May 31, 2023
Stone Tools

Stone Tools

For over 99% of human existence, societies lived as hunters and gatherers. Ethnographers and anthropologists study existing communities to learn about their way of life, while archaeologists and other scientists specialize in discovering and analyzing tools to understand past societies.

For over 99% of human existence, societies lived as hunters and gatherers. Ethnographers and anthropologists study existing communities to learn about their way of life, while archaeologists and other scientists specialize in discovering and analyzing tools to understand past societies. Since hunters and gatherers used stone tools, archaeologists classify them as paleoliths and mesoliths. Rock carvings and paintings provide insights into prehistoric society and economy. The Paleolithic culture emerged during the Pleistocene period, which was the last ice age. Some scholars introduced the term “Upper Paleolithic” to describe a phase characterized by blade and burin tools, but others considered it specific to European culture. It is now widely accepted in India.

Paleolithic Tools

Paleolithic culture has been divided into three phases on the basis of the nature of stone tools made by human beings as well as due to the changes in the climate and environment.

During the lower Paleolithic phase, handaxes, cleavers, choppers, and chopping tools were the primary tools used. The middle Paleolithic period saw industries based on flakes, while the Upper Paleolithic era was characterized by burins and scrapers.

Hand axes had a broader butt end and a narrower working end and were likely used for cutting and digging. Cleavers had a biface edge and were transversal in shape, used for clearing and splitting objects like tree trunks. Choppers were massive core tools with a working edge prepared by unifacial flanking, used for chopping. Chopping tools were similar to choppers but had a sharper edge as they were bifacially prepared by alternate flanking.

Flakes were desired crude shape tools created by applying force on stone. They carried a positive bulb of percussion on their surface, and the core had a corresponding negative bulb of percussion. There are various flaking techniques like Free Flaking Technique, Step Flaking Technique, Block on Block Technique, and Bipolar Technique.

Side scrapers were made of a flake or blade with continuous retouch along a border and were likely used for scraping tree bark and animal skins. Burins were similar to flakes or blades, and the working border was produced by the meeting of two planes. They were used for engraving on soft stones, bones, walls of rock shelters, and cores.

Archaeologists have uncovered tools fashioned by hunters/gatherers in various regions of India. In Kashmir, a handaxe was discovered near the River Lidder in Pahalgam. However, due to the intense cold during glacial times, Paleolithic tools are not commonly found in Kashmir. The people in the area likely relied heavily on faunal and floral resources in the vicinity, with hunting practices focused on large and medium-sized mammals, especially ungulates.

The Potwar region, located between Pir Panjal and the Salt Range in modern West Punjab and Pakistan, has yielded handaxes and choppers, with important sites including Adial (Adiala in Sohan Valley, Saawan River bank, Rawalpindi), Balawal, and Chauntra. Paleolithic tools have also been found along the banks of the Beas, Bangange, and Sirsa rivers, which originated from tectonic movement in the Potwar region, giving rise to the Indus and Sohan rivers.

The Luni River complex in Rajasthan has numerous Paleolithic sites, with the river originating in the Aravallis. Paleolithic tools have been discovered in Chittorgarh (Gambhirs basin), Kota (Chambal basin), and Negarai (Berach basin), while the Wagaon and Kadamali rivers in Mewar are rich in Middle Paleolithic sites containing a variety of scrapers, borers, and points.

Many Paleolithic artifacts have been found in the rivers Sabarmati, Mahi, and their tributaries in Gujarat. Bhandarpur near Orsang Valley has reported Middle Paleolithic artifacts, while the river Bhader in Saurashtra is rich in Paleolithic assemblages. The Kutch area has also produced numerous Paleolithic tools. Narmada terraces are abundant in Paleolithic sites, and Bhimbetka near Bhopal in the Vindhyan range is a site that replaced Acheulian tools with Middle Paleolithic culture. The rivers Tapti, Godavari, Bhima, and Krishna have also yielded a large number of Paleolithic sites, with distribution linked to ecological variation such as erosion and soil type.

However, there is a scarcity of Paleolithic sites in the upper reaches of Bhima and Krishna. Maharashtra’s Chirki near Nevasa has reported handaxes, chopper, cleavers, scrapers, and borers, along with other important Paleolithic sites such as Koregaon, Chandoli, and Shikarpur. Singhbhum in Bihar’s river Raro is also rich in Paleolithic tools such as handaxes, bifacial chopping tools, and flakes.

The Damodar and Suvarnarekha valleys have also yielded Paleolithic tools, and Orissa’s Baitarani, Brahmani, and Mahanadi rivers form the deltaic region where some Paleolithic tools have been found. The Buharbalang Valley in Mayurbhang in Orissa has many Early and Middle Paleolithic tools.

In Karnataka, Paleolithic sites have been reported from Malprabha, Ghatprabha, and the Krishna’s affluents, with Acheulian handaxes found in large numbers in the Ghatprabha basin. Anagawadi and Bagalkot are two of the most important sites. The rivers Palar, Penniyar, and Kaveri in Tamil Nadu are also rich in Paleolithic tools, with Attirampakkam and Gudiyam yielding both Early and Middle Paleolithic artifacts.

Subsistence Pattern

The region had a diverse array of animal species, including both indigenous and foreign animals. Indigenous species included primates, giraffe-like forms, musk deer, goats, buffaloes, bovids, and pigs. Meanwhile, the camel and horse were introduced from North America, while hippopotamus and elephants migrated from Central Africa, mainly along the north-west border, using migratory routes that lay east and west of the Himalayas.

Faunal remains provide insight into the subsistence pattern of Paleolithic humans. They were mainly hunter-gatherers who relied on the resources available in their immediate vicinity. They hunted large and medium-sized mammals, especially ungulates like deer, rhinos, and elephants. There is no evidence of selective hunting in this period, and few species dominate some assemblages because of their abundance in the area and ease of hunting. Paleolithic people likely subsisted on a dry/wet-cycle of exploitation of plant and animal foods, including animals such as ox, bison, nilgai, chinkara, gazelle, black buck, antelope, sambar, spotted deer, wild boar, various birds, tortoises, fish, honey, and plant foods like fruits, roots, seeds, and leaves.

While gathered plant foods were probably important, they are difficult to trace as debris from this aspect of the diet typically survives less than the hunted part. It is likely that Paleolithic people consumed animal products along with wild plant products. Rock paintings and carvings suggest that Paleolithic people lived in small, band (small groups) societies whose subsistence economy was based on the exploitation of resources in the form of both animal and plant products. These paintings also suggest that hunting was the main subsistence pursuit for Paleolithic people. The earliest paintings belong to the Upper Paleolithic age, and the paintings are predominantly of bisons, elephants, tigers, rhinos, and boars, usually large, with some measuring two to three meters in length. The paintings also reflect that it is possible to distinguish between men and women based on anatomical features.

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