Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When did early humans reach India?

When did early humans reach India? | Down To Earth
When did early humans reach India?
Author(s): Tiasa Adhya
Issue: May 15, 2011

Stone tools suggest a million years ago, previous assumption was 0.5 million years ago

imagePappu and her research team started studying the site in Tamil Nadu in 1999 (Courtesy: Shanti Pappu)EARLY humans arrived in India from Africa more than a million years ago, indicate newly discovered stone tools. The discovery overturns the earlier assumption that our ancestors reached India about half a million years ago.

A research team led by Shanti Pappu of non-profit Sharma Centre for Heritage Education in Chennai discovered 3,528 stone tools at a prehistoric site in Attirampakkam in the Kortallayar river basin of Tamil Nadu. The tools fall into a class of artefacts called Acheulian tools that scientists believe were first created by Homo erectus— ancestors of modern humans—in Africa more than 1.6 million years ago. The Acheulian tools largely include handaxes and cleavers.

The conclusion of Pappu’s study was earlier voiced by Robin Dennell of University of Sheffield in England in a commentary published in 2005 in the journal Nature.

The Old Stone Age, or Palaeolithic Age, is divided into three periods— Lower Palaeolithic, Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic. Each period is characterised by typical stone tool assemblages. The Acheulian is a phase within the Lower Palaeolithic, characterised by a stone tool assemblage consisting largely of handaxes and cleavers.

Acheulian populations were primarily hunters and gatherers, skilled at adapting to different environments. “We know this from fossil remains found at sites in India and world over,” says Pappu. The Acheulian tools were probably used to butcher and skin animals and to exploit plant resources like roots and tubers, she adds.

imageAcheulian handaxeDating, for the first time The archaeologists found the artefacts at a depth of one to nine metres in thick layers of clay.

To date the tools, the research team analysed traces of certain elements embedded in them and by correlating the archaeological layers excavated at the site with changes in the earth’s magnetic field. Many such artefacts have been found in south India, but this is the first study that has dated the tools.

The team used two dating methods, palaeomagnetic dating of the sediments that covered the Acheulian tools and cosmogenic nuclide burial dating of the stone tools. The former is based on the principle of periodic reversal of the earth’s magnetic fields over geological time periods. The palaeomagnetic measurements showed a reversed polarity, meaning the sediment samples predate the period after the last reversal of the earth’s magnetic field.

“The sediments date to more than 1.07 million years,” says Pappu. The burial dating technique measures isotopes of two earth metals, aluminium and beryllium, which gives the age of burial of the tool.

The finding “is one of the finest in Indian archaeology”, says V N Misra, retired professor of anthropology at Deccan College in Pune. “It proves, for the first time, that early humans migrated from Africa to Tropical Asia and Europe. They did not go to the Himalayan side of India because of the colder climate,” he adds. It proves that early humans were present in Asia much earlier than in Europe, he concludes.

The study, published in the March issue of Science, is part of an ongoing research project of Sharma Centre for Heritage Education. The research aims to understand prehistoric stone tool technology and changes in patterns of adaptation of Homo erectus to changing environments at Attirampakkam.

“We examine what type of development (agriculture and infrastructure development) is destroying prehistoric sites. This will help pave the way for methods that could be adopted to conserve the sites,” says Pappu.
Tags: Science & Technology, Africa, History, India, Life Science, Tamil Nadu

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Remnants of Mauryan-era stupas found in Girnar forest

The Hindu : States / Other States : Remnants of Mauryan-era stupas found in Girnar forest
Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has asked Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to undertake a thorough archaeological survey of the Girnar reserve forest and the Gir sanctuary in Junagadh district in the Saurashtra region of the State.

In a letter dated April 21, Mr. Ramesh said he was giving the advice on the suggestion of a noted historian from Delhi University Nayanjot Lahiri, who recently visited the reserve forest and found the remnants of two “stupas” which she believed could be of the Mauryan dynasty.

Mr. Ramesh said Dr. Lahiri located one of the stupas, locally known as Lakha Medi, near the Bhordevi temple inside the forest.

The historian reckoned that the stupa must have been about 50 feet high. Its core was of solid bricks, similar to the “Sanchi Stupa – I” (Madhya Pradesh) and the “Stupa at Piprahwa” (Uttar Pradesh), believed to be of the Mauryan era.

She had also found many loose bricks around indicating there could have been other stupas in the vicinity. But what was more alarming was that the bricks from the stupas were being taken away by the locals for renovating the temple.

“Therefore, it is urgent, that there is a complete survey of the stupa with accurate line drawings and photographs followed by careful archaeological conservation,” Mr. Ramesh said.
Better stupa

The historian located another “stupa,” locally called “Rathakot,” near another temple known as “Jina Baba ki Madi,” beyond Hasnapur dam in the Girnar reserve forest. This stupa was found to be in a much better condition.

Mr. Ramesh said Dr. Lahiri believed that if a proper survey was carried out, the reserve forest and the sanctuary could become famous for not only being the only abode of the Asiatic Lions, but also of the country's “historic heritage.”

The survey would require close cooperation between the State Forest Department and the Department of Archaeology.
‘Coral Atlas'

Meanwhile, a first comprehensive “Coral Atlas” of the State — giving not only the figures and extent of the coral reefs across the State's coastline, but also the details of the habitat scenario in each of the reefs — has been released by the State government. The Atlas was prepared by the State-owned Gujarat Ecology Commission with technical assistance from the Bhashkaracharya Institute of Space Applications and Geo-Informatics.

According to Principal Secretary of the State Environment and Forests Department S.K. Nanda, the Atlas would serve as an important baseline in the preparation of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan for Gujarat initiated by the Union Environment Ministry. “It is also a contribution to the State's earnest efforts towards sustainable development,” he said.
Website launched

Along with the Atlas, a dedicated website on Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project was also launched by the State government. The Atlas was the second publication of the GEC after the “Mangrove Atlas of Gujarat” last year featuring thematic maps of mangrove distribution along the State's coastline.

“The initiative by GEC is an attempt to come out with the baseline documentation on the natural heritage in order to ensure effective management of the coastal zone in line with the rising developmental activities on the coastal belt,” GEC member-secretary E. Belaguruswamy said.

Keywords: Jairam Ramesh, Girnar forest, Mauryan-era