Paleolithic Culture | UPSC Important Notes & Study Material

Notes By-
Sachin Gupta
Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3



Man, by his tool making ability, emerges from an animal background and assumes
higher status than any other animal. He makes tools on stone, wood, bone and
antler and obtains his food by hunting. This capacity of tool making is the
harbinger of culture. He learns to build shelters, to use fire, to clothe himself,
and to transmit ideas through signs or symbols and presumably even by speech,
though not in writing. This period of man’s history belongs to the realm of
prehistory. And the evidences for reconstructing the life ways of prehistoric man
are the tools, which are, predominantly, the stone tools that survived the ravages
of time. By studying the stone tools—the techniques by which stone tools are
made and their functions—prehistoric archaeologists have identified different
cultures, which are called Stone Age cultures. These are Palaeolithic (or the Old
Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age).
The long period of human development, before the advent of agriculture and use
of metal is the epoch of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic cultures. The Palaeolithic is
divided into Lower Palaeolithic, Middle Palaeolithic, and Upper Palaeolithic
cultures. All these are hunting-gathering cultures. These cultures are distinguished
by their respective tool types, the ensembles of which are called industries. The
stone tools show progressive refinements in the techniques of tool manufacture
and advancement in hunting methods from Lower Palaeolithic to Upper

The Palaeolithic cultures flourished in the geological era called Pleistocene. The
Pleistocene era, climatically, is characterised by glacial (extreme cold conditions
and extensive ice caps) and interglacial (warm period) conditions in the temperate
zones and pluvial (heavy rainy or wet period) and interpluvial (dry period)
conditions in the tropical belt. Early human populations (i.e. Palaeolithic) lived
in major parts of the temperate zones (Europe) and tropical zone (Africa and
Asia) successfully adapting to these climatic events and environments.

The earliest stage of the Lower Palaeolithic culture is represented by a stone tool
industry known from Kadar Gona and Hadar regions of Ethiopia in Africa. This
is dated to 2.5 million years. The Lower Palaeolithic culture in Africa is recognised
by two stone tool industries, i.e. the Oldowan industry, and the Acheulian industry
(the handaxe-cleaver or biface industry). The Oldowan is a crude industry of
pebble tools, mainly chopper-chopping tools which is well documented in Bed I
of the famous Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, and is dated to 1.85 million years BP.
Human fossils associated with Oldowan tool traditions belong to the
Australopithecine and Homo lineages. The Soan industry in the northwestern
part of the Indian subcontinent (Soan Valley in Pakistan) is a pebble tool industry.
From the Indian side of the border, pebble tool industries are known from the
Sirsa and Ghaggar valleys of Haryana, Beas and Banganga valleys of Himachal
Pradesh, and the Hoshiarpur-Chandigarh zone of the Siwalik Frontal Range.

The Acheulian industry (named after the French site of St. Acheul), synonymous
with the handaxe-cleaver industry, as the name suggests, is characterised by
handaxes, cleavers, and a variety of scrapers on cores and flakes which are finished
by careful working on one side (unifacial flaking) and on both sides (bifacial
flaking), and also secondary retouch. Prehistoric sites yielding handaxe-cleaver
industries are wide spread in Africa, Europe, Southwest Asia (also called Middle
East) and South Asia (i.e. India). In Africa, it is best represented at Olduvai
Gorge (Bed II), Olorgesailie, Koobi Fora, Kalambo Falls and Isimila. Absolute
dates from these sites show that the Acheulian persisted from about 1.65 million
years BP till 0.25 million years BP. The extinct human species Homo erectus
(which appeared around 1.8 to 1.7 million years ago) is associated with the
Acheulian culture.

Acheulian industries have extensive distribution in almost all the river valleys
of the Indian subcontinent. The earliest known Acheulian site in India is Isampur
in the Hunsgi Valley of north Karnataka, which is dated to 1.2 million years BP;
and other dates from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka range
between 0.7 million and 0.2 million years BP. In the later stages of the Acheulian
tradition, handaxes and cleavers have become very refined and symmetric in
shape, and also flake-tools of refined forms (scrapers, points etc.) are
manufactured. These foreshadow the succeeding Middle Palaeolithic cultures,
characterised by flake-tool industries.

The Middle Palaeolithic culture is characterised by flake-tool traditions and
consists of a variety of tools made on flakes such as scrapers, points, borers and
awls; and miniature handaxes and cleavers of fine workmanship occur at some
sites. These flaks are produced by specialised technique called prepared core
technique. The Middle Palaeolithic culture is best documented in the excavations
of cave sites and open-air sites in Europe, Southwest Asia, and Africa. In these
regions, the Middle Palaeolithic culture is called as the Mousterian culture, named
after the rock shelter of Le Moustier in France. The human species associated
with the Mousterian culture is the extinct Homo neanderthalensis. The popular
name for this hominin is Neanderthal man. There are a variety of sub-regional
variations in the Middle Palaeolithic culture in different parts of the Old World.

The time span of Middle Palaeolithic culture ranges between 0. 25 million and
50,000 years BP. Neanderthals very probably started some of the activities and
beliefs that are considered most characteristic of humankind. They practiced
hunting magic; buried the dead with care and performed death rituals; took care
of the crippled and disabled; and in some cases resorted to cannibalism. In India,
Middle Palaeolithic culture is wide spread, and is charactrised by typical flake
tool industries. Absolute dates for the Middle Palaeolithic in India point to a
time range of 165, 000 years BP to 31,000 thousand years BP.

The Upper Palaeolithic culture succeeds the Middle Palaeolithic Mousterian or
other flake tool cultures in different parts of the Old World. This phase marks the
first great climax of human achievements. Upper Palaeolithic cultures flourished
in Europe, Southwest Asia, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia during the
later stages of Upper Pleistocene, often referred to as Late Pleistocene. The age
of the Upper Palaeolithic falls between 40,000 and 12,000 years BP. The human
species associated with this cultural phase is Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens
(AMHS), the extant and the only surviving human species. We belong to this

The Upper Palaeolithic shows technological advances in stone tool manufacture
by the production of parallel sided blades which are finished into a variety of
tools finished by blunting or backing, and secondary retouch. These blades are
produced by specialised technique called prismatic core technique or fluted core
technique. There are a variety of sub-regional manifestations of Upper Palaeolithic
cultures in Europe and Southwest Asia. Southwestern France is considered as
the “classical region” in which all these Upper Palaeolithic sub-regional
successions are well preserved in stratified contexts. These cultures are
Chatelperronian (35,000 – 29,000 years BP), Aurignacian (34,000 – 29,000 years
BP) Gravettian (28,000 – 22,000 years BP), Solutrean (21,000 – 19,000 years
BP) and Magdalenian (18,000 – 12, 000 years BP). Further, in addition to stone
tools, these cultures have excellently executed bone and antler tools such as
points, harpoons, awls etc. In India, the Upper Palaeolithic culture is well
documented in all the major river valley systems; and the Kurnool caves have
yielded an assortment of bone tools. The Upper Palaeolithic cultures in different
parts of the Old World are succeeded by epi-Palaeolithic cultures of short duration
at the fag end of the Ice Age, which develop into the Mesolithic cultures of
specialised hunters, fishers and gatherers in the Holocene period.

The hallmark of the Upper Palaeolithic is art. Upper Palaeolithic art begins in
the Aurignacian culture, develops in the Gravettian and Solutrean, and blossoms
in the Magdalenian, both in the splendid decoration of ordinary objects (called
art mobilier or home art), and in the superb polychrome cave paintings (parietal
art or cave art). A large variety of paintings on cave or rock walls and cave
ceilings, and petroglyphs (engravings or line drawings on rock or cave walls)
have been found especially in France and Spain. Another important category of
art is in the form of ‘Venus Figurines’. These are small statuettes of naked, and
often obese or pregnant women, sculpted in mammoth ivory, stone or clay. These
figurines may be fertility icons or emblems of security and success. According
to some scholars, the appearance of language during this period made these
behavioural changes possible.


Palaeolithic Cultures
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Birth of Prehistory
1.3 Man’s Place in Biological Evolution
1.4 Earliest Stage of Human Culture in the Old World
1.5 Geographical Features of India
1.6 Changing Perspectives in Indian Palaeolithic Research
1.7 Phases within the Paleolithic and Dating
1.8 Archaeological Record of the Palaeolithic
1.9 Lower Palaeolithic Stage in India
1.9.1 The Soanian Cultural Tradition
1.9.2 The Acheulian Cultural Tradition Important Sites Stages within the Acheulian Tradition Hunting and Foraging
1.9.3 Settlement Patterns
1.9.4 Non-utilitarian Behaviour
1.9.5 Hominin Fossil Record and Origins
1.10 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
Ø describe how “prehistory”, having a hoary past, emerged as a branch of
“human history”;
Ø understand about the origin of our ancestors (early hominins); and
Ø discuss the antiquity and cultural manifestations of Stone Age societies in

In this lesson we shall learn about the earliest stage in the history of man’s
biological and cultural evolution. This is the stage when creatures ancestral to
man began to branch off from their ape-like cousins. This journey covers a time
span of 2.5 million years and involved improvements both in aspects of the
biological make-up like bipedal posture and brain enlargement and in cultural
behaviour, of which intentional preparation of tools out of natural materials like
stone and wood was a critical one. The branch of archaeology which deals with
the study of this initial stage of human history is called prehistory.


Palaeolithic Cultures Stated in other words, prehistory deals with the origins and growth of human
societies before the advent of writing systems, which in the case of India developed
by about the middle of the first millennium B.C., e.g. the edicts of Asoka inscribed
in Brahmi and Kharoshthi scripts and scattered in different parts of the country.
Considering evidences like the composition of Vedic texts and the (still
undeciphered) script of the Indus Civilisation, a transitional stage called
protohistory has been provided between history and prehistory in India. Broadly
speaking, this stage covers the third and second millennia and early half of the
first millennium before the Christian era. It is characterised by the rise of many
early agropastoral Neolithic-Chalcolalthic communities characterised by settled
village life, domestication of animals like cattle and sheep/goat, cultivation of
crops like wheat, barely, rice and millets, and emergence of various crafts and
arts. In the Indus valley, this phase eventually led to the growth of an urban
civilisation based on town planning and bronze technology. It is the long period
of hunting and gathering way of life preceding the agropastoral stage which
forms the subject matter of prehistory.

Ancient thought in different parts of the world offered divergent interpretations
of the story of man. For instance, in ancient Hindu thought you will notice the
concept of four yugas (Krita, Treta, Dvapara and Kali) spanning more than 4
million years and their cyclical repetition. Christian theology on the other
advocated the view that the world including man was created by God in 4004
B.C. In the 18th century some of the Enlightenment thinkers of Europe postulated
that human society passed through the successive stages of hunting and gathering,
pastoralism, agriculture and civilisation. Then in 1836 C.J. Thomsen, Curator of
the Royal Danish Museum in Copenhagen, put forward the famous Three Age
system. It divided the preliterate past of Northern Europe into Stone, Bronze and
Iron Ages. But it was still implicitly believed that these Ages would fall within
the temporal framework of 6000 years provided for the entire human story in
Christian theology.

The actual birth of prehistory took place in May 1859 when a team of three
British scientists comprising Joseph Prestwich (geologist), Hugh Falconer
(palaeontologist) and John Evans (archaeologist), based upon their personal
inspection of the actual sites, ratified before the Royal Society in London the
findings by John Frere in England and by Boucher de Perthes in Northern France
of primitive stone implements in drift gravels of rivers along with fossilised
bones of extinct species of wild cattle and other large mammals. It was thus clear
that Northern Europe was occupied by man much before its landscape assumed
its present form. A long phase of infancy was thus prefaced to human history.
Happily this development coincided with the publication in the same year of
Charles Darwin’s famous book On the Origin of Species, which advocated
evolution of organic life from simple to developed forms through the process of
natural selection.

Darwin’s book gave the much needed impetus to prehistoric studies. In his book
Prehistoric Times (1865) Sir John Lubbock not only announced the birth of a
new science called prehistory but divided the Stone Age into Palaeolithic (Old
Stone) and Neolithic (New Stone) ages. And by the end of the 19th century, not
only an intermediate stage called the Mesolithic was introduced between the Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
Palaeolithic and the Neolithic but several stages were identified within the Bronze
and Iron Ages. Furthermore, thanks to the cultural sequence obtained from cave
and open-air sites in France, three phases were recognised within the Palaeolithic
(Lower, Middle and Upper).

In the early decades of the 20th century important Stone Age sites were reported
from southern part of Africa. Soon East Africa followed suit and the team led by
L.S.B. Leakey undertook sustained investigations in the Olduvai Gorge of
Tanzania. Other discoveries followed in Kenya and Ethiopia. And East Africa
has now emerged as the cradle of mankind. In West Asia a large number of cave
sites were found in the Mount Carmel area. Then important discoveries were
made at the open-air sites of Ubeidiya and Gesher Benot Ya’akov. In East Asia,
the lead was taken by China and the famous discoveries of Peking Man were
made at the cave site of Zhoukoudian. Likewise, discoveries of Java Man were
announced from Indonesia.

It will be a pleasant surprise for you to know that Robert Bruce Foote of the
Geological Survey of India found Palaeolithic sites near Madras (Chennai) in
1863, just four years after the birth of prehistory in Europe. And by the 1930s a
four-fold Stone Age sequence was identified in the Kurnool area of Andhra

The continents of Australia and America also have Stone Age sites but these are
chronologically much later and also the courses of cultural developments in these
regions are somewhat different than those of the Old World comprising Africa,
Europe and Asia.


In the evolutionary scheme the humans together with the apes, monkeys and
prosimians belong to the Order Primates, which itself forms part of the Class
Mammalia. The ancestor common to us and the African apes (our closest relatives
living today) lived between 8 and 6 million years ago. The earliest creatures that
branched off from this ancestor and paved the way for human evolution are
called the hominins. The fossil discoveries from southern, eastern and central
parts of Africa clearly show that between 6 and 2 million years ago more than a
dozen hominin species existed, with evidence of bipedal posture and dental
features more hominin and less ape-like. Among these the more common and
widely known are the Australopithecines (Southern Apes), several forms of which
appeared around 4 million years ago. These Australopithecines included both
gracile and robust forms and the first stone tools appeared 2.5 million years ago.
Between 2 and 1.7 million years ago (the boundary between the geological periods
called Pliocene and Pleistocene) another major development took place. This is
the emergence of early forms of the genus Homo, known as the Homo rudolfensis,
Homo habilis and Homo ergaster. These are characterised by larger brains (cranial
capacity between 510 and 687 cc), smaller jaws and teeth, longer legs, shorter
arms, and more dexterous hands with a longer thumb. From this stage developed
the later hominin forms called Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo
neanderthalensis and, finally, our own species Homo sapiens (Fig. 1.1).


Palaeolithic Cultures

With this knowledge of the biological basis of human lineage, we will briefly
review the evidence pertaining to the cultural or behavioural aspects of this
formative stage of human history. In Africa, the earliest known artificially
modified objects of stone (i.e. stone tools) are found at Kadar Gona and Hadar in
Ethiopia and are dated to 2.5 million years ago (Fig. 1.2).

Fig.1.2: Stone artefacts (choppers/cores and flakes) dated to 2.5 million years ago from
Hadar and Omo valley in Ethiopia
Even organic material like wood might have been employed but no traces have Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
survived. More spectacular and authentic are the stone tools found in Bed I of
the famous Olduvai Gorge site in Tanzania, dated to 1.85 million years ago.
These artefact assemblages have been designated as the Oldowan industry by
L.S.B. Leakey. It appears that members belonging to both Australopithecine and
Homo lineages were responsible for these cultural assemblages representing the
earliest stage of human inventory. These includeAustralopithecus/africanus/
aethiopicus/gorhi/boisei/robustus and Homo habilis/rudolfensis. The artefacts
themselves consist of types such as choppers, heavy scrapers, discoids, awls,
polyhedrons, anvils, hammer stones, etc. (Fig. 1.3). The Oldowan tradition
continued into later periods (Bed II at Olduvai Gorge) and this later tradition is
called Developed Oldowan. The Oldowan sites tend to be concentrated close to
river flood plains and channels, deltas and lake margins. These hominins probably
formed themselves into small groups of about 30 individuals. They gathered
wild plant foods and obtained animal foods either by hunting or scavenging.
Fig.1.3: Stone artefacts of the Oldowan tradition dated to 1.85 million years ago from
Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania: 1) unifacial chopper; 2) flake scraper; 3) light duty
chopper; 4) utilised flake; 5) bifacial choppers.

The second major stage in cultural development came with the appearance of
hominin species that anticipated living people in anatomy and cultural behaviour.
This is called Homo erectus which appeared around 1.8 to 1.7 million years ago.
Associated with this stage a new cultural tradition called the Acheulian appeared.
It is named after the French site of St. Acheul where handaxes and cleavers
characteristic of this stage were first found by Rigollot in 1854. Similar but
somewhat cruder artefacts were found by another Frenchman Boucher de Perthes
between 1836 and 1846 near the town of Abbeville in Northern France. In Africa,
this tradition is best represented at Olduvai Gorge (Bed II), Olorgesailie, Koobi
Fora, Kalambo Falls and Isimila and persisted from about 1.65 till 0.25 million
years ago (Fig. 1.4). In the later stages of the Acheulian tradition, handaxes and
cleavers became very refined and more symmetric in shape. Also flake-tools of
refined forms (scrapers, points, etc.) appeared, foreshadowing the next cultural
Palaeolithic Cultures stage called the Middle Palaeolithic which is associated with Neanderthal man
and dated roughly between 0.25 million and 50,000 years ago. The Middle
Palaeolithic tradition was followed by the Upper Palaeolithic stage attributed to
Homo sapiens.

Fig. 1.4: Stone artefacts of the Acheulian tradition dated to 1.65 million years ago from
Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.
Now you will be curious to ask the question: When did the hominin occupation
of other parts of the Old World take place? Since the end of the 19th century
fossil remains of Homo erectus have been found in river deposits at Trinil,
Mojokerto and Sangiran on the island of Java. These have been designated as
Java Man or Pithecanthropus erectus. While some scholars hold that these are
not older than 0.8 million years, others ascribe an antiquity of 1.65 millions to
these findings. In China Homo erectus fossils are known from Zhoukoudian and
Gongwangling; these are dated between 0.8 and 0.4 million years ago. The stone
artefacts from Nihewan basin, some 150 km west of Beijing, have been dated to
1.6 million years ago, thereby implying human colonisation of Northeast Asia at
an early date. Such a possibility gains in strength because of the existence of
very early sites like Ubediya in Israel (dated between 1.4 and 1.1 million years
ago) and Dmanisi in Georgia (dated to 1.8 million years ago) yielding stone
artefacts, animal bones, and skulls and lower jaw of Homo ergaster. Considering
that the Chinese tool assemblages consist of simple core tools (choppers and
chopping tools) and flakes but lack true handaxes, in the 1940s, the late Professor
Hallam L. Movius Jr. of U.S.A. drew a line through northern India to distinguish
the handaxe or Acheulian tradition of Africa, West Asia and Europe from the
pebble-tool tradition of Eastern and Southeast Asia. This is called the Movius

What about the human occupation of the European continent? Thanks to the
finding of a lower jaw at Heidelberg in Germany, representing a form of Homo
ergaster called Homo heidelbergensis, it is known since long that a late form of
the Acheulian culture spread from Spain and Italy to northern Europe by 0.5
million years ago. The human fossil remains and stone artefacts from cave deposits
of the Sierra de Atapuerca in Spain and human skull cap found at the site of Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
Ceprano in Italy show that human colonisation of southern Europe was already
underway by 0.8 to 0.9 million years ago. More recent stone artefact findings
from Orce in Spain, Monte-Poggiolo in Italy and Pont-de-Lavaud in France show
that this colonisation may have already been initiated between 1 and 1.4 million
years ago.

