February 11, 2011

INDIA IN THE MESOLITHIC AGE


THE AGE OF TRANSITION
The Mesolithic Age that began nearly eight thousand years before Christ is the transitional age between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic Ages and is characterized by tremendous changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. The rise in temperature made the climate hot and dry, affecting all forms of flora and the fauna on the planet, including the humans. The life of the early man in the Indian Subcontinent, as in other parts of the world was deeply affected by the transitional period and its immediate effects are visible in the technology of producing tools and the lifestyle in the settlements. The changes in subsistence pattern as well as the ecology are evident from the rock paintings that have survived from the Mesolithic era.

THE MESOLITHIC TOOLS


An important feature of the Mesolithic tools is that they are remarkably smaller in size when compared to those used during the preceding periods. These tools, referred to as Microliths have lengths in the range of 1 – 8 cm. Some of them have nearly perfect geometric shapes. One of the reasons proposed for the drastic reduction in length of the tools is that the size of the animals that the men hunted during this age was much smaller when compared to those hunted in the Palaeolithic Age. However, many tools of the Palaeolithic age continued to be used in this age after undergoing significant modifications.
The Microliths found in major Mesolithic sites include:-

(1) Blade: Blades in the Mesolithic age were created using technique called fluting wherein pressure is delivered onto the core from the edge of the striking platform. Besides, archaeologists have also uncovered retouched blades which are broad, thick and long. Retouched blades are more efficient and sharper as compared to ordinary ones. Blades may have been used for cutting purposes.

(2) Core: It is cylindrical in shape with marks across its length and a flat striking platform at the distal horizontal end.

(3) Point: A point is a blade-like tool that ends in a triangular form and is effective when used as an arrowhead or a spearhead. It is retouched along one or both slopping borders, with the borders being rectilinear or curvilinear.

(4) Triangle: It usually has one retouched border and a base. Like the point, they may have been used as arrowheads or spearheads or for cutting purposes.

(5) Lunate: This tool resembles a blade with one of its edges prepared by semi-circular retouching. It is either used to obtain a concave cutting edge or two of these could be halved back to back to form an arrow head.

(6) Trapeze: It is a tool similar to blade with one or more borders being retouched. It could have been used as arrow heads.

THE MESOLITHIC SITES


Bagor on River Kothari in the Mewar region of Rajasthan is the largest Mesolithic site in the country. Being located at the juncture of arable and fertile lands and being rich in quartz – an essential raw material for the tool making industry, Bagor was an ideal location for the Mesolithic man whose subsistence pattern relied on his surroundings. This site has been horizontally excavated and three cultural phases have been identified with the earliest belonging to around 5000 BC. Among the sites located in Pachpada basin and the Sojat areas of the desert state, Tilwara is the most prominent. The two cultural stages, one characterized by the exclusive presence of microliths and other by a mixture of microliths and wheel made pottery, excavated here show that the people who inhabited this region advanced from the Mesolithic age into the Neolithic age over the course of time.

In Gujarat, Mesolithic settlements have been uncovered on the banks of Narmada, Tapti, Mahi and Sabarmati. These include Akhaj, Valasana, Hirpur and Langhnaj. Archaeologists working at Langhnaj have identified three distinct cultural levels. Besides microliths like blades, triangles, crescents, scrappers and burins, burials and faunal remains have also been discovered here. The large presence of bones of animals like mongoose, rhinoceros, antelope, wild boar and wild cattle suggest that the area was then was covered by a mixture of savannah type grasslands and forests interspersed by wetlands.

Sarai Nahar Rai, Morhana Pahar and Lekhahia are significant sites in the state of Uttar Pradesh. At Sarai Nahar Rai, the graves are oblong and the burials are a part of the habitation area. In Mahadaha, besides a large number of human burials, microliths made of different types of stones like chert, chalcedony, crystal, quartz and agate have been discovered. In Bhimbhetka, Period II corresponds to the Mesolithic era. Although the figures drawn are smaller, they are more stylish and decorated too. The popular topics include animals, humans and hunting scenes. Adamgarh, located to the south of Bhimbhetka also boasts of Mesolithic settlements.

Microliths have been discovered from Kasushoal, Janyire, Babhalgo and Jalgarh in Konkan and the districts of Dhulia and Pune in the Deccan plateau region. In Orissa they have been found at Kuchai, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Sundargarh. Birbhanpur in the valley of River Damodar is an excavated Mesolithic site in West Bengal. In addition to this, the Chhota Nagpur plateau and the Shillong plateau also have some sites belonging to this period. In the South, tools and traditions associated with the Mesolithic era have been unearthed in Krishna and Bhima basin, Godavari delta, Eastern Karnataka plateau and Kurnool and Chittoor districts of Andhra Pradesh.

An analysis of the Mesolithic sites in India shows that although the basic pattern of life remained more or less the same, the customs and traditions differed from one settlement to another. This is evident from the human burial and the bones of animals that the people hunted. Also some of these sites are real Mesolithic sites as they show an abundance of microliths whereas others are of a later time and show the influence of the Mesolithic culture. The later sites are called sites of Mesolithic tradition.

SUBSISTENCE PATTERN


The bones of a variety of animals have been discovered in and around the Mesolithic settlements. The earliest of these sites have yielded the remains of cattle, sheep, goat, dog, pig, boar, bison, hippo, fox, jackal, wolf, cheetah, antelope, hare, porcupine, mongoose, lizard, tortoise, fish etc. A close analysis of the Mesolithic sites based on the faunal debris throws light on an important characteristic. While many of the animals found in the early period continued to flourish during the age of Mesolithic tradition, others like hippo, some species of antelope, lizard, porcupine, hare etc are absent. Similarly some of the species like camel, nilgai and rhinoceros are present only in the sites of Mesolithic tradition. This pattern can be explained on the basis of the changes that Earth’s atmosphere went through in this period.
The diet of the people constituted of vegetarian and non vegetarian items. The presence of a large number of animal remains indicates that hunting and fishing were essential activities of the Mesolithic people. Besides, gathering edible roots, tubers, seeds, nuts and fruits supplemented hunting. However not much is known about the vegetarian food items that formed a part of their diet, probably due to the perishable nature of these materials.

The paintings and the carvings found in the rock shelters of this period found in Bhimbhetka and Adamgarh give an insight into the lives of the people who lived year several millennia ago. Hunting, fishing and gathering have been portrayed on the walls of the ancient dwellings. Animals like boar, buffalo, monkey and nilgai have been depicted often in Bhimbhetka. Besides there are a significant number of paintings depicting communal dances, musical instruments, drinking, funerals and burials.

These paintings clearly indicate that the concept of society that emerged in the Palaeolithic period was further strengthened during the Mesolithic period. Traditions and religious beliefs based on the nature and ecology began to take shape. Thus the foundation of a great civilization was laid.



SOURCES

(1) IGNOU Notes on Indian History (Chapter 4)