Researchers have discovered a set of ancient stone tools, from an excavation site in Tamil Nadu, which show that the Middle Palaeolithic or Stone Age occurred in India 385,000 years ago, much earlier than conventionally presumed for South Asia.
The stone tools, found at a site in Attirampakkam in Chennai, are sophisticated blades chipped from chunks of quartz-a tool-making technique called Levallois that was previously thought to have come in India about 125,000 years ago.
But, the tool-making style indicated the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component.
All these highlights, a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies, mainly the Acheulian hand axe, used by the hominins-members of Homo erectus or similar who left Africa more than 1.7 million years ago.
These findings document a substantial behavioural change that occurred in India at 385,000 years ago and establish its contemporaneity with similar processes recorded in Africa and Europe, the researchers said.
“Dates from the site suggest that in India the Middle Palaeolithic began around 385,000 years ago,” said Shanti Pappu, from the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, in Tamil Nadu.
The transition to the Middle Palaeolithic outside Europe and Africa is vital to our understanding of the lives of hominins in Eurasia, and especially the dispersal of anatomically modern humans out of Africa and their subsequent migrations.
The observations also call for a re-evaluation of models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125,000 years ago.
However, it is impossible to say whether the tools were made by Homo sapiens or some evolutionary cousin, say researchers who reported the finding in the journal Nature.
“We are very cautious on this point” because no human fossils were found with the tools, several authors added in a statement.
“It’s not clear how much the tool development reflects the arrival of populations or ideas from outside India, versus being more of a local development,” Pappu noted.
For the study, the team examined over 7,000 stone artefacts unearthed, from 1999 to 2004.