October 9, 2010

Important Tamil Nadu Paleolithic site discovered

From Times of India (via Archaeo News).

Archaeologists S. Rama Krishna Pisipaty and S. Shanmugavelu have researched what may be a key site in a dry lake bed at Singadivakkam, a village some 65 km south of Chennai (Madras). The site is known as Kancheepuram.

The site has so far provided some 200 tools and, crucially, it seems to have no disruption from the Lower Paleolithic (thought to be work of H. erectus) and the Middle Paleolithic (maybe work of H. sapiens), unlike all other sites in the subcontinent. The tools found include hand axes, borers, scrappers, choppers and pointed tools, as well as microliths.

Kancheepuram was ideal for early settlers with its large number of safe water bodies a lifeline for any human settlement, said Pisipaty.

7 comments:

  1. "it seems to have no disruption from the Lower Paleolithic (thought to be work of H. erectus) and the Middle Paleolithic (maybe work of H. sapiens)"

    Very interesting. Implies some sort of continuity. Does that also imply some sort of continuity between H. erectus and H. sapiens in the region?

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  2. Magical transformation from a species into another? Ahem.

    Anyhow, the article is not very clear, as most mainstream media articles are. And we still don't even know if the two cultural phases represent the two species or not (though I think it does).

    It might mean that in that particular location one species and the other lived shortly separated in time. It may also mean that the same group transitioned from one mode to the other. But there has been other cases (many others) where continuity and even inter-stratification has been revised, so I'll be most cautious.

    It's just a note, which may or not be of meaning in the future as more info appears (or not).

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  3. "Magical transformation from a species into another? Ahem".

    So you're totally obsessed with the idea that the two species are completely separate? I've never believed that.

    "And we still don't even know if the two cultural phases represent the two species or not (though I think it does)".

    Surely the fact that there appears to be a gradual transition, rather than a suddne one, argues against two completely separate species.

    "But there has been other cases (many others) where continuity and even inter-stratification has been revised, so I'll be most cautious".

    But until we have more information we have to take the evidence at face value, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.

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  4. "So you're totally obsessed with the idea that the two species are completely separate? I've never believed that".

    I am certain that H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens and much more H. erectus were different species in the full meaning of the word species. Like wolves and coyotes, you know.

    But it doesn't matter. You are somehow saying, never clearly enough in the detail of how it might happen, that Neanderthals evolved into Sapiens many times locally (in Altai, in Palestine and in South Asia though it may be a third species instead of Neanderthals there). This simply makes absolutely no sense because evolution diverges, it does not converge (it can develop similar traits by two different lines but that's just parallel evolution - and not what we know happened to our species).

    There is no multirregionalism: it's totally against all we know. I'd rather pay attention to UFO theories.

    "Surely the fact that there appears to be a gradual transition, rather than a suddne one, argues against two completely separate species".

    No. It does not. The site can perfectly have been taken over by new arrivals after expelling the old inhabitants. Or it may be that the old inhabitants have been aculturized somehow.

    In this particular case at least there's no mention of gradual transition but of continuity of layers, i.e. there is no sterile layer between two distinct archaeological layers.

    "But until we have more information we have to take the evidence at face value"...

    That is not what you are doing: you are not bringing here the detailed stratigraphy, where the evidence is. You are just intrepreting vague mentions of "continuity" in favor of your beliefs.

    Continuity usually means just that: that there is no sterile layer, not cultural nor population continuity. A very different thing would be if we could spot intermediate, transitional phases, which could support a real cultural and population continuity, which at some period effectively transited from one techno-culture to another. This happens for instance with the Solutrean-Gravettian transition in West Europe but varying in the details depending on the site. In some sites Gravettian seems intrusive (sudden appearance over Solutrean layers), what surely means that the popuation changed, in others it seems that the old Solutrean makers began gradually experimenting with Gravettian techniques, strongly suggestive of population continuity.

    Knowing this fine detail is the crux of the matter if we want to make any meaningful conjecture on what happened to the old population. Cultures don't suddenly change into something else: there's a transition and that should be apparent in the archaeological record.

    I understand that in all these cases there is no transition: one population probably replaced the other. However we would need to look at the fine detail to understand clearly in each case.

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  5. "I understand that in all these cases there is no transition: one population probably replaced the other".

    Read again:

    "it seems to have no disruption from the Lower Paleolithic (thought to be work of H. erectus) and the Middle Paleolithic (maybe work of H. sapiens)"

    Note: 'no disruption'. We have continuity. There is no sterile layer'.

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  6. I wrote that sentence myself, I should know what I meant. It's not in quotations or italics: it's my own text!

    The original ToI sentence read:

    "The settlement, as can be guaged from the tools found, shows transition from early to middle Paleolithic age, also known as the Stone Age," Prof Pisipaty noted.

    But the article and the explanations are so confusing that it's difficult to say. For instance later they say:

    The site has evidence in the form of tools and weapons showing the transition from the Stone Age to the modern age.

    I took Pisipaty's words as valid, rather than the second claim, which is not in quotation marks but I can't really reach to any conclusion from such a confusing newspaper article, where the main emphasis seems to explain to the reader once and again that Paleolithic means "Stone Age" (actually it means 'Old Stone Age' but whatever).

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  7. If the dates are 80,000 BP to 6,000 BP and there is continuity, attributing the entire find to modern humans wouldn't be implausible near the Indian Ocean coast. This is just where we would expect some of the oldest Out of Africa Southern Route sites to be located. There are previous reports of apparently modern human sites pre-Toba (i.e. pre-74,000 years BP give or take), and while on the old side for Out of Africa in this location, it isn't grossly so. There were clearly modern humans in India before they were in Europe, East Asia, New Guinea or Australia. Also, I suspect that the 80,000 years BP date is very approximate.

    A dense population settlement would be out of character for either Neanderthal or Homo Erectus and his cousins in the evolutionary tree. Significantly evolving tool technology would also be out of character for them.

    I see no reason that there has to be replacement at this site. Just modern humans appearing and settling down.

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