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Mesolithic Culture | UPSC Important Notes & Study Material

Notes By-
Sachin Gupta
Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3



In the past 15, 000 years, humans have undergone minimal changes in physical
characteristics; in contrast, human cultural adaptations have grown substantially
more sophisticated. The most significant of these cultural shifts relates to
subsistence, the manner in which humans obtain food and nourishment.
Upper Palaeolithic populations were probably relatively mobile, nomadic people
who followed the migrations of the herd animals they hunted.

Beginning late in the Pleistocene epoch, approximately 15,000 years ago, this
pattern of Upper Palaeolithic gradually began to change in some parts of the
world. Rather than moving around in pursuit of large animals, humans started to
make more intensive use of smaller game animals and wild plants in one area.
Fishing and gathering marine resources also yielded valuable food sources as
people became less mobile and increasingly focused their energies on the
exploitation of plants and animals within particular local environments.

Between the late Pleistocene and the early Holocene (the current geologic epoch),
a gradual warming of the earth’s temperature caused the great glaciers of the
Pleistocene to melt. Sea levels rose in coastal areas, and lands that had been
compressed under the glaciers rose. As the earth’s climate changed, many species
of plants and animals became extinct.

The reshaping of the earth’s environments prompted new patterns of technological
development. As large number of animals and kinds became extinct humans
captured smaller animals and kinds, learned how to fish, and gathered plants to
satisfy nutritional needs in a strategy that represented a subtle change, one to
broad-spectrum collecting. Because of variation in local environments, many
specialised regional patterns and technologies developed, making it increasingly
difficult to generalise about developments worldwide. These new subsistence
strategies have been referred to as the Mesolithic in Europe, Asia, and Africa and
the Archaic in the Americas.

The transition to broad-spectrum collecting began in different regions at different
times and had varying consequences. In some areas relatively permanent
settlements emerged, whereas in other regions people maintained mobile, nomadic
lifestyles. In general, however, percussion-flaked Mesolithic and Archaic tools
differ markedly from those of the Palaeolithic. Typically they are much smaller
and more specialised than Palaeolithic implements. Some of the most common
Mesolithic tools are known as microliths, small flakes of stone that were used
for a variety of purposes, including harpoon barbs and specialised cutting tools.

The bow and arrow appeared in the Upper Paleolithic, and both Mesolithic and
Archaic peoples made extensive use of this technological innovation, which
allowed hunters to kill game from a greater distance and with more accuracy
than did spears.

A new type of stone tool, ground stone, also became common in many societies.
Some of these implements were probably unintentional products of food
processing. To make seeds and nuts more palatable, people pulverised them
Mesolithic Cultures between a hand-held grinding stone and a larger stone slab or even a large rock.
This activity shaped the hand stones and wore depressions, or grooves, into the
stone slabs. Using a similar grinding process, Mesolithic peoples intentionally
made some stones into axes, gouges, and adzes (specialised tools to shape wood).
Tools with similar functions had been produced by percussion flaking during the
Palaeolithic, but ground-stone tools tend to be much stronger.

The increasingly sophisticated stone-working technology that characterised the
Mesolithic and Archaic periods allowed for a great many innovations in such
areas as the harvesting of resources and the shaping of wood for building. Although
watercraft was developed during the Upper Paleolithic, ground-stone tools made
it easier to cut down logs and hollow out the inside to make dugout canoes.
Vessels of this type improved mobility and enabled people to exploit more diverse
ocean, lake, and river resources. Ground-stone sinkers and fishhooks made from
shell, bone, or stone also attest to the importance of aquatic resources in this era.
In India in addition to their technological accomplishments, the Mesolithic people
created an impressive array of art work which includes murals in cave and rockshelters;
petroglyphs and cupules. The murals or cave paintings may have been
drawn to celebrate a successful hunt or to ensure a better future.


1.1 Introduction
1.2 Environment of Europe During Early Holocene Period
1.3 Tool Types and Manufacturing Techniques
1.4 Mesolithic Cultures of Europe
1.4.1 Maglemosian Culture
1.4.2 Tardenoisian Culture
1.5 Post -Pleistocene/Post-glacial/Early Holocene Ecology
1.6 Summary

Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
Ø learn about the culture that flourished in Europe during Post Pleistocene
period in Europe;
Ø know about the environmental background of the Holocene period in Europe;
Ø learn about the change in tool types and their manufacturing technique during
this period;
Ø learn about Mesolithic man and his culture; and
Ø learn about Mesolithic ecology that is the mode of adjustment of the
Mesolithic people in the changing environmental condition of early Holocene
period in Europe.

Mesolithic is a cultural stage belonging to human beings who were completely
modern in their biological characteristics and are known as Homosapiens sapiens.
In fact, people lived almost in the same way as they did during Palaeolithic
stage. The main difference being they that lived in Europe at a time when the
climate was changing from what it was during the previous geological stage,
known as the Pleistocene epoch. The geological epoch which follows is known
as Holocene. Both Pleistocene and Holocene belong to the Quaternary period.
Holocene is also known as the Recent or Neothermal phase. We are living in the
Holocene phase. Holocene began around 10,000 years B. C.

In Europe, Pleistocene is considered as a period of climatic fluctuations.
Throughout this epoch climate fluctuated between warm and cold phases. At the
end of Pleistocene period, climate slowly became warmer. With the change in
the climatic environment areas which were under ice or under the influence of
cold climate became free from ice or its influence. Plant and animal gradually
changed. Faunas of the cold climate were replaced gradually by the faunas of the
warm climate. Plant cover changed from arctic to temperate types. Holocene
period seen the establishment of the geographical, climatic and biological

Mesolithic Cultures conditions of Europe as it is known today. Human beings adjusted with the
changing condition by changing this way of life.

The change was quite slow but the change took place mainly in response to the
change in the environment. However, in their subsistence level they were much
like the Palaeolithic hunter gatherers but their mode of hunting-gathering became
intensified. Man’s long experience through generations of interaction with plant
and animal in search of living, has led to his experience and knowledge about
them. For this reason, we find the people who lived in the Post-Pleistocene era
were still hunter gatherers but were species-specific hunter and gatherers. This
means that they favoured some species of plants and animals over others. Culture
that was produced by the people who lived in Europe during post Pleistocene
period that is early Holocene, are known as Mesolithic culture. Change of
environment was not uniform. Accordingly culture varied from one environmental
zone to the other.

Study of Mesolithic culture of Europe can best be studied from the following
• Terminology
• Environment
• Tool types and techniques of manufacture
• Mesolithic cultures
• Post Pleistocene/ Post- glacial/ early Holocene ecology
The term Mesolithic has got a long history of origin. In fact A.C. Carlyle (Brown,
1889) had coined the nomenclature on the soil of India. There was a general
belief that a cultural break existed between Palaeolithic, the Old Stone Age Culture
on the one hand and the Neolithic or the New Stone Age culture on the other
(Lubbock, 1865).

Carlyle found a large number of small stone implements from the caves and rock
shelters of Vindhyan hill regions of central India. The assemblage comprised of
small stone tools in forms of crescents, trapezoids, triangles and delicate knifelets.
No tool was more than 1.6 cm. in length. The tools were never found in
association with polished or ground implements. Carlyle found enough
stratigraphic evidence to suggest that these small implements were lying
intermediate between Palaeolithic and Neolithic stages. The accompanying culture
connected with both the stages. Carlyle termed this intermediate stage as
Mesolithis. On the basis of Carlyle’s findings and on similar evidences from
other parts of Asia and Africa, Brown (1889) carried out his investigation in
Britain and Europe. His findings were similar. His evidence was based on data
found near about East Dean and Sussex, England. He found transitional sequence
of culture both on the basis of stratigraphy and typology. Zoologists dominated
the scientific discourse at that time, which undermined cultural capability of
men. They believed that man left Europe with the animals of the cold period. In
spite of the logic put forward by Brown, it was not until Piette’s discovery of
similar situation at Mas’d Azil in 1895, that the term Mesolithic gained any
popularity among the European scholars.


