Stone tools offer insights into history of human evolution


  • Based on over 7,200 stone artefacts collected from the archaeological site at Attirampakkam in the Kortallayar River Basin about 60 km northwest of Chennai, researchers suggest that hominins in India may have developed a Middle Palaeolithic culture phase around 3,85,000 years ago and continuing up to around 172,000 years ago. According to earlier evidences, the Middle Palaeolithic culture in India was dated to around 1,25,000 years ago.

The Middle Palaeolithic:

  • The Middle Palaeolithic is an important cultural phase, associated as it is globally with both modern humans and Neanderthals or other archaic hominins, with complex histories of interaction, cultural transitions and change and dispersals. Based on stone tools and fossil studies, the Middle Palaeolithic culture (called the Middle Stone Age in Africa) is associated with modern humans in Africa, while it is associated with both modern humans and Neanderthals in Israel. But in Europe, the Middle Palaeolithic culture is associated only with Neanderthals.


  • In case of India, we cannot say who made the tools as no hominin fossil remains have been found till now. So we must be more cautious in correlating species with culture in the case of India.
  • The Middle Palaeolithic culture is thought to have originated in Africa. When we look at the Indian site at Attirampakkam, which is far away from Africa, we see a similar cultural change occurring. The number and nature of dispersals of populations bearing a Middle Palaeolithic culture from Africa is not a simple, linear model but is far more complex.
  • In 2011, Prof. Pappu and her team reported the discovery of 1.5-million –year-old stone artefacts belonging to the Acheulian of the Lower Palaeolithic (Acheulian) culture from Attirampakkam. These occur buried in sediments at the lowest levels in the excavation. In the top 3 metres of the soil, the same site has yielded artefacts that reflect a distinct Middle Palaeolithic culture.
  • At Attirampakkam, during the Middle Palaeolithic, there is a distinct shift away from large flake technologies such as handaxes and cleavers that were predominant during the Acheulian. There is a proliferation of tools made from small flakes during the Middle Palaeolithic.


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