(Last Updated on : 31-08-2009)
The Mesolithic sites in India consist of the places that provided the sources of the then socio cultural and religious evidences that are of immense importance in the study of Indian archaeology.
The excavated sites in Uttar Pradesh
like Chopani Mando, Sarai Nahar Rai, Mahadaha and Damdama contribute to the study of archaeology of Mesolithic period. Of all these sites only Sarai Nahar Rai possesses a radiocarbon date which can be used to date this site from around 8400 to 150 BC. A second date from the site is plainly contradictory, around 1000 BC or a little earlier. The earliest of the three old radiocarbon dates from Mahadaha is in the calibrated range of 2853-2347 BC. One of these dates, in fact, shows a much lower range of 1405-803 BC. There is no radiocarbon date from Damdama and Chopani Mando.
At Chopani Mando in the Belan valley, for instance, the excavations have shown a sequence from the 'epi-palaeolithic' to the 'advanced Mesolithic or proto-neolithic', and considering that the transition from the upper Paleolithic to the mesolithic has been traced in this region around 9000 BC in the cemented gravel IV of Mahagara, thus Chopani Mando evidence as early Mesolithic. The Chopani Mando evidence affects the evidence from the Ganga plain sites of Sarai Nahar Rai, Mahadaha and Damdama, because the Belan valley Mesolithic sites and the Ganga plain Mesolithic sites have to be related, since for the sites in this pan of the Ganga plain, access to the lithic raw materials was pos-sible directly only through the Beian valley. Further, the early focus of thermoluminescent dates from Damdama is said to be around 5000 BC.
Besides, about 77 km west-south-west of Allahabad, this site in the Belan flood plain revealed a total occupational deposit of 1.55 m divid-ed into three phases. Phase 1 is called epi-palaeolithic, i.e. the stone tools of this phase are smaller than those of the upper Paleolithic but larger than those of the succeeding Mesolithic (non-geometric) phase 2A. In addition to a predominantly chert-based industry of blades, borers, scrapers, points, etc. phase 2A showed the ground plans of two circular huts. The next sub-phase, showed a geometric microlithic industry and the ground plans of five circular huts. Moreover, period 3 has fragile handmade pottery, a con-tinuing microlithic industry, anvils and hammer-stones, querns, mullers and ring-stones, burnt clay lumps with reed marks, animal bones, thirteen circular and oval huts, and four hearths. Stone fragments are observed around the periphery of phase 2B huts which also contain on their floors stone fragments, microliths, small pieces of bone and burnt clay lumps bearing impressions of reed. The floors of the huts were found littered with stone fragments, microliths, hammer-stones and anvils, sling-stones, flat querns and mullers, burnt clay lumps and hand-made, fragile pottery. Large rock fragments were noticed at the edges of the huts in some cases. The excavated hearths had all been found outside the huts and contain loose ashy soil. Outside the huts but quite close to them the excavators found traces of what they inferred to be 'the bases of storage bins made of bamboo and clay'. The excavators' further point out that the huts of phase 3 were so closely situated to each other that they almost look like a bee-hive. Wild cattle and sheep or goat have been identi-fied among the bones of Phase 3 and charred rice is found embedded in the burnt clay lumps of this phase. Bamboo occurs either as charcoal or as impressions on burnt clay lumps. On the whole, the excavators date the site from the seventeenth millennium to the seventh millennium BC. Furthermore the evidences found from Chopani Mando suggest a transition from hunting-gathering to settled mode of life, possibly with in-cipient agriculture.
The Sarai Nahar Rai site, 15 km south-west of Pratapgarh, a geometric microlithic industry was found accompanied by a profusion of bison bones, rhinoceros, stag, fish, tortoise, shells and 11 human burials with 14 individuals. Burials are within the habitation area and this is clear from the traces of hearths, floors and post-holed enclosures that have also been found in the same area. Among the graves, the remains of four persons were found in one. The graves are oblong pits where loose soil was spread as a cushion before placing the dead body. The bodies lay extended in a west-east orientation (i.e. the head was placed in the west), with the right or left hand placed across the abdomen (the right hand in the case of the male and the left in the case of the female). Microliths and shells were put inside as grave goods. A microlithic arrowhead was found inside the rib-bones of a skeleton, indicating that the arrowhead was the cause of his death. The skeletal series showed considerable fossilization and the remains of nine males, four females and a child. For the males the age-range is 16 to 34 years and for the females 15 to 35 years. They had large and robust skulls.