Clark, in 1932, established the term in its proper connotation. He substantiated Mesolithic Features
his opinion with data related geology, archaeology and ecology. His enquiry was
based on ecological understanding. Clark’s (1980) definition of Mesolithic is as
follows; “it is a culture of hunter-gatherers lying intermediate between Paleolithic
on the one hand and Neolithic on the other; recent in geochronology; followed
the same subsistence pattern as Palaeolithic but difference was emphasised in
terms of specialisation”. The end of Pleistocene is conventionally placed around
10,000 years B.C. The date for Mesolithic in Europe is fixed around 9500 years
B.C. Mesolithic is considered to have ended with the introduction of agriculture
around 6000 and 5000 years B.C. (Price, 1991).

In Asia and Africa the terminology differed. In West Asia, mainly Levant, Iraq,
Iran and Africa the period just preceeding Neolithic is called Epipaleolithic by
Garrod, Stekelis, Neuville, Kenyon, Mc. Burney and others. The genesis of the
culture lies well before Holocene period and into the terminal Pleistocene at
these places. In Africa, excepting in the Nile valley, no true Neolithic culture is
found. In these areas Mesolithic-like cultures are known by the term Late Stone
age. In India, the culture is also termed as microlithic culture.


Europe was under the influence of glaciations during Pleistocene period. Snowline
marking the arctic tundra was extended up to present temperate zone. At the end
of Pleistocene period due to change in solar radiation, Europe was gradually
warming up. This led to mass scale change in geography, biology and human
culture of Europe. Post Glacial or post Pleistocene environment of present day
temperate Europe is better understood with the application of pollen-analysis.
Palynologists found that Post –glacial deposits can be divided into zones in which
the transformation of forests in response to the curve of temperature is recorded.
At first the temperature rose slowly, culminated into a peak and then receded to
some extent until present day condition was reached.

Mesolithic culture in Europe can be separated from Palaeolithic on the
basis of geological and palaeontological characters, although the criteria
vary from one region to the other. It can be distinguished from Neolithic on
the basis of its economy. Neolithic had a food producing economy, based
on agriculture and animal husbandry. Mesolithic people lived on hunting
and gathering. They did not know food production.

K. Jessen in 1934 divided Holocene Europe into nine basic zones based on pollen
analysis to understand its climatology. Pollen analysis provided a picture of forest
development in north and northwest Europe. Forest in Scandinavian language is
referred to as boreal. Europe was under Park Tundra condition (pollen Zone IIII)
by the end of Pleistocene. With the warming up of climate park tundra
vegetation made way for Birch-pine pollen zone (IV) of the pre-boreal period
that was a period through which forest development was taking place. The first
phase of forest development is known as early boreal (pollen zone V). This phase
was dominated by pine trees but hazel and birch were also found. This is followed
by late boreal (pollen zone VI). Pine and hazel trees dominated the forest together
with some elm and oak in its first phase and lime and alder at its later phase.


Mesolithic Cultures Pollen VII a is known as Atlantic period because the land bridge connecting
Great Britain to Europe was submerged and the climate of the area was exposed
to the influence of Atlantic ocean. The forest of this period is characterised by
the presence of alder-oak-elm-lime trees. This phase continues into a period
known as sub Boreal (pollen zone VII b). In it, elm declines slowly and hazel
increases. During the Atlantic period a climatic optimum occurred with annual
average temperature above 2 degree centigrade than what it is today.
Faunal changes also took place but fauna was not as sensitive as the plants.
Some of the most significant changes were gradual and eventual replacement of
reindeer by red deer and bison by bos.

Movements of the sea level, also known as eustatic movement and the land
surface movement known as isostatic movement, took place with the end of the
ice age. This has been studied in detail in the Baltic Sea region of the Scandinavian
Peninsula. Baltic was an Ice Lake by the end of the glacial period. During Pre
Boreal period with the melting of the ice, it became a sea and was known by the
name yoldia sea. It was named after the molluscan fauna yoldia artica. Land
surface rose during Boreal phase and Baltic became a fresh water lake and is
known as Ancylus Lake, with the characteristic presence of molluscs, Ancylus
fluviatilis. During the subsequent Atlantis period the sea level rose again and
Baltic became a sea known as Littorina Sea. This phase is identified with the
presence of common periwinkle shells known as Littorina littoria. Several
transgressions and regressions of sea took place in Atlantic. Some of the
transgressions are dated.

As the ice retreated there occurred a rapid spread of forest and the development
of new subsistence pattern. It is thought that in response to the development of
forest man developed new tool types, such as axes, adzes and picks in order to
deal with the new environment. The change was gradual.


Tools of Mesolithic culture are categorised into two groups, those made on stone
and those made on bone and antler. The stone tools can further be divided into
two categories, the microlith and the macrolith i.e. tiny tools and bigger tools,

Microliths are the predominating and common tool types of this cultural phase.
Technologically, this is a continuation of types from the Palaeolithic period.
Microliths occur at the last phase of the Palaeolithic culture but predominance
of the same is found during the Mesolithic stage. Standardisation of size
dimension is made by archaeologists and 3cm is taken as the limit for length for
determining a microlith. Moreover, the microliths of Mesolithic period were
made by highly skilled tool making technique. This is mainly reflected in
retouching of the working edge of the tool or blunting of the hafting edge of the


The technique employed was punch and pressure, which developed during the Mesolithic Features
Upper Paleolithic period. For this reason, identification of Mesolithic microliths
largely depend on the context of its finding and dates. Microliths were made by
a technique known as notch technique. A small notch was made on the edge of a
micro blade by means of abrupt retouch. The point of a small punch or perhaps
bone was then placed in the centre of the notch and the bulbar end of the blade
was removed by a slightly oblique blow. The bulbar end is found as a wasteproduct,
known as micro-burin. The rest of the bladelet was fashioned into a
microlith, also by abrupt retouch. However, some forms of microliths could
possibly have been made by retouching blades without using the notch technique.
Microliths are described in terms of geometric and non-geometric shapes.
Geometric ones are types such as trapeze, triangle, lunate or crescent.
The nongeometric
types are named by the nature of blunting of the back, such, partly,
fully or obliquely blunted blades or after their functions such as scraper, point,
knife, blade, awl, burin and borer (fig. 1.1).
Fig. 1.1: Microliths
The tool kit of the Mesolithic people consisted of a large number of small pointed
pieces. Evidences suggest that a large proportion of these elements were employed
in composite tools for plant gathering-harvesting, slicing, grating, plant fibre
Mesolithic Cultures processing for lines, snares, net and traps, shell openers, bow-drill points and
awls. The pieces were hafted on wood, bone and antler. These were set in line to
give a straight cutting edge or set with slanting blades, micro-blades, broad trapezs,
notched and serrated blades in line, or lunates and triangles set vertically to give
varieties of saw edge (fig.1 ). This tradition of composite tool using must have
extended from Palaeolithic into Mesolithic.

The microlithic technique enables the maximum length of edge and number of
points to be extracted from a minimal volume of stone. The technique allows the
regular exploitation of small, nodular pebbles and even large artifacts. The
technique in turn allows permanent occupations of territories without any other
stone resources. In this way the Mesolithic people exploited extremely sharp
and hard materials like flint, chalcedony, agate, carnelian etc, which occur in
small sources. Economy of the technique is observed in the construction of
composite tools in terms of small rapidly replaceable and interchangeable,
standardised and mass produced units, which were produced in advance in large
quantity and kept in readiness for use at times of wear and tear. The procedure
was to pull out the worn out piece and plug in a fresh one in its place. A broken
Palaeolithic tool needed a complete replacement.