So far we have examined the biological and cultural aspects of the Lower
Palaeolithic stage in Africa, Europe, and East and West Asia. Let us now consider
the evidence for this stage in South Asia.


India (or South Asia, for general geographical and cultural purposes) is a distinct
geographical entity at subcontinental level. It is a land of tremendous diversity,
geographically, culturally and linguistically. Its principal geographical zones are
the towering snow-clad Himalayas in the north; the Hindukush and Karakoram
ranges in the northwest; the arid Thar desert of western Rajasthan; the fertile
Indus and Gangetic alluvial tracts; the somewhat triangular-shaped peninsular
tract flanked by the Sahyadris on the west and Eastern Ghats on the east; and the
hill-tract of Northeast India. Each zone has tremendous variability in terms of
landforms, soils, rainfall and vegetation.

In the Pleistocene, which has a duration about two million years, India was a
part of global climate. Oxygen isotope studies of marine core-sediment samples
have proved that the northern latitudes of the earth witnessed an alternation of
nine or ten glacial and interglacial (cold and warm) periods. During glacial periods
India experienced dry climate and weak monsoon, while interglacial periods
were characterised by strong monsoon with high rainfall. The gravels and silt
sediments preserved in the various river valleys in India do suggest a succession
of wet and humid climatic phases.

The Indian landscape was endowed with all the prerequisites for a successful
hunting-gathering way of life: suitable landforms permitting free movement of
hunter-gatherer groups; occurrence of a variety of basic rocks and siliceous stones
for making tools; existence of perennial water bodies in the form of a large and
small streams and springs; and availability of a large variety of wild plant and
animal foods. It is therefore not surprising that, barring the Himalayan tract proper
and the Indo-Gangetic alluvial tracts, Stone Age groups occupied the whole of the
Indian landmass. It is interesting that even the desertic zone of western Rajasthan
was marked in the past with streams and pools and ponds which attracted Stone
Age groups right from the Lower Palaeolithic till the Mesolithic stage.


Robert Burce Foote, who joined the Geological Survey of India at Madras
(Chennai) in 1858, almost single-handedly laid the foundations of prehistory in
India (Fig. 1.5). He was inspired by the Royal Society’s ratification of the findings
of stone tools and animal fossils in England and the Somme valley of Northern
France and started looking for similar Palaeolithic implements on the Indian


Palaeolithic Cultures

Fig. 1.5: Robert Bruce Foote (1834-1912), the Father of Indian Prehistory
He found the first group of implements at Pallavaram (now a suburb of Chennai)
in May 1863 and continuously followed up this discovery for nearly three decades.
In the course of his geological surveys in South India and Gujarat he discovered
nearly 400 sites and classified them under the Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Iron
Ages. In the elaborate Introduction of his publication about these sites which he
prepared in 1916, Foote made many insightful observations about the life and
times of Palaeolithic societies.

Robert Bruce Foote, a British geologist joined the Indian geological survey
in 1858, then after the establishment of archaeological survey of India in
1862, Boote began the systematic research of human prehistoric remains
in India. He discovered the handaxe in southern India at a place called
Pallavaram near Chennai.

The next major development took place in 1930. Based upon the stratigraphical
evidence of gravels and silts recorded in the rivers of Eastern Ghats in Kurnool
area of Andhra Pradesh and also considering the typological aspects of stone
tool assemblages recovered from these deposits, L.A. Cammiade (a District
Collector) and M.C. Burkitt of Cambridge University proposed that Southeast
India witnessed a four-fold Stone Age sequence. They designated these stages as
Series I to IV, which broadly correspond to Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic,
and Mesolithic stages, respectively. In the next four decades similar stratigraphical
and typological studies were carried out in different regions of the country. H.D.
Sankalia and his colleagues and students at the Deccan College, Pune, played a
pivotal role in these studies. Sankalia’s book Prehistory and Protohistory in
India and Pakistan (1974) provides an elaborate synthesis of the results.
Since the 1970s new perspectives were developed in S Lower Palaeolithic Cultures tone Age research. These
were aimed at rising above classificatory studies of stone tools and making
inferences about the behavioural patterns of hunter-gatherer communities.

Emphasis now began to be laid on intensive regional surveys aimed at the
identification of in situ or primary sites of all sizes and kinds. Settlement system
approach was adopted to relate the sites to respective landscape settings. Emphasis
was also laid on the identification of formation processes of sites. Analogies
were sought from ethnographic and experimental studies. In tune with these
new perspectives many fresh studies including the excavation of primary sites
and ethnographic research about the exploitation of wild plant and animal foods
were undertaken in Kurnool and Cuddapah basins of Andhra Pradesh, Kortallayar
valley of Tamil Nadu, Kaladgi and Bhima basins of Karnataka, Western Deccan
plateau, Central India, Rajasthan and Chhota Nagpur area.


For some time after Independence archaeologists expressed doubts about the
existence of an Upper Palaeolithic stage in India. But excavations in Kurnool
caves in Andhra Pradesh, Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh, and at the open
air sites of Renigunta in Andhra Pradesh and Patne in Maharashtra, have revealed
clear-cut cultural levels of this stage. So the Indian Palaeolithic can now be safely
divided into three developmental stages: Lower, Middle and Upper. The Lower
Palaeolithic has two cultural traditions, viz. the Soanian pebble-tool tradition
and the peninsular Indian handaxe-cleaver tradition. These traditions involved
the use of large pebbles or flakes for making choppers and chopping tools,
handaxes, cleavers, knives, etc. The Middle Palaeolithic is based on the use of a
variety of flakes struck from cores for preparing scrapers, points, borers and
other tools. Further refinements came in the Upper Palaeolithic stage. Now
implement types like blunted and penknife blades, blades with serrated edges
and arrow points are made on long parallel-sided blades struck in a series from
cylindrical cores by punch technique.

For a long time the topic of dating these stages within the Palaeolithic remained
at the level of assigning relative ages to them on the basis of stratigraphical
positions of tool-assemblages found in river-bank sediment profiles. Happily,
during the last quarter-century it has been possible to date some of the sites in
absolute terms by means of scientific dating techniques such as the radiocarbon,
palaeomagnetism, thermoluminiscence, potassium argon, argon argon and
uranium thorium.

At Riwat near Peshawar in Pakistan a flaked pebble and some other artefacts
were found in a cemented gravel occurring at the base of a 70 m deep section
within the Siwalik sediments (Fig. 1.6). This gravel has been dated to 1.9 million
years ago (revised to 2.5 million years) on the basis of palaeomagnetism. Likewise,
at Uttarbaini in Jammu some nondescript artefacts were found in Siwalik
sediments which have been assigned an age of 1.6 million years (revised to 2.8
million years) by fission track method. Although some doubts are expressed
about these dates, these sites are presently the earliest known archaeological
sites in India.


Palaeolithic Cultures

Fig. 1.6: Flaked artefact of quartzite dated to 1.9 million years ago from Riwat in Pakistan
The site of Isampur in North Karnataka has given a date of 1.2 million years on
enamel of animal teeth, obtained by means of electron spin resonance method.
This is the earliest known Acheulian site in the subcontinent. Other Acheulian
sites such as Dina and Jalalpur in Pakistan, Didwana (Rajasthan), Umrethi and
Adi Chadi Wao (Gujarat), Nevasa, Bori and Morgaon in Maharashtra, and Sadab,
Teggihalli and Yedurwadi in Karnataka have produced dates on materials like
calcretes, milliolites and volcanic ash. These range between 0.7 and 0.2 million
years, thereby suggesting that the Acheulian culture persisted for one million years.
Absolute dates are available for the Middle Palaeolithic sites of Didwana
(Rajasthan), Kalpi (U.P.), Jetpur (Gujarat), Dhom and Mula Dams (Maharashtra)
and Jwalapuram (Andhra Pradesh). These dates range from 1,65,000 years to
31,000 years B.P.

More than one dozen dates obtained by thermoluminiscence and radiocarbon
methods are known for the Upper Palaeolithic sites in Andhra Pradesh,
Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan; these range from 40,000 years to
11,000 years B.P.


Let us now examine the nature of archaeological record (i.e. the traces of human
habitation that survived the ravages of time) of this period. Palaeolithic sites are
of two principal types: open air sites and caves or rockshelters. Open air sites are
more common in all parts of India and occur on or close to large and small rivers
and also in interior basins or valleys and foothill zone of hill ranges. They represent
various formation processes ranging from true in situ or undisturbed sites found
on weathered bedrock or else in soft silts to occurrences in colluvial and riverborne
gravels. Cave and rockshelter sites occur in hilly areas covered with
sedimentary rocks (sandstones and limestones). Bhimbetka complex in Madhya
Pradesh and Kurnool caves in Andhra Pradesh are well-known examples. Sanghao
cave in Pakistan and Batadomba and Beli- lena Kitulgala in Sri Lanka are some
other famous cave sites. The principal aspects of cultural record found at these
sites are as follows:


1) The record basically consists of stone tools made of basic rocks (quartzite, Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
dolerite, granite and limestone) and siliceous materials like cherts and
2) The earliest known wooden artefacts consist of spears of spruce found at
Schöningen in Germany. These are dated to 0.4 million years ago and were
used for hunting horses (Fig. 1.7). Wood might have been used for shaping
spears, points and arrows in India too, and for that matter in many parts of
the world, but nothing has survived. Tools made of animal bones are known
from a few Palaeolithic sites e.g. Middle Palaeolithic site at Kalpi in the
Yamuna valley and Upper Paleolithic caves in the Kurnool area.
Fig. 1.7: Hunting spears of spruce wood dated to 0.4 million years ago from Schöningen in
3) Apart from fossil faunal collections from river sediments and Kurnool caves,
small amounts of bones of wild cattle, deer and other animals are found in
association with cultural material, e.g. Acheulian sites in the Hunsgi and
Baichbal valleys of Karnataka.
4) Plant remains are extremely rare. Remains of wild bread fruit and two types of
banana occur at the Beli-lena Kitulgala cave in Sri Lanka (dated to 10,000 to
8,000 B.C.). Gesher Benot Ya’akov in Israel (dated to 0.8 million years ago)
has yielded remains of a variety of wild nuts with evidence of fire treatment.
Evidence of fire in the form of a hearth is known from Upper Palaeolithic
caves in the Kurnool area and is dated to about 16,000 years ago.
5) Human skeletal remains are known from Hathnora on the Narmada river,
but these are more common from the Mesolithic stage.
6) Some of the paintings from Bhimbetka and other caves may date to the
terminal phase of the Upper Paleolithic. Personal ornamentation in the form
of bone beads and pendants appears in the Upper Palaeolithic phase at Patne
and other sites in Western India.


Palaeolithic Cultures 7) Structural remains consisting of ground plans of hut-like dwellings were
exposed from the Acheulian levels at Hunsgi in Karnataka and Paisra in
Bihar and the Upper Palaeolithic site No.55 near Riwat in Pakistan. Also a
shrine-like rubble platform of stone, meant for the worship of a natural
stone block with bright-coloured laminations as the manifestation of mother
goddess, was found at the Late Palaeolithic site of Baghor in Madhya Pradesh.


As we have noted earlier, the Lower Palaeolithic phase in India (see map of sites
in Fig. 1.8) consists of two principal tool-making or cultural traditions, viz., a)
the Soanian tradition forming part of the East and Southeast Asian chopperchopping
tool tradition and b) the Handaxe-cleaver or biface assemblages
constituting the Acheulian tradition, which is widely known from the western
half of the Old World (Africa, Western Europe, West and South Asia). Movius
Line formalised the geographical dichotomy between these two Palaeolithic
traditions of the Old World.

Fig. 1.8: Important Lower Palaeolithic sites in South Asia: 1) Riwat; 2) Pahlgam; 3) Jalalpur;
4) Dina; 5) Beas-Banganga complex; 6) Sirsa-Ghaggar complex; 7) Dang-Deokhuri
complex; 8) Didwana; 9) Jayal; 10) Jaisalmer-Pokaran Road; 11) Ziarat Pir
Shaban; 12) Berach complex; 13) Chambal complex; 14) Bhimbetka; 15) Raisen
complex; 16) Lalitpur; 17) Damoh complex; 18) Son complex; 19) Sihawal;
20) Belan complex; 21) Sisunia, 22) Singhbhum complex; 23) Paisra; 24) Brahmani
complex; 25) Wainganga complex; 26) Mahadeo Piparia; 27) Adamgarh; 27A)
Hathnora; 28) Durkadi; 29) Samadhiala; 30) Umrethi; 31) Gangapur; 32) ChirkiNevasa;
33) Bori; 34) Nalgonda complex; 35) Hunsgi and Baichbal basins complex;
36) Mahad; 37) Anagwadi; 38) Malwan; 39) Lakhmapur; 40) Nittur; 41) Kurnool
complex; 42) Nagarjunakonda complex; 43) Cuddapah complex; 44) Rallakalava
complex; 45) Kortallayar complex; 45A) Ratnapura complex.


Lower Palaeolithic Cultures 1.9.1 The Soanian Cultural Tradition
The existence of this tradition was recognised in 1939 by H. de Terra of Yale
University and T.T. Paterson of Cambridge University in the northwestern part
of the subcontinent. On the basis of their field studies in the area they identified
a series of five terraces on the river Soan, forming part of the Indus drainage
system. They correlated these terraces with glacial and interglacial events of the
Kashmir valley above. Further they collected stone artefacts from some of these
terraces and, on stratigraphical and typological considerations, put up what has
come to be called the Soan culture-sequence, comprising pre-Soan, Early Soan,
Late Soan and Evolved Soan stages (Fig. 1.9). The tools consist of pebbles with
working edges on their sides or ends, obtained by means of flaking from one or
both surfaces (producing choppers or chopping tools) (Fig.1.10). The British
Archaeological Mission led by Robin Dennell, which worked in this area (now
in Pakistan) in the 1980s, raised serious doubts about the palaeoclimatic
interpretations and cultural sequence put forward by de Terra and Paterson. But
the term Soan culture has stuck on in Indian prehistory.

Fig. 1.9:Schematic section showing terrace stratigraphy and Stone Age sequence in the
Soan valley of Pakistan

Fig.1.10: Choppers and flake tools of the Early Soan tradition
Palaeolithic Cultures From the Indian side of the border, pebble-tool assemblages were found in the
Sirsa and Ghaggar valleys of Haryana, Beas and Banganga valleys of Himachal
Pradesh, and Hoshiarpur-Chandigarh sector of the Siwalik Frontal Range (Fig.
11). Curiously enough, bifacial assemblages were also found at more than 20
places in the latter area. This led some scholars to the interpretation that the
hominin groups responsible for these two traditions co-existed in the same area
– the Soanian tradition confined to duns or valleys of the Frontal Range and the
biface tradition restricted to plateau surfaces. The Soan assemblages from Punjab
have been assigned by some workers to the Middle Palaeolithic tradition.
Fig.1. 11: Pebble-tools from Lower Palaeolithic sites in India: a) Nittur, Karnataka; b)
Jaiselmer-Pokaran Road, Rajasthan; c) Sirsa valley, Haryana; d) Mahadeo
Piparia, Madhya Pradesh.

In recent years the German archaeologist Gudrun Corvinus reported Soanianlike
assemblages from the Dang valley in Nepal. Also claims of pebble-tool
industries called the Mahadevian and the Durkadian have been put forward from
the Narmada valley. Pebble tools have also been reported from Nittur in Karnataka
and from some sites in Kerala. But all these findings still remain to be confirmed.
The Ratnapura assemblages from Ratnapura gravels and silts in southern Sri
Lanka also contain both pebble tools and bifacial artefacts.


1.9.2 The Acheulian Cultural Tradition

This tradition is better documented than the Soanian from the points of view of
chronology, spatial distribution of sites and land use patterns. Large clusters of
sites are known from the Kortallayar valley of Tamil Nadu, Kurnool and Cuddapah
basins of Andhra Pradesh, Kaladgi and Bhima basins of Karnataka, Chhota
Nagpur zone of Bihar and Jharkhand, hill-tracts of Uttar Pradesh south of the
Ganges, Narmada and Son valleys of Madhya Pradesh, Saurashtra and mainland
Gujarat, the plateau tract of Maharashtra, Rajasthan including the desertic zone Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
in the west, Aravalli ridges near Delhi, and the Siwalik zones of Punjab and
Nepal. Some sites are also known from the Konkan coast and the northeastern
coast of Andhra Pradesh.

Quartzite was the preferred rock for tool-making. Where it was not naturally
available, the Acheulian groups made use of other available rocks like limestone
in the Bhima basin, dolerite and basalt in Maharashtra, granite in Jhansi district
of Uttar Pradesh, and fossil wood in Bihar and Bengal. Stone hammer, soft
hammer and prepared core techniques were employed for detaching flakes and
shaping them into implements. We will now briefly consider the evidence from
major excavated primary sites. Important Sites
Singi Talav (western Rajasthan) was a lake-shore site excavated by V.N. Misra
and his team. This site yielded an assemblage of 252 artefacts of quartzite and
quartz from two levels of silty clay. The assemblage comprised choppers,
polyhedrons, bifaces, scrapers and points.

Rock-shelter III F-23 at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh was also excavated by
V.N. Misra. It preserved 4 m thick cultural deposit containing Acheulian, Middle
and Upper Palaeolithic, and Mesolithic levels. The 2.5 m thick Acheulian level
consisted of occupation levels paved with stone slabs and rubble. An excavated
area of 16 m2

yielded 4700 artefacts of quartzite. Adamgarh (also in Madhya
Pradesh) also exposed an Acheulian level below Middle Palaeolithic deposits.
Lalitpur (Jhansi district, U.P.) produced an early and in situ assemblage made up
of granite tools.

