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Early India: Lower Palaeolithic Culture

Lower Palaeolithic Culture

  • The earliest lithic artefacts come from different parts of the Indian subcontinent.
  • During the Lower Palaeolithic cultural phase, human ancestor species of Homo erectus is believed to have lived in India.
  • The first Palaeolithic tools were identified at the site of Pallavaram near Chennai by Robert Bruce Foote in 1863.
  • He found many pre-historic sites when he extensively surveyed different parts of South India.
  • Since then, numerous Palaeolithic sites have been identified and excavated all over India.
Wild and DomesticWild plants and animals grow naturally and independently.When they are domesticated, their lifestyle and physical characteristics (such as self-propagation) change.Consequently, the seeds of domestic plants become smaller in size.In the case of domesticated animals, they lose their ferociousness.

Lithic Tools

  • The study of pre-history mainly depends upon lithic tools. Pre-historic sites are identifiable based on the presence of stone tools.
  • Human ancestors made large stone blocks and pebbles and chipped tools out of them, using another strong stone.
  • Hand axes, cleavers, choppers and the like were designed in this way by flaking off the chips.
  • The tools show well thought-out design and physical symmetry, and convey high-quality cognitive (perception) skills and capabilities of pre-historic humans.
  • They used the tools for hunting, butchering and skinning the animals, breaking the bones for bone marrow and to recover tubers and plant foods, and for processing food.
  • The industries of Palaeolithic cultures are divided into the Early, Middle and Late Acheulian Industries.
  • The early Acheulian tools include polyhedrons, spheroids, hand axes, cleavers and flake tools.
  • The Acheulian tradition is absent in the Western Ghats, coastal areas and north-eastern India.
  • Heavy rainfall is attributed to its absence.
  • Uncongenial conditions and lack of raw materials might have prevented the occupation of these areas.
  • Perhaps there was no necessity for the pre-historic people to move into these areas.
  • These sites are found more in Central India and in south-eastern part of India (near Chennai).
  • These areas receive high rainfall and are therefore endowed with thick green cover and rich resources.


  • Lower Palaeolithic tools are found in most parts of India, except in a few regions of the Ganges valley, southern Tamil Nadu and in the hilly areas of the Western Ghats.
  • Athirampakkam, Pallavaram and Gudiyam near Chennai, Hunsgi valley and Isampur in Karnataka, and Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh are some important Palaeolithic sites where the Acheulian tools are found.
Acheulian and SohanianBased on research, two independent cultural traditions of hand axe (Acheulian) and pebble-flake (Sohanian) industries were confirmed in India.Acheulian industry mainly had hand axes and cleavers.The Sohan industry is considered to have used only chopper and chopping tools.The Sohan industry gets its name from the Sohan river valley of Pakistan.These two cultural traditions are not considered distinct any longer.Recent studies argue that there was no independent Sohan tradition as Acheulian tools are found in the Sohan industry as well.


  • Recent research places the beginning of lower Palaeolithic around two million years ago.
  • This culture continued upto 60,000 years ago.

Hominin and Animal Fossils

  • Unlike Africa, evidence of hominin [immediate ancestor of Homo Sapiens] fossil is rare in India.
  • There is a report of a fossil fragment discovered by Robert Bruce Foote from Athirampakkam.
  • Its whereabouts are not known now.
  • The only well-known hominin fossil of India was found at Hathnora near Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh.
  • The cranium is named Narmada human.
  • It is considered to represent the Archaic Homo sapiens.
  • It is the only existing fossil find of human ancestors in India.
  • Animal fossils are useful to understand the palaeo-environmental context in which people lived.
  • In the Narmada valley, animal fossils of Elephas namadicus (giant tusked pre-historic elephant), Stegodon ganesa (a giant pre-historic elephant), Bos namadicus (wild cattle) and Equus namadicus (extinct great horse like animal) have been recovered.
  • Teeth of Equus, evidence of water buffalo have been uncovered at Athirampakkam.
  • They suggest an open, wet landscape near the Chennai region in the prehistoric period.
Equus refers to the genus of animals including horses, asses and zebras.

Way of Life

  • The people of Lower Palaeolithic culture hunted animals and gathered roots, nuts and fruits.
  • They fed on the flesh and bones of animals killed by predators.
  • They lived in open air, river valleys, caves and rock shelters, as seen from evidence in Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh and Gudiyam near Chennai.
  • The pre-historic human ancestors, who belonged to the species of Homo erectus, did not have a complex language culture like us, the Homo sapiens.
  • They may have expressed a few sounds or words and used a sign language.
  • They were intelligent enough to select stones as raw material and used the hammer stones to carefully flake the rocks and design tools.

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