The tools which are beyond the size of microlith may be considered as macroliths.
In this category there are tools which are a continuation of the Upper Palaeolithic
types, such as, scrapers. New types are axes and picks. These are considered as
heavy duty tools. These are made on stone, mostly flint. The tools are made by
flaking and making a transverse working edge. According to the nature of working
edge these are termed as axe and adze. These are meant for wood working and
were mainly associated with cultures, which developed in the forest area. Another
type of heavy duty tool is the pick. This has a pointed working edge. There are
evidences that the axe, adze and picks were hafted in wooden, bone or antler haft
(Fig.1.2 ). These tools helped the users to cope with forest environment.

Fig. 1.2: Macroliths (Heavy duty tools)
Bone and Antler Mesolithic Features Tools
Bone tools are found mainly in the form of barbed harpoons. Harpoon is a type
of tool from Maglemosian culture. Harpoons vary in terms of number of barbs;
location of barbs along the shaft and in terms of nature and shape of barbs. There
are fish hooks and points. Points are grooved and made into needles or made
into leister prongs. Chisels on long bones are found. Bones were also used as
hafts for making composite tools.
Mostly shredded antlers were used for making tools. The antler were cut down
along the brow tine region and shaped into axe, adze or haft for inserting stone
axe or adze heads. Animal horn and teeth were also hafted and used as tools
Fig. 1. 3: Bone and antler tools. Bone tools and abraded pebble (Source: http://
Mesolithic culture of Europe exhibits dynamicity of adaptation to changing
environmental condition. Environment in Europe went through changes from
tundra park land, open steppe, forested zones and coastal environment. In all the
areas culture revealed adaptation to the local environment. According to Clark
(1980) this condition may be considered as ecological niche formation by
contemporary human beings. In the present study cultures which grew under
forest and in open grass land conditions are discussed.
1.4.1 Maglemosian Culture
The Maglemosian culture is named after the type site Maglemose. It is a Danish
word meaning “big bog”. The site is located near Mullerup, Zeeland in Denmark.
This culture is also referred to as ‘forest culture’ and is found near rivers, lake,
marshes and other low lying forested areas. The culture developed during period
II, the Boreal, that is at the time of full development of forest in northern plains
of Europe. Maglemosian culture is found in the whole plains of Europe but
richest area is Denmark and south Sweden. It appears that Maglemosian people
were especially attracted to rivers, lakes etc, which suggest that fishing and fowling
played important role in their economy.
Mesolithic Cultures
Fig. 1.4. Maglemosian assemblages (Burkitt 1929, p. 35)
This is confirmed by the material culture and faunal remains from the settlement
sites of Maglemosian people. Remains of pike fish are present and barbed bone
points have been found embedded in pike skulls. Faunal remains represent large
number of edible water birds, such as, duck, geese, and swan. They hunted land
mammals also for food. Important ones are auroch (wild ox), elk (deer), wild
pig, roe deer etc. Microliths of obliquely blunted type were found from the breast
region of an auroch, suggesting use of microliths in composite weapons for
hunting. There is definite evidence of use of dog for chasing the games.
Maglemosian people killed animals for fur also. Collection played an important
role in their economy. They collected nuts, berries and other fruits. Vast numbers
of hazel nut shells, broken length-wise were found.
Most of the habitation sites are on slight prominence in damp areas. Probably
they moved out from the low areas in wet season to dry zones because the areas
went under water during wet season. Settlements are small in size suggesting
small social groups.
It may be summed up that people lived in small social groups, had seasonal
migration and lived on hunting, fishing, fowling and collection.
Material Assemblages of Maglemosian Culture
Material culture of Maglemosian people shows use of diverse tool-making raw
material. These may be divided into stone, wood, amber, animal teeth, antler and
Stone tools
Most diagnostic types of tools of this culture are axes and picks. These reflect
forest environment. Those made on core outnumbering those made on flake.
There are numerous microliths. Commonest form of all microliths is the simple Mesolithic Features
ones blunted obliquely or down the whole of one edge. They used single microliths
as tips for arrows and more than one microlith for making inset on wood or
bone. Hollow based points, scalene triangles and crescents are found at all sites.
Presence of microburins suggests that microliths were made by notch technique.
Upper Palaeolithic types of tools are burins and scrapers. The latter are more in
proportion. Most common scrapers are horse shoe scrapers. Points and awls are
also found. Other stone tools are pebbles with countersunk hollows, pebbles
with abraded surfaces and so called mace heads with hour glass perforations
Antler and bone tools
Antler and bone tools are difficult to preserve. Even then a large variety of them
are found. Barbed bone points, axes or adzes of bone, spear heads, antler sleeves,
fish hook and leister prongs are characteristic types. Other bone and antler tools
include antler tines worked into sharp points, worked animal teeth, perforated
auroch phalanges, awl and bodkins and even whistles. The bone antler tools are
frequently decorated with scratched in or incised geometric designs. Stylised
animal or human figure are rare.
Wooden objects
Among the preserved wooden specimens, the important ones are: (i) ends of
rods, pointed and hardened by fire, (ii) club like objects, (iii) wooden sleeves for
inserting stone axes and adzes, (iv) wooden plaques with perforations made by
fire, (v) wooden paddle-rudder suggesting evidence of navigation of the culture,
(vi) dugout canoe made of Scottish fir tree, 6 feet long and 3 feet in breadth,
made by scooping wood out by fire. Fire was used in carpentry. The last two
items indicate navigation during boreal period.
There are fishing nets made of plant fibre, sink made of stone and float made of
plant bark.
Amber and animal teeth
Tongue shaped pendant, perforated for suspension, amber beads with conical
perforations were meant for personal adornment. Animal teeth were used both
as personal ornament and as tools. Canines of bear, otters, wild cat, and incisors
of aurock, wild boar, deer etc. were used. Wild bores tusks were set in antler
sleeves and used as adze.
Development of Maglemosian
As a result of detailed research, Maglemosian culture is divided into five
progressive chronological stages. The most significant development is found in
the microliths, axes, cores and in the ratio of flake to blade. Ancestral form of
Maglemosian culture is found in an industry called KLosterlund, which is dated
to 7250-6950 B. C. The industry is named after a place name in Denmark.
1.4.2 Tardenoisian Culture
Tardenoisian culture is named after the site of Fere-en-Tardenois at Aisne, France,
discovered by de Mortillet in 1896. The culture has a wide distribution in France,
Mesolithic Cultures Germany and the Iberian Peninsula. The culture seems to be concentrated around
Mediterranean basin. On the west it spread up to England and on the east up to
Poland and in southern part of erstwhile Russia. This is basically a microlithic
culture and is devoid of any heavy duty tools like axes and picks. Traces of
Tardenoisian culture is found mainly on sandy soil and on rocky surfaces. The
settlement sites showed that makers of Tardenoisian culture avoided the necessity
of adaptation to dense forest – for which their material culture was not adequate
and they lacked heavy equipment. Their main occupation was fishing, hunting
and collecting. Some kind of shelter in the form of wind break was evident in
some areas and they sometimes lived in pits. General preference was open air.
Tardenoisian men lived through pre-Boreal, Boreal and Atlantic periods. Soil of
the areas where they lived was not suitable for agriculture, so hunting gathering
way of life continued for a long time in the area.
Material Assemblages of Tardenoisian Culture
No wooden object has survived from the Tardenoisian culture. A few bone
fragments, broken at both ends have been found. Microliths were hafted on them
and used. Other bone objects were in the form of pins and points.
Microlithic tools
The only objects to survive in any quantity are microliths made on stone, mainly
flint. The industries consist of tiny stones chipped into forms of geometric shapes,
such as, triangle – equilateral, isosceles or scalene, little crescents or lunates and
at a later date, trapezes. Tools are within 3cm in length. They are mostly fine,
thin and narrow blades. Large numbers of fluted cores are found. These were
formed because blades were removed from them. A technique called notch
technique was used for blunting the backs of the blades. Blades were an important