Paisra (Munger district, Bihar) lies in an inland valley enclosed by hills forming
part of the Kharagpur range. It was excavated by R.K. Pant and Vidula Jayaswal
and exposed Acheulian levels below 1 to 1.5 m thick colluvial deposits. In addition
to a large assemblage consisting of early Acheulian artefacts, the excavation
exposed remains of hut-like dwelling structures in the form of alignments of
post-holes and a circular arrangement of stone blocks.
At Chirki-Nevasa (Maharashtra) Gudrun Corvinus found the Acheulian cultural
material in a colluvial gravel resting on a rock platform on the river Pravara.
Trench VII (74 m2
in extent) excavated here yielded 1455 artefats of dolerite
along with fossil bones of wild cattle and other animals. The large basalt blocks
found in this layer probably formed part of the ground plan of a dwelling structure.
The site was a seasonal camp used for multiple purposes. The artefactual collection
included handaxes, cleavers and knives as well as a small-tool component made
up of flake-tools of chert and chalcedony.

Morgaon is another important site from the Deccan basalt landscape; it is located
in the upper reaches of the Bhima drainage system. It has preserved 2 to 15 m
thick ancient sediments including a tephra (volcanic ash) layer. A trench (6 x 4
m) excavated by Sheila Mishra and Sushma Deo between 2002 and 2004 yielded
artefacts from three horisons. The main horison consisted of weathered basalt
rubble found on surface of clay and produced 180 artefacts of local basalt. A
second trench (5 x 5 m) dug in 2007 yielded an assemblage of 162 specimens
including cleavers and handaxes.


Palaeolithic Cultures Four Acheulian localities were excavated by K. Paddayya in the Hunsgi and
Baichbal valleys of North Karnataka. Localities V and VI at Hunsgi in the Hunsgi
valley and Locality VI at Yediyapur in the Baichbal valley preserved 20 to 30 cm
thick in situ cultural levels on weathered bedrock (granite); these were covered
by silt deposit measuring up to 50 cm in thickness. Rocky eminences or ridges
above the beds of local streams were selected for camping and the open spaces
found on these ridges were used for the erection of temporary shelters consisting
of a framework of wooden posts and branches covered with grasses. The main
trench (63 m2
) at Hunsgi locality V yielded an assemblage of 291 artefacts of
limestone. Yediyapur locality VI yielded nearly 600 artefacts of pegmatite from
an excavated area of 60 m2


At Isampur in the Hunsgi valley K. Paddayya’s detailed geoarchaeological
investigations and excavations exposed a quarry-cum-camp site covering an area
of three-quarters of a hectare. It is associated with a weathered rock outcrop
made up of silicified limestone blocks of suitable sizes and shapes. It lay close to
a palaeochannel with a perennial body of water. Five trenches were excavated
here, covering an area of 169 m2
. The Acheulian level was 20 to 30 cm thick and
was covered by 50 cm thick brown silt. Trench 1 (70 m2
in extent) exposed

seven chipping clusters containing unmodified limestone blocks, cores, flake
blanks, finished implements and waste products of limestone, all found in mintfresh
condition (Figs. 1.12 and 1.13). Hammerstones required for flaking were
acquired from the surrounding area in the form of rounded nodules of quartzite,
basalt and chert. This trench yielded an assemblage of over 15,000 specimens,
which made it possible to reconstruct the flaking methods adopted by the hominins
for making handaxes, cleavers, knives and other implement types. Isampur
excavation also yielded fossilised bones and dental remains of wild cattle and
deer and shell fragments of land turtle. Isampur served as a localised hub in this
part of the Hunsgi valley, from where the hominins radiated onto the surrounding
limestone tablelands and valley floor as part of their daily foraging rounds.

