Saturday, May 6, 2017



I am presenting in the following essay my own thoughts on “palaeolithic man in Chotanagpur”, and before I proceed with the paper itself I would like to acquaint the reader who is not familiar with palaearchaeology about some of the important things to know, and without which the full import of the essay will not be conceivable. 

Therefore, the following points may be noted,
  1. India of certain typical stone formations or layers formed during the earth’s own formation during the Pre-Cambrian period hundreds of millions of years ago when life did not exist on the earth.
  2. 2.That these stone formations were of different types each subsequently being pertinent to the evolution of palaeolithic man and the stone tools he made out of these rock strata and which in turn formed his evolution since man is the produce of his environment. These strata are the Archaean, theChronockite, thethe Dharwar and the Cambrian.
  3. It must be remembered that due to plate tectonics, or movement of the earth’s crust (much like the scales on a pangolin’s body) the present peninsular India was originally a part of Gondwanaland and connected with Africa and the European land-mass in the super-continent called Panagea.
  4. That the different techniques of making stone tools (for example Levallois flaking technique) will appear highly technical and irrelevant to the non academic reader, but it is but one kind of technique iun the stone tools assemblage of palaeolithic man whether found in the valley of Seine in France, or in the valley of Damodar in Jharkhand (which is the new name of the state created from the Chotanagpur plateau). Similarly the basins and valleys of Seine and Damodar have much in common with the basins and valleys of Seine in France, Sone and Narmada in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, or Vaal or Danube in central-eastern Europe.  Man in all the river basins emerged as a bipedal  tool making creature with fair amount of creative intelligence and aesthetic appreciation from more than thirty thousand years ago !
  5. 5. We are therefore to bear in mind that the  basins and valleys of all rivers flowing through forests are places that evidence the habitation of Early Man whether in Europe or in India. This is because man was the product of these places and as Jared Diamond has reminded us “ Geography and biogeography, not race, moulded the contrasting fates of Europeans, Asians, Native Americans, sub-Saharan Africans, and Aboriginal Australians.” Thus emerges a palaeolithic stone tool tapestry of remarkably individual identity and yet a common  form in the river basins and valleys of our Indian rivers  such as the remarkable stone tool repositories of Early Man in the Krishna and Upper Krishna basins in Tamilnadu; the Subarmukhi   and Pennar basins in Andhra Pradesh; the Tungabhadra basin and the Malaprabha basin in Belgaum district of Mysore; the Nagarjunakonda valley of Guntur district of Madhya Pradesh; the Wainganga, Godavari , and in particular the Nevasa  basin in Maharashtra which was studied in such detail by one of the doyens of Indian palaeoarchaeology, Professor H.D.Sankalia, and where for the first time the Middle Palaeolithgic period in India was recognized. The list is seemingly endless as we cover the hidden nooks and crannies where palaeolithic man emerged in the crevices of valley and along the eroded scarps of plateau and scarps of rift valleys, emerging into the modern investigations of archaeologists eager to understand the enigma of evolution and the scalpel of change upon the physique and mind of modern man.  Thousands of palaeolithic sites lie scattered across the sub-continent.
  6. Having thus established the importance of river basins and upper river valleys as the emergent habitation sites of palaeolithic societies of humans it is necessary that the importance of these environments  from a cultural standpoint as national heritage, even world heritage, is appreciated by administrators and politicians and that their destruction is prevented in the present age of economic and industrial development which first of all destroy such areas for development . Since India’s independence in 1947 such regions have been systematically targeted in the valleys and basins of the most pristine environments of hundreds of rivers across the sub-continent including some of the most important palae-archaeological  sites including the Mahanadi, Damodar, Godavari, Narmada, Sone, Sutlej, Beas  etcetera which have faced series of big dams and reservoirs submerging the ancient sites, mines and industrialized power generation that has completely vandalized them, and displaced thousands of settlements of indigenous peoples living in these areas.
  7. The process of power generation upon which the industrialization of modern India was planned consisted in big dams for hydro-electric power, huge coal mine complexes like Singrauli, on the  river Sutlej and the Govindsagar Dam, on the Damodar river in Jharkhand through the big dams of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), and countless other pristine habitats across the country. Most of the hydel power projects failed due to the siltation of dams and were converted to water reserves for coal-fired thermal power stations, and now they will come in useful for new nuclear power stations… The surface of India was dammed, mined , deforested, and the villages faced untold traumas through complete destruction while forests were completely denuded. The ecology of India underwent a drastic change. Despite glaring evidence of what such destruction constitutes the five year plans of development and power generation continued and within the last couple of decades the upper basin of the Damodar valley was attacked by the North Karanpura Coalfields Project where over three dozen vast open- cast mines are being made.
  8. The importance of the upper Damodar basin and Karanpura valley lies in the fact it represents all three phases of palaeo-archaeology in human evolution from the Lower Palaeolithic (150,000 BP) through the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic (50,000-15000 BP) closing at the end of the Late Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene about 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. Modern geologists are of the view that during the last five centuries we entered a new geologic age caused by the impact of human activity  which they term Anthropocene (which is an informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of comparatively recent human activities on the planet, vastly aggravated by the industrial revolution , caused by  industrial pollution of the Earth’s land, water and atmosphere). The long period from the Lower Palaeolithic to the beginning of the Holocene evidenced  in the river valleys and basins of India  is the longest continuous record of human evolution and an invaluable source of information of how the world changed over time. It was challenged by a changing  world in the Holocene period from the domestication of animals, farming, clearing of forests over thousands of years, but during the last few centuries of colonization and introduced industrialization, the building of big dams, and vast mines, mega cities and new townships  began a rapid change in the landscape, its land, water and atmosphere , not only locally but on a global scale altering the planet itself at an ever accelerating rate.  Human dominance of the biological, chemical and geological processes of the remaining natural world are gravely threatened to the extent we can not even consider human survival in the coming centuries. This has international scientific consensus.
