Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stone tools reveal India's 1.5 million year old prehistory | Past Horizons

Archaeologists have discovered India’s oldest stone-age tools, up to 1.5 million years old, at a prehistoric site near Chennai. The discovery may change existing ideas about the earliest arrival of human ancestors from Africa into India.

A team of Indian and French archaeologists have used two dating methods including Cosmogenic nuclide burial dating to show that the stone hand-axes and cleavers from Attirampakkam are at least 1.07 million years old, and could date as far back as 1.5 million years.

12 years of painstaking work
The Tamil Nadu site was first discovered in 1863 by British geologist Robert Bruce Foote, and has been excavated at various times since then.

Archaeologists Shanti Pappu and Kumar Akhilesh from the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education have spent the last 12 years continuing to excavate the site and have now found 3,528 artefacts that bear a distinct similarity to prehistoric tools discovered in western Asia and Africa.

The tools fall into a class of artefacts called Acheulian that scientists believe were first created by Homo erectus – ancestors of modern humans – in Africa about 1.6 million years ago.

“This means that soon after early humans invented the Acheulian tools, they crossed formidable geographical barriers to get to southern Asia,” said Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, who is an expert in Asian prehistoric archaeology but was not associated with the Chennai study. “The suggestion that this occurred 1.5 million years ago is simply staggering,” he said.

Petraglia himself had earlier been involved in excavating the Hunsgi valley in Karnataka, which has yielded 1.27 million-year-old stone tools, regarded as India’s oldest until now. Although earlier excavations had revealed Acheulian tools at a few sites on the Indian subcontinent, including a two million-year-old site in Pakistan, the dates assigned to the artefacts so far have remained under debate.

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