Fig.1.12: Acheulian horison exposed in Trench 1 at Isampur, Karnataka
Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig.1.13: Acheulian chipping clusters for making stone artefacts exposed in Trench 1 at
Isampur in Karnataka
Shanti Pappu’s investigations in 200 km2
area of the Kortallayar valley in Tamil
Nadu brought to light many Acheulian and Middle Palaeolithic sites. The
Acheulian sites at Mailapur and Pariculam are associated with low energy stream
and sheet flood deposits. In the excavations at Attirampakkam an in situAcheulian
assemblage of quartzite was found in a thick layer of laminated clay; it also
yielded fossilised bones of wild cattle and other species. This site has recently
been dated to 1.5 million years by an advanced scientific technique. Stages within the Acheulian Tradition
Although not documented stratigraphically at any one particular site, the
Acheulian culture with a duration of nearly one million years has been divided
into two developmental stages – Early Acheulian and Late Acheulian. The Early
Acheulian assemblages are based on the employment of stone hammer technique.
Hence handaxes, cleavers and large cutting tools are thick with irregular crosssections
and sinuous edges. Their surfaces are uneven and still retain large patches
of cortex. Cleavers, handaxes, picks, knives, and polyhedrons are the principal
types. Pointed shapes (pear-shaped, lanceolate and pyriform) are in a majority.
This stage is represented by sites like Ziarat Pir Shaban in Sind, Singi Talav and
16 R Trench near Didwana in Rajasthan, Lalitpur, Chirki-Nevasa and Morgaon,
Paisra, Attirampakkam, Hunsgi, Yediyapur and Isampur. As an example of
assemblage composition, one may cite the collection from the bottom 10 cm
portion of cultural deposit found in Trench 1 at Isampur. It is a limestone
assemblage consisting of 13,043 specimens – 169 specimens being shaped
implements and the rest simple artefacts. The shaped implements include
handaxes (48), cleavers (15), knives (18), chopping tools (14), discoids (3),
scrapers (65), perforators (5) and one indeterminate example (Fig. 1.14).
Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig.1.14: Lower Acheulian artefacts from Isampur, Karnataka: 1) core; 2&3) cleavers;
4&5) handaxes; 6) perforator; 7) knife; 8) hammerstone
The Late Acheulian is characterised by the use of soft hammer (wood or bone)
technique, leading to the preparation of implements with thinner sections, smooth
surfaces and less sinuous working edges. There is an increase in the number of
cleavers and flake tools. Oval and triangular forms are common among handaxes.
The assemblages from Bhimbetka and Raisen complex in Madhya Pradesh,
Sihawal II in the Son valley, Gangapur in Maharashtra, Mudnur X and Lakhmapur
in Karnataka, and the Rallakalava complex in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh
are good examples of this stage. Some of the artefacts from the Ratnapura
assemblages of Sri Lanka show Late Acheulian traits. Finished tools (all of
quartzite) from III F-23 rockshelter excavation at Bhimbetka comprise handaxes
(55), cleavers (150), side-scrapers (368), end-scrapers (108), backed knives (163),
truncated flakes and blades (87), notches (111) and denticulates (78) (Fig. 1.15).
In many ways the Late Acheulian tradition already foreshadows the flake-tool
assemblages of the succeeding Middle Palaeolithic cultural stage.
Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig.1.15: Developed Acheulian artefacts from III F-23 rock shelter at Bhimbetka, Madhya
Pradesh: 1 to 4) handaxes; 5 & 7) cleavers; 6) convex scraper; 8) notched tool;
9) denticulate; 10) end-scraper Hunting and Foraging
We have already noted that the entire Palaeolithic stage was characterised by a
simple economic organisation consisting of hunting of wild animals and gathering
of wild plant foods. Based upon the widely accepted premise that the various
ecological or geographical zones of India supported rich animal life and vegetation
in the Pleistocene periods we can safely infer that a wide spectrum of animal and
plant foods was available for exploitation by the Stone Age groups. The
archeological record does give us some interesting clues in this regard.
Since the middle of the last century large collections of fossil fauna of mammals
have been obtained along with stone tools from the Narmada, Godavari, Krishna
and other rivers. These findings gave rise to interpretations that Early Man was
exploiting wild cattle, deer and other mammals for food purposes. This
interpretation is now supported by the recovery of dental and post-cranial bone
pieces of wild cattle and deer species, dental remains of wild horse and tusk
pieces of wild elephant from primary Acheulian sites at Isampur, Teggihalli,
Hebbal Buzurg and Fatehpur in the Hunsgi and Baichbal valleys, Chirki-Nevasa
in Maharashtra, Attirampakkam in Tamil Nadu and other sites. Cut-marks and
other taphonomic marks found on these bones indicate that these pieces formed
part of food-processing and consumption. These skeletal remains either belonged
to hunted prey or else were partly scavenged from kill-sites of carnivorous animals.
Further, the occurrence of turtle shell pieces at sites like Isampur suggests that
the Stone Age groups also exploited a variety of small fauna comprising insects,
birds, fishes, rodents and amphibians by adopting simple collection strategies.
Palaeolithic Cultures Now there is a worldwide realisation that plant foods also played an important
role in the diet of Stone Age groups. Actually speaking, D.D. Kosambi already
pointed out in 1965 that the Stone Age communities of tropical zones like India
would have extensively made use of wild plant foods like fruits, berries, seeds
and roots. Prehistorians have now realised the importance of looking for plant
remains from Stone Age sites. M.D. Kajale recovered remains of wild bread
fruit and two species of banana from Mesolithic levels (10,000 to 8,000 B.C.) of
the cave site of Beli-lena Kitulgala in Sri Lanka. Also ethnoarchaeological studies
conducted by M.L.K. Murty and D.R. Raju in the Eastern Ghats of Andhra
Pradesh, K. Paddayya in Hunsgi and Baichbal valleys, and V.N. Misra and Malti
Nagar in Madhya Pradesh have brought to light exploitation on a large scale of a
wide variety of leafy greens, tubers and other root crops, fruits and berries, seeds
and gums by tribal groups like the Chenchus, Yanadis and Gonds and also by the
underprivileged sections of village communities.
1.9.3 Settlement Patterns
Some of the studies undertaken in recent years have proved to be helpful in the
reconstruction of Stone Age land use patterns. The following deserve attention.
In 2004, R. Korisettar put forward the view that the sedimentary rock formations
of peninsular India, viz. the Vindhyachal, Chhattisgarh, Cuddapah, Bhima and
Kaladgi formations, were the core areas of Stone Age settlement. The principal
reason put forward by him was that these areas offered many advantages to Stone
Age groups, e.g. basin-shaped landforms, a variety of suitable rocks for toolmaking,
presence of caves and rockshelters, perennial water springs, and rich
biomass with a variety of wild life and plant foods. This is a very useful proposition
but needs some qualifications. First, erosional basins are very limited in extent
in these geological formations which themselves cover very extensive areas.
Secondly, erosional basins also occur in areas covered with Archaean and Deccan
Trap formations e.g. Bhima and Ajanta basins in the Deccan Trap zone of
Maharashtra and Sandur basin in the Archaean formations of Bellary area in
North Karnataka, both containing a large number of Stone Age sites. Many such
basins are found in other areas also.
In 1970s Jerome Jacobson identified as many as 90 Late Acheulian sites in a
small valley enclosed by sandstone hills in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh.
These probably represent winter-season occupation and the hunting groups moved
to caves and rock-shelters of the adjacent Bhimbetka hills in the rainy season.
In 2004-2005, Ajith Prasad located a cluster of 40 Acheulian sites in a 300 km2
stretch of the middle reaches of the Orsang river in Gujarat. These are primary
context sites located in the foothill zone of hills or along the small feeder streams.
A few sites were found around natural depressions on the landscape preserving
water bodies till March. Also 70 types of wild plant foods were noted in the area.
The team led by V.D. Mishra and J.N. Pal found 17 Acheulian sites on the slopes
of hillocks and rock outcrops marking the fringe of Kaimur range and overlooking
the Belan river. Quartzite between available and rocks these are workshops where
locally available rocks were used for tool-making. Their locations were suitable
for the hominin groups to observe movement of game.
Pant and Jayaswal’ Lower Palaeolithic Cultures s work in the Paisra valley (15 km2
in extent) of Bihar has
revealed that a two-kilometer area around Paisra village served as the locus for
camp-based activities. Many thin scatters of artefacts found in the surrounding
uplands were interpreted as resource-procurement locations. The Paisra valley
even today supports rich wild life and a variety of plant foods.
In the 1990s, R.S. Pappu and Sushma Deo investigated the Stone Age land use
patterns in the Kaladgi basin of North Karnataka. They arrived at the inference
that the Stone Age groups generally avoided the thickly forested and high rainfall
tracts close to the Western Ghats and instead concentrated their activities on
river banks and in foothill zone of hills in the middle reaches of the rivers
Malaprabha and Ghataprabha.
K. Paddayya’s three-decade long research since 1970 in the Hunsgi and Baichbal
valley brought to light over 400 Stone Age sites. These two valleys form an
erosional basin, which measures about 500 km2
in extent and is enclosed by
shale-limestone tablelands or granite hills. The Stone Age sites include 200
Acheulian sites which were investigated from the point of view of formation
processes. Data pertaining to their distribution on the basin floor, excavation at
four localities near Hunsgi, Yediyapur and Isampur, and ethnographic data about
seasonal availability of surface water sources as well as wild plant and animal
foods made it possible to reconstruct the Acheulian culture from a settlement
system perspective. This reconstruction is briefly as follows.
Two features are striking about the distribution of sites across the basin floor.
First, two major clusters of sites are noted – one near Hunsgi in the Hunsgi
valley and the second one near Yediyapur in the Baichbal valley. Each cluster
consists of 15 to 20 localities spread over a stretch of 2 or 3 km and both clusters
are associated with perennial water sources resulting form seep-springs which
emanate from the junctions of rock formations and antedate Stone Age occupation.
The remaining sites were found in a scattered way all over the basin floor.
Considering this differential distribution in conjunction with seasonal availability
of water sources as well as wild plant and animal foods, it was inferred that the
Acheulian settlement system of the area hinged upon two main seasonal resource
management strategies. These are a) dry season aggregation of all Acheulian
groups near perennial water pools (fed by seep-springs) in the two basins and
probable reliance on large game hunting; b) wet season dispersal of the population
in the form of small bands across the basin floor, dependence on shallow rainwater
pools, and exploitation of a variety of seasonally abundant plant foods consisting
of leafy greens, fruits, berries and seeds, and small fauna. It has further been
inferred that for short-term or day-to-day purposes the Acheulian population
organised itself into eight or nine groups or home ranges and occupied different
parts of the basin.
1.9.4 Non-utilitarian Behaviour
Archaeological record has also preserved some strands of evidence regarding
non-utilitarian aspects of the behaviour of Lower Palaeolithic groups such as
cognitive and artistic abilities and personal ornamentation.
Bringing tenets of genetic epistemology developed by the Swiss psychologist
Jean Piaget to bear on Stone Age technology, Thomas Wynn pointed out that the
preparation of handaxes and cleavers reflects the employment of developed
Palaeolithic Cultures cognitive principles of reversibility and whole-part relations. Developed cognitive
abilities are also reflected in many aspects of land use. These include the selection
of valley-like topographic settings as habitats for occupation, recognition of
seasonal availability of water sources and food resources, and identification of
certain rock outcrops as suitable spots for workshop-cum-camp sites.
Some of the handaxes in the Acheulian assemblages, particularly the thin
specimens belonging to pointed, ovate and cordate forms, are very symmetric in
shape and aesthetically pleasing. So the possibility cannot be ruled out that these
specimens were valued as such by their makers. The cupules (small cup-like
depressions) and simple engravings found on rock slabs from Bhimbetka, DarakiChatan
and other caves in Central India have been interpreted by some
archaeologists as artistic creations of the Acheulian groups.
There is some evidence of body decoration too. A few red ochre-like pieces were
found at the Acheulian sites of the Hunsgi and Baichbal valleys. These were
probably procured from vicinity and used for body smearing.
1.9.5 Hominin Fossil Record and Origins
Discussions about the biological identity of hominin groups responsible for the
Lower Palaeolithic traditions groups of India are hampered by the woefully
inadequate amount of fossil skeletal record available in the country till now. As
yet only one true instance of the association of human skeletal record with the
Acheulian cultural material is known. In 1982 Arun Sonakia of the Geological
Survey of India found a fossil cranial vault (calvarium) in a 3 m thick gravel
deposit of the Narmada river at Hathnora in Madhya Pradesh (Fig. 1.16). Initially
classified under the Homo erectus group, this skull cap is now treated as
representing an archaic form of Homo sapiens. Later a fossil clavicle was also
reported from this site. Some bifacial implements and fossil fauna were also
found from the gravel deposit.
Fig.1.16: Fossil skull cap of an archaic form of Homo sapiens from Hathnora, Madhya
Now a few words about the origins of the Lower Paleolithic culture in India. Lower Palaeolithic Cultures
Taking into account the high antiquity of hominin occupation in Africa and also
the possible early dates for sites like Riwat and Uttarbaini in the Indian
subcontinent, some workers have concluded that the Soanian type pebble-tool
assemblages were a part of the spread of the Oldowan tradition of East Africa
across Asia by a northern route between 1.8 and 2 million years ago. It has further
been pointed out that the initial dispersal of the Acheulian into West Asia took
place 1.4 million years ago and that its spread to South Asia occurred later either
by a coastal route along the Arabian sea or else from the Levant (Mediterranean)
zone of West Asia via a land route traversing the Iranian plateau. But there are
some scholars who, based on the early dates for sites like Isampur, proposed an
alternative hypothesis that the Acheulian culture may even have originated in
peninsular India itself and spread in both eastern and western directions beyond
the subcontinent’s borders.
In a popular book entitled An Introduction to Archaeology (1991) H.D. Sankalia
summed up the whole purpose of archaeology in this statement: “… the aim is
the total picture of man in the past. There is joy or delight not only in having this
knowledge, but in its very pursuit.” This is particularly true of prehistoric
archaeology, which makes laborious efforts of all kinds to piece together various
forms of evidence as in a jig-saw puzzle. Acquisition of knowledge about the
distant Stone Age past not only calls for detective skills and a spirit of adventure
and romanticism but entails familiarity with techniques and methods of various
natural and social sciences. This hard-won knowledge is relevant in ways more
than one.
First, it is an inherent attribute of man to show curiosity about animate or inanimate
things around him. What we are as human beings and how we have come to be
what we are – human nature and human origins – are legitimate domains of
curiosity. In India even those who lack ‘read and write’ literacy do evince interest
in knowing about the past and find it fascinating that the human society as we
see it today, far from having been created on one fine morning by some
supernatural agency, is actually the end product of a long process of change
leading to more sophisticated developments in both biological and cultural
domains. This fosters an attitude of awe and respect to changing relationships
between man and nature across ages and thereby makes the human mind receptive
to the concept of change.
Secondly, prehistory, because it deals with the inordinately long phase of infancy
in human history and seeks to grasp the very genesis of human attributes,
underscores the common roots of mankind and broadens one’s world-view.
Prehistoric heritage, irrespective of its present geographical locations in different
parts of the world, forms the very bedrock on which history rests. As Jawaharlal
Nehru put it aptly in his famous book The Discovery of India, the past is an
inheritance common to the whole humanity.
Thirdly, Stone Age hunter-gatherer societies were based on subsistence economies
geared to the seasonal availability of water and food resources as provided by
nature. Surplus accumulation was an exception rather than a rule. This in fact
explains their persistence over such a long period of time, without inflicting any
Palaeolithic Cultures negative changes on their respective landscapes. In the world conference on
environment held in Copenhagen in 1972, Indira Gandhi aptly termed the wanton
destruction of natural environment by man in modern period as ecocide. The
study of simple hunting-gathering societies of both the past and the present have
some useful lessons to offer to the acquisitive and accumulative societies of our
Lastly, prehistoric studies also warn us not to lend credence to age-old negative
characterisations of simple societies, as for example the seventeenth-century
philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ description of human life in the state of nature as
“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Anthropological research on some of
the existing hunter-gatherer societies clearly show that these societies have a
high calorific intake, spend only limited hours of the day for food quest, and
have much leisure time for story-telling, initiating the young into various lifeskills
and other social activities.
Suggested Reading
Dennell, Robin. 2009. The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Foote, Robert Burce, 1916. The Foote Collection of Indian Prehistoric and
Protohistoric Antiquities: Notes on Their Ages and Distribution. Madras:
Government Museum.
Gamble, Clive 1999. The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Kosambi, D.D. 1965. The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India: An Historical
Outline. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.
Misra, V.N. 1989. Stone Age India: An Ecological Perspective. Man and
Environment, 14: 17-64.
Mishra, Sheila 2008. The Indian Lower Palaeolithic. Bulletin of the Deccan
College Research Institute 66-67 (2006-2007): 49-94.
Murty, M.L.K. Hunter-gatherer Ecosystems and Archaeological Patterns of
Subsistence Behaviour on the South-east Coast of India: An Ethnographic Model.
World Archaeology, 13(1): 47-58.
Paddayya, K. 1978. New Research Designs and Field Techniques in the
Palaeolithic Archaeology of India. World Archaeology, 10: 94-110.
Paddayya, K. 1982. The Acheulian Culture of the Hunsgi Valley, Peninsular
India: A Settlement System Perspective. Poona: Deccan College.
Paddayya, K. 2007. The Acheulian of Peninsular India with Special Reference
to the Hunsgi and Baichbal Valleys of the Lower Deccan, in The Evolution and
History of Human Populations in South Asia (M.D. Petraglia and B. Allchin
Eds.), pp. 97-119. Dordrecht: Springer.
Pappu, R.S. 2001. Acheulian Culture in Peninsular India: An Ecological
Perspective. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.
Sankalia, H.D. 1974. Prehistory and Protohistory of India and Pakistan Lower Palaeolithic Cultures . Pune:
Deccan College.
Sankalia, H.D. 1977. Prehistory of India. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.
Sankalia, H.D. 1991. An Introduction to Archaeology. Pune: Deccan College.
Originally published in 1965.
Scarre, Chris (Editor) 2005. The Human Past: World Prehistory and the
Development of Human Societies. London: Thames and Hudson.
Sample Questions
1) Define prehistory and examine its origins and development in the Old World.
2) Ascertain the place of man in the evolution of Primates.
3) Give an account of the Acheulian land use patterns in India.
4) Justify the relevance of prehistory.
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Mousterian Industry
2.3 Neanderthal Fossils
2.4 Traditions of Neanderthals
2.5 Middle Palaeolithic in India
2.6 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
Ø describe the Mousterian Culture of Europe;
Ø understand the cultural traditions of Neanderthal man; and
Ø discus on the Middle Palaeolithic Cultures in India.
Middle Palaeolithic Culture succeeds the Lower Palaeolithic culture. We have
seen in the previous unit that the Lower Palaeolithic culture is characterised by
heavy tools like the handaxes and cleavers. The Middle Palaeolithic culture, on
the other hand, consists of a variety of tools made on flakes; and these flaks are
produced by specialised techniques. Therefore it is widely referred to as flaketool
industry. The Middle Palaeolithic culture is best documented in the
excavations of cave sites and open-air sites in Europe, Southwest Asia (also
called the Middle East), and Africa. In these regions, the Middle Palaeolithic
culture is referred to as the Mousterian culture, named after the rock shelter of
Le Moustier in France. The human species associated with the Mousterian culture
is the extinct Homo neanderthalensis. The popular name for this hominin is
Neanderthal man. The fossil remains, that have been unearthed in the excavations
of caves and rock shelters of Europe and Southwest Asia include some complete
and several fragmentary skeletons of Neanderthal man; and these consist of a
few hundred specimens. Neanderthal man lived during the period of Wurm
glaciation (the last Ice Age/ The Great Ice Age, which is the last major glacial
epoch of the Pleistocene period, i.e. Upper Pleistocene).
As we have noted above, the culture of Neanderthal man is the Mousterian culture.
This is characterised by specific stone tool assemblages which are called as the
Mousterian industry. In other words, Mousterian industry is a Middle Palaeolithic
tradition of tool making used by Neanderthals of Europe, Southwest Asia and
Africa. This characteristic type of tool making is based on specialised techniques
of production of flakes, which are made into a large variety of tools.
The widespread occurrence of stone tool industries in which flakes are
predominantly used, in contrast to the handaxes and cleavers of the previous
Middle Palaeolithic
cultural phase, begins at the close of the Middle Pleistocene period. The
production of flakes heralds a technical change in the manufacture of advanced
hunting tools. In this new technique, the development is the production of
complete implement, at a single blow, from a core previously prepared so as to
ensure that flakes when detached conformed to specific pattern of tools. Moreover,
it was possible to strike off a series of flakes by reworking (or rejuvenating) the
same core; therefore the technique was economical both of labour and raw
material. Further, the flakes thus detached could easily be shaped by simple
retouch into a variety of tools. It was easy to manufacture a whole range of tools
to perform various functions. As already mentioned, stone tool industries, based
primarily on the production of flake tools struck from carefully prepared cores,
first developed in a broad zone covering North Africa and Southwest Asia to
Western, Central and Eastern Europe (Figs. 2.1 and 2.2).
Fig. 2.1: Map showing Neanderthal sites in western Europe
Fig. 2.2: Map showing Neanderthal sites in Southwest Asia and Africa
Palaeolithic Cultures The easily recognisable product of this new mode of making tools is the “tortoise
shaped core”, from the undersurface of which a flake tool could be struck by a
single blow. These types of cores were first recognised from sites in the locality
of Levallois, a suburb of Paris. Hence the technique was given the name