component of Tardenoisian culture and were utilised as knives and scrapers and
more rarely as saws and awls. Scrapers are a little bigger in size than the blades
and there are a variety of scrapers found. Tardenoisian tools are both of simple
and geometric varieties. Geometric types are trapeze, triangle and crescent.
Blunting of the back is very common. These were meant for hafting and making
composite tools.
Development of Tardenoisian Culture
The development of Tardenoisian culture is found in another microlithic industry
known as Sauveterrian. The latter culture had a direct link with the Upper
Palaeolithic culture, of the region. Origin of Tardenoisian is rooted to Upper
Palaeolithic culture through Sauveterrian culture. Tardenoisian culture is divided
into three main developmental phases; Phase I or lower Tardenoisian, Phase II
or typical Tardenoisian and Phase III or final Tardenoisian. The sequential nature
of development is found at site Le Roc Allan in France. Tardenoisina culture is
found at Le Roc Martinet at Sauveterre-la-Lemance in France strigraphically
lying over a Sauveterrian industry and is having a direct link with the Aurignacian
culture of Upper Palaeolithic of Europe. The best radio carbon date so far obtained
for Sauveterrian culture is 7045+106 B. C. and date for Lower Tardenoisian is
5400+350 B. C.
Mesolithic Features 1.5 POST-PLEISTOCENE/ POST- GLACIAL/
Forest ecology
North of Alps and Pyrenees, the zone later occupied by the expanded temperate
forest, was initially a cool or cold corridor bounded on the north by Baltic ice
cap and on the south by glaciers of Alps and Pyrenees. It was a zone of tundra
park land and of open steppe, warmed only by the currents of Atlantic and the
Mediterranean. As conditions ameliorated, temperate deciduous forest grew up
by c. 10,000 – 9000 B. C. This gradually became an area of high biomass with a
high edible productivity exploited by numerous herds of small herbivores and
probably broken up into a mosaic of small productive Mesolithic territories. The
change in the environment is already discussed.
The birch pine forest of early Boreal phase quickly gave way to thick mixed
forest, reaching a climax in dense oak, hazel, alder, lime and elm forest in the
warm wet phase of the-Post glacial climatic optimum between 6000 and 4000
B. C. This canopy was mainly made up of deciduous plants and gave rise to
characteristic structure. This depended on the annual loss of leaves of the trees
in autumn and without any growth of fresh green for three to five months during
the long, snowy winter. Ground layer was covered by detritus formed of dead
and decaying leaves and trunks and dominated by large quantity of fungi, mosses
and liverworts, most of which were edible and available throughout the year.
Above the ground layer rose up the field layer of herbaceous plants and strands
of grasses and vegetatively propagating roots and tuber plants. The productive
field layer of roots, tubers, bulbs and rhizomes were covered by shrub layers of
hazel, berry bearing shrubs up to 15 feet height. The structure of the forest canopy
was completed by the tree crowns of oak, elm and ash rising to about 25 to 100
feet. It was broken only by outcrops, rivers, lakes, swamps and marshes. The
rich ground cover of plants also attracted such herbivorous grazing animals as
deer, auroch, and boar in large number. Mesolithic people who lived in the forest
took advantage of the vast quantity and variety of seasonal vegetal food, especially,
roots, tubers, fruits and nuts. They hunted the grazing animals. The large number
of water bodies provided with edible aquatic resources. Wide range of fishing
equipment, bone hook, fiber made lines, leister prongs, fish traps, weirs, and
fish nets and dugout canoes provided evidence for utilisation of aquatic resources.
They lived in the wooded area and took advantage of the forest with the heavy
duty tools and with fire.
Open Grassland Ecology
Mediterranean is considered as climatic and ecological buffer zone. Proximity
to equator and distance from ice cap and ameliorating influence of the sea
fashioned the climate of this region during Post Pleistocene time. The region is
marked with the continuity of stone industries from the Palaeolithic into
Between 10,000 to 7000 B. C. the cool and temperate zone at the head of the
Adriatic and Franco-Ligurian Sea was gradually colonised by warmer species of
plants. Birch pine gave way to juniper, pine and oak. Mediterranian evergreen
and drought resisting flora gradually expanded from southern Iberia, southern
Mesolithic Cultures Greece, southern Italy and south Balkan. The moderate annual rainfall and a late
summer drought of severe proportions at the sea level limited coastal woodlands
to mainly xerophytic and evergreen tree species, interspersed with strands of
flowers, grasses, legumes and herbs. Much of these is directly edible and could
be harvested throughout the year. Edible root plants like onion, leek and garlic
were available. European subsistence during Mesolithic in these areas was based
on gathering of pulses, bulbs, grass seeds and nuts in combination with fishing,
fowling and hunting of ovicaprids (sheep and goat), deer and auroch. Microliths
used as tips for arrows and as knives and scrapers helped the Mesolithic folk to
cope with the open grassland environment.
Fig.1.5: Reconstructed view of a Mesolithic man of Europe (Source: wesleyjohnston.com)
Mesolithic is a transitional period between Paleolithic on the one hand and
Neolithic culture on the other. This culture flourished in Holocene or recent
epoch. In Europe, the environment changed gradually during early Holocene
period until the climate and environment became same as we find in Europe at
present. Prehistoric man continued with subsistence quite similar to those of
Palaeolithic men. This meant that they were still hunting and gathering food for
their livelihood but there was a vast change in the mode of subsistence in the
Mesolithic culture. They became quite specific about the animals they hunted
and plant food they collected. To this was added two new activities, fishing and
fowling. Most important feature of Mesolithic culture of Europe is the peoples’
adaptability to changing environmental condition with their tools, technology
and culture. They formed a kind of ecological niche in the specific environment
they lived in.
Suggested Reading
Brown, J. A. 1889. On the Continuity of the Palaeolithic and Neolithic Periods,
Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 18: 134 –
Clarke, David L. 1979. Analytical Archaeology: Studies in Archaeology. London:
Academic Press. Pp. 207 – 262.
Clark, J. G. D. 1977. World Prehistory in New Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. Pp. 11-115.
Fagan, B. M. 2004. People of the Ear Mesolithic Features th: An Introduction to world Prehistory
th edition) Delhi: Pearson Education. 190 – 212.
Lubbock, J. 1865. Prehistoric Times. London: William and Norgate.
Price, T. Douglas, 1991. The Mesolithic and Hunter-gatherers :Myths and
Meanings. Man and Environment, 26(2): 101- 107. (Indian Society for Prehistoric
and Quaternary Studies, Pune).
Sample Questions
1) Definition Mesolithic culture.
2) What is the history of development of the term ‘Mesolithic’?
3) What is palynology? bring out the importance of the subject in understanding
Post-glacial environment of Europe?
4) What changes took place in the vegetation history of Europe during Post
Pleistocene period.?
5) What change took place at the level of geography of Baltic Sea?
6) What were the major tool types of Mesolithic culture in Europe?
7) What is a microlith?
8) Name some of the microlith types of Mesolithic culture of Europe.
9) What technique was employed in making the microliths?
10) What other tool types are found in Mesolithic culture in Europe?
11) Discuss how the stone axes and adzes were made?
12) Describe the material culture of Maglemosian culture.
13) Point out the special features of Maglemosian culture.
14) What are the characteristic features of Tardenoisian culture?
15) Tardenoisian is a microlithic culture. Justify the statement.
16) Give an account of the development of Mesolithic culture of Europe.
17) Discuss why Mesolithic culture in Europe reflects the dynamicity of
environmental Adaptation.
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Meaning and Significance of Mesolithic
2.3 Discovery of Mesolithic Tools
2.4 Nature of Archaeological Sites
2.5 Brief Description of Major Mesolithic Sites of India
2.6 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
Ø describe the newly adapted culture and environment;
Ø write about Mesolithic tools and Archaeological sites; and
Ø discuss about the different sites of Indian Mesolithic.
Human Past or History is divided into three main periods, namely, 1) Stone Age,
2) Bonze Age, and 3) Iron Age. These are not simply technological stages implying
that tools and weapons were made of stone during the Stone Age, of bronze
during the Bronze Age, and of iron during the Iron Age. These Ages imply much
more than technology. They imply subsistence economy or ways of acquiring
food, social organisation, including caring for the weak, sick and old, mode of
disposing of the dead, art, and other aspects of life.