  9. Amidst this scenario of modern industrial evolution we have to consider the importance of how people lived in an unpolluted pre industrial world.  For this we turn to the pre historic  rock paintings of the hunters and cave dwellers  who have left their entire stone tools record in the scarps of the hillsides and the shelters of the painted caves which are among  the earliest rock paintings found in India. In these painted caves overlooking the Damodar valley the art of the pre-historic hunters  is seen  and down in the valley it continues in the art of the first settled societies who worshipped the cave paintings, a tradition still in continuance in Karanpura, and here we find the oldest living artistic tradition in the world--- the great mural painting traditions on the  walls of the village houses in the valley painted by the tribal women during the advent of spring and  marriage season (Khovar), and in the harvest festival  with the onset of the winter (Sohrai). This is the oldest and longest continuing artistic tradition in the world. The NKCP aims at annihilating this entire civilizational and evolutionary record. The last phase of the pre-historic rock paintings is found in the spectacular painted cave of Isko at the easternmost end of the Karanpura valley which represents the geometric and script like drawings of the Neo-Chalcolithic period ( 3500-1500 B.C.) This site has received much attention from the Jharkhand government and its cultural and archaeological significance may well be overlooked in turning it into a popular tourist site – or modern worship site which will cause the destruction of the site and its surroundings which require careful preservation from an academic standpoint which is beyond the understanding of the promoters. I any foreign country such sites are revered as sacred relics of scientific and cultural sanctity and protected as such. In India such sophisticated approaches may well be impossible and the whole site may well become a ravaged tourist mess if not properly handled because the defacement of the rock art through visitor graffiti is bound to start unless adequate means are taken to stop it.
  10. Isco was where my work in the rock paintings and anthropo-archaeology of the Karanpura valley began in 1991 and it was (and much of the region still is) pristine. The pebble stone tool deposits were found both within and around the immediate cave and even older  bi-face pebble tools and worked flakes were found lying around the surrounding surface areas. The cave floor emanded excavation but despite decades of negligence on the part of the authorities who were formed of this discovery in 1992 neither the Archaeological Survey of India nor the Bihar Archaeology Department do anything about it. About five years back the over-zealous administration cast concrete over the cave floor sealing a treasure of surface tools including neoliths and microliths. I managed to stop further work as soon as I became aware of this disfigurement.
  11. It must be noted that pebble tool deposits have been found in the immediate vicinity of the Isco cave, and they do exist in painted rock shelters which was drawn  attention by the doyen of Indian rock painting study , Vishnu Wakankar whose name will be for ever associated with Bhimbetka.  Wakankar held that the pebble tools found in the Bhimbetka rock painting site near Bhopal  belonged to the same level as the Lower Palaeolithic and Achaeulian provenance fifty thousand years old although the rock paintings themselves might have been of more recent provenance. This inferred that humans had been living in the caves for tens of thousands of years before the paintings were made in them. Conversely, perhaps many of the earliest markings may have eroded as the sandstone walls are friable and subject to erosion by wind and rain. Wakankar held that the pebble tools found in Bhimbetka were connected with Lower Palaeolithic and Achaeulian deposits of this area . This would mean that the earliest humans – who might not have as yet been fully human in the modern sense  - occupied these caves for those tens of thousands of years during which they reached what in Europe was the Neanderthal phase 30,000 years ago, and only  thousands of years later began to paint the caves.  Rock art in Europe may well have begun earlier than in  India since Europe was covered with a heavy ice sheet and the cave-men had more time inside their caves to think of making markings that grew eventually into rock art. On the other hand man in India experienced  little of the great ice age and spent his time more in the open in the temperate climate. The rock art might be attributed to the more recent pebble stone tool makers.
  12. The Damodar suite of pebble stone tools is strikingly similar to the Sone basin Palaeolithic stone tools, and the Sone tools are  very similar to the Narmada pebble stone tools.  The stone tools found at Riwat in the Soan Valley of the Potwar plateau in western Punjab (now in Pakistan) belong to the earliest stone tool makers (Homo habilis/Homo erectus) of two million years ago(Irfan Habib, Prehistory of India, 2001. P.25) and bear a striking similarity to the Palaeolithic stone tools found in the upper Damodar valley in Karanpura. It was the opinion of the famed Jesuit palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin when he visited the Narmada in1935 with De Terra that  “Above the immense alluvial plain emerges a platform of  nummulitic  limestones rich in flints. The whole platform is nothing but a fabulous workshop… millions of points and implements.(27 November, 1935), and again  “The Narmada ranks as the classic Pleistocene of India –and only a single Palaeolithic implement had yet been found in situ…(about 1850). Nothing else has been done there during the subsequent eight decades! ... Great was our surprise to find there vastly rich deposits of  ancient industry  -- as rich perhaps as Madras, and with fauna.” (18 December, 1935).  It is important to understand  that the Palaeolithic stone tool industry of Pleistocene  man two million years ago ( 2 mybp) in this Sone –Narmada region of Central India is connected with the adjoining hill tracts and plateau of Chotanagpur including the Karanpaura Valley , where they have been  brought to light by me ,  and in neighbouring Orissa and Chhatisgarh . These were among the  birth-places of palaeolithic man  in Asia. Obviously these three hilly regions divided by three major rivers, and connected by the Kaimur and Bundelkhand ranges had close associations between the primitive peoples living in them who during the hunting period (7000-4000 BC) would have been ranging long distances.  On the other hand these typical stone tools of similar form are distinct from many other parts of India in independent form.  H.D.Sankalia the famous palaeo-archaeologist had observed,   “In a vast country like India there are bound to be regional variations in the Middle Stone Age culture.” The Damodar-Sone-Narmada represents a unique stone tool and rock art culture which spans the regions of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh representing Early Man in what Verrier Elwin called “Middle India”. Their contemporary tribal arts and crafts are also strikingly similar.