“Levalloisian technique”, and this is also called “Prepared Core Technique”.
(Fig. 2.3). What is important, this flake technique makes it appearance in the
preceding handaxe-cleaver (Acheulian) cultures but it rose to predominance over
the Acheulian core tool traditions in the Middle Palaeolithic cultural phase. One
good example to illustrate this is the industry consisting of flake tools alongside
with small handaxes and well made cleavers in the culture named from the locality
of Fauresmith, in the Orange Free State of Africa (the Fauresmith culture).
Fig.2.3: Steps in the production of finished flake tool by the Levalloisian technique (after
Campbell 1979)
These flake tool industries, and for that matter an assortment of industries
characterised by the predominance of flake tools, represent the Middle Palaeolithic
cultures in different parts of the Old World. The cultural traditions of the Middle
Palaeolithic, as already mentioned, are well documented in the excavations of
caves and rock shelters in Europe, Southwest Asia (after referred to as the Middle
East), and North Africa. These are called as the Mousterian culture (after the
rock shelter Le Moustier in France, is the Mousterian). The deposits excavated
at the Le Moustier cave, which have yielded these tools in large numbers, are
dated to 55,800 Before Present (BP). The stone tool industries of the Mousterian
cultures of Western Europe are closely allied to the Levalloisian but differ in that
the cores were small and “disc-like” and shaped in such a way that a series of
flakes could be detached without reworking the core. In other words, in this
method called the “disc-core technique”, a stone is trimmed to a disc-shape, and
numerous flakes are detached until the core is almost used up. And the flakes
Middle Palaeolithic
thus detached are further retouched (secondary retouch) and shaped into a variety
of tools (e.g. scrapers, Mousterian points, denticulate tools etc.). The caves of
Southwest Asia, and Libya (in North Africa), on the other hand, yielded
Levalloiso-Mousterian industries sharing elements from each. There is a
significant degree of variation in the stone tools of the Mousterian industries.
For example, Mousterian industries in France were distinguished into four main
types. These are: (1) Typical Mousterian (Fig. 2.4); (2) Quina-Ferrassie or
Charentian Mousterian (Fig. 2.5); (3) Denticulate Mousterian (Fig. 2.6); and (4)
Mousterian of Acheulian tradition (Fig. 2.7 and Fig. 2.8).
Fig. 2.4: Tools of typical Mousterian from the Dordogne region of southwest France (after
Bordes 1978)
Fig. 2.5: Tools of Quina-Ferrassie Mousterian (after Bordes 1978)
Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig. 2.6: Tools of Denticulate Mousterian (after Bordes 1978)
Fig. 2.7: Tools of Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (after Bordes 1978)
Middle Palaeolithic
Fig. 2. 8: Tools of Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (after Bordes 1978)
In Typical Mousterian, the Levalloisian technique was used to varying extents;
percentage of scrapers varies from twenty-five to fifty-five; and points are well
developed. The Neanderthal man found at Le Moustier was associated with the
Typical Mousterian. In the Quina-Ferrassie or Charentian Mousterian (named
after its predominance in the Charente region of France), the percentage of scrapers
is very high (fifty to eighty percent); there are special type of scrapers like thick
convex scrapers with scalariform retouch, transverse scrapers, scrapers with
bifacial retouch over the whole surface (tranchoirs); a few or no handaxes; and
a few denticulates. The Denticulate Mousterian is characterised by a great
development of denticulated tools (from thirty-five to fifty-five percent) and
notched flakes; no typical handaxes; a few points; and a few backed knives. The
Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition is characterised by the occurrence of high
proportion of handaxes (eight to fifty percent); flake tools are extremely varied,
which include scrapers; points are fairly numerous, some with thinned butts,
and some partly bifacial; carefully worked denticulate tools and notched flakes
are numerous; and Upper Palaeolithic types (burins, end scrapers, borers, flakes,
and truncated blades) occur in appreciable numbers than in the other types of
In Africa, the Middle Palaeolithic is designated the “Middle Stone Age”, and it
appears at 280,000 BP. The various flake-tool industries of the Middle
Palaeolithic, discussed above are called Mode III industries. The characteristic
feature of the Mode III industries is the prepared-core flake tool technique. This
technique, in Europe, begins to appear around 300,000 BP – 250,000 BP. The
Palaeolithic Cultures human species associated with the Middle Stone Age in Africa are also
Neanderthals, but termed variously as Home helmei, Homo rhodesiensis, Home
sapiens idalltu, or Home sapiens archaicus.
The first discovery of Neanderthal man (also referred to as Neandertal man) was
made in 1856, not far from the city of Dusseldorf, Germany, where a tributary
stream of the Rhine flows through a steep sided gorge, known as Neander Valley,
“Neanderthal” in old German.The fossil skeletal fragments of this ancient human
are given the name Neanderthal man, after this locality. The image of Neanderthal
man for many years was that these Stone Age humans were shambling, beetlebrowed
lout, and grisly folk, who prowled the earth during the time of the glaciers.
Subsequent discoveries and research showed that the Neanderthals from 100,000
years ago to 40,000 years expanded into different regions of the Old World,
devised ingenious stone tools (which we have discussed above), developed a
complicated society and opened the door onto the world of supernatural.
In 1856, a cave near a town called Spy in Belgium yielded two fossil skeletons;
and palaeoanthropologists working in the Dordogne region of southwestern
France brought to light numerous Neanderthal fossil skeletal remains and large
quantities of stone tools. One of the first to turn up was the skeleton of an old
man in a cave near the village of La Chapelle-aux Saints (Fig. 2.9). A cave at Le
Moustier, nearby to the one from which large quantities of stone tools had been
excavated earlier; yielded the skeleton of a Neanderthal youth, dated to 40,300
BP. Excavations at a rock shelter at La Ferrassie (Fig. 2.9) produced adult male
and female Neanderthals and later the remains of seven children. Several
Neanderthal skeletons have been recovered in the excavations of another rock
shelter at La Quina. With the wealth of these skeletal materials from southwestern
France, palaeoanthropologists were able to reconstruct what a Neanderthal looked
like, and study the physical resemblances—or lack of them—between
Neanderthals and modern Humans. As the years passed, Neanderthal fossils were
found all over Europe, from Rumania and Crimea in the east to the western
lands of Spain and the Channel island of Jersey. In 1921, some labourers mining
lead and zinc ore in Zambia (previously Northern Rhodesia), thousands of miles
from Europe, unearthed a skull and other human bones that resembled
Neanderthals. These fossil fragments came from a cave in a knoll called Broken
Hill, north of the Zambesi River.
Fig. 2. 9: Skulls of Neanderthal man from (a) La Chapelle aux-Saints and (b) La Ferrassie
(after Campbell 1979)
Middle Palaeolithic
This fossil was given the name “Rhodesian man”. Many scientists now agree
that this fossil was the African version of the Neanderthal type. During 1931 and
1932, fragments of eleven individuals were dug from the banks of the Solo River
at Ngandong in Java. The fossils, collectively named “Solo man” consisted of
several skulls that were almost perfect but lacked their bases and faces, and
other bones that were badly shattered. Solo man is the Asian version of the
Neanderthals. The gap between Java and Europe was filled in 1938 by a find in
the desolate Bajsun-Tau Mountains of south-central Russia, about seventy-eight
miles south of Samarkand. A cave in a cliff called Teshik-Tash yielded the fossil
remains of a boy who was clearly Neanderthal. Neanderthal discoveries were
made during the early 1930s by a joint Anglo-American expedition in what is
now Israel, then called Palestine. These came from two of caves excavated by
Dorothy Garrod on the slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean
Sea, near the city of Haifa. These caves are Mugharet et – Tabun (Cave of the
Oven) and Mugharet es – Skhul (Cave of the Kids). The first cave yielded a
female skeleton, and from the second came the remains of ten individuals.
Neanderthals very probably started some of the activities and beliefs that are
considered most characteristic of humankind. They conceived life after death.
They attempted to control their own destiny through magical rites. And they
cared for aged and handicapped individuals. In fact, they were the first humans
to display the complete spectrum of behaviour that can be considered to constitute
modern human nature.
It seems probable that Neanderthals practiced hunting magic. Apparently, they
attempted to manipulate the hidden forces of nature that controlled success and
failure in hunt. One clue for this comes from the Grotto della Basura, the “Cave
of Witches”, west of Genoa, Italy. In the depths of the cave, almost 1500 feet the
entrance, Neanderthal hunters threw pellets of clay at a stalagmite, which to this
day has a vaguely animal shape. The inconvenient location of the stalagmite
rules out the possibility that this merely a kind of game or target practice. The
fact that the Neanderthal hunters went so far back into the further reaches of the
cave to throw the pellets suggests that this activity had magical meaning of some
The evidence of a deer ceremony at a cave in Lebanon was brought to light by
Ralph Solecki in 1970. Here, about 50,000 years ago, some Neanderthals
dismembered a fallow deer, placed the meat on a bed of stones, and sprinkled it
with red ochre. The natural pigment was certainly intended as a symbol of blood.
This rite seems to represent a ritualistic or magical attempt.
The famous example of Neanderthal hunting magic is the bear cult. It came to
light in the excavations conducted at the cave of Drachenloch by the German
archaeologist Emil Bachler, between 1917 and 1923. This cave known as the
“lair of the dragons” is located 8000 feet up in the Swiss Alps. The front part of
the cave served as the occasional dwelling place for the Neanderthals. Deep
inside the cave was a cubical chest made of stones and measuring approximately
three and a quarter feet on a side. The top of the chest was covered by a single
massive slab of stone. Inside were seven bear skulls, all arranged with their
muzzles facing the cave entrance. Still deeper in the cave were six bear skulls,
Palaeolithic Cultures set up in niches along the walls. Another evidence for the bear cult was discovered
at Regourdon in southern France. Here was discovered a rectangular pit, covered
by a flat stone weighing nearly a ton, which contained the bones of more than
twenty bears.
The Neanderthals buried the dead and practiced death rituals. In the cave of La
Chapelle-aux Saints, which was excavated in 1908, the excavators found the
burial of man. The skeleton was found in a shallow trench, with a bison leg
placed on his chest, and the trench was filled with broken animal bones and
stone tools. These various articles might have been the provisions for the world
beyond the grave, since it was well known that many primitive peoples bury
their dead with food, weapons and other goods. The nearby rock shelter at La
Ferrassie, appears to have served as a family cemetery. It contained six Neanderthal
skeletons: a man, a woman, two children about five years old, and two infants.
This Neanderthal cemetery is dated to 60,000 BP. Almost every Neanderthal
burial site in Western Europe is associated with the tool making tradition known
as the Quina-Ferrassie (discussed above).
The most amazing Neanderthal burial of all was that in the Shanidar cave in Iraq
(Iraqi Kurdistan). Excavations conducted here by Ralph Solecki between 1935
and 1960 brought to light the remains of nine Neanderthals (Shanidar 1-9). At
the back of the cave, in a layer estimated to be 60,000 years old, was the grave of
a man (Shanidar 4) with a badly crushed skull. Analysis of the soil samples on
which the skeleton was found indicated that pollen was present in the grave in
unprecedented abundance. And pollen was found negligible in the other samples
of the cave. Analysis of the pollen from the soil beneath the skeleton indicated
that it came from numerous species of bright coloured flowers, related to grape
hyacinth, bachelor’s button, hollyhock, and groundsel. This has been interpreted
as a “flower burial”: This man was buried with bunches of these wild flowers on
a flower bed. Another skeleton at Shanidar (Shanidar 4) belonged to a forty year
old man who probably was killed by a rockfall. He suffered major injuries long
before his death: he sustained a massive blow to the right side that badly damaged
his right arm, foot and leg and a crushing fracture to the left eye that would
rendered his left eye blind, and he could not have been an effective hunter. The
fact that he survived up to the age of 40 with these disabilities indicates that he
was treated with compassion and cared for by his fellow Neanderthals. The care
shown to this cripple, who presumably had to keep close to the cave and can
hardly have participated in hunting activities, reflects a degree of humanity not
always displayed towards one another by members of civilised society.
At some of the Neanderthal burials, there is plentiful evidence of the darker side
of the Neanderthals, such as violence and cannibalism. For example, a fossil of
man found at Mugharet es – Skhul bears the traces of a fatal spear wound in his
thigh bone and the socket of hip bone. There are enough evidences to indicate
that Neanderthals, sometimes, killed their fellow beings. Mutilated remains of
about twenty Neanderthals—men, women, and children—were found, in 1899,
at the site of Krapina, in Yugoslavia. Skulls had been smashed into fragments;
limb bones had been split lengthwise, presumably for their marrow, and there
were traces of charring, hinting that the human meat had been cooked. In 1965,
another collection of charred and smashed bones, again involving twenty
individuals, was found at the cave of Hortus in France. The remains were mixed
with animal bones and food refuse, as if the ancient inhabitants of the cave had
drawn no distinction between human meat and that of a bison or reindeer.
Middle Palaeolithic
The group of skulls excavated on the bank of the Solo River in Java suggests
ritualistic motives. Though eleven skulls came out in the excavations, no other
skeletal parts were found, except for two shin bones. The facial bones had been
smashed off every skull, and not a single jaw or tooth was left. In some of the
skulls, the opening at the base of the skull (foramen magnum) is widened. A
practice of this kind, of widening the base of the skull, to take out the brain, is
known in the ritualistic practices of present day cannibals. In a cave at Monte
Circeo in Italy, was found a single skull, in a shallow trench that had been scooped
out of the ground, encircled by stones in an oval shapes. This skull belonged to
a 60,000 year old Neanderthal, who had been killed by a blow in the temple.
Once again, the foramen magnum had been enlarged. This mutilation and the
presence of ring of stones, indicates that a ceremony had been performed in the
cave. These rites of burials and cannibalism of Neanderthals may be only the
visible tip of an iceberg of hidden ceremonies. Practically all known primitive
peoples have special rites and beliefs and practices pertaining to key steps in
human life and it is reasonable to assume that the Neanderthals did too.
The Middle Palaeolithic cultural phase in India is characterised by flake-tool
industries. In 1956, Sankalia for the first time recorded and demonstrated these
flake tools occurring in association with the second aggradational deposit of the
river Pravara at Nevasa (Maharastra) and then within the same context in the
Godavari valley in north Karnataka. He called this industry Nevasian (like
Mousterian, Levalloisian etc.). Soon Sankalia organised a large group of river
valley surveys along Narmada, Son, Burhabalang, Krishna and its various
tributaries. These investigations brought to light flake-tool industries to show
that what he had provisionally called Nevasian was not a local phenomenon but
a generalised feature of Indian Stone Age cultures. In the beginning the term
Middle Stone Age was adopted for this phase in Indian prehistory. Subsequently,
the term Middle Palaeolithic has been accepted.
The Middle Palaeolithic tools are made on flakes and flake-blades
produced by flake-core, discoid core and the specialised Levallois
technique. In some regions, there is a continuity of Late Acheulian lithic
tradition with refinement in bifacial flaking, and secondary marginal
retouch, and inclusion of small sized handaxes and cleavers, recalling
the industries of Mousterian of Acheulian tradition of southwest Asia.
In many regions there is switch over in the use of raw material from
coarse grained rocks like quartzite of the preceding phase to fine grained
rocks like chert, jasper, chalcedony, agate, etc. In some regions of central
India and southeast coast, coarse grained and fine grained quartzite has
been used.
The tool types of the Indian Middle Palaeolithic are scrapers of various types—
single side, double side, side-cum-end, straight, oblique, concave, convex,
concavo-convex, notched, and core scrapers; awls; borers; simple unilateral or
bilateral points; Levallois points; tanged or shouldered points; miniature handaxes
and cleavers; and utilised flakes. Anvils and hammer stones are also found at
some of the manufacturing sites (Figs. 2.10 to 2.11).
Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig. 2.10: Tools of the Indian Middle Palaeolithic
Fig. 2.11: Tools of the Indian Middle Palaeolithic
The debitage (waste products resultant of tool manufacture) comprises various
kinds of flakes—simple, end-struck, side-struck and indeterminate; core
rejuvenation flakes; chips; and flake cores. The flake cores are discoidal, globular,
pyramidal and amorphous. The techniques used for tool manufacture are stone
hammer, cylinder hammer, and Levallois. The tools are finished by secondary
retouch; and characterised by shallow and small flake scars, step flaking, marginal
secondary retouch and sharp edges. The raw materials used for the manufacture
Middle Palaeolithic
of tools are medium to fine grained quartzite, chert, jasper and chalcedony. Some
of the Middle Palaeolithic bifacial flake points, scraper types and retouched flake
tools show typo-technological similarities to the Mousterian core and flake tools,
recalling the Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition of Southwest Asia where the
Mousterian culture is associated with Homo neanderthalensis.
If we take into account the distribution of Middle Palaeolithic sites in different
parts of India, we find that the western dry zone is rich in occupations as at Budh
Pushkar Lake, Didwana, or some parts of the Luni valley. The Luni industry is
varied and richer in its typological content: convex and concavo-convex side
scrapers, point of various types, burins, side choppers, handaxes, cleavers and
edged blades. Upper Palaeolithic types such as retouched blades and blade cores
are very infrequent in this zone. Therefore, in all probability, these represent a
much younger variety than what has been recorded at Godavari or Narmada. The
Nevasa and northern Karnataka sites yield rather large chunky jasper of a number
of shades with several typical Levalloisian flakes in them. The point of impact
of almost all these flakes maintains pronounced positive bulbs of percussion
indicating stone hammer technique as the principal technique of manufacture.
The most predominant type among these is the side scraper. Borers form the
next frequent type while points occur with a frequency of around 10 to 15 percent.
Several of these are thin and leaf shaped and often show a rudimentary shoulder
near the butt-end. Abrupt retouching as also alternate retouching is quite common.
In Andhra Pradesh, wherever the Middle Palaeolithic industries are found in a
stratified context, they succeed the Lower Palaeolithic (Gravel I) and occur in
Gravel II. The Gravel II deposits in the river systems of the Deccan have been
ascribed to late Middle Pleistocene to early part of Upper Pleistocene on the
basis of geomorphological parameters.
Cammiade was the first to make a large collection of flake tools (which he called
series II tools) from the district of Kurnool. Subsequently, Chittoor and Nalgonda
districts were also systematically explored. Ramatirthampaye and Raigirvagu
on Krishna are two of the richer sites. The tools are prepared on fine grained
quartzite and show extensive use of cylindrical hammer technique. Many of
these tools maintain pebble cortex and at times some are prepared on cores.
There are several discoid tools or round scrapers, and elongated blades with
burin edges prepared on them. Likewise, typical end scrapers are also prepared
on such thick blades. It is significant that Levalloisian technique in these sites is
not as frequent as in Nevasa-Karnataka sites.
In Madhya Pradesh and Bundelkhand region, the Middle Paleolithic is best
represented. Besides the main Narmada deposits, the Betwa, Shivna, Chambal
and numerous other water courses in the general area have yielded rich evidence
of this cultural phase. Gonchi and Sihora on Betwa show patinated chert tools
which include side-scrapers of various kinds measuring 13 cm to 7 cm in length.
Levalloisian technique is well marked although not as much as in the western
region. Bold retouching, often in an abrupt or semi-abrupt manner, is seen in the
preparation of these types. Flakes are often flat and retouched bifacially. There
are also some burins.
As one moves into the Chhatisgarh region and finally into the Chhotanagpur
forest, the Middle Palaeolithic again tends to lose its identity and merge with the
Palaeolithic Cultures Upper Palaeolithic. Blade cores abound in these assemblages. Mohapatra has
recorded Middle Palaeolithic tools from almost all the Orissa rivers and shown
that both pebble choppers and blade cores abound in them. Moving northwards
across the Narmada into the Gangetic plain, we find that Middle Palaeolithic,
like the preceding Lower Palaeolithic has also a wide distribution in the Belan
valley in Allahabad district.
At Bhedaghat on Narmada near Jabalpur a section of Narmada has been exposed
in recent flood. This has been studied by Sheila Mishra. The section reveals four
distinct Quaternary phases; the lowest among these also yielded some Acheulian
types. The layers yielding Middle Palaeolithic types had a date of 25,160B.P.
The Middle Palaeolithic tools are prepared on chert and include varieties of side
scrapers besides medium sized cleaver made on chert. The evidence from
Bhimbetka right in the heartland of the Narmada zone, shows a Mousterian
industry developing from within an Upper Acheulian base. But a hundred
kilometers away, at Shivna in the main Narmada valley, Middle Palaeolithic
appears as exotic because of the complete change of raw material heralding this
The Mousterian in Afghanistan and the Zagros mountains farthest west seem to
have many similarities with our desert zone Middle Paleolithic. Bridget Allchin
suggests a period of 45,000 to 25,000B.P. for them. Maharashtra-Karnataka has
a proper Levalloisian based Middle Palaeolithic and hence comes closer to
Mousterian character. Even thin leaf-shaped tanged points are also from these
sites. The Middle Palaeolithic from Kurnool to Chhatisgarh seems to be a local
A Thermoluminiscence date from Didwana (Rajasthan) dates the Middle
Palaeolithic to around 100,000 B.P. and Clark and Williams suggested that the
Middle Palaeolithic in the Son Valley (north Central India) may be 40,000 or
50,000 years B.P. There is a single radio-carbon date on molluscan shells from a
post Middle Palaeolithic context from Nandipalli in the Sagileru valley, a tributary
of the Penneru, on the southeast coast of India. This date is 23,670 ± 640 years
B.P. This date suggests that the Middle Palaeolithic in this region is older than
ca. 23,000 yrs B.P
By a review of TL, radiocarbon and Uranium/Thorium dates in a pan-Indian
context, a time-bracket of ca. 125,000 years to 40,000 years before present has
been suggested for the Indian Middle Palaeolithic by Sheila Mishra.
The Middle Palaeolithic culture is widely spread in Europe, Southwest Asia,
Africa and India. In Europe and Southwest Asia, it is called as the Mousterian
