The Mesolithic Age in India: A Transitional Period Between Paleolithic and Neolithic Eras
The Mesolithic Era Beginning around 8000 BC, marked a transitional period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages. As temperatures rose and the climate became warmer and drier, fauna and flora underwent significant changes, impacting human life. Tools and technology also evolved during this time, with the development of microliths or small stone tools. Hunting and gathering remained the primary mode of subsistence, but with a shift from hunting large game to hunting small game, fishing, and fowling. Rock paintings reflect the material and ecological changes of this era.
Mesolithic Tools Microliths or small stone tools were the hallmark of the Mesolithic Era. These tiny tools, ranging from 1 to 8 cm in length, took various geometric forms, such as blades, cores, points, triangles, lunates, and trapezes. Paleolithic tools, such as scrapers, burins, and choppers, also continued to be used. Blades, with their parallel to subparallel lateral edges, were specialized flakes that were often retouched for greater sharpness. Mesolithic blade production involved a technique called fluting, where pressure was delivered on the core from the edge of the striking platform. Cores were cylindrical in shape, with fluting marks along their length and a flat striking platform at the distal horizontal end. Points were triangular in shape, often retouched along one or both sloping borders and used as arrowheads and spearheads. Triangles were similar to points, but with one border and base, retouched for cutting or as arrowheads. Lunates were blade-like with one semi-circular retouched border, useful for obtaining a concave cutting edge or as a segment of an arrowhead. Trapezes, similar to blades, had retouches on one or more borders and were likely used as arrowheads.
Let’s explore some of the significant Mesolithic sites in India.
The Rajasthan region boasts several sites rich in microliths, including the Pachpadra basin and Sojat area. The most notable habitation site in this region is Tilwara, which has two cultural phases. Phase-I is Mesolithic and characterized by the presence of microliths, while Phase-II contains wheel-made pottery and iron pieces alongside microliths. The largest Mesolithic site in India is Bagor, located on the Kothari river in Rajasthan, which has been horizontally excavated and has three cultural phases. Radiocarbon dating places Phase-I, the earliest culture phase, between 5000-2000 B.C.
Several rivers, including Tapti, Narbada, Mahi, and Sabarmati in Gujarat, have also yielded numerous Mesolithic sites. Some of the most notable sites in this region include Akhaj, Valasana, Hirpur, and Langhnaj, which has been extensively studied and revealed three cultural phases. Phase-I has produced microliths, burials, and animal bones, including blades, triangles, crescents, scrapers, and burins.
The Vindhya and Satpura ranges are rich in Mesolithic sites. Sarai Nahar Rai in the Allahabad-Pratapgarh area of Uttar Pradesh, Morhana Pahar and Lekhahia in the Kaimur range, and Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh are significant Mesolithic sites. Adamgarh in Hosangabad, located to the south of Bhimbetka, is another important Mesolithic site.
Microliths have been found in coastal Konkan and inland plateau sites like Kasushoal, Janyire, Babhalgo, and Jalgarh. The Deccan basaltic plateau also has many Mesolithic sites, and microliths have been reported from the Dhulia and Poona districts. Microliths have also been found in the Chotta Nagpur Plateau, the coastal plains of Orissa, the Bengal delta, the Brahmaputra valley, and the Shillong plateau. Pre-Neolithic and Neolithic associated microliths have been reported from Chhota Nagpur plateau. Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, and Sundergarh in Orissa have microlithic assemblages. Birbhanpur, located on the River Damodar in West Bengal, is another excavated microlithic site. Sebalgiri in the Garo hills of Meghalaya has yielded pre-Neolithic microliths.
The Krishna and Bhima rivers have also produced microliths, which in many cases survive to the phase of Neolithic cultures. Sangankallu, located on the western fringe of the Karnataka plateau, has produced cores, flakes, points, and aescents. The Godavari delta is rich in microliths, which are associated with the Neolithic culture. The Kurnool area has many microliths, and Renigunta in Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh has also reported microliths.
Bagor, Sarai Nahar Rai, Mahadaha, and Adamgarh are considered true Mesolithic sites due to their early dates and associated material culture.
Subsistence in the Mesolithic Age
Wild sheep, wild goat, ass, elephant, bison, fox, hippo, sambhar, chinkara, hare, porcupine, lizard, rat, fowl and tortoise were not present in Mesolithic sites.
During the Mesolithic Age, people consumed both meat and plant-based food. Remains of fish, tortoise, hare, mongoose, porcupine, deer, and Nilgai were found at different Mesolithic sites like Langhanaj and Tilwara, indicating that they were part of the Mesolithic diet. In addition to hunting and fishing, Mesolithic people gathered wild roots, tubers, fruits, honey, etc., which were important elements in their overall dietary pattern.
Mesolithic art and paintings are abundant in sites like Bhimbetka, Adamgarh, Pntapgarh, and Minapur. Hunting, fishing, and other human activities are reflected in their paintings and engravings. Bhimbetka is particularly rich in paintings, which depict activities such as sexual union, childbirth, child-rearing, and burial ceremonies. All these suggest that during the Mesolithic period, social organization had become more stable than in Paleolithic times.
The appearance and disappearance of animals can be attributed to changing climatic and environmental conditions.