Palaeolithic man in the Chotanagpur plateau

The Chotanagpur plateau in east central India was more or less completely  the portion carved from the old state of Bihar in 2000  to constitute the new state of Jharkhand which was even then heavily forested and mostly populated by ancient ethnic tribal groups.  After its formation it felt the marginalizing  of its tribal communities and the government policy of increased industrialization and mining of its vast mineral deposits which has been a growing phenomenon all over India since its independence from British rule in 1947. India has followed the outmoded and decadent model of  development of the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment which is no longer fashionable in western countries which long back had destroyed their natural environments and native cultures and attempting to farm them back to prominence. Our understanding of the palaeolithic in Jharkhand is at best dependant upon inadequate research or collection of stone tools or excavation of sites ( as in Chaibasa which uptil recently said to be sterile of flake- blade industry).Gua, Ghatsila and Sini were on the other hand considered “rich” in such industry on the basis of particular finds. I would say that all the plateau areas of Jharkhand are rich in palaeolithic deposits but the proper attempts have not been made to find and document them. The other thing to be realized is that the past thirty thousand years of the archaeological record is confined to the surface and subsoil and since the plateau has a conglomerate crust and frequent heavy rains there are adequate eroded areas to find evidence of early man without need for excavation except in specific instances. The lithic (or stone)phase is represented in these sediments of mottled clay and early conglomerate largely revealed through erosion  apart from the gorges of river valleys and rift formation scarps such as the edges of Hazaribagh plateau above Damodar caused by tectonic shifting. This example may be applied in principle to the entire Chotanagpur plateau and in particular in the basins and upper valleys of streams and rivers. One of the major drawbacks of palaeo-archaeology is the attempt to construct sequences occurring millions of years ago through study of few select finds. Obviously, the larger the quantity of  finds the better the archaeological reconstruction possible. Stone tools are not merely curiosities in a museum but tools for understanding the human past, and from our understanding of it to help us to understand – even shape constructively – our human future on this planet.

I have pointed out that Palaeolithic man world wide has to be found predominantly in the forested basins of rivers which were also the sources of water and food, wild animals and birds, and the large and small pebble stones required for early stone-age cultures. Certain  basins and river valleys saw the rise of man  such as along the Nile and Zambesi in Africa, along the Danube and Neckar in Europe, and in the middle eastern part of India in the Narmada and Sone basins, and in the Damodar river basin and valley in Jharkhand. In the upper parts of the Nile in Ethiopia  have been found the older large bi-face  choppers ,cleavers and hand- axes and as one comes down to Egypt the tools assemblage changes. Similarly, in the upper basin of the Damodar in Jharkhand this suite of  larger stone tools appear, and in both rivers as we go down into the broader river valley a smaller more crafted suite of stone tools appear. The stone tools found in the Damodar basin and valley are similar to the stone tool types of the Sone and Narmada rivers to the west.

The Sone rises in Sone-mund in the highlands of the Amarkantak hills in Madhya Pradesh, flowing northeast  into Bihar in the Rohtas district where it is met by the North Koel river at Kabrakala an important archaeological site near Japla in Jharkhand. Other important tributaries of the Sone are the Johilla, Banas, Gopat. The upper and middle parts of the river and its tributaries have yielded vast remains of palaeolithic man not far from the sources of the North Koel and Damodar in the Chotanagpur plateau in Palamau district. Thus the continuation of the stone tool types is understood.