culture, and the stone tool industries are termed as Mousterian industries. These
industries are based on specialised techniques of flake production, called
Levalloisian. In Europe, the Mousterian industries are divided into four major
groups called (1) Typical Mousterian; (2) Quina-Ferrassie or Charentian
Mousterian; (3) Denticulate Mousterian; and (4) Mousterian of Acheulian
tradition. The Middle Palaeolithic in Africa is called as the “Middle Stone Age”.
The Middle Palaeolithic industries in India are also based on the predominant
use of flakes which include those detached by Levalloisian and disc-core
Middle Palaeolithic
techniques. It is not possible to distinguish sub-divisions or typological groupings
in the Indian Middle Palaeolithic, as in Europe, but stone tools from different
parts of the country, nevertheless, variously display affinities to the Mousterian
points, Levallois points, scrapers of different types including disc-core scrapers,
and miniature handaxes and cleavers of the Mousterian of Acheulian tradition.
The Mousterian culture in Europe, Southwest Asia, and Africa is the culture of
the Neanderthals, the extinct human species called Homo neanderthalensis. The
cultural traditions of the Neanderthals include hunting magic, burial customs
and death rituals, and caring for the disabled and crippled; and on the darker
side, they showed also the traits of violence, and cannibalism.
Fossil remains of human societies associated with the Middle Palaeolithic in
India have not come to light so far. On the basis of technological and typological
affinities of the Indian Middle Palaeolithic tools to the Mousterian industries, it
can only be predicted that the authors of the Indian Middle Palaeolithic might as
well represent a South Asian variant of the Neanderthal Man.
Suggested Reading
Allchin Bridget and Raymond Allchin. 1982. The Rise of Civilisation in India
and Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bhattacharya, D.K. 1977. Palaeolithic Europe. Netherlands: Humanities Press.
Bhattacharya, D.K. 2006. An Outline of Indian Prehistory. Delhi: Palaka
Bordes, Francois. 1978. The Old Stone Age (Translated from the French by J.E.
Anderson). London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Burkitt, M. 1963. The Old Stone Age: A Study of Palaeolithic Times. London:
Bowes and Bowes.
Campbell, Bernard, G. 1979. Humankind Emerging (Second Edition). Boston:
Little Brown and Company.
Clark, Graham and Stuart Piggott. 1976. Prehistoric Societies. Harmondsworth,
Middlesex (England): Penguin Books Ltd.
Coles, J.M. and E.S. Higgs. 1969. The Archaeology of Early Man. London: Faber
and Faber.
Fagan, B.M. 2004. People of the Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory.
New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Hole, H. and R.F. Heizer. 1969. An Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology.
New York: Hold, Rinehart and Winston Inc.
Larsen, C.S. 1998. Human Origins: The Fossil Record (Paperback). Illinois:
Waveland Press Inc.
Leakey, R. 1993. Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes us Human
(Paperback): New York: Anchor Books.
Lee, R.B and I. Devore (eds.). 1977. Man the Hunter. Chicago: Aldine Publishing
Palaeolithic Cultures Mishra, S. 1995. Chronology of the Indian Stone Age: The Impact of recent
Absolute and Relative Dating Attempts. Man and Environment 20(2): 11-16.
Misra, V.N. 1989.Stone Age India: An Ecological perspective. Man and
Environment. 14: 17-64.
Misra, V.N. 2001. Prehistoric Colonisation of India. Journal of Biosciences. 26(4):
Renefrew, C. 1973. The Explanation of culture change: Models in prehistory.
London: Duckworth.
Renefrew, C. and P. Bahn. 2001. Archaeology: Theories methods and Practices.
London: Thames and Hudson.
Sankalia, H.D. 1956. Animal Fossils and Palaeolithic Industries from the Pravara
Basin at Nevasa, District Ahmednagar. Ancient India. 12: 35-52.
Sankalia, H.D. 1974. Prehistory and Protohistory of India and Pakistan. Poona:
Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute.
Sankalia, H.D. 1977. Prehistory of India. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Sample Questions
1) Discuss the salient features of the Mousterian industries of Europe and
Southwest Asia.
2) Give an account of the cultural traditions of the Neanderthals.
3) Wire short notes on the following:
i) Levalloisian technique
ii) Neanderthal fossils
iii) Middle Stone Age in Africa
iv) Mousterian of Acheulian tradition
v) Shanidar cave.
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Upper Palaeolithic in Europe
3.3 Epi-Palaeolithic in Europe
3.4 Upper Palaeolithic in India
3.4.1 Stone Tool Industries
3.4.2 Bone Tool Industries
3.4.3 Subsistence Economy
3.4.4 Art
3.5 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
Ø understand the salient features of the Upper Palaelithic cultures in the Old World;
Ø discuss the sub-cultural phases and regional variants of Upper Palaeolithic
cultures in Europe and Southwest Asia;
Ø describe the stone, bone and antler tools of the Upper Palaeolithic cultures; and
Ø know about the Upper Palaeolithic cultures in India.
The Upper Palaeolithic is the third and last subdivision of the Palaeolithic, and it
is characterised by the first great climax of human achievements. Upper
Palaeolithic cultures flourished in Europe, Southwest Asia, Africa, South Asia
and Southeast Asia during the later stages of the Upper Pleistocene, often referred
to as Late Pleistocene (Fig. 3.1).
Fig.3.1: Map showing important site of Cro-Magnon fossils and Upper Palaeolithic tools
in the Old World (after Campbell 1979)
Palaeolithic Cultures Very broadly, the age of the Upper Palaeolithic falls between 40,000 and 10,000
years ago. The human species associated with this cultural phase is Anatomically
Modern Homo sapiens (AMHS), the extant and the only surviving human species.
We belong to this species. Upper Palaeolithic cultures succeed the Middle
Palaeolithic Mousterian or other flake tool cultures in different parts of the Old
The first discovery of the skeletal remains of Homo sapiens was made in 1868 in
Cro-Magnon, a rock shelter in the Dordogne region of southwest France, in a
deposit containing Upper Palaeolithic tools. Hence this man is called Cro-Magnon
man. He is anatomically identical to modern humans, but differed significantly
from Neanderthals. Cro-Magnon man was tall, erect and well built. The CroMagnon
people varied in physical type from one region to another. Bones
unearthed in the Soviet Union are different from those found in France or Africa
or China.
The Upper Palaeolithic is marked by technological advances in stone tool
manufacture by the production of parallel sided blades which are finished into a
variety of tools finished by blunting one side or backing. Blades are flakes, but
very refined flat narrow ones, elongated in shape and having parallel sides. For
producing blades, the cores are first trimmed all around to remove the roughness.
Then, by striking along the circumference of the core, using a punch, a series of
blades are removed. That means blades are produced by indirect percussion but
not by direct percussion. After the removal of the first series of blades, a second,
third and fourth series and so on are removed, until the core is exhausted. Thus,
in this blade production technique, numerous blades are removed from a single
core. These cores have a prismatic or fluted appearance; hence this technique is
called “prismatic-core technique” or “fluted-core” technique. These blades,
subsequently, are further worked and finished, by blunting one side of the blade,
into various tool forms. This kind of retouch is called backing and these tools are
called backed blade tools. These are backed points, pen knives, thick (orange
piece like) lunates and triangles. Blades are also finished, by secondary retouch,
into shouldered or tanged points, scrapers (end scrapers being most characteristic),
burins and awls. The Upper Palaeolithic industries also consist of a variety of
flake and core tools like side scrapers, ovate scrapers, notched scrapers, discoid
scrapers, and unifacial and bifacial flake points. Some of these flakes are produced
by the Levallois technique, and the discoid core technique, indicating the
persistence of the preceding Middle Palaeolithic traditions.
Some of the backed blades could have been used by hafting as barbs to harpoons.
The raw material used for the stone tools are fine-grained rocks. A variety of
bone points and harpoons with single row and double row of barbs made on
antler were found in several Upper Palaeolithic sites in southwestern France and
other parts of Europe.
Artistic work also blossomed during this period. Upper Palaeolithic art begins in
the Aurignacian culture, develops in the Gravettian and Solutrean, and blossoms
in the Magdalenian, both in the splendid decoration of ordinary objects, and in
the superb polychrome cave paintings. A large variety of paintings on cave or
rock walls and cave ceilings, and petroglyphs (engravings or line drawings on
rock or cave walls) have been found especially in France and Spain. Another
important category of art is in the form of ‘Venus Figurines’. These are small
Upper Palaeolithic Cultures statuettes of naked, and often obese or pregnant women, sculpted in mammoth
ivory, stone or clay. These figurines may be fertility icons or emblems of security
and success. According to some scholars, the appearance of language during this
period made these behavioural changes possible.
Southwestern France is considered as the “classical region” in which all these
Upper Palaeolithic developments are well preserved. The Upper Palaeolithic
sequence of south-western France is used as a model for the Upper Palaeolithic
cultural sequences because of the numerous well stratified sites. The stone tool
industries of the Upper Palaeolithic, in this classical region, show a great deal of
regional variations and sub-regional successions, which cover a time span of
40,000 – 12,000 years Before Present (BP). These industries are Chatelperronian
(35,000 – 29,000 years ago), Aurignacian (34,000 – 29,000 years ago) Gravettian
(28,000 – 22,000 years ago), Solutrean (21,000 – 19,000 years ago) and
Magdalenian (18,000 – 12, 000 years ago) (Figs. 3.2 – 3.6).
Fig.3.2: Upper Palaeolithic Tools from Southwestern France. 1) Chatelperronian knife;
2) Burin; 3) Scraper on flake; 4) Mousterian point; 5) Denticulated and truncated
blade; 6) Gravette point; 7) Multiple burin on truncation; 8) Bitruncated blade;
9) Burin on bladelet (called Noailles burin); 10) Backed bladelet; 11) Truncated
bladelet with retouch; 12) Flake scraper; 13) Backed point with a shoulder (called
Font-Robert point); 14) Dihedral burin (after Bordes 1968)
Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig. 3.3: Upper Palaeolithic Tools from Southwestern France (Aurignacian type).
1) Carinated scraper; 2) Scraper on retouched blade; 3) Nosed scraper;
4) Aurignacian blade; 5) Strangulated blade; 6) Bladelet; 7) Busked burin;
8) Split-base bone point; 9) Flat nosed scraper; 10) Retouched bladelet; 11) Bone
point with a bevel; 12) Lozenge shaped bone point (after Bordes 1968)
Fig. 3.4: Upper Palaeolithic Tools from Southwestern France (Solutrean type). 1) Leaf
shaped point with one flat face; 2) Borer-end-scraper; 3) Shouldered point;
4) tanged and barbed point; 5) Shouldered point; 6) Finely retouched end scraper;
7) Point with a concave base; 8) Willow leaf point; 9) Laurel leaf point (after
Bordes 1968)
Upper Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig. 3.5: Upper Palaeolithic Tools from southwest France (Magdalenian type). 1-2) Bone
points; 3) Transverse burin; 4) Star shaped multiple borer; 5) Denticulated bladelet;
6) Triangle; 7) Tanged point; 8) Backed bladelet; 9) Tanged point; 10) Side scraper
with abrupt retouch all around the edge; 11) Denticulated backed bladelet;
12) Backed point; 13) Tanged point; 14-15) Shouldered points; 16) Harpoon;
17) Parrot beak burin (after Bordes 1968)
Fig. 3.6: Magdalenian bone harpoons from Southwest France. Harpoons with single row
and double row (after Bordes 1968)
Palaeolithic Cultures Chatelperronian is the earliest industry of the Upper Palaeolithic in central and
south-western France. The Chatelperronian has been the subject of considerable
controversy since its recognition in the early twentieth century. It has also been
called the “Lower Perigordian”, “Perigordian I” and “Lower Aurignacian”.
Chatelperronian appears to have been derived from the earlier Mousterian culture.
Serious disagreement still persists about the status of the Chatelperronian.
Majority of archaeologists appear to agree that most of the assemblages labeled
Chatelperronian are the products of Neanderthals and that the industry was
geographically restricted to a relatively small area of south-western France and
northern Spain. Though Chatelperronian precedes Aurignacian technology, there
must have been a few thousand years of overlap between the Chatelperronian
and the Aurignacian.
The Chatelperronian culture is characterised by a stone tool called as the “backed
point” or “backed knife”. It is a blade having one of its edges blunted for holding
or hafting recalling a modern penknife blade. It is also called Chatelperronian
knife. The other types of this culture are pointed blades with curved backs blunted
by steep retouching, which are called Chatelperronian points; burins, made on
blades, with a chisel like cutting edge, used for working on bone and antler, and
also for engraving; end scrapers most commonly on flakes rather than on blades;
side scrapers and round scrapers on flakes; and other kinds of flake tools. There
are also bone awls, pierced teeth and bone pendants, but in general, bone tools
are meager in the Chatelperronian.
The Aurignacian culture is named after the type site Aurignac in southern France.
In France it is stratified between the Chatelperronian and Gravettian. The
Aurignacian culture is recognised by some special artifact types. These types are
“steep” and “nosed’ scrapers. The other types like different kinds of scrapers,
backed blade tools, a variety of burins, and flake tools are also common.
Aurignacian is characterised by the use of well made long narrow blades which
were expertly struck off from prepared conical cores. Aurignacian is also
recognised for its bone and antler tools such as awls, pierced antler bars used as
smoothing tools for making arrows (arrow strengtheners), flat elongated
spearheads, split-based bone points, antler and bone; and ornaments like pierced
shells and teeth, carved bone pendants, bracelets, and ivory beads. Some of the
earliest ivory carvings of animals and human figures begin to appear during this
period. Even musical instruments made on bone such as whistles and flutes have
been found at some sites. Climate during this period was very cold and dry. They
hunted herd animals adapted to cold climate such as reindeer, mammoth, wooly
rhinoceros, steppe horse and bison. Engraved figures of these animals on bone
and ivory are found at some of the Aurignacian sites. Aurignacian covers Europe,
Levant (region around eastern Mediterranean and Aegean), and it continues far
to the east into Siberia.
Aurignacian type industries are found eastwards to the Balkans, Palestine, Iran
and Afghanistan. In the Levant, the early Upper Palaeolithic culture is the Emiran
(known from the caves of Mount Carmel, Jabrud and several others), which
used backed blades, burins and a variety of scrapers including end scrapers. The
Emiran belongs to the same time period as that of the earliest Aurignacian. Another
Upper Palaeolithic Cultures culture, closely related to Emiran is the Dabba culture of north Africa and
The Gravettian culture is named after the type site La Gravette in the Dordogne
region of France. It succeeds the Aurignacian. This culture is characterised by
new technological innovations for survival in the cold climate. The stone tool
industry is distinguished by a small pointed blade with one side blunted. This
blunted side has a straight back. This is known as Gravette point. The Gravettian
people were big game hunters. They used spear throwers for hunting. They hunted
bison, horse, reindeer and mammoth. They invented animal traps and fish traps
and may also have used darts to kill birds and small mammals. They were trapping
hares and foxes for their skins, which they sewed into warm clothing using ivory
needles with drilled eyes. They were making nets and baskets.
The Gravettian people are also known for their large skin tents, which were
constructed over frameworks of mammoth bones, as a substitute for wood on
the treeless steppes. Some of the Gravettian groups were dwelling in semipermanent
Gravettian is known for Venus figurines. These are statuettes of women carved
from stone, bone or ivory, or molded in clay and fired. Gravettian culture stretched
from France to Ukraine covering Italy, Austria and Czechoslovakia. It is divided
into two regional groups—the Western Gravettian and the Eastern Gravettian.
The Western Gravettian is mostly known from cave sites in France. The Eastern
Gravettian is known from open-air sites of specialised mammoth hunters on the
plains of central Europe and Russia.
The next culture in the French sequence is the Solutrean. It is different from its
predecessors. This culture is known after the type site Solutre in eastern France.
The Solutrean is a western European culture confined to France and Spain, and
known from a few sites in England. The most striking tool-types are beautifully
made, flat, bifacially worked “leaf-shaped points” often of superb craftsmanship.
These are called “laurel leaf points” and “willow leaf points”. These are produced
by pressure flaking. Pressure flaking is the technique of edge-to-edge flaking by
applying pressure, and this required tremendous skill to create such delicate
implements. Long spear points, with tang and shoulder on one side only are the
other characteristic implements of the Solutrean. The other artifact types are
barbed and tanged arrowheads, end scrapers, flint knives and saws. Bone and
horn tools are also present. They hunted horse, reindeer, mammoth, cave lion,
rhinoceros, bear and aurochs. The Solutrean culture existed for a short period
between 21,000 to 19,000 years ago and disappeared as mysteriously as it
The Solutrean is followed by the Magdalenian culture. It represents the
culmination of Upper Palaeolithic cultural developments in Europe. It is named
after the type site La Madeleine in the Dordogne region of France. The
Magdalenian culture was geographically wide spread in southwest France,
northeast Spain, central Europe and Siberia, and later Magdalenian sites have
been found from Portugal in the west to Poland in the east. The stone tools are a
variety of backed blade tools, burins, scrapers, borers and projectile points. The
Palaeolithic Cultures Magdalenian is best known for its elaborately worked bone, antler and ivory
tools and other objects which served both functional and aesthetic purposes.
These tools include a fine series of elaborate harpoons with single row and double
row, spear throwers, adzes, hammers, rods, and eyed needles which are beautifully
decorated with carved or incised patterns, or representation of animals. The motifs
on these objects are square lattices, lattice of parallelograms, spirals, geometric
designs, and carvings of heads of mostly horse and bison on bone handles. Items
of personal adornment consist of sea shells and perforated carnivore teeth, which
were possibly used as pendants for necklaces. Rock art in the form of cave
paintings reached its zenith during the Magdalenian period. The world famous
cave sites like Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain are the best known
examples of Magdalenian art which include beautifully rendered realistic figures
in polychrome. These representations are animals (mainly horses and bisons),
male and female human figures, positive and negative hand impressions, and
dots and lines.
Magdalenian groups lived in caves, rock shelters, and tents in the open. They
hunted predominantly reindeer, and Magdalenian sites also contain extensive
evidence of hunting other large mammals such as red deer, horse, bison and
other large mammals present in Europe at the end of the last Ice Age.
There is a small group of cultures known from Europe which in some cases is
either contemporary, or of a later date, to the Magdalenian, but falling in the
closing phases of the final episode of the last Ice Age. These are called epiPalaeolithic.
These are Hamburgian, Ahrensburgian and Feddermesser-Gruppen.
The Hamburgian culture (ca. 12,400 B.C. to 12,000 B.C.) of north Germany and
Holland is a culture of reindeer hunters who lived in open sites in the summer
season. Their tools consisted of a variety of harpoons recalling those of the
Magdalenian, and a range of shouldered points made on blades finished by fine
retouch. The Hamburgian (as well as the later East Gravettian and Magdalenian)
flourished during the last main phase of the Wurm glaciation (last Ice Age). The
ice sheets of the Wurm glaciation did not withdraw evenly, and there are marked
warmer and colder oscillations. These Late-Glacial climatic events grade into
those of the post-Glacial events. In the same fashion, the epi-Palaeolithic cultures
develop into the post-Glacial Holocene Mesolithic cultures. As a matter of fact,
there is “no marker horison” for the beginning of the Mesolithic. These epiPalaeolithic
cultures fall in between the fully developed Upper Palaeolithic and
the fully Mesolithic.
Ahrensburgian (ca. 10,700 B.C. to 9600 B.C.) is another epi-Palaeolithic culture.
It is a reindeer-hunter culture which is similar to Hamburgian in several ways,
but later in date than the Hamburgian. Stellmoor, near Meiendorf in Germany, is
a very important Ahrensburgian culture. Here occupations of both Hamburgian
and Ahrensburgian are found. The tools of Ahrensburgian are similar to those of
Hamburgian. These are harpoons and tanged points, and wooden arrow shafts
Upper Palaeolithic Cultures are found abundantly in the Ahrensburgian levels at Stellmoor. The Ahrensburgian
culture covers much of the same area as Hamburgian. It belongs to the very last
close phase of the Ice Age. Another epi-Palaeolithic culture in which the tanged
point is the most important tool is the Swiderian of Poland and Ukraine.
Further west, at the western end of north European plains, is a group of stone
tool industries which fall in the category of epi-Palaeolithic. These have been
given the collective name of Federmesser-Gruppen (ca. 10,000 B.C. to 8700
B.C.). Feddermesser is the German name for pen knife. The stone tools of the
Federmesser-Gruppen are characterised by a small backed blade which looks
like a pen knife. Tanged points are also an important part of these stone tool
Another epi-Palaeolithic culture known from Britain is the Creswellian culture.
This is known from several cave sites in Derbyshire, south Wales, Somerset and
Devon. The dominant feature of the Creswellian is the variety of backed blade
types, including points and trapezes made on sections of blades, and also end
scrapers and burins. Harpoons of Magdalenian style are found in Creswellian
levels in some of the British cave sites (Aveline’s Hole, Kent’s Cavern). A fine
bone needle, again similar to the Magdalenian is found at Cathole cave in the
south Wales.
The various epi-Palaeolithic cultures, discussed above, may be regarded as ending
with the close of Late Glacial conditions and the beginning of the warm conditions
of the post-Glacial (Holocene) phase. To say that they ended merely means that
they become merged into their more fully Mesolithic successors. The real changes
that occurred in the Mesolithic are in response to climatic and environmental
amelioration, and the growth of forests. The most prominent change in the
Mesolithic, as a response to the growth of forests, is the appearance of first true
axe for tree-felling and wood working. The first of these Mesolithic cultures is
the Maglemosian (Star Carr in Yorkshire in England is the best known site), a
culture of hunters and fishers which combined the use of flint axes with that of
The epi-Palaeolithic cultures in Southwest Asia are late Kebaran, Zarzian and
Nebukian. These cultures have a considerable proportion of microlithic element,
including geometric triangles and trapezes, and develop into the fully Mesolithic
cultures during early Holocene. The Holocene period marks the end of Pleistocene
Ice Age and the commencement of recent period.
The Upper Palaeolithic culture in India succeeds the Middle Palaeolithic culture
and precedes the Mesolithic culture as in other parts of the Old World.
The Upper Palaeolithic culture has a wide distribution in different physiographical
zones in India (Fig. 3.7).
Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig. 3.7: Distribution of Upper Palaeolithic sites in India
