The Oldest and Longest Enduring Microlithic Sequence in India: 35 000 Years of Modern Human Occupation and Change at the Jwalapuram Locality 9 Rockshelter

By Clarkson, Chris; Petraglia, Michael et al. | Antiquity, June 2009 | Go to article overview

The Oldest and Longest Enduring Microlithic Sequence in India: 35 000 Years of Modern Human Occupation and Change at the Jwalapuram Locality 9 Rockshelter


Clarkson, Chris, Petraglia, Michael, Korisettar, Ravi, Haslam, Michael, Boivin, Nicole, Crowther, Alison, Ditchfield, Peter, Fuller, Dorian, Miracle, Preston, Harris, Clair, Connell, Kate, James, Hannah, Koshy, Jinu, Antiquity


Introduction

Microlithic technologies play a central role in debates over modern human origins and dispersals, responses to risk and climate change, and the emergence of modern human capacities for complex behaviour and symbolic thought (Clark 1968; Neeley & Barton 1994; Bar-Yosef & Kuhn 1999; Kuhn & Stiner 1999; Klein 2000; Hiscock 2002; Foley & Lahr 2004; James & Petraglia 2005; Mellars 2006; Anikovitch et al. 2007; Brantingham et al. 2001; Seong 2008). The repeated invention of microlithic industries, here defined as systematic microblade and/or backed artefact production, has been documented for both modern and archaic humans at different rimes and in widely separated parts of the world. This mosaic-like appearance of the microlithic over the course of later human evolution suggests that organisational and functional advantages resulted in strong convergence on these diminutive technologies at various times and places in the past. Typical benefits of microlithic technologies include increased standardisation of implements facilitating easier repair and maintenance, multifunctionality via different hafting arrangements, and the potential for increasing the effectiveness and reliability of weapons and tools through the use of multiple serial inserts (Bleed 1986; Myers 1989; Hiscock 2002; Lombard 2008; Robertson & Attenbrow 2008).

To date, South Asia has played a minor role in most discussions of early microlithic innovation, other than as a passive recipient of technologies developed elsewhere (Mellars 2006). Here we redress the balance by demonstrating that the origins and regional chronological variability of the Indian microlithic reflect dynamic human responses to local and regional environmental and demographic pressures in South Asia during the late Pleistocene and Holocene.

The Jwalapuram Locality 9 rockshelter site, located in southern India's Kurnool District, (Figures 1-3), preserves the oldest microlithic sequence yet obtained in India, and one of the longest known continuous records of microlithic technology in the world. Detailed lithic attribute analysis has revealed a number of technological, cultural and ecological changes at the site over the last 34 000 years and more. Faunal remains, shell and stone ornaments, and worked bone from the same time-range provide contextual evidence of demographic and climatic shifts in the local area. Described here for the first time, the technological sequence recovered at Locality 9 therefore makes a significant contribution to South Asian and global prehistory, and re-confirms the importance of the Kurnool District as a source of valuable information concerning long-term technological and cultural continuity and change (Newbold 1844; Foote 1884a & b, 1885; Lydekker 1886; Allchin 1962; Sarma 1968; Murty 1974, 1979, 1985; Thimma Reddy 1980; Nambi & Murty 1983; Prasad 1996; Petraglia et al. 2007, 2008).

Jwalapuram Locality 9

The Locality 9 rockshelter is located on the northern margin of the Jurreru River Valley in Andhra Pradesh, India. The shelter is formed by a large quartzite boulder lying at the base of a talus slope beneath a visually impressive quartzite escarpment (Figures 1-3). The boulder's southerly face provides shelter from sun and rain for an area of around 60[m.sup.2] (Figure 3). Partially buried slabs of rock at the front of the shelter indicate that a much larger overhang once existed prior to collapse. The southern shelter wall preserves figurative and non-figurative red and white ochre paintings directly above the occupational deposit.

Stratigraphy and dates

Between 2003 and 2009, a 4 x 4m excavation positioned against the southern rockshelter wall revealed five stratigraphic units (Strata A to E) with associated cultural material to a depth of 3.3m, and a culturally sterile hard calcium carbonate encrusted layer beneath (Stratum F) (Figure 4). The topmost Stratum A comprises loose brown surface sediments with abundant organic remains. …

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