Stone Age is divided into three periods, namely, 1) Palaeolithic or Old Stone
Age, 2) Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, and 3) Neolithic or New Stone Age.
The word lithic is derived from the Greek lithos, meaning stone. Palaeolithic
means Old Stone Age, Mesolithic means Middle Stone Age, and Neolithic means
New Stone Age.
Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age was a much shorter period than Palaeolithic,
having lasted from over thirty thousand years in Sri Lanka and parts of Africa to
only about ten thousand years in India and West Asia. Mesolithic period has
enormous culture-historical importance in Old World prehistory. The
technological hall mark of this period are tiny stone tools or ‘microliths’. In
addition, the Mesolithic people also used non-microlithic tools made of flakes
and blades.
Mesolithic people made a number of technological innovations like bow and
arrow for hunting; querns, grinders and hammer stones for grinding and
pulverising plant foods like roots, tubers and seeds; and regular use of fire for Indian Mesolithic Cultures
roasting meat, tubers, etc. They created a large volume of art in the form of
several thousand paintings and engravings, which not only tell us about their
aesthetic taste but also about their capability for innovating new technological
elements, modes of subsistence economy, items of material culture, social
organisation and religion.
Meaning and Types of Microlith
The term ‘microlith’ is strictly to be applied only to tools made on microblades
or bladelets (having a maximum length of 50 mm and a width of 12 mm) or
occasionally on small flakes, by blunting one or more margins by steep retouch.
Microliths comprise non-geometric forms like rectangular blunted back blades
and points, and geometric forms like crescents or lunates, triangles and trapezes.
Microliths were too small to be used as tools individually; instead, they were
used as components of tools and weapons by being hafted in bone, wood or reed
handles and shafts. A groove was cut in the handle or shaft, and a number of
microliths were arranged serially into it and were glued together by a natural
adhesive like gum or resin. Microblades were intentionally blunted on one edge
to prevent the cutting of the haft and thereby loosening of the microliths during
use of the tool or weapon.
Function of Microliths
Microliths were used as tips and barbs of arrowheads and spearheads, for forming
the cutting edge of knives, sickles, daggers and harpoons. Discoveries of hafted
microliths from many excavated sites in Europe, the Near East, Africa, Australia
and India, as also their depiction in central Indian rockshelters, testifies to the
use of microliths in this manner.
Other Tool Types of the Mesolithic Period
In addition to microliths, Mesolithic people used a variety of non-microlithic
tools made on flakes, cores and blades. These comprised choppers, scrapers,
notched flakes, borers and points, made on cores, flakes and blades.
Work of A.C.L. Carlleyle
The earliest discovery of microliths and other Mesolithic tools was made by
A.C.L. Carlleyle, an Assistant to Alexander Cunningham, founder Director
General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Carlleyle was the first person to discover microliths, rock paintings, pigment
pieces with marks of grinding, human skeletons, animal bones, ash, and charcoal
pieces in rockshelters in Mirzapur District of the Northwestern Provinces of
Agra or Oudh (present Uttar Pradesh). He also discovered paintings depicting
scenes of wild animals being hunted with spears, bows and arrows and hatchets,
and living floors containing hearths with ash, charred animal bones. This was
the first discovery of the paintings portraying the Mesolithic way of life.
J.C.Cockburn, Rivett-Carnac, and Robert Bruce Foote
Subsequently, discoveries of microliths and bone tools were made by J.C.
Cockburn and Rivett-Carnac in rockshelters as well as at open-air sites in the
Mesolithic Cultures same area. Robert Bruce Foote, Father of Indian prehistory discovered microliths
in Kurnool caves and several other sites in South India as well as at sites on the
Sabarmati river and away from it in Baroda, Sabarkantha and Mehsana Districts
of Gujarat.
Thus Mesolithic sites are found almost all over India, except the northeast but
including the Indo-Gangetic plains where stone, the raw material for making
tools and weapons is scarce. This shows that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers had
colonised the whole country. This had happened for the first time during the
entire prehistoric period of two million years.
Archaeological sites are of two types: primary and secondary. Primary sites are
those where cultural material is found in its original context and relatively
undisturbed condition. In such a context organic material is relatively better
preserved. Secondary sites are those where cultural material from spatially,
culturally and chronologically unrelated contexts is found buried in geological
deposits after being transported by fluvial agency. However, as most Mesolithic
sites belong to Holocene or Recent period and are only a few thousand years old,
archaeological material on them is found in a primary context either on the
surface or buried in open air or cave/rock shelter habitation deposits. At such
sites biological and dating materials are better preserved. For the reconstruction
of life ways, environment and dating, habitation sites are ideal.
State-wise names of sites excavated in India:
Rajasthan: Tilwara; Bagor ; Ganeshwar
Gujarat: Langhnaj; Akhaj; Valasana; Hirpura; Amrapur;. Devnimori;Dhekvadlo;
Maharashtra: Patne; Pachad; Hatkhamba
Uttar Pradesh: Morhana; Lekhahia; Baghai Khor; Sarai Nahar Rai ; Mahadaha;
Damdama; Chopani Mando; Baidha Putpurihwa
Madhya Pradesh: Pachmarhi; Adamgarh ; Putli Karar; Bhimbetka;
Baghor II;Baghor III; Ghagharia
Bihar: Paisra
Orissa: Kuchai
West Bengal :. Birbhanpur
Andhra Pradesh: Muchatla Chintamanu Gavi; Gauri Gundam
Karnataka: Sangankallu
Kerala : Tenmalai
The above excavated sites have provided us a vast amount of information
regarding technology, material remains, burial systems, anatomical remains,
customs associated with burial, art, and charcoal for dating of the sites.
The diet of the Mesolithic people consisted of leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, roots,
and tubers, flesh of wild land and water animals, and birds.
We have nearly sixty radiocarbon and eight Thermoluminescence (TL) dates Indian Mesolithic Cultures
from over twenty sites. These show that the Mesolithic people lived between
10,000 and 2000 B. P. In the later part of their history they came into contact
with rural and urban people. As a result of this contact the nomadic and huntinggathering
way of life underwent modification. The majority of the hunter-gatherers
got settled, took up agriculture and other sedentary occupations and were
assimilated into caste-based Hindu society.
Teri sites are located on red-coloured dunes, along the eastern coast of Tamil
Nadu. They were first discovered by Robert Bruce Foote, Father of Indian
Prehistory, towards the end of the nineteenth century. These dunes were formed
during the Terminal Phase of the Last Ice Age or Upper Pleistocene, when sea
level had fallen several metres lower than the present one. Because of lowered
sea level large areas were exposed along the coast, and sand from exposed beaches
was blown by wind and deposited along the coast. Hunter-gatherer groups
occupied the surfaces of the dunes to exploit the marine resources of the shallow
sea and vegetable resources of the trees and plants growing in the vicinity of the
beach. During the post-glacial period when temperatures started rising and rainfall
increased, dunes became consolidated and were weathered to a reddish colour.
Archaeologists call them teris because they are known by that name in the local
Tamil language. While the biological material on dune surfaces has decayed due
to weathering, large quantities of stone artifacts and their manufacturing debris
have survived.
The Teri sites, particularly Sawyerpuram, one of the largest, were explored by
anthropologist, A. Aiyappan in the early 1940s. Later, in 1949, F.E. Zeuner,
Professor of Environmental Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, London
University examined the dunes, studied the red weathering, and collected stone
artifacts from them. Zeuner took the artifacts with him to England where they
were studied by archaeologist, Bridget Allchin. Together they published a
comprehensive article on them, along with a reasoned interpretation of the climate
during and after the formation of the dunes and their occupation by man. Their
interpretation continues to be valid to this day.
Sarai Nahar Rai
The site of Sarai Nahar Rai is located in the plain of the Sai river, a tributary of
the Gomati, in Pratapgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. The flat ground outside the
village was used by the farmers for threshing of harvested crop by trampling
under oxen hooves. Because of this activity over many years, stone artifacts,
animal bones, and human skeletons buried below the surface got exposed and