The Upper Sone includes the Jabalpur district in Katni sub-division , Shahdol, Siddhi and Bilaspur in Madhya Pradesh. These were half a century ago  heavily forested river valleys but after Independence they fell victim to the  curse of industrialism, mining and big dams. Today these areas have  been already devastated thoroughly. The Pleistocene deposits of the Upper Sone (35,000-12,000 BP) are otherwise having the general order of stone tools common to peninsular India, apart from their stylistic identity.(Oldham, Foote, 1961; Wakankar, IAR- 1956-57; Joshi, IAR-1957-58; Sengupta,IAR-1961-62: 8-9;and Nisar Ahmed) The lower levels are of conglomerate yielding  early stone age tools, above which is the sandy loess of the tertiary age tens of thousands of years old on which are found other layers of stone tools brought to light by Ahmed in sixty-five places (Ahmed 1966:3-7). The blade-burin industry is similar to the Poona types. The whole is representative of an Acheulian phase with pebble tools and flakes, scrapers, hand-axes, borers, points and blades.

The Upper Sone includes Singrauli where heavy coal mining has been going on for sixty odd years the massive opencast coal mines made to feed power generation  which operations have completely destroyed the palaeo-archaeological beds. Jharkhand is now following the same model in Karanpura. The Sone basin at Singrauli contained a lower palaeolithic treasure of stone tools which was mined out as well as submerged under the waters of the Rihand Dam reservoir and now forever lost. All over India hundreds of such hydel and  mineral-rich river basins have suffered similar fates in the process of industrial development. Tens of millions of forest dwellers have been displaced and thousands of villages destroyed. What are left to posterity are deep scars evidencing Anthropocene man.

The Rihand Dam is drained by the rivers Sone, Dudhi , Rihand,  and tributaries of the Sone rising in the hills. Geologically the northern part is of Gangetic alluvium, the middle part of Vindhyan sandstone, and southern part of the Cuddapah formation (Krishnaswami, S.Rajan, 1951:42). Researchers in the past who figure prominently for their work in this region are Cockburn, 188; Oldham; De Teron; Peterson, 1939; Bruce Foote;Zuener). Unfortunately the only major report on this important area is  a research paper by Krishnaswami and Soundara Rajan of 1951. They noted,

“ …prevalence of a large series of Abbevilian-Acheulian bi-facial hand-axes, pebble and chopping tools… Bi-face tools include cleavers of many types.  There are numerous flakes both used as tools, and waste; among the useful flakes there being a prominent  proto-Levallois flakes “. Krishnaswami had suggested that this area represented a meeting of the Soan valley(in thePotwar plateau of western Punjab in  Pakistan)and Madrassian types. The Soan  tools belong to the earliest stone tool makers (Homo habilis/Homo erectus) two million years ago.(Irfan Habib, Prejistory of India, 2001. P.25) It is important to understand  that this region of central and east India and the adjoining hill tracts and plateau of Chotanagpur –Orissa-Chhatisgarh was the birth-place of palaeolithic man . To the north the sprawling Indo-Gangetic plain  is entirely devoid of any palaeolithic remains which shows these first humans were explicitly forest-dwellers. Chotanagpur forms part of the Assam geological formation  and is separated by the Malda Plain of East Bengal, now Bangladesh , which was carved in the most ancient times by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. In the middle of the Chotanagpur plateau x the thick alluvium crust is cut through by numerous river valleys  revealing an ancient lower palaeolithic level with attendant middle and upper palaeolithic stratas. This is most evident in the sandstone scarps of the Hazaribagh plateau north of Isco which have been identified as sites of early man, and this series will be found in the scarps on either side of the Karanpura valley and the hill ranges which bifurcate the valley which contain the most notable rock art caves of Eastern India. The entire areas involved in the valley are inhabited by primitive tribal societies and their kinsmen  some of whom may have migrated from adjacent regions, while their art and culture reflect the traditions of their ancestors  from the chalcolithic and Neolithic ages as well as the earlier hunters and gatherers who left their painted art on the cave walls in the hills. The same may be said of the larger region of Chotanagpur plateau x beyond the immediate confines of the Damodar valley and in the valleys of all the other rivers flowing from the plateaux. Chotanagpur has evidenced across its entire extent the remains of Lower, middle and upper palaeolithic stone tools in Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Khunti, Singhbhum, Gumla, Chatra, Giridih ,Lohardagga, Santal Parganas, Godda, Palamau, and other districts. Hazaribagh has been highlighted due to my objective analyses and continued searches which have revealed the extent of its prehistoric archaeology and art. But similar work in other districts is bound to show similar results. As to the southern parts of the plateau similar searches and studies have been made in the past by  by Sarat Chandra Roy in Ranchi, Khunti, Gumla, Lohardagga, and Singhbhum. In the eastern region  below the plateau in the river valleys of Damodar and Suvarnarekha and in Purulia in 1949 P.R.Sarkar made a series of important discoveries of palaeolithic remains in what he called Western Rarh.The first notice of discovery of a palaeolithic stone tool was by Hughes in the Bokaro coal-field (Vincent Ball,Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal,1865, pages 127-128) and a boucher made from micaceous quartzite now in the Indian Museum, Calcutta. The first evidence of the chalcolithic  was  in the finding of a flat copper celt and a copper amulet by  Bruce Foote at Bargunda (B.Foote, The Foote Collection of Indian Pre-historic and Proto-historic antiquities, 1914, page 248 )now in the Madras Government Museum. Pachamba in Giridih district yielded a few copper celts, now also in the Indian Museum, Calcutta (J.Goggin Brown, Catalogue of Pre-historic Antiquities in the Indian Museum, page 140). The District Gazetteer for Hazaribagh (1957) noted “Large dolmens or flat stones planted upright abound in the district..” (P.C.Roy Choudhury,Hazaribagh District Gazetteer, 1957, p.82)
It was in this backround I brought to light in 1991 the rock art site of Isco in the Karanpura valley, and the palaeolithic remains of the Damodar basin and valley. Later the number of rock art sites was increased to include over a dozen painted caves in the hills and escarpments surrounding the valley, and the palaeo-archological sites  close to or not distant from them, as also the iron age sites on which the tribal hamlets were built as well as the megaliths in these areas. From this small beginning grew a giant tree of research which has drawn serious specialists from every continent to Hazaribagh and included hundreds of academic studies in international universities. Out of these grew the tribal art work I began with the village women which has been exhibited in  many European countries, UK, Canada, USA, Australia, etc. The full stone tool suites from the Lower, Middle and Upper palaeolithic (Achaeulian, Levallois flaking) and including microliths,  stone mother goddess figurines etc. have been catalogued and presented in my Sanskriti museum in Hazaribagh.The Damodar basin has been shown to be one of the most important archaeological sites not only of India but of the world because it not only offers the whole palaeolithic story but the emerging rise of man from the palaeolithic and his evolution into the people who inhabit the valley today. It is an “Avatar” kind of story. It has been written about, filmed, and its story displayed to millions around the world. It is gravely unfortunate that the Karanpura valley has been chosen by the government to be completely mined for coal by opencast method.