It is known from Palmau (north Koel river valley) and Singhbhum (Subarnarekha
and Sanjay river valleys) districts of Bihar; Garo Hill (valley of the Rongram
river) in Assam; Allahabad, Banda and Mirjapur (Belan, Son, Tons and Yamuna
valleys) districts in Uttar Pradesh; Mandla (river Banjer, a tributary of the
Narmada) and Raisen (Bhimbetka caves) districts; Ajmer (in the vicinity of Budh
Pushkar lake) district in Rajasthan; Baroda (in the sand dunes near Visadi) district
in Gujarat; Dhulia (Kan river), Jalgaon (central Tapi Basin), Ahmednagar (Pravara
Basin), Nanded (central Godavari Basin) and Pune (Ghod valley) districts of
Maharashtra; Bijapur and Gulbarga districts of Karnataka in the tributary system
of the Krishna valley (Salvadgi, Meralbhavi, Gulbal, Benhatti and Hunsgi are
the best known sites); Karimnagar, Nalgonda, Guntur, Nellore, Kurnool,
Prakasam, Kadapa, and Chittoor districts of Andhra Pradesh (several sites in the
Eastern Ghats, in the river valleys and their tributaries of the lower reaches of
the Godavari, Krishna, Tungabhadra, Penneru, Kunderu, Sagileru, Cheyyeru,
Bhavanasi, Paleru, Gunjana, Rallakalava and Swarnamukhi river systems, and
the Kurnool caves).
The Upper Palaeolithic cultural relics in varied physiographical zones of India Upper Palaeolithic Cultures
are stone tools which are based on blade tool technology. Since most of these
sites are open-air occupations, tools made of organic materials such as bone are
not known because organic remains are prone to disintegrate in open-air situations.
However, bone tools were recovered from the Kurnool caves in which conditions
for the preservation of organic remains were favaourable (see Kurnool caves).
Radiocarbon dates for the Upper Palaeolithic obtained from different parts of
India (e.g. Bhedaghat, Dharampuri, Chandrasal, Mehtakheri, Nagda, Belan valley,
Inamgaon, Nandipalle and Patne and the Thermoluminiscence (TL) date from
the Kurnool caves indicate a time period falling in the range of 40,000 B.C. to
8,000 B.C. The faunal remains from the Kurnool caves, found in association
with the Upper Palaeolithic, also belong to the late Pleistocene age.
3.4.1 Stone Tool Industries
The Upper Palaeolithic culture in India is not marked by any sub-regional cultures
(such as Chatelperronian, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Magdalenian and Solutrean
in Europe) as in Europe. However, the Upper Palaeolithic industries in India
show considerable degree of regional variation in tool types.
In Bihar and Assam the tools are made on thick broad flake-like blades. Hence,
these are called flake-blades. Therefore, these industries in which tools on flakeblades
are prominent are referred to as “flake-blade industries”. The common
tools are points, scrapers and borers. The other, less common types are backed
knives, borers, burins and small choppers. The raw materials are agate, jasper
and other siliceous rocks.
The Upper Palaeolithic industries in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh,
Orissa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and parts of Andhra Pradesh are characterised
by well defined blades and tools made on blades. The blade tool technology in
these industries is standardised. Hence, they are referred to as “blade-tool
industries. The tool types are large to small sized blades (some of the blades are
quite thick and long); backed blade tools; and scrapers, points, awls and burins
on flakes, flake-blades and blades. The occurrence of tools finished by backing,
such as the backed points, is low. Also the burins occur in a low frequency.
Variety of scrapers (convex, concave, round, and notched) on flakes and flakeblades
are most common, and also retouched blades are in significant numbers.
The raw materials are chert, jasper, chalcedony and agate. In parts of Madhya
Pradesh (e.g. Bhimbetka cave IIIF 23), coarse to medium grained quartzite is the
raw material. In Andhra Pradesh, fine grained quartzite (e.g. Sagileru, Cheyyeru,
Paleru river basins), and cherty-limestone (Kurnool caves) are also used.
In the excavations of Muchchatla Chintamanu Gavi (MCG I), one of the Kurnool
caves, the blade-tool industry is found in association with a bone tool industry
and Late Pleistocene fauna. In the lower Godavari valley the sites of Wankdi and
Manikugudem (Adilabad district) have yielded considerable quantities of
intentionally broken bones of large mammals, which are fossilised, in association
with blade tools. These broken bones, in all likelihood, represent the leftovers of
animals that were hunted and eaten. Grinding slabs are associated with the blade
tool industry in the MCG I cave occupation. These grinding slabs suggest their
possible use in processing plant foods, and also for milling wild grains. Here,
large chunks of chocolate brown chert, quarried from the outcrops in the limestone
beds were brought to the cave in considerable quantities. These large nodules
are fire treated, by exposing to flame, for artifact production.
Palaeolithic Cultures The Upper Palaeolithic industries especially in the Belan and Son valleys
(Allahabad district) in Uttar Pradesh and in the southern belt of the Eastern Ghats
in Andhra Pradesh are characterised by distinctive backed blade tool types and
burins. Hence these are referred to as “blade-and-burin” industries. The
distinguishing feature of these industries is the predominance of blades, backedblade
tools, and burins; a variety of scrapers (side, concave, convex, ovate, notched
and discoid) on blades, flakes and flake blades; scrapers on blade cores; bifacial,
unifacial, and shouldered points on flakes and blades, awls; and typical prismatic
blade cores. An Upper Palaeolithic site in the Belan valley has yielded a barbed
bone harpoon.
In the Belan, Adwa and Lilji river valleys, which are tributaries of the river Tons
(a major tributary of the river Ganga) in Uttar Pradesh, there is a distribution of
numerous Upper Palaeolithic and epi-Palaeolithic primary occupation sites in
close proximity to perennial water sources on either side of the Kaimur ranges.
In these sites which are called epi-Palaeolithic, in addition to regular Upper
Palaeolithic tools, there are tools of microlithic proportion including different
kinds of triangles and lunates. Some of the important epi-Palaeolithic sites in
this region are Baghaikhor, Lekhahia and Lahariadih rock shelters in the Kaimur
range; Chopani Mando in the Belan valley; and Maihar IV on a meander of Lilji
river. The raw materials are chert, chalcedony, jasper, quartz and agate. These
epi-Palaeolithic cultures reveal the transitional stage to the succeeding fully
developed microlithic industries of the Mesolithic culture of the Holocene period.
The primary occupation sites in the Rallakalava (Vedulacheruvu, Nallagundlu)
and Gunjuna (Peddarajupalli, Vodikalu, Bellu) valleys in the southern Eastern
Ghats have yielded the best known evidence of the blade-and-burin industries in
the country (Figs. 3.8 – 3.11).
Fig. 3.8: Artifacts of the blade-and-burin industry from the Rallakalava valley, near
Renigunta. 1, 4, 6, retouched blades; 2,3,5,7, simple blades (after Murty 1979)
Upper Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig. 3.9: Artifacts of the blade-and-burin industry from the Rallakalava valley, near
Renigunta. 1-2, backed knives; 3-12, backed blade and bladelet tool variants (5
and 6 are backed pen knives); 13, awl; 14, unifacial point; 15, tanged point; 16,
blade core (after Murty 1979)
Fig.3.10: Artifacts of the blade-and-burin industry from the Rallakalava valley, near
Renigunta. 1, convex scraper: 2, 4, side scrapers; 3, ovate scraper; 5, 6, 7, end
scrapers (after Murty 1979)
Palaeolithic Cultures
Fig. 3.11: Artifacts of the blade-and-burin industry from the Rallakalava valley, near
Renigunta. 1-9, different types of burins (after Murty 1979)
What is most striking in these Rallakalava and Gunjana stone tool assemblages
is the variety of backed-blade tools such as straight-back and curved- back points,
points on truncated blades, pen knives, macro-lunates (as big as orange segments),
macro triangles and macro-trapezes, and burins. These backed-blade tools, burins
and scrapers display technological similarities to the Chatelperronian, Aurignacian
and Gravettian types of Europe and Southwest Asia. These macro-lunates have
damaged working edges due to use. They can be associated with working on
wood and bone, as spoke shaves, for making hafts for projectile points. The raw
material used for the manufacture of artifacts in this region is predominantly
fine grained quartzite, and occasionally lydianite. The Rallakalava and Gunjana
valley Upper Palaeolithic cultures also comprise a small proportion of microlithic
tools such as triangles and lunates. Another noteworthy feature of the Rallakalava
and Gunjana occupations is the occurrence of flat bored stones, and numerous
grinding slabs. The flat bored stones indicate that they were possibly used as net
sinkers for fishing. The grinding slabs suggest their use for processing of vegetal
foods or even wild grains. The Upper Palaeolithic occupations in the Tons and
Son valleys, and in the southern Eastern Ghats, are in close proximity to water
sources. This indicates that aquatic foods also formed an important source of
diet in these river valley occupations. Some of these occupations are extensive
ranging from 5000m to 1000m in extant indicating that they were long-term
occupations. They indicate sedentism in such habitats which provide varied
seasonal food resources. The Upper Palaeolithic cultures in the Tons and Son
valleys and in the Kaimur ranges of Uttar Pradesh and in the southern Eastern
Ghats are notable for their evidences to trace the emergence of Mesolithic cultures.
At the Upper Palaeolithic site of Baghor I (Son valley) in Madhya Pradesh, there Upper Palaeolithic Cultures
is evidence of worship of mother goddess. In the excavations of this site, has
been found a female anthropomorphic stone with concentric triangles at the base,
in the centre of a circle of sandstone rocks. In the vicinity of this site, there are
similar stones in rock circles, which are currently worshipped as mai (mother
3.4.2 Bone Tool Industries
Upper Palaeolithic bone tools are known from the Kurnool cave sites. The
excavations by Robert Bruce Foote and his son Henry Bruce Foote in the Billa
Surgam caves, in the 1880s, yielded bone tools in association with Late Pleistocene
fauna. The bone tools obtained from the Billa Surgam caves constituted 1700
specimens of worked and cut bones of which 200 were implements. The bone
tools, as described by Foote, comprised awls, barbed and unbarbed arrowheads,
daggers, scraper-knives, scrapers, chisels, gouge, wedges, axe heads, and sockets.
Robert Bruce Foote observed that some of these bone tools are comparable to
the Magdalenian culture of France. The occurrence of bone tools in the Billa
Surgam caves is confirmed by recent excavations, in the 1970s by K. Thimma
Reddy. Further, excavations in the Muchchatla Chintamanu Gavi cave (MCG I
and MCG II), in the 1970s by M.L.K. Murty, have yielded blade tools and bone
tools in association with Late Pleistocene fauna. The bone tools of MCG cave
comprise scrapers, perforators, chisels, scoops, shouldered points, awls, barbs,
spatulas, worked bones, and splinters (Fig. 3.12).
Fig.3.12: Bone tools from Muchchatla Chintamanu Gavi Cave I (MCG I), Kurnool caves.
1) scraper; 2-3) perforators; 4-6) chisels; 7-8) spatulas; 9) tanged point;
10) shouldered point, broken; 11) bone blank; 12) bone with both ends cut (after
Murty 1979)
Palaeolithic Cultures In a total collection of 1652 worked bones obtained from MCG I cave, 878
(47.40%) are bone blanks, and 151 (8.15%) are crudely finished tools; the rest
representing broken bones and splinters. The MCG cave bone tools display a
crude technology. This is because the cave is a short-term occupation and the
possibility for complete representation of well finished artifacts is less likely in
short-term occupations than in permanent occupations. In the manufacture of
bone tools, in the first step, the ends of long bones selected for working are
knocked off by striking obliquely on the shaft at the ends. Long and thick bones
are transversely cut by chopping along the circumference at the desired point.
From these prepared shafts of long bones, strips of bones (bone blanks) are
removed by flaking and chipping. Some examples indicate that on a prepared
shaft, parallel groves are made along the long axis, and long strips are removed.
These long strips are further reduced in size and are finished into tools by flaking
along the margins, lateral chipping and grinding.
3.4.3 Subsistence Economy
The Upper Palaeolithic blade and backed blade tools, functionally, must have
been used by hafting in wood or bone, as composite tools. They might have been
hafted to make barbed points, harpoons, projectiles, arrows, hunting spears etc.
The variety of scrapers, burins, borers and awls indicate their use in wood and
bone working. The Upper Palaeolithic tools thus indicate the manufacture of
specialised hunting tools for hunting big and small game, and fishing. The
evidence of the animals hunted during the Upper Palaeolithic is well preserved
in the Kurnool caves. They consist of jungle cat (Felis chaus), porcupine (Hystrix
crassidens), black naped here (Lepus cf. nigricollis), wild ox (Bos sp.), wild
buffalo (Bubalus sp.), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), chinkara (Gazella
gazella bennetti), blackbuck or Indian antelope (Antilope cervicapra), four-horned
antelope (Tetracerus quarricornis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), spotted deer (Axis
axis), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), mouse deer (Tragulus cf. meminna),
Indian wild boar (Sus scrofa cristatus), pangolin (Smutsia gigantean), monitor
lisard (Varanus dracaena), and a few bones of birds and dermal scutes (horny
plate) of turtles. Hunting these animals is a difficult task. The hunting techniques
of varied contemporary hunting–gathering communities in different parts of India
provide us insights and analogies to envisage the prehistoric hunting practices.
Some of these communities are Van Vagris of Rajasthan; Bhil, Aheriya, Baheliya,
Kanjara and Pardhi of Ganga plains and central India; Birhor of Chota Nagpur
and Orissa; Katkari of western India; Chenchu, Yanadi, Boya and Yerukula of
the Eastern Ghats; Irulas of Tamil Nadu; Kadar of Kochin; and Mala Pantaram
of Travancore. All these groups hunt big and small game (the species mentioned
above are included), birds, and fish in the rivers, lakes and ponds. They use
specialised hunting contrivances such as a variety of traps, nets, snares, bows
and arrows for hunting and fishing. The hunting practices of these communities
point out the possibility of use of prototypes of some of these specialised aids in
the prehistoric past, without which the game would not have fallen a prey. In so
far as the exploitation of plant foods in the prehistoric past is concerned, no
evidences are as yet available. But again, drawing analogies from the communities
which are adapted to forested environments, it can be suggested that a variety of
wild plant foods such as yams and tubers, fruits, nuts, flowers, leafy vegetables,
shoots, and mushrooms; insects; and honey might have been gathered for
subsistence. From the Mesolithic rock paintings of central India, in which some
of these subsistence activities (hunting, fishing, collection of plant foods and
honey) are depicted, it is possible to predict that such activities were in vogue Upper Palaeolithic Cultures
during the Upper Palaeolithic times.
3.4.4 Art
Some examples of art are known during the Upper Palaeolithic phase in India.
These artistic representations can be classified as portable art (movable objects,
or art mobilier) and mural art (paintings on cave walls and ceilings, or art parietal).
Examples of portable art are mostly ostrich egg shell beads and engraved
fragments. The well known sites are Bhimbetka III A-28, Ramgar (Chambal
valley) and Khaparkheda (Narmada valley) in Madhya Pradesh; Chandresal and
Kota (Chanbal valley) in Rajasthan; and Patne in Maharashtra. Examples of
mural art are best known from the caves and rock shelters of Bhimbetka. The
rock paintings here, assigned to Period I, are ascribed to the Upper Palaeolithic.
These are linear representations in green and dark red colours of herds of huge
animals like rhinoceroses, bisons, wild buffaloes, mammoths and boars. There
are also stick-like human figures.
Upper Palaeolithic cultures succeed the Middle Palaeolithic cultures and have a
wide distribution in different parts of the Old World. These are associated with
the fossil remains of Cro-Magnon man, who belongs to the species Homo sapiens,
referred to as Anatomically Modern Homo sapiens (AMHS). The distinguishing
features of these cultures are (a) specialised blade tool technology, (b) bone tool
technology, and (c) art. In Southwest France, there are several regional phases in
the Upper Palaeolithic cultures known as Chatelperronian, Aurignacian,
Gravettian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian. These cultures flourished in the final
stages of the last Ice Age. These Upper Palaeolithic cultures, at the closing stages
of the last Ice Age are followed by epi-Palaeolithic cultures such as Hamburgian,
Ahrensburgian and Federmesser-Gruppen. In Southwest Asia also there are local
sub phases in the stages of Upper Palaeolithic. Upper Palaeolithic cultures in
India also have a wide distribution, but there are sub-cultural sequences as in
Suggested Reading
Agarwal, D.P. 1981. The Archaeology of India. London: Cambridge University
Agarwal, D. P. and J. S. Kharakwal. 2002. South Asian Prehistory. Delhi: Aryan
Books International
Allchin Bridget and Raymond Allchin. 1982. The Rise of Civilisation in India
and Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bhattacharya, D.K. 1977. Palaeolithic Europe. Netherlands: Humanities Press.
Bhattacharya, D.K. 2006. An Outline of Indian Prehistory. Delhi: Palaka
Bordes, Francois. 1968. The Old Stone Age (Translated from the French by J.E.
Anderson). London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Palaeolithic Cultures Burkitt, M. 1963. The Old Stone Age: A Study of Palaeolithic Times. London:
Bowes and Bowes.
Campbell, Bernard, G. 1979. Humankind Emerging (Second Edition). Boston:
Little Brown and Company.
Clark, Graham. 1977. World Prehistory in New Perspective. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Clark, Graham and Stuart Piggott. 1976. Prehistoric Societies. Harmondsworth,
Middlesex (England): Penguin Books Ltd.
Chandramouli, N. 2002. Rock Art of South India (With Special Reference to
Andhra Pradesh). New Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan.
Coles, J.M. and E.S. Higgs. 1969. The Archaeology of Early Man. London: Faber
and Faber.
Fagan, B.M. 2004. People of the Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory.
New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Hole, H. and R.F. Heizer. 1969. An Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology.
New York: Hold, Rinehart and Winston Inc.
Larsen, C.S. 1998. Human Origins: The Fossil Record (Paperback). Illinois:
Waveland Press Inc.
Leakey, R. 1993. Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes us Human
(Paperback): New York: Anchor Books.
Lee, R.B and I. Devore (eds.). 1977. Man the Hunter. Chicago: Aldine Publishing
Mathpal, Y. 1984. Prehistoric Paintings of Central India. New Delhi: Abhinav
Mathpal, Y. 1985. Prehistoric Rock Paintings of Bhimbetka, Central India. New
Delhi: Abhinav.
Mishra, S. 1995. Chronology of the Indian Stone Age: The Impact of recent
Absolute and Relative Dating Attempts. Man and Environment 20(2): 11-16.
Misra, V.N. 1989. Stone Age India: An Ecological perspective. Man and
Environment. 14: 17-64.
Misra, V.N. 2001. Prehistoric Colonisation of India. Journal of Biosciences.
26(4): 491-531.
Murty, M.L.K. 1968. Blade and Burin Industries near Renigunta on the Southeast
Coast of India. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 34:83-101.
Murty, M.L.K. 1979. Recent Research on the Upper Palaeolithic Phase in India.
Journal of Field Archaeology. 6(3): 301-320.
Murty, M.L.K. 1974. A Late Pleistocene Cave Site in South India. Proceedings
of the American Philosophical Society. 118(2): 196-230.
Murty Upper Palaeolithic Cultures , M.L.K. 1975. Late Pleistocene Fauna of Kurnool Caves, South India. In
A.T. Clason (ed.), Archaeozoological Studies. Amsterdam: North Holland
Publishing Co.
Murty, M.L.K. 1981. Hunter Gatherer Ecosystems and Archaeological Patterns
of Subsistence behaviour on the Southeast Coast of India: An Ethnographic
Model. World Archaeology. 13 (1): 47-58.
Murty, M.L.K. 1985. Ethnoarchaeology of the Kurnool Cave Areas. World
Archaeology. 17(2): 192-205.
Neumayer, E. 1983. Prehistoric Indian Rock Paintings. New Delhi: Oxford
University Press.
Renefrew, C. and P. Bahn. 2001. Archaeology: Theories Methods and Practices.
London: Thames and Hudson.
Sankalia, H.D. 1974. Prehistory and Protohistory of India and Pakistan. Poona:
Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute.
Sankalia, H.D. 1979. Indian Archaeology Today. Delhi: Ajanta Publications
Sankalia, H.D. 1977. Prehistory of India. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Sample Questions
1) What are the salient features of the Upper Palaeolithic cultures?
2) Give a review of the Upper Palaeolithic cultures in Europe.
3) Give a review of the Upper Palaeolithic cultures in India.
4) Write notes on:
i) Backed blade tools
ii) Magdalenian bone harpoons
iii) Hamburgian culture
iv) Bone tools from Kurnool caves
v) Animal remains from Kurnool caves and subsistence economy
Palaeolithic Cultures UNIT 4 PALAEOLITHIC ART
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Home Art
4.3 Cave Art
4.4 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to know:
Ø about the “home art” and “cave art”;
Ø about different kinds of Upper Palaeolithic engravings; and
Ø about different styles of Upper Palaeolithic paintings.
Art refers to human skill as opposed to nature. This skill can manifest itself in
innumerable ways which can be given individual names depending on the
channels of expression. Thus, music is as much art as perhaps poetry. It is,
however, important to note that every piece of human skill does not necessarily
become art. In order to distinguish this, we can call art as that which refers to
creation for non-biological needs.
In other words, the human skill in tool manufacturing need not be included in
the consideration of Prehistoric Art. It will, therefore, be safer to call Palaeolithic
art as visual or plastic art in contradistinction to the rest which is studied as
prehistoric technology.
Prehistoric art, as it is known today, was executed by our ancestors either on
stones or bones. At times, mud, charcoal, shell, teeth and horn have also been
used. Art work executed on such movable materials is designated as “home art”
or “Art mobilier”. Art executed on walls and ceilings of caves and rock shelters
is called “cave art” or “Art Parietal”.
Art work executed on such movable materials is designated as “home art”
or “Art mobilier”. Art executed on walls and ceilings of caves and rock
shelters is called “cave art” or “Art Parietal”.
Besides engraving and painting, there are also numerous examples of modeling
done with simple mud or bone ash mixed with it. These latter examples throw
significant light on the additional ability of the prehistoric artist. It is important
to appreciate that the skill required to represent an object by modeling is not of
the same kind required to either paint or engrave.
Interest in cave art among archaeologists grew out of a layman’s discovery, in
1880, of the famous cave site of Altamira in Spain. Don Marcelino de Sautuola
discovered the site when he was searching for his daughter, who because of her
Palaeolithic Art small size could manage to get through a narrow crevice into this cave and thus
came face to face with the magnificent panels of Palaeolithic Art.
Don Marcelino de Sautuola claimed prehistoric antiquity for these Altamira
paintings. Edouard Harle rejected the possibility that the Altamira paintings are
of prehistoric age. This controversy kindled enthusiasm in rock art research, and
a planned and extensive search began for caves and rock shelters. In 1902 the
first report of Les Cambarelles was published and since then more than 120
caves and rock shelters with Palaeolithic Art have been recorded.
Objects of home art, at the same time, were also coming to light in the excavations
of Upper Palaeolithic cave and rock shelter sites. The “Venus of Willendorf”
was discovered by Szombathy in 1884. By the end of the first decade of this
century eight monographs on cave paintings were published. In 1913, Reinach
made a summary of Art from the Quaternary period. Finally, in 1952, Prof.Breuil