came to the notice of the village people. The news spread by word of mouth and
people of surrounding villages started visiting the place out of curiosity. The
news reached the ears of Dr. Ojha, a lecturer in the Department of Ancient Indian
History, Culture & Archeology, Allahabad University and Acting Director of
U.P. State Archaeology Department. Through Dr. Ojha, it came to the notice of
G.R Sharma, Head, of Archaeology department, Allahabad University, who carried
Mesolithic Cultures out an excavation at the site and discovered a large quantity of stone artefacts,
clay-coated fresh water shells, animal bones, and 14 human skeletons in excellent
state of preservation. The skeletons have been scientifically studied by Prof.
Kenneth A.R. Kennedy of the Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, U.S.A., and
his colleagues and students.
Prof. Sharma organised a systematic exploration in Pratapgarh and neighbouring
districts for locating more sites similar to Sarai Nahar Rai. In the course of the
next few years more than 200 sites were brought to light. The most important of
these are Mahadaha and Damdama in the same district, Chopani Mando in
Allahabad district, and Baghor II, Baghor III, and Ghagharia in the neighbouring
Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh. All these sites have been excavated by the
Allahabad University, those in Sidhi district, jointly with the University of
California, Berkeley, U.S.A. The excavations have thrown a flood of light on the
earliest human colonisation of the Ganga plains. Human skeletal material from
these sites has been studied by Prof. Keneth A.R.Kennedy and his colleagues
and students like J.R. Lukacs, J. Chiment, T. Disotell, D. Meyers, and N.C.
Lovell, and animal remains by P.K. Thomas and P.P. Joglekar of the Deccan
College, Pune.
The site of Langhnaj is located on one of the numerous sand dunes in Mehsana
district of Gujarat. These dunes were formed during the hyper-arid climate of
the Upper Pleistocene and were stabilised after the monsoon revived during the
Terminal Pleistocene. The dunes form a rolling topography, and are clustered
around a depression which gets filled by runoff from the dunes during the monsoon
and retains till the next monsoon. It is a source of water for humans to wash their
clothes and for livestock to drink and be bathed. As the dunes have a thick layer
of soil formed during the sub-humid climate, they support a thick vegetation of
thorny plants, bushes and grass which provides food for grazing animals. Leaves
and fruits of trees and bushes like ker (Capparis decidua), kumat (Acacia senegal),
khejri (Prosopis spicigera), kheenp (Leptadenia pyrotechnica) provide food for
humans. Because of the pressure of human population wildlife has considerably
declined but until nilgai is still seen and herds of blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra),
chital (Axis axis), and gazelle as well as wild boar, jackal, fox, mongoose,
porcupine, hedgehog were quite common until a few decades ago. Their flesh
was a rich source of protein-rich and their skins were probably used for clothig
and covering musical instruments like drums of various sizes and shapes. With
assured source of food and water, Mesolithic human groups occupied almost all
the dunes as testified by the presence of stone artifacts, their manufacturing debris,
querns, grinders, hammerstones, and bones of wild animals.
Langhnaj was excavated by the eminent archaeologist H.D. Sankalia on several
occasions between 1941 and 1949. He invited his colleague, Irawati Karve,
Professor of Anthroplogy, and G.M. Kurulkar, Professor of Human Anatomy at
the Govardhandas Medical College, Mumbai, to join him in the excavation to
excavate the fragile human skeletons carefully. Besides the stone tool industry
of microliths and non-microlithic stone tools, the excavation yielded fragments
of querns and grinders, at least one perforated disc, small sherds of hand-made
pottery, bone and dentallium shell beads, a copper knife in the middle level of
the deposit, fragments of wheel-made pottery, an iron arrowhead and pieces of iron,
and charred animal bones, including a scapula or shoulder blade of a rhinoceros.
Bagor Indian Mesolithic Cultures
a) Environmental Setting
Bagor is a large village on the left bank of the Kothari river, a tributary of the
Banas, 25 km west of the town of Bhilwara in Rajasthan. The prehistoric site
lies on a large and prominent sand dune, locally known as Mahasati, on the left
bank of the Kothari, a non perennial river, about 1 km east of the village. Bagor
is located in the centre of the undulating rocky plateau Mewar east of the Aravalli
hills. Much of the plateau is covered by an open woodland of khejri (Prosopis
spicigera), babul (Acacia arabica), dhak (Butea frondosa), and khajur (Phoenix
sylvestris), and bushes of kair (Capparis decidua) and ber (Zizyphus jujuba).
Annual rainfall of 60-70 cm occurs mostly during July-September. Extensive
tracts of rocky land – what Kipling called the ‘stony pastures of Mewar’ provide
adequate pasture for cattle, sheep, goats and camels. Pastoralism is an important
part of the rural economy. Wild life comprising blackbuck, nilgai, wild boar,
jackal, fox, monitor lisard, partridge and sand grouse was plentiful fifty years
ago used s common even today.
b) Site and excavation
The site, which covers an area of about 10,000 Sq. m., was excavated by V.N.
Misra from 1973 to 1977. The dune rising to a height of six metres above the
level plain, provides a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. This
must have favoured its selection for occupation by prehistoric man. Our
estimates, based on the excavated area, show that an area of at least 80 x 80 m or
well over 6,000 sq. m. was occupied from the beginning of the settlement.
The habitation material occurs throughout within the sand, thus attesting that the
dune was under active formation when prehistoric man occupied it. Five layers
were recognised in the 1.5 m habitation deposit. Cultural material was found in
the top three of them.
c) Cultural Sequence
The excavated deposit reveals an occupation of over a period of five millennia.
During this period a culture based on stone technology and hunting-pastoral
economy underwent continuous evolution as evidenced by the appearance of
new material traits and the decline and disappearance of older ones. The most
abundant material which continued all through the occupation was the microlithic
industry. No stratigraphical and cultural break is seen in the occupation. On the
basis of changes in material culture three phases of occupation or can be
In Phase I (c. 5000 – 2800 B.C.) microliths and animal remains were most
profuse, and economy was based on a combination of hunting-gathering and
herding. People lived in huts with stone-paved floors and wattle walls, or
sheltered behind wind breaks. The dead were buried within the settlement in an
extended position laid out east-west.
In Phase II (c. 2800 – 600 B.C.) stone artefacts and animal bones begin to
decline in quantity, but copper tools and pottery make their appearance. Pottery
is hand-made with incised decoration. The dead were still buried in the habitation
area but in a flexed position and oriented east-west. The graves were furnished
with clay pots, metal tools, ornaments and food offerings. Increased material
Mesolithic Cultures prosperity implies a more secure and stable economy and greater reliance on
animal domestication.
In Phase III (c. 600 B.C. – 200 A.D.) occupation was restricted to the central part
of the mound. Microlithic industry declined greatly and the animal bones were
scarce and highly fragmented. Iron tools come into use, and pottery was more
plentiful and entirely wheel made. Glass beads were added to the repertoire of
ornaments; kiln-fired bricks and tiles were used alongside stone in structures.
d) Microlithic Industry
The flaked stone industry is unusually rich, with several hundred thousand worked
pieces, and comprises the most common material at Bagor. No other site in India
has yielded microliths in comparable numbers. The finished tools and their
manufacturing debris are distributed more or less uniformly all over the inhabited
area showing that the tools were manufactured within the settlement and that
every family or social unit may have produced them for its requirement. The
highest density is found in Phase I, which contains 45 to 55 %, of the material. It
declines progressively in phases II and III. No marked typological or technological
change has been noticed from lower to upper levels. Quartz and chert were the
most common raw materials used. Although quartz predominates in the waste
material, majority of the finished tools are made of chert. The greater use of
quartz was no doubt due to its ready availability in the nearby quartz veins in
schistose rocks.
The lithic industry is truly microlithic in that it is based on the mass production
of microblades and their conversion into various microlithic forms. Nonmicrolithic
tools, such as scrapers and burins, made on cores and flakes, are rare.
More than forty types have been recognised of which the most common are: 01.
Blade with flat retouch; 02. Blunted back blade; 03. Obliquely truncated blade;