After bringing to light the valuable archaeological and cultural heritage of this rich agricultural and fertile valley with its vast forests and hilly ranges I pointed out its nature of being a rift valley akin to Olduvai gorge in Tanzaniya. The rift formation of the Karanpura valley evidenced by the vertical scarp of the Hazaribagh plateau to its north and Ranchi plateau to its south upon examination by experts evidenced a pebbled shoreline at a height of about 150 vertical feet showing it was in the deep past a vast lake contained by the eastern range of Sati Hills which formed the trap, and left a pebbled  shoreline along the vertical scarps. The Hazaribagh plateau is set on a very ancient bed going back millions of years  and tectonic movement has loosened the rubble in the vertical scarps above the  valley revealing in  their  lower portions over a hundred and fifty feet below the plateau  the oldest chopping tools of Homo habilis in the Karanpura valley. Additionally, the oldest stone tools have been exposed in the vertical scarps and gorges cut by streams like Dudhi Nala in Chapri above Isco as well as more recent stone tools along the stream. With regard to the lake I believe it must have melted after the last ice age and that the deep caves which were formed by erosion were later to be painted by the hunters…

As the years progressed I began studying the relations between the Karanpura valley and known migration patterns both of the tribes which inhabit the valley today and the  nomadic hunting-gathering forest autochthones who pass in and out and were in all probability the direct descendants of the earliest hunters. In fact these people claim the rock paintings in the caves that surround the valley were painted by their ancestors. I found convincing reasons for believing that the old migration trails were later become pilgrim routes facilitating travelers going from Benares to Orissa. I also found deep connections through the various primitive mural art forms in the valley  with those practiced by villages on the Hazaribagh plateau. In a dating of flake tools from a megalithic site in the valley I found that these megalith builders had brought flakes from the neighbouring  Hazaribagh  plateau scarps at around 85,000BP and that the fresh chipping  was done around 5,500 BP. ! This deduction was made possible through a series of spectrometric  datings conducted at the Palaeolithic Research Institute in Dresden by my associate Dr Volkmar Geupel  in 2004. Much of the region’s pre-history has yielded many of its secrets to my researches. Its now famous mural painting traditions of Khovar and Sohrai have also yielded to continual searches and several thousand motifs both in the rock paintings as well as the village mural house wall painting traditions have been drawn and compared with motifs in other parts of India and the world. This project is currently being pursued by colleagues at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.

