In what could be a major find, a large number of stone tools and weapons said dating back to more than 80,000 years ago were unearthed from a dry lake bed in Singadivakkam, a remote hamlet some 65 km south of Chennai, a couple of days ago.
The discovery, by Professor S Rama Krishna Pisipaty and his student S Shanmugavelu of the department of Sanskrit and culture at Sri Chandrasekaharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya in Enathur, Kancheepuram, was part of an ongoing excavation work partly funded by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
They have so far found hand-axes, choppers, scrappers and borers as well as microlithic tools (small stone implements) and pointed tools of different sizes and shapes. Most could have been used for hunting and fishing, they said.
The huge number of tools found, said to be over 200, at the one-hectare-site indicates that it could have hosted a large human settlement, Prof Pisipaty said. Most of the settlers may have migrated from the northern parts of the country, he added. "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.
This period, the geo-archeologist added, encompassed the first widespread use of technology as humans progressed from simple to complex development stages. It is generally said to have begun approximately 500,000 years ago and ended about 6,000 BCE with the development of agriculture, the domestication of certain animals and the smelting of copper ore, he said. It is termed pre-historic since writing hadn't begun. In the early Paleolithic period, each clan or family group regarded itself as "the people" and excluded others, Prof Pisipaty said. Strangers were not even thought of as human. In this settlement, the community identity started becoming more important than individual identity, he said.
Unlike other similar finds, including the first Paleolithic tool (a hand axe) discovered at Pallavaram in 1863 by British geo-archeologist Robert Bruce Foote, the one at Singadivakkam is, Prof Pisipaty said, unique at least for one reason: The site has evidence in the form of tools and weapons showing the transition from the Stone Age to the modern age. In the rest of the Paleolithic sites discovered so far, he added, there had been a break in the sequence. This makes it the largest Paleolithic settlment near Chennai, he said.
The professor and his student also discovered fossil remains of animals and trees at the site. "There are a few research institutes in the country, including IIT Madras, where they cane be tested for age and we plan to send them there," Prof Pisipaty said.
Professor Pisipaty and Shanmugavelu, who had been conducting excavations at the site since February 2009, began with basic research, including field visits. A large number of pebbles in different forms and the nature of soil convinced them of the importance of the area. Before starting the exercise, Pisipaty made a presentation to the authorities and got permission through the state archeological department. "Kancheepuram was ideal for early settlers with its large number of safe water bodies a lifeline for any human settlement," Pisipaty, who did his doctoral thesis at Benaras University in Lucknow, told TOI.
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