but it displays Middle Palaeolithic technical features (Gaillard, 1993; 2006) with a persisting tradition of making handaxes, sometimes very well shaped. The raw materials are exclusively local, from the very close metamorphic outcrops, and therefore the technical features are difficult to compare with those from Singi Talav. Noteworthy is one core with unipolar removals. Only at the bottom of the trench a chopper was found, made on a river cobble similar to some of the specimens occurring in Singi Talav. The data provided by the 16R section cannot confirm nor refute the date of 800 ka proposed for Singi Talav on the basis of stratigraphical correlation with the Amarpura section.

the west, in the Jhelum valley (at Dina and Jalalpur, Pakistan). These have been dated to between 700 and 400 ka by referring to tectonic and palaeomagnetic data (Rendell and Dennell, 1985). The industry from Atbarapur is made from quartzite cobbles and boulders, not occurring at the site but reported in the local geology (G.S.I., 1976). It results from two separate sequences of production, one from boulders for obtaining large flakes, and the other from cobbles for smaller flakes. However the large cores and the smaller flakes are missing at the site. Both reduction sequences are quite short, producing about 8 flakes, most of them bearing cortical remains. They were initiated on whole or split cobbles, as observed from the cores, and the study of the large flakes suggests the same method. Large Kombewa flakes proper, with convex dorsal face, are only a few, but those with a nearly flat dorsal face, struck from split boulders, represent ¼ of the large flakes. These are usually trimmed into cleavers (37) and handaxes (15; Fig. 6), the rest of the assemblage being mainly composed of cobble tools and cores on cobbles (Table 1; Gaillard et al., 2008).

5. Siwaliks

These sites, older than 600 ka, provide good examples of the early phase of the Acheulian in South Asia. This Acheulian tradition (production of handaxes and/or cleavers) continues till the Middle Palaeolithic phase, which actually appears quite discrete in India. The change is gradual, mainly marked by a better control of the flake production along with an increasing number of the tools on flakes; meanwhile the handaxes survive, in usually smaller sizes and more refined shapes. This trend can be observed in the stratified sequence of Bhimbetka, starting at the bottom with a late Acheulian (use of the Levallois method for a small part of the production, soft hammer technique for the shaping) and ending with the Mesolithic (Misra, 1985). In 16R at Didwana, the very few handaxes in the unit II, including one well shaped specimen, suggest at least the persistence of these tools. Detailed study of the assemblages from the 6 layers at Attirampakkam,

Further north, beyond the Indo-Gangetic plain, the upper Siwalik formations have preserved evidence of Acheulian technology. Near Atbarapur a significant Acheulian assemblage has been recovered from a choe (seasonal stream) cutting through reworked deposits from the Pinjore formation (G.S.I., 1976). This silty-sandy formation represents low-energy alluvial deposits interlayered at places, especially at the top, with cobbly even bouldery gravels indicating tectonic movements. The deposition of the Pinjore formation ends at different times along its stretch, but not later than 600 ka in the sector between Beas and Sutlej Rivers as indicated by palaeomagnetic studies (Ranga Rao, 1993). This provides an approximate age for the assemblage from Atbarapur and it is consistent with the age of the Acheulian sites occurring to

6. Conclusion

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Tamil Nadu, is expected to provide precise information regarding the technical evolution (Pappu and Akhilesh, 2006; Pappu, 2007). Such multi-stratified sequences are extremely rare in South Asia, but similar information is provided by dense concentrations of sites, as for instance in the Shorapur Doab (Hunsgi and Baichbal valleys), where 3 Acheulian stages are identified (Paddayya, 2007b), the last one already entered into the Middle Palaeolithic. The surviving Acheulian tools, mainly handaxes, clearly reduce in size and become more refined (finger-held or perhaps hafted tools, as suggested by Paddayya, 2007b). In the early Acheulian the large cutting tools are usually of large size (hand-held tools), which do not exclude some small specimens, quite remarkable in Morgaon and Singi Talav for instance. The handaxes, especially, appear to maintain themselves quite late within the tool kit, but their much more elaborated features practically refer to another technical pattern. The main characters of the early Acheulian in India are linked to the production of large flakes, especially well represented when the raw materials are suitable. Variations between assemblages may depend on the diversity of the site types, functions, topographic locations, environmental settings, seasonality of occupations, etc. The nature of the raw materials might have induced some differences too, although minor as far as technology is concerned (Sharon, 2008). Productions from slabs of silicified limestone, from quartzite boulders, from basalt core-stones with deep surface weathering, or from slabs of schistous quartzite cannot be totally similar. Moreover the accessibility of these rocks definitely implies differences in the assemblage compositions. At places cores are lacking, at places large tools are lacking (but they are found isolated in the countryside), at other places small tools are lacking (were they produced or not?). Transportation of blanks or finished tools seems to be characteristic of the Acheulian too. The flaking methods are quite simple. They are similar but distinct for the large and small products. This is especially clear at Singi Talav and Atbarapur; it is probably the case at Chirki on Pravara too (if infiltration from layer 2 to 3 is minor), since the small flakes are mainly in chert while the large ones are in basalt. Therefore both productions are not following each other from the same cores. From the beginning of the sequences, different cores were selected according to their size. If the raw material is readily available at the site or not, the flakes (and the cores when present) show that the sequences of production were quite short. There was no management of the convexities, except at Chirki for some of the cleavers (Corvinus, 1983). Even at Bori, where the flaking method appears to be well mastered, half of the flakes still bear cortex on their dorsal face and their features actually result from a smart exploitation of the original nodule shape, carefully selected, but not from a preparation or even maintenance of the convexities. For both large and small productions, the cores were usually abandoned once their natural (or bulbar, in the case of Kombewa method) convexities were turned into concave scars. Large flakes occur in many Acheulian assemblages (Sharon, 2007), from Africa to China (Wang, 2005; Xie and Bodin, 2007; Petraglia and Shipton, 2008; Zhang et al., 2010), Korea (Norton et al., 2006) and Java (Lumley et al., 1993; Se´mah et al., 2003; Simanjuntak et al., 2010). This implies diffusion of the same technical behaviour over long distances across landscapes very different of what they are today: the tropical vegetation (savana or dry decidual forest) was widely spread as indicated by the Lower Pleistocene and Early Middle Pleistocene fauna. The Acheulian technology might have been particularly well adapted to the environment for having lasted about one million years, especially in the peninsular India, where no drastic climate change happened.

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Lower and Early Middle Pleistocene Acheulian in the ...

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