The deeper connections between palaeolithic peoples and their descendants, and in turn handed down to our generations present a fascinating field for study and research. The living connection between the rock paintings in the hills and the village wall paintings by tribal women is a fascinating reflection of  forms when we realize that the traditions have evidenced themselves in Catal-hoyuk , a Neolithic settlement  on the plains of central Turkey on the Anatolian plateau over eight thousand years ago.  This ancient settlement in which matrilineal agricultural societies built the largest known Neolithic settlement, its architecture and building, and wall paintings by women, could not but have  come from places like the Karanpura valley in India. To me those traditions  could not have come to central or eastern India  from that side at that date. Conversely, we are informed by dedicated researchers like Sarat Chandra Roy that at a more recent date the Mundas and their kin came from northern India to Chotanagpur. They were a people with megalith raising traditions, but those traditions appeared in Chotanagpur thousands of years before and went to north India from the east. The ancient palaeolithic roots of Chotanagpur’s human evolution long predates anything found in northwestern India. Many tribes may have been driven back to these eastern forested fastnesses by invading  tribes from the north but long before this the north had been inhabited by eastern tribes either through the Satpuras, Gangetic valley, or the sub -montane Himalayan foothills from earliest times.

The megalithic culture began long before the iron age and evidenced its continuity in the Asura culture of South Ranchi among a people who were iron smelters of mundaric origin whose linguistic origins and physical identification place them among Southeast Asian and Turainian groups coming into India during the upper palaeolithic period via the Chin Hills and through the Brahmaputra valley. In my opinion we are witnessing in the archaeology of Jharkhand a profoundly important field for study and researches as we find the megalithic culture was using chipped flake tools and that the overlapping of the older palaeolithic period was through the neo-chalcolithic phase emerging in iron age times. A divide between the older and the newer period may be found, and this idea is reinforced by a distinct stylistic division appearing at about this time in the rock paintings. If the village mural tradition is indeed connected to the art of the hunters it must have been begun among the first sedentarized agricultural societies around 4,000B.C. That we have in Jharkhand ancient tribal art forms six thousand years old is a staggering thought when we realize that the art of the early hunters  in the caves is at least five thousand years older.

When I learned from the nomadic Birhors (who call themselves uthlu, which means”wanderer” that their ancestors painted the rock art in the highest hills I was able to understand how they still are able to draw similar forms in the soft dust of their settlements ! I spent decades studying their ethnobotany -- knowledge of food and medicinal plants—their hunting and folklore. It dawned upon me while I was thus employed that I was witnessing the living stone age although they can barter their catch with local villages for iron implements etc. Their knowledge of survival trapping and food-gathering was a source of profound inspiration when I realized they managed to live without destroying anything !!

In South Ranchi S.C.Roy’s researches of Asura sites as pointed out have established the connect between the palaeolithic and the megalithic just before the rapid evolution of wheel turned pottery, copper and  tin smelted bronze,  and discovery of iron, coupled with agriculture to create a new economic order. But the exchange economy which was slowly emerging between the self supporting forest peoples like the Birhor and the sedentarized villages dependent upon seasonal agriculture had not reached a stage that involved any sort of money. The artisan castes developed according to their crafts but exchange continued right uptil the imposition of outside rule( long pre-dating the British arrival). The bronze casting tradition  of the Malhars, the iron-smithy of the lohras, the pots of the Kumhars, the basketry of Turis, the oil extraction by Telis, the carpentry of Barhis etc. were forms of production hardly necessary for the hunter-gatherers who traded amongst themselves. The production of iron made the Asuras stronger than others and these and other tribes were feared by the Vedic entrants to forest India. As long as the villages had their own self rule system through councils, as long as they were in control of their own farmlands, forests, religious institutions, festivals and sacred places, and could practice their own customs they were strong and safe from intrusion by outsiders who would exploit them. But slowly the scythe of Time entered in the form of gift-offerers – those who come with promises of giving real development for the people but are in fact industrial wolves in the sheep’s clothing of development. 
In eastern central India in the Chotanagpur plateau  an area geographically identified with the young state of Jharkhand  in the Damodar and Suvarnarekha valleys – and even down into the Bengal plains through which the Damodar flows, and in other river valleys such as Kasai and Kamsavati –and adjoining Purulia  in Bengal, Simlipal in Orissa, and in East Singhbhum  we see the impacts of modern industrial development. The stone age sites in Chandil and Ghatsila have had to face industrial development. The series of big dams on the Damodar have completely destroyed  the lower  valley, and  similar dams  built on the Suvarnarekha which was rich in Acheulian and Abbevilian stone tool culture have wiped out a glorious region of ancient Jain heritage in over seventy temple sites, wiping out the forests and submerging palaeolithic as well as historic remains without the slightest remorse or twinge of conscience expressed by the government.  The local administration is powerless. Near Dhanbad,  twenty-five temples in a group once considered by British archaeologists (Block, Beglar, Cunningham, Marshall) as the finest example of early Jain architecture – at Telkupi , between 1957 and 1961 these lovely stone and brick temples of unknown provenance in their earliest phase since the whole area is associated with earliest Jain saints like Mahavira and Parasvanatha  twenty-five centuries ago – these temples were heartlessly submerged without salvage or documentation under the eye of the watchful eye of the state archaeology department and the appreciative gaze of the government even when the architect of modern India , Jawaharlal Nehru, was alive. Today one temple of this priceless cluster – Telkupi – stands proudly showing but its upper portion in the silted up foreshore of this dam. The dam long since lost its hydro-electricity potential. The Adivasis or tribals of the region – chiefly – Bhumias, disappeared half a century ago and the fabled forests of Manbhum are no more…Through the forests which remain  lie the remains of broken Jain statues in groups  like relics of an unknown past .This has been India’s crowning shame in the name of development . Having been aware of this the campaign to save Karanpura valley began with the residual archaeological remains of this once culturally vibrant are of Jharkhand, but it was to make the region distinctive in an almost unknown discipline: palaeo-archaeology. Today Anthropo-archaeology is an emerging discipline in Indian universities and it is about time the universities concentrated ground level studies in threatened river valleys and basins. Proper documentation of archaeological remains has not been done in Jharkhand let alone the discovery of new sites, or the protection and conservation of existing sites; and at the present rate of destruction of archaeological remains in the name of development soon nothing will be left to prove that these once existed at all. All over Jharkhand the picture that emerges is the same. The Rajmahal hills in the Santal Parganas area represent the most important fossil site in India. Massive state sponsored stone mining is all but completely destroying the region. At the same time a museum for the fossils has been built in a Jesuit school in Sahibgunj. This is the state of affairs in almost every major site. In a similar fashion stone mining is eating up the Kaimur range in the Rohtas district of the neighboring state of Bihar which is an extension of Chotanagpur in the Vindhyan formation of mountains. In the Santal Parganas area famous in an earlier age for the Santal Rebellions of 1857 there are a series of vast new opencast mines in Godda and Rajmahal. In Godda, Rajmahal, Sahibganj, Pakur,Paharpur   and Maluti there are palaeolithic remains and  these continue down through the chalcolithic and Neolithic period to the iron age. Environmental and now archaeological clearance for all big mines is guaranteed by the fact that huge  investments are made even before the  clearances are obtained , and afterwards the courts are unable to block the mining because of “sunk investments”. This is government policy in all development projects in the name of so called national interests.

