Thursday, February 22, 2018

Neanderthals and Modern Humans in the Indus Valley? The Middle and Late (Upper) Palaeolithic Settlement of Sindh, a Forgotten Region of the Indian Subcontinent

Paolo Biagi and Elisabetta Starnini
Springer Publishing
December 8th, 2017
(Link) not open access but available for purchase for $30

Abstract

This paper discusses the Middle and Late (Upper) Palaeolithic sites of Sindh (Pakistan), a region of the Indian Subcontinent of fundamental importance for the study of the spread of both Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) in south Asia.

Most of the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages known to date were collected during the geological surveys carried out during the 1970s in Lower Sindh by Professor A.R. Khan, and the short visits paid to Upper Sindh by B. Allchin. More finds were discovered by the Italian Archaeological Mission during the last 30 years mainly at Ongar, near Hyderabad (Lower Sindh), and the Rohri Hills, near Rohri (Upper Sindh).

The presence of characteristic Levallois Mousterian assemblages at Ongar, and other sites west of the Indus River, opens new perspectives to the study of the dispersal of Neanderthal groups, whose south-easternmost spread has systematically been avoided by most authors.

Although the presence of typical Levallois Mousterian assemblages attributed to Neanderthals has been recorded from Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and former Soviet Central Asia, the presence of similar complexes in the Indian Subcontinent is very scarce. The occurrence of typical Levallois cores, flakes, blades, points, Mousterian scrapers and one Mousterian point at Ongar is suggested to mark the south-easternmost limit of this cultural aspect. In contrast, the Middle Palaeolithic of the Indian Subcontinent is mainly characterized by unretouched flake assemblages and scrapers. Levallois points and flakes have already been described as a minor component of the so-called “Late Soan” complexes of the Punjab along the same western bank of the Indus in north Pakistan.

Even more complex is the definition of the earliest Late (Upper) Palaeolithic assemblages in the study region. In contrast with what previously suggested, Late (Upper) Palaeolithic sites are quite common in some areas of Lower Sindh, among which are the Mulri Hills (Karachi) and Jhimpir (Thatta). The assemblages from Karachi region sites are characterized by subconical cores with bladelet detachments, curved, backed points, bladelets, lunates of different shape and size, and, in a few cases, a high percentage of burins. The situation in Upper Sindh is absolutely different. The Rohri Hills yielded evidence of an impressive number of Late (Upper) Palaeolithic flint workshops, characterized by subconical bladelet and bladelet-like flakelet cores, and impressive amounts of debitage products. A similar situation has been recorded also from Ongar (Milestone 101), where modern limestone quarrying still underway has destroyed all the archaeological sites.

To conclude: Sindh is a very important region for the study of the Palaeolithic of the Indian Subcontinent and its related territories. It is unfortunate that our knowledge of this important territory is very scarce, and its archaeological heritage is under systematic destruction. 

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