04. Obliquely truncated and blunted back blade; 05.Triangle, mainly scalene
and isosceles, 06.Trapeze; 07.Transverse arrowhead ;08.Rhomboid 09.Crescent;
10. Point
Besides these there are also some tools made on flakes and cores such as side,
end, and round scrapers, and burins.
The microlithic industry is essentially geometric and appears to be most suitable
for hunting. Technologically, a distinctive feature of the industry is rarity of the
use of crested guiding ridge technique for removal of blades. Although occasional
tools measure 40 mm or more in length, the majority are between 15 and 20 mm,
and some measure between 5 and 10 mm only. Most microliths, particularly
crescents, triangles are very carefully and retouched perfectly symmetric in form.
It is indeed a puzzle how such tiny pieces measuring less than 10 mm could
have been hafted and used. Another notable feature of the industry is the presence
of petit tranchet or transverse arrowheads in good numbers. This type is rare in
other Indian microlithic industries. The Bagor industry is characterised by a very
high standard of craftsmanship. The only microlithic industries which can
compare with it in typology and technology are those of the Morhana Pahar
group of rockshelters in Mirzapur district of U.P.
e) Copper Objects
Apart from fragments, five well-defined objects were found among offerings
with the two burials of Phase II. These include one spearhead, one thin rod, and
Indian Mesolithic Cultures three arrowheads. The spearhead is broken at the basal end. Both faces have a
distinct mid rib and the sides taper gently towards the tip. The rod is 10.3 cm
long, has a diameter of 2 mm., and is thicker near its lower tip, and the upper tip
is folded to form a loop. It could have been used as an awl or to apply kohl as eye
The arrowheads are 22-25 mm long, 19-24 mm broad and 1.5 –2 mm thick. Two
of these have a concave crescentic base and the third has a barbed base. All three
are provided with two holes near, and parallel to the base. These must have been
meant to secure the arrowhead to the shaft with the help of a string, metal wire or
The arrowheads are of considerable typological and cultural interest. Similar
specimens but without holes are known from a number of Harappan sites in
north Rajasthan, Sind, Punjab and Baluchistan, and from the Chalcolithic site of
Azad Nagar in Indore city in M.P. There is no evidence to show that the people
of Bagor knew metallurgy and had themselves produced the arrowheads. Most
probably they obtained them and other metal objects from itinerant metal smiths
who also catered to the metal requirements of the Harappan and Chalcolithic
f) Iron Tools
Besides many amorphous bits of iron, two well-preserved arrowheads came from
the deposit of Phase III. One of them is socketed and the other tanged.
g) Pottery
Isolated bits of pottery – 1 to 2 cm in size – appear almost down to the bottom
of the deposit but they are too small to indicate any shape, and are certainly
derived from upper levels by infiltration. Thus Phase I is best regarded as devoid
of pottery. However, as this level is richest in microlithic industry and animal
remains, absence of pottery in Phase I does not indicate a lower intensity of
occupation. It is only in Phase III that pottery appears in reasonable quantity.
Two main fabrics, named A and B, can be recognised; fabric A is characteristic
of Phase II while fabric B is predominant in Phase III. A Ware is made of gritty
and micaceous clay. Both surfaces of the pot are treated with a slip of fine clay,
and in many vessels the slipped surface is burnished. Bright red slip has faded
away in most cases and survives as dull brown colour. Firing has been done at
a low temperature, rendering the pots highly fragile. There are no clear striations,
and most pots seem to have been made entirely by hand.
Over a dozen complete pots were found which, with one exception, were
associated with three burials. They include broad-mouthed jars, small lota-like
pots, large shallow basins, smaller and deeper basins, and bowls in a range of
sizes. There are also a few miniature vessels types which might have been used
for ritual purposes. Two large, deep bowls have a pair of holes on the sides,
suggesting either that they were suspended by strings for carrying food, for
protecting it from pests within the home or for tying on a lid.
Though none of the complete pots is decorated, many sherds bear designs which
are all incised and include groups of parallel bands, chevrons, herring bone
patterns, criss-crosses, groups of short strokes, and finger nail incisions.
Mesolithic Cultures Although absence of the use of potter’s wheel and inadequate preparation of
clay and low temperature firing, show a simple ceramic technology, the surface
treatment and forms are quite sophisticated. Indeed, several carinated forms
suggest copying in clay of shapes natural to metal, and it is clear that Bagor
pottery belongs to a mature tradition with a long evolution elsewhere.
Phase III pottery or B ware is very different from Phase II pottery and does not
develop from the latter. It is entirely wheel made. Firing in this ware has been
done at a higher temperature and pots are thinner, lighter and stronger than those
of the A ware. They have a brick red surface and a reddish or bluish core. The
common shapes are large jars and small cylindrical pots, and bowls. Decoration
in this ware is rare and the few designs present consist of simple incisions. In
general the pottery of Phase III is utilitarian and lacks any aesthetic appeal. The
pear-shaped vessel and the bowl with flat base are typical forms of ShungaKushana
period. They are very common in the early historic pottery from Balathal
in Udaipur District. Therefore Phase III can be described as Early Historic.
h) Structures
In Phases I and II the only structures are large floors made of schist slabs and
pebbles. In some places the stones appear to be aligned in a circular fashion
with diameters of 3 to 5m., which may represent the outer periphery of circular
huts or windbreaks. At several places small areas, 40 to 70 cm across, were
paved with tightly packed stones, and were associated with concentrations of
animal bones. These features might represent butchering floors for although there
were plenty of charred bones, no hearths or fire places. In Phase III kiln-baked
brickbats and tiles were also used in construction.
i) Disposal of the Dead
Five burials were found; one in Phase I, three in Phase II, and one in Phase III.
All of them were within the settlement, a practice now well known to have been
in vogue at Mesolithic sites in western and central India, and the Ganga plains,
and in the Neolithic cultures of Kashmir and south India, and the Chalcolithic
cultures of Maharashtra. In Phase I the body was laid in an extended position
with lower left arm resting over the trunk and with its head towards the west. No
grave goods were offered although a few animal bones found in the vicinity
might be associated with the burial. In the three burials of Phase II the body was
laid in a flexed position, with arms and legs folded as in a sleeping pose, and
with the head to the east. How far this change in the burial practice signifies a
change in the ethnic composition of the community is not possible to say as the
skeletons of both phases I and II are too poorly preserved to draw any meaningful
conclusions about their physical features. According to Kenneth A.R. Kennedy
and John R. Lukacs, who examined the Bagor skeletons for their morphology
and dentition, the only skeleton from Phase I (Mesolithic) is an adult female
while of the three skeletons from Phase II (Chalcolithic) one is a child, one is an
adult female, and one is an adult male. The only skeleton from Phase III is an
adult female. However, subsequent examination of a small square object found
on the neck of this skeleton showed the object to be a Muslim period coin. For
this reason this skeleton appears to be a very late interment and cannot be
associated with the cultural material of this phase.
The burials were provided with many of Indian Mesolithic Cultures ferings in the form of pottery vessels
(originally no doubt containing food and water), ornaments, metal objects, and
cuts of meat. In one case as many as eight pots were arranged near the head and
on the left side of the body; two copper arrowheads were placed on the left side,
one of them right on the lower left arm, and a large animal femur lay close to the
body. In case of another burial four pots were placed near the feet and on the left
side, a spearhead and an arrowhead lay near the head, and an awl or antimony
rod (all made of copper) was placed below the abdomen. A broken terracotta
spindle whorl was kept near the feet. In addition, thirty-six beads, mostly of
banded agate and carnelian but some also of bone were found strewn on the
chest and around the neck. The beads, from their position, almost certainly were
part of a necklace which was worn by the dead person. With the third burial, that
of an 8 to 10 year old child, only a single pot was kept near the head.
The teeth of the Mesolithic specimen were free from any dental pathology. Of