Dr. Kalyan Chakrabarty, Not long ago Director General of the National Museum in Delhi , wrote in the Sanskriti Hazaribagh guest book, “The museum can only be an extension of a living landscape, not a mirror of its extinction.” (10th Feb.,2005)

Strong words indeed. If only the government could understand their significance. Wherever local museums may be found in India not far away is the extinction of the landscape, the remains of which have landed up in the museum. Destruction of the landscape through the ideology of development has destroyed archaeological India. Even as it has destroyed tribal India. Fortunately in the Karanpura valley in the Damodar basin the struggle to present ecological, archaeological and indigenous/human rights issues began long ago and built a firewall against total and sudden obliteration of the landscape.

In the southernmost part of the Chotanagpur in south Ranchi is a densely forested area with West Singhbhum in the eastwhere attention was first drawn to a palaeolithic series of stone tools and chert flakes near Chaibasa by Captain Beeching in 1868(A.K.Ghosh, 1970:4).This will be found to be connected with the similar remains of the Mahanadi valley in the south in the state of Orissa, and in the west with river valleys and rock art in Chhatisgarh state. The entire region from West Bengal and Orissa in the east to Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in the west in the Saal forests areas will be found to be of an archaic level of human occupation stretching back from the most recent times to the Lower Palaeolithic. Man was evolving in Africa, Europe and India at similar periods and strikingly similar manifestations of this evidence which we can understand through the study of stone tools  they left behind. By 150,000 a n evolved form called Homo sapienshad evolved and spread from Africa through Asia and Europe and about thirty thousand years ago attained a stage called Neandertal in Europe (from remains found in a cave in the Neander valley in Germany), and  such a type and manifested itself in what is now the Middle East and was also surely manifesting itself in South Asia (i.e.India and Pakistan)These proto-humans were making large stone tools like hand-axes and cleavers.

Two of the prolific stone tool sites of early man are bordering the North Chotanagpur plateau overlooking the Ganges valley in the north. The sites are Jethian valley in Gaya district and Kharagpur range in Monghyr district which is an extension of the plateau. The Jethian  site is actually in the Gangetic plain where the Jamunia river has exposed a Pleistocene deposit  of conglomerate and mottled clay to a depth of several metres, revealing early stone age tools (12,000 BP)The area is also rich in quartzite hand-axes , cleavers, choppers, flakes and cores and evidencing the Levallois stone tool making technique. The site may representthe first advent of early man toward the Ganges valley. The Middle Palaeolithic finds from the Kharagpur range  in Monghyr district is rich in stone tools evidencing  early man. Not far away is the Middle Palaeolithic site in Jamalpur  , and similar Middle Palaeolithic industries continue along the edges of the North Chotanagpur plateau from Jharkhand state into West Bengal in Midnapur, Bankura,Birbhum, Burdwan,and Purulia where theey join up with the East Singhbhum Middle Palaeolithic series in East Singhbhum. From the observations made in this paper it will become abundantly clear that the Chotanagpur plateau not only represents Early Man ( i.e. from 150,000 years ago) but from as far back as two million years ago since Olduwan /Pleistocene type stone tools of the Sone and Soan (Pakistan)series made by Homo habilis have been found in the upper Damodar river in Karanpura valley.