published his classic work: Quate cents siecles d’art parietal.
The earliest evidences of prehistoric art are the numerous necklaces and pendants
and such other objects of personal adornment. An engraved rib from an Acheulian
level at Pechde l’Aze (France), datable to 300,000 BP, forms the earliest evidence
of prehistoric art. The engraving is in the form of a festooned serpentine figure.
A flat circular bone from the Middle Palaeolithic site of Tata (Hungary), dated to
50,000 BP, forms the earliest evidence of art from the Central Europe. It is a
circular bone of 21mm diameter and bears an engraved + sign on one of the
surfaces. It could be a charm amulet or a totemic sign.
Burnt clay, deer canine, shells and fish vertebrae were the other materials used
for ornaments. With the increase of more direct evidence from early Gravettian
onwards, it would seem that arm and leg bands as also necklaces may have been
In relatively later stages, these personal adornment objects show the highest degree
of decoration engraved on them. For instance, the so-called zoomorphic ivory
lockets from Pavlov (Czechoslovakia), five pieces of open-mouthed bangles or
bands, 1cm in breadth with three holes pierced at both ends from Mezin (Soviet
Union), and one ivory pin with flattened and pierced head from Kostienki are
some examples. The Mezin arm bands carry an interesting pattern with squares
drawn in spiral continuation. At the joining portions these take the shape of
chevron designs. The decorations on these pieces show the control of hand and
perfection in technique.
The female statuettes from Central and Eastern Europe during the same period
indicate the definite use of ornaments. Burials unearthed further sustain the reality
that jewellery was used by both the sexes, may be more by males than by females
if we go by some specific evidences.
Numerous other home art objects are known from Upper Palaeolithic deposits.
Vogelherd in West Germany yielded some remarkable ivory models measuring
between 7-4cm in length. The animals shaped are horse, mammoth, reindeer,
panther and cave bear. A series of crosses engraved along the belly and the shoulder
of mammoth may indicate their specific use.
Palaeolithic Cultures In 1954, Reik described two more of such art objects from the site. One of these
is a pebble with a series of incision marks and eye-like depression. This has been
identified as representing the head of a cave bear.
Peterfels, another West German Upper Palaeolithic site, yielded a number of
batons with a single series of oblique or zigzag lines engraved along them. One
of them carries a series of wild horse heads while in another two reindeers are
engraved. One flat piece of coal carries a perfect engraving of a wild horse on it.
Several other charcoal pieces have been rubbed into various anthropomorphic
forms. These plain bars of coal with a curve in the centre have been identified as
“sitting silhouette”.
In Czechoslovakia, Pekarna yielded engravings of animals and some plant
representations on antler and ivory. The most significant art objects found here
include two engraved horse ribs. In one of these, two bulls are shown with heads
bent and pressing against each other in a fighting posture while a third bull is
shown charging from behind. The other rib shows a row of grazing horses
approaching another row of horses from opposite direction.
Dolni Vestonice is another site in Czechoslovakia known for its art material.
Here, within a hearth, several lumps of clay with some kind of art representation
have been found along with a female statuette. This, called “Venus”, deserves
special mention because here, unlike in other “Venus” statuettes in Euro-Asia, the
material used is mud mixed with bone ash and bone powder. The figure is 11.4 cm
long with a pair of pendulous breasts and has slits made for eyes. Deep furrows on
the back side show the mid rib and flesh folds near the waist. Four small grooves
are made on the top of the head which could have been used to fix the ornament.
The other small lumps of similar material found in this hearth represent several
animal heads. An engraved human face of ivory forms another interesting find
which led many to interpret facial paralysis of the individual. A mammoth statuette
of sand stone and several pieces of ivory lockets in the shape of a pair of breasts
are the objects recorded from this site.
Similarly, a fork shaped bone piece and another elongated piece with a pair of
hanging nodules at about a third of its length from top are taken to represent stylish
figures. Besides these art objects several coloured and pierced shells, pierced animal
teeth, small ivory cylinders with ornamental engravings and flat bones with holes
driven in at their corners form the various personal adornment objects.
In Western Europe, home art develops more noticeably around utilitarian objects
during this period. The deeply carved antler points and rods from Isturitz (France)
are two examples of the superfine workmanship of the people. The Isturitz points
are deeply curved in spiral and concentric grooves in such a manner that they
look like a miniature kind of some of the palae-Indian ceremonial poles.
The Les Trois Freres spear-thrower fragment shows two headless (or broken
when recovered) animals (which were perhaps Ibex) sitting face to face on
stretched hind legs, their body upright and forelimbs locked together in a posture
of combat. The muscles are stretched in such a posture that they have not escaped
the artist’s attention.
The engraving of a bull with an U-turned head and numerous other depictions
on the antler pieces at La Madalein indicates the tendencies of decorating mainly
tools in Western Europe. These kinds of decorations are not entirely unknown
Palaeolithic Art from Central Europe either. Kesslerloch (Switzerland) yielded animal engraving
on flat stones exactly in French style representing a female “silhouette”. At La
Ferrassie, several sex symbols are found engraved along with some animal heads
on a piece of flat stone.
The famous “masked men” on the batons-de-commande-ment at Abri Mege
(France) are widely known. These show a row of three vertical figures with
snout and a pair of pointed ears representing the face. The body is shown with
fur representation, and for the legs a pair of human legs slightly bent in the
anterior direction is drawn. Whether these represent masked men with furs
covering their body in some kind of a ritual dance is difficult to prove, but cannot
be ruled out.
It will, therefore, be not entirely untrue to state that these grotesque human
representations seem to be more common in home art of Western Europe. The
rest of the objects depicted by prehistoric artists are more-or-less common in
both these zones of Europe.
Another point of difference appears to be the medium chosen in the two regions.
Engravings are found on the points and needles in Central Europe as well but it
can be easily seen that utilitarian objects were not so often chosen for in this
zone. Crisscross lines or a vague outline of an animal here and there may be all
that can be recorded on them. On the contrary, the carvings of stylised figures,
animals or female forms are done with skill and imagination. The female statuettes
on the other hand, are not many from France. The maximum number of such
representations till today is known from Eastern Europe of which Kostienki
yielded 49 finished and unfinished ones and Menzin yielded 11 similar ones.
The total number of such statues from the whole of Eurasia known till today is
133. In Asiatic Russia, Malta yielded about 18 such objects. As compared to
these, Central Europe yielded only 9 statuettes. Southern coastal Europe, by far,
shows a larger number of these figures than Central Europe. France has so far
recorded a total of 16 such pieces.
It is however, important to note that sites like Brassempouy (France), Willendorf
(Austria) (Fig.4.1), Grimaldi (Italy), Kostienki, Menzin and Malta (all in USSR)
show multiple occurrence of the statuettes and hence can be considered
archaeologically significant.
Fig. 4.1: Home Art of the “Venus of Willendorf” (Source:
Palaeolithic Cultures The style of representation in all the Palaeolithic female statuettes is devoid of
feet although hands in many instances have been represented. A personal
ornament, at least in the form of a waist girdle, is shown in some instances. So
far, only a single engraving at Laussel represents a male figure, besides a female.
The details of representation of these statuettes, and also the material chosen for
their execution, vary a great deal from region to region. For instance, the
unfinished statuettes of Willendorf fail to show the exaggerated features because
they are worked on a flat ivory piece. The symbolic female representations,
likewise, seem to have been constrained by the raw material. The Petersfels
figures on charcoal and the stylised figures of Mezin may be some of the examples.
Art work represented on cave walls, floors and ceilings are usually in the form of
engravings, outline drawings or paintings. Mostly animals are represented singly
or in groups of various sizes. Animals such as bison, wild cow, woolly mammoth,
reindeer, ibex or wild horse are the commonly represented ones. Sometimes,
cave bear, a solitary wolf, cat, rhinoceros or lion head are also drawn. Fish, bird
or human forms form the rarest kind represented. These are either drawn in profile
or in the so called “twisted perspective”, in a three-quarter profile. In later stages,
a third dimension to the figures is attempted by shading the contours. Similarly
motion seems to have been depicted by the representation of multiple legs.
Besides these animal representations, some abstract symbols called tectiforms,
claviforms, or blazons are also found in almost every large cave site. It is difficult
to interpret these signs, but these are apparently attempts in communicating some
kind of messages.
In addition to these tectiforms, many cave walls carry a series of hand impressions.
When the hand is dipped in colour and pressed on the wall it leaves a positive
impression. In some cases it seems that the hand has been sprayed over, thus
leaving a negative or stenciled hand impression. Many of these hand impressions
show mutilated fingers.
Les Combarelles is a cave within the limestone range in the Dordogne. The cave
was carved out by a river or stream originating from the heart of the mountain.
This is an extensive and twisting tunnel measuring 200 m in length, 1.80 in
height and 1.20 m in breadth.
The paintings start occurring from about 73 m from the opening of the cave. The
total number of representations exceeds a thousand. These are mostly engraved
and are superimposed. There are only two paintings among these. These are an
outline of an animal and a hand impression in black paint besides a tectiform.
The engravings are often covered with a smear of weathered lime which has
been taken as a proof of their antiquity.
The engravings are divided into two groups on the basis of the depth and boldness
of the engraved lines. The finely engraved lines, on comparison with other known
sites, are taken to represent a late style (Middle Magdalenian), while the heavy
engravings are taken to be of an earlier date (perhaps, late Perigordian). The
figures identified include several reindeer, ibex, horse, bison, mammoth and
Palaeolithic Art some anthropomorphic designs. Some rather unusual representations of bear
and lion have also been recorded. In average these figures measure between 60
cm and 90 cm in length.
In one of the best panels, a pair of mammoths is engraved in profile with their
trunks curled round. Hatched lines have been drawn on head, leg and chest of
the animal to represent the coat. In another panel, two grotesque human figures
with peculiar animal-like features are shown with extended bellies. Some scholars
described these as representations of a male following a pregnant female. Besides
these, there are several delicately engraved horses with full details of mane and
often superimposed by other animal forms.
Font-de-Gaume is another cave in the same region which has yielded valuable
evidences of Palaeolithic art. These start appearing from about 60 m from the
cave entrance. More than 50 representations were recorded from the cave. These
include a series of mammoths, dark polychrome paintings (black, red and brown
colours) of bison, reindeer, woolly rhinoceros, horses, ibex and a feline.
The art of the last period at Font-de-Gaume is best known for its highly
characteristic form and style. Among the various representations, a panel
representing some reindeer, bison and mammoths is worth noting. These are
superimposed by two complete and four incomplete tent-shaped lined figures
with colour and also engraved. Four of these signs are drawn in polychrome and
its body around the shoulder is colour washed. On this washed surface occur
outlines of a complete hut.
The reindeer, which are best represented, constitute the biggest figures in the
panel. These are drawn facing each other. One of these is a female shown kneeling
on its forelegs, the other is a male shown with a bent head nuzzling or sniffing
the head of the reindeer. Both these animals are first engraved and then a reddishbrown
wash is given to fill the inside. Black colour is finally used to give the
contour effect in the bodies. The antler of male is painted in black while the
horns of the female are painted in red. The rest of the drawings in this cave,
which represent different animals, are equally good. Lascaux (Fig. 4. 2) is the
finest of all cave-painting sites in France.
Fig. 4.2: Cave Art at Lascaux (source:
Palaeolithic Cultures The main chamber is decorated with polychrome paintings of bulls and some
other animals. Among these also occurs the curious and much discussed painting
of the so called “unicorn with double horn”. The main chamber tapers into a
narrow 20 m long passage. Here, several single horses and a frieze of a group of
small horses and three cows are painted in black outline but with washes of red
and black for cows and brown and black for horses filling the insides.
The animals are delicately drawn, but differ in their style from the animals of the
main chamber. One of the cows is superimposed on the horses. Many broken
lances are shown pierced by a lance-head. In another, a long bull is drawn with a
menacing look. A feathered arrow or lance is drawn in front of its face.
Another passage out of the main chamber shows a large number of engraved
stags. On the floor of a shaft (called “shaft of the dead man”) from this chamber
occurs a painting on a flat protuberant rock.
This painting shows an impaled bison standing with a human figure in a position
of falling on his back facing the bison. The latter has its tail up with the hair of
the body bristling. A spear is shown pierced through its hind quarters and some
of its entrails hanging down from its belly. The human figure is schematically
drawn with single straight lines representing the body outline, hands and legs.
The head of the man is drawn like that of a bird’s head. The man has an erect
phallus. A stick with a bird on it is shown on the ground by his side.
Gargas is a cave site in the Pyrenees which has yielded the maximum number of
hand prints in black and red colour. Most of the stencils are left handed impressions
and invariably show some of the fingers mutilated.
Montespan is a small cave situated near Gargas in the Pyrenees. This cave is
famous for its clay models of animals. The most famous of these is the sculpture
of a single headless bear measuring about 90 cm in length. The animal is sitting
with its forefeet stretched in front of it. The claws of the right foot were well
preserved. There is a deep hole in the neck. A bear skull with a hole in the neck
was found lying on the foreground between the forefeet. It is surmised that the
skull was inserted in the hole on the model and the body was covered with a bear
skin for some kind of hunting ritual and /or practice.
In the Pyrenees lies another pair of interlocked caves called Les Trois Freres and
d’Audoubert. Excavations at both these caves revealed a late Upper Palaeolithic
industry with stone and bone tools. The dart thrower with a pair of ibexes in
combat, which has already been described in Home Art, forms a part of this
One of the most referred works of art in this cave is found in an underground
chamber reached through a vertical hole in the cave floor (nearly 3.5 m below
the floor). This is also called sanctuary because of the famous engraving of the
sorcerer in it.
The sorcerer engraving is about 90 cm tall with a human body, legs and a
prominent phallus. The figure shows queer mixture of human and animal features.
It has a long tail, ears of cat, only one branch of antler on head, small eyes and a
furry bearded mask. The legs are painted in red and the body is heavily outlined
with red colour. The rest of the body is repeatedly engraved. This entire depiction
Palaeolithic Art is heavily superimposed by bison, ibex and horse engravings done with complete
disregard of orientation. Another panel shows a wounded bear lying with thick
lines protruding from the nostrils, mouth and body.
The other cave, d’Audoubert has the famous pair of clay bas-reliefs of bisons,
each measuring about 61cm. These clay models are done on a fallen stalagmite
in a reclining angle. Only the dorsal side is modeled, the ventral side being the
rock. The front bison is a female, its eyes shown by depressions and its tail
shown bent up. The other bison is probably a male with protuberance eyes. The
execution of the details of the bodies shows a masterly craftsmanship.
There are some deep human heel marks also found near about these two clay
models. These are taken as the imprints of children (because of the low ceiling
over these impressions) who probably danced around on their heels as part of
some kind of initiation ceremony. On the ground, in the immediate
neighbourhood, some clay sausage-like models were found. These are taken to
be representations of the human phallus endorsing the view of initiation ritual.
Another long cave in the Pyrenees ranges in France called Niaux cave, shows
some rare and interesting paintings. These include several horses and bisons
although the ibex, by far, forms the largest number. In one of the representations,
a bison with flaring nostrils has been produced on the floor by cutting clay.
Three natural holes are formed in its body by water dripping from the ceiling.
These holes have been carefully shaped into three arrow heads, as if pierced into
the body of the animal. Another important painting represents a fish, rather a
rare object in Palaeolithic art.
In Spain, the Cantabrian ranges have yielded a large number of caves with
Palaeolithic painting in them. Of these, the best example comes from Altamira
(Fig.4.3) from the one that was first discovered at Altamira. This spectacular
cave is in the Northern Province of Santander. Cantaillhac and Breuil (1906)
were the first to report the details of the painting in this cave.
Fig. 4.3: Cave Art of Altamira (Source:
Palaeolithic Cultures This is a 280 m long cave, and the art, mostly executed in polychrome, compares
well with the Fort-de-Gaume style. A small scale excavation inside this cave
(Breuil and Obermaier, 1935) revealed Solutrean and Magdalenian layers with
numerous stone and bone tools. Besides the characteristics stone tools, these
yielded a large number of beveled points with crisscross engravings, spatulas,
wands and decorated bone fragments. Among these, a bone piece with an engraved
head of a doe appears to be remarkably comparable to a cave-wall engraving in
Castillo, another cave painting site within 20 km distance from Altamira.
Nearly ten meters beyond the entrance, the main cave passage leads into a lowroofed,
closed hall. Here the ceiling is covered with polychrome paintings of 15
bisons, some standing and some sitting with their legs curled under them. The
larger figures individually measure about 1.5 m in length and are painted on
large flat rock projecting from the roof of the hall.
The animals are painted in red and brown wash, with details of their mane, coats
and legs emphasised with heavily-applied black paint and repeated engravings.
This whole panel is taken to represent a single scene depicting a herd of bisons.
The females shown relaxing on the floor while the males appear to be guarding
the group. In other parts of the ceiling, in the same hall, occur some red painted
and stenciled hands, some possibly engraved human figures and a group of “rayed
tectiforms”. A group of tectiforms drawn with the finger on the once wet mudcoating
on the wall forms another interesting find.
In Spain, there are as many caves with prehistoric paintings as in France, but
they do not provide any additional information with regard to the “function” of
art in the life of prehistoric people. Candamo, Covalanas and Pindal are some of
the cave-sites with interesting and additional types of tectiforms and paintings
of animals.
Caves and rock shelters with prehistoric art work are known from other areas as
well, but there is a general agreement that these paintings belong to cultural
phases later than the Palaeolithic period. The Spanish, Italian, Sicilian, and Levant
and Southwest Asian finds are believed to be of the Holocene period. Another
group of paintings from the rock shelters in the Arctic regions of Euro-Asia is
believed to be even later in antiquity.
The rock art, which flourished during the Upper Palaeolithic period, was one of
the fascinating achievements of the prehistoric people. Art work executed on
movable materials is called “home art” or “Art mobilier”. Art executed on walls
and ceilings of caves and rock shelters is called “cave art” or “Art Parietal”.
Examples of art on movable objects (home art), to mention some important, are
the personal adornment objects with decorations engraved on them, such as
necklaces, pendants, lockets, arm bands etc.; female statuettes; ivory models of
animals such as horses, mammoth, reindeer, cave bear; engraved horse ribs; and
carved antler points. Cave art is represented by engravings and paintings on
walls, ceilings and floors of caves and rock shelters. The paintings are in single
colour (monochrome) and multiple colours (polychrome, e.g. red, black and
brown) and mostly animals are represented singly or in groups of various sizes.
Animals which are most common in “cave art” are bison, wild cow, mammoth,
Palaeolithic Art reindeer, ibex, wild horse, and wooly rhinoceros; the others include cave bear,
wolf, cat, and human form.
In addition to these, representations of some abstract symbols described as
tectiforms, claviforms, or blazons are also found in most of the large caves. It is
difficult to interpret these signs, but these are apparently attempts in
communicating some kind of messages. There are also a series of hand
impressions—both positive impressions and negative or stenciled impressions.
Some of these hand impressions show mutilated fingers.
Manifestations of prehistoric art have been explained by scholars as
representations of the preoccupations of these Ice Age hunters involving
economic, religious or magical activities such as hunting magic. The animals
engraved and/ or painted in panels on cave walls (bison, mammoth, horse, bear
etc.) are those on which the Ice Age hunters depended for their food. The cave
art, according to one interpretation, is the means for gaining some control over
the wild animals on which the prehistoric hunters depended. It also shows their
ability in making authentic representations of these animals, based on lifetime’s
experience of watching the attitudes and behaviour of their victims in the course
of their hunting. According to one school of thought (as argued by Leroi-Gourhan
and his followers), cave art, far from being an adjunct of hunting magic, was
centered on the complementary nature of the male and female principals. The
animals themselves can, according to this school, be divided into “male” and
“female” moieties, and the signs symbolise the male or female sex.
Suggested Reading
Bhattacharya, D.K. 1977. Palaeolithic Europe. Netherland: Humanities press.
Coles, J.M. and E.S. Higgs. 1969. The Archaeology of Early Man. London: Faber
and Faber.
Fagan B. M. 2004. People of the Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory.
New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Hole, H. and R.F. Heizer. 1969. An Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology.
New York: Hold, Rinehart and Winston, INC.
Renfrew, C. and P. Bahn. 2001. Archaeology: Theories methods and Practices.
London: Thames and Hudson.
Sample Questions
1) Write an essay on Palaeolithic art.
2) Discuss “home art” with suitable examples.
3) Discuss “cave art” with suitable examples.
4) Write notes on the following:
i) Dolini Vestonice
iii) Lascaux
iv) Female statuettes