Moreover, the main area of Mahadaha settlement, also on the bank of a dried-up ox-bow lake, measures 2400 sq m and the excavators demarcate three distinct areas here: the habitation-cum-burial area, the butchering area and the lake area. The 60 cm thick occupational deposit yielded 28 burials in four phases, with two cases of male-female double burials. Among the total of 30 individuals, 17 could be identified as males, seven as females and three as children. The grave pits are elliptical and slightly sloping, with a deliberately placed cushion of loose soil in some cases. The general orientation of the bodies is west-east; the grave goods include bone ornaments (inclusive of a necklace and a pendant), burnt fragments of animal bones, microliths, bone arrowheads and shells. The butchering area showed the remains of wild cattle, hippopotamus, varieties of deer, pig and turtle. Thousands of animal bones had been found in the lake area. The microliths were made of chert, chalcedony, quartz, crystal, agate and carnelian which were all brought from a distance of about 70-100 km in the Vindhyas. As at Sarai Nahar Rai, the people were tall (up to 190 cm in the case of the males and 162-176 cm in the case of the females). The most important disease noted is osteoarthritis, and the degree of dental at-trition suggests a very abrasive diet, consistent with a hunting-foraging life. Only in one case a skeleton (a female) was found to belong to the age range of 40-50 years. Five of them died before they were 18 years of age. Six others belonged to the age range of 18-40.
The Damdama is not on the bank of an ox-bow lake but on a stretch of high ground at the confluence of the two branches of a small stream within the drainage system of the Sai River. Its 1.5 m thick occupational deposit showed both plastered and plain hearths, burnt patches of plastered floors, microliths, bone objects, querns, mullers, anvils and hammer-stones, burnt clay lumps, charred wild grains, animal bones and 41 human graves. Of the four cases of double burials, two showed male-female burials but in one case there were three persons among them were two males and one female, while in the fourth one two males were put together. The report on the Damdama skeletal series has not been published as yet but 46 in-dividuals have been identified, among which it was possible to identify 24 males and 17 females. While the bodies were generally put in extended positions, some were in a prone or lateral position.
Along with Chopani Mando, the excavated sites of Sarai Nahar Rai, Mahadaha and Damdama present a very distinct picture of Mesolithic life in the Ganga plain. What separates Chopani Mando in the higher grounds of the Belan valley from the sites in Pratapgarh and the contiguous area is the distance of the latter from the raw materials needed for the manufacture of microliths. As far as the raw materials are concerned, the Ganga plain sites were certainly within a distribution network. The Ganga plain sites also show a clearly expressed preference for a concentration of usable natural resources: the aquatic resources of a plain of numerous water-courses and dried up meander channels. A bison's skull was found charred in a hearth at Mahadaha where 'roasted food was probably placed on circular platforms, plastered and burnt, which were found near the hearths.' Moreover, the presence of bandicoot rat at both Mahadaha and Damdama has been taken to suggest year-round rather than seasonal occupations at these sites. Even the fact that some burials at Mahadaha and Damdama bear skeletons with personal ornaments (cf. a carved ivory pendant in a grave at Damdama) seem to indicate a kind of social status. The orientation of the bodies was principally west-east but east-west examples are also known. Another interesting feature is the discovery of a large number of ochre pieces in the excavated layers.
Paisra in the Kharagpur range near Munger in Bihar has revealed unmistak-able evidence of Mesolithic habitation in its locality where the occupa-tional remains are found 65-90 cm below the surface. About 105 sq m of this floor has been exposed in the excavations. There are traces of numerous big and small fire places only a few metres from each other on this floor. The excavators deduced three modes of lighting fire: burning of dry wood on the floor; fire around and above wet lumps of clay; and fire in pits. Only 26 finished tools were found on this floor: one was a micro-gravette point and the rest comprised lunates, side-scrapers and backed blades. The raw material, i.e. stone, was probably heated before flaking.
The excavators conclude that the extremely thin layer of Mesolithic habitation at Paisra suggests that people did not live at this place for a long time. No organic remains have been reported. However, this seventh millennium BC site provides the only evidence of an early Mesolithic habitation in the whole of eastern India.