Researchers from the Anthropological Survey of India (AnSI) have discovered a number of Acheulian artefacts (dated to about 1, 500,000–1,50,000 years ago) along with contemporary Soanian ones from an unexplored site at Ghumarwin in Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh. The site is close to the site where scientists in the 19th century discovered fossil remains of Sivapithecus, the last common ancestor of orangutans and humans.
The discovery of stone tools belonging to the Acheulian age in a region known to have rich evidence of the Soanian period, presents the possibility of continuity of the two stone age cultures at the site.
“This is the first time that the AnSI has found a large number of Acheulian artefacts along with the Soanian tools at a same site. We have found bifacial hand axes along with cleavers and scrapers, which are clearly tools of the Acheulian age. Along with this, tools like various types of choppers, discoids, scrapers, cores, numerous flake types and angular core fragments of Soanian cultural period have also been found at the same site,” said Worrel Kumar Bain, one of researchers involved with the discovery.
The oldest dated Acheulian sites in India are those at Attirampakkam in Tamil Nadu, dating to 1.5 million years ago, whereas recent assessments of the South Asian Paleolithic (stone age culture) records have suggested that most Soanian assemblages are younger than Acheulian evidence in the Sivalik region.
According to experts, the Soanian stone age cultures date to 600 ka (about 6,00,000) years ago.
Mr. Bain said tools have been collected from the site at the surface level, and a few were in stratified condition. A few artefacts also show heavy rolling due to river activity, while others are in fresh condition and show minimal rolling, which suggests that the artefacts came from nearby localities and through rivers and got deposited
“Present Achulian discovery from unexplored site at Ghumarwin indicates that the river Sutlej and its tributaries have been a prehistoric corridor for the peninsular Acheulian man into the Sivalik region,” the researcher said, adding that more studies are required to find the amalgamation of two prehistoric stone cultures (Soanian and Acheulian) in Himachal Pradesh.
Other than over 100 stone tools, the exploration also yielded petrified remains of a number of vertebrate and invertebrate groups. “Besides vertebrates, few invertebrates mainly fresh water gastropods have also been recovered. An interesting finding during exploration was a fossilized tuber of a tree,” said Harshawardhana, principal investigator of the project and head of office, North Western Regional Centre of AnSI.
The petrified remains are under examination by experts and will help in recreating an ecological picture of the area, millions of years ago. “The indication of gastropods [a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca] suggests the presence of backswamps of the flood plains,” Dr. Harshawardhana, said.
Sites under threat
According to Dr. Harshawardhana, the stretches between Bilaspur and Ghumarwin, that hold answers to how our ancestors survived million of years ago in the Sivalik ranges, are under threat due developmental work such as road and bridges, and also agriculture.
“Being ignorant of the precious heritage the locals are selling fossil remains at a very nominal price. There is a need for documentation of the bio-cultural heritage localities and preservation of these sites,” the anthropologist said.
Describing the region as a gold mine for anthropologists, archaeologists, and geologists, he said anthropologists are preparing a proposal for the conservation of the region, and will also involve the district administration in it.