It is important to remember that the earliest apes (from which our human species may or may not have directly evolved)have left remains in the Siwalik ranges north of Chandigarh many millions of years ago. Ramapithecus was an ape similar to Australopithecus in South Africa. In the Museum of Man at Chandigarh one can view the oldest stone tools in India and their evolving types. Modern humans are not supposed to have descended directly from Ramapithecus which existed over 15MYBP.  According to modern theory the apes from which  human bipeds evolved were Australopithecine (3.8 million-1.7 MYBP) in East and South Africa which were makings tone  tools around  1.7 million years back. Their stone tools were flakes formed by knocking two large pebbles together. However, in the Soan valley in the Potwar plateau of western Punjab similar  proto-humans were making  similar tools  known as Oldowan( after Olduvai) tools having several faces which were made perhaps earlier(2MYBP). (Irfan Habib,Prehistory of India,2001, pp.21-27)In the lowest levels found under the Hazaribagh plateau in Karanpura valley similar stone tools have been found and require deeper examination which  could make it one of the most important sites in the world.

It is theorized by modern experts that the human race is descended from proto-humans in East Africa. Their migrations have been described as “candelabra” or bifurcating, one migration coming south-eastward to South Asia and the other going north-westward to Europe. During the course of their long migration via the Horn of Africa to India they were obviously evolving and their journey was in fact an expansion due to population increases and exploiting new hunting grounds since they had no permanent home. These early men are believed to have been the first proper humans evolved around the time of Homo neandertalis  who was found in West Asia to have buried his dead with flowers , ornaments and food , and was already making complex flint tools. This early man obviously had spiritual beliefs and practices. An early stone mother goddess found in North Jharkhand – a small stone figurine resembling the Venus found in Willendorf in Austria on the Danube is dated about the same date – 20,000BP (B.K.Thapar,1996). The Neandertal’s descendants in Europe were painting caves  with images of bison and horses about the same time. These were societies that depended for their survival only on hunting and food-gathering. Europe was then completely an ice-bound continent, while India was in a tropical ice age period during which the sub-continent was not covered by a thick ice sheet.  We should expect the evolution of man in India to have been more advanced than Europe since  agriculture and metals were in evidence in Southeast Asia thousands of years earlier than in post-glacial Europe. Jharkhand would be an excellent field for the carrying out of such field researches. It could also bring a new focus on the importance of the state both for foreign interest in the region and tourism.

Today there is an important revolution taking place in the understanding of intelligence and its applications. The brain size of Neandertal man was the same as humans today despite the long  time span between them. The enlarging of the brain does not signify an increase in intelligence as it is understood (H.D.Sankalia,Prehistory of India, p.191; Alexis Carrel,Reflections on Life, 1972,p.71). Palaeolithic man had a very large brain because his skull was very big but he was not more intelligent according to our present understanding of what constitutes intelligence in action or behavior. The question that confronts us is “Have we evolved ?.”  Our destructiveness to our habitat, to other human societies, and the scale at which warfare and ecological degradation are increasing would point in the opposite direction !  Modern development has been equated with evolution, and we are to ask ourselves whether such  evolution is at the expense of human societies and their natural environment. Do our actions represent an evolving species ?

After completing this paper I have just received information that Reliance’s  Tilaiya ultra mega power project (UMPP) being promoted by the state government, is planned to be built at Tilaiya  fifty kilometers north of Hazaribagh town and will be receiving its coal from the new opencast coal mine planned by NTPC (National Thermal Power Corpn.) at Keridari between Barkagaon and Tandwa in the North Karanpura valley. I had seen this disaster coming (as I had seen the earlier mines at Piperwar destroy the living landscape).This area where the opencast mine will be made is a pristine forested region, once part of the elephant corridors which  I could not save, and watered by several streams and rivers including the  Salgah river which is a tributary of the Barki near Tandwa where a big dam is being built. It is also one of the major palaeolithic site in Karanpura. Thisregion contains several villages  and in the hills above it some of the most important rock art sites such as Nautangwa Pahar rock art caves. In the middle of what will become the  Keridari opencast mine are the Chunatari Caves which suppied the kaolin and white earth ( charak-matti)  for the surface plaster of village houses on which Khovar and Sohrai paintings are cut or drawn. I had seen this disaster coming for a long time, and now finally it has arrived. Tilaiya was India’s first big dam built during the mid 1950s. I was thirteen then, and saw its construction. Scores of villages were displaced and today a vast forest is a large expanse of water of which a third has silted up and is useless. The dam cease full power production decades ago. From a survey done by my colleague Ruchi Pant about a decade back in the Damodar Valley Corporation offices here in Hazaribagh I found that the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R)of the displaced villagers was never fully carried out. I have a DVC booklet of the times  showing little boys in white school uniforms then in fashion – wide shorts, shoes etc. This became the face of all further Indian power projects.

Goodbye Tilaiya, goodbye Salgah, goodbye Nautangwa…I think the reader can feel the pain in my heart. It is only such pain which can save our disappearing world.


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