the two Chalcolithic specimens for which information is available the adult one
had suffered from caries while the child was free from any dental disease.
j) Stone and Terracotta Objects
Numerous hammerstones occurred all through the deposit but were more common
in Phases I and II . All these bear tell-tale bruising marks in one or more places.
They were no doubt used in the manufacture of stone tools and for breaking and
splitting open animal bones. Some of the stones are of perfectly spherical shape
and bear pecking marks. These were probably used as slingstones. Fragments of
shallow stone querns and a number of flat rubbing or upper grinding stones were
also found in all levels.The small size of these querns and shallow depressions
on them contrast sharply with the large and deep quern so common on Neolithic
and Chalcolithic sites. This and their small number preclude a significant role
for them in food preparation. In Phase II were also found two perforated stones
of the type common at Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites and referred to in the
archaeological literature as mace heads, or as weights of digging sticks. The
only terracotta object found is a broken plano-convex spindle whorl with its flat
surface decorated with a frieze of punctured triangles. It was found associated
with a burial of Phase II.
k) Ornaments
In Phase I only a few stone beads were found. These are similar to those of Phase
II and are likely to have been derived from that level in which beads were very
common. They are mostly of banded agate, carnelian and garnet, and are of
short tubular and barrel shape. A few tiny bone beads are also present. Reference
has already been made to a necklace of stone and bone beads found on one of the
Phase II burials. In Phase III glass beads were also used and there were several
kinds of stone pendants. Pieces of geru or ochre were found throughout the
deposit. In the absence of painted decoration on pottery, pigment from these
pieces may have been used for decorating the human body.
l) Food and Economy
The only direct evidence for reconstructing the subsistence basis of early Bagor
are animal bones. These are most common in Phase I, begin to decline in Phase
II, and are scarce in Phase III. Most of them are charred and fragmentary showing
that meat was roasted on open fires and the bones broken and split open for the
Mesolithic Cultures extraction of marrow. The abundance of bones in Phases I and II suggests that
animal food was more important in the earlier stages of the settlement. The
remarkable correspondence in the distribution of animal bones and microlithic
industry confirms that hunting was an important activity in Phase I and to a
lesser extent in Phase II as well.
A study of the animal remains by P.K. Thomas (1975) shows the presence of
both wild and domesticated species from the very beginning. Domesticated
species include cattle (Bos indicus), buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), sheep (Ovis aries),
goat (Capra hircus aegagrus) and pig (Sus scrofa cristatus), and wild ones
comprise fox (Vulpes bengalensis), mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi), nilgai
(Boselaphus tragocamelus)¸ blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), chinkara (Gazella
dorcas), chital (Axis axis), and hare (Lepus nigricollis). D. R. Shah and K.R.
Alur, who had examined a part of the faunal collection before Thomas, have also
noted the presence of barasingha (Cervus duvauceli), hog deer (Axis porcinus),
wild boar (Sus scrofa cristatus, Wagner), jackal (Canis aureus), rat (Rattus rattus),
monitor lisard (Varanus flavescens, Gray), river turtle (Lissemys punctata,
Bonnaterre), and fish.
Thus the subsistence economy of the Bagor people during Phase I was based on
a combination of hunting and herding. In phase II a decline in the quantity of
animal bones and stone tools would suggest a reduced role for hunting and by
implication a greater reliance on food production. Other evidence also points in
the same direction. First, the introduction of pottery, metal tools, and ornaments,
and richly furnished graves all reflect greater prosperity and a more stable and
secure economic basis. It should be noted that constellation of traits is otherwise
known only from sites where agriculture is established as a certainty. Secondly,
perforated stones found in this phase are often interpreted in the archaeological
literature as weights of digging sticks used in primitive agriculture.
In Phase III animal bones are scarce and more fragmentary, thereby restricting
their amenability to zoological identification. A corresponding decline in
microlithic industry would indicate a further decline in the role of hunting. Iron
tools, wheel made pottery, and use of kiln-baked bricks, tiles and dressed stones
in structures all suggest that agriculture must have been well established by this
m) Chronology
Five radiocarbon dates based on bone carbonate samples have been processed
by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. They suggest that the
chronology of the occupation of the site by early men varies from 4,480 B.C. to
2, 110 B.C.
a) Location and Associated Sites
Bhimbetka is a name of a large hill, located near the tribal village of Bhiyanpur,
by the side of the Mumbai-Delhi line of the Central Railway, 30 km north of
Hoshangabad and 45 km south of Bhopal. The hill is a part of the deciduous
woodland-covered Vindhyan Hills of Central India. The hill, with an area of one
sq. km. is topped by disjointed monolithic rocks, which contain at their bases
and sides as also of many other rocks on the hill a complex of nearly 800
prehistoric rock shelters and caves, the largest concentration at one site in the Indian Mesolithic Cultures
world, in Sehore district of Madhya Pradesh. While Bhimbeka is the largest hill
in the area, several other hills, like Bhaunrewali, Kari Talai, Vinayaka and Jondra,
in its vicinity, also contain shelters of varying sizes. The shelters have been
formed by natural erosion of the Vindhyan sandstone of which the hill and the
rocks surmounting it as well as away from it are formed. While almost all the
shelters contain paintings of prehistoric to medieval periods, a few of them also
contain evidence of human occupation in the form of stone tools, pottery, copper
and iron tools, beads of stone, steatite, faience and terracotta, other objects,
animal remains, and human burials. Evidence of occupation in a few shelters
goes back to a few hundred thousand years. Because of the quantitative and
qualitative richness of its archaeological wealth, Bhimbetka has been granted
the status of a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
Bhimbetka, discovered by V.S. Wakankar of Ujjain University in 1957, is a
complex of nearly 1000 caves and rock shelters in the forested Vindhya
hills, 45 km. South of Bhopal and 35 km. North of Hoshangabad in Madhya
Pradesh. Over 500 shelters contain paintings of Stone Age to Late Medieval
Period, and some of them also contain habitation deposits of Lower
Palaeolithic to Early Historic period. A number of the shelters were
excavated by V.S.Wakankar and V.N.Misra, from 1973 to 1977. The
excavations yielded rich cultural evidence of the Lower Palaeolithic to Early
Historical periods and biological evidence of the Mesolithic period.
b) Environmental Setting
What is the explanation of the richness of this archaeological wealth? Bhimbetka
and its surroundings receive annual rainfall of about 1000 mm. Because of this
the hills are covered with dense vegetation. The forest in the valley as well as on
the slopes and tops of the hills contains numerous trees, plants and creepers
which have edible leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, roots and tubers. The hills also
harbour many herbivores which are a large source of meat. There are a number
of perennial springs and seasonal streams which are a source of assured water
supply for animal and human populations of the area. Numerous caves and shelters
provide ready-made protection against the elements. The hills have an
inexhaustible supply of fine-grained quartzite for making tools. A few kilometres
south of Bhimbetka there are exposures of Deccan lavas which contain veins of
quartz and siliceous minerals from which Mesolithic people made their tools
and weapons. Blessed with such abundance of all essential resources, Bhimbetka
was indeed a prehistoric paradise, and it is therefore no surprise that the
inhabitants of the shelters had enough leisure to produce one of the richest and
most beautiful corpus of prehistoric art in the world. The site was jointly excavated
by Dr. Wakankar and V.N. Misra..
c) Wakankar’s Excavation
V.S. Wakankar excavated seven shelters and V.N. Misra excavated three. In one
shelter, IIIF-24 or Auditorium Cave, Wakankar found evidence of Early Acheulian
culture and Pre-Acheulian chopper-chopping tools. In another shelter, IIIA-28,
he found a boundary wall made of large boulders to enclose the Acheulian
habitation area. In several other shelters, he came across evidence of Middle
Palaeolithic, Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Early Historic and Medieval period
occupations. In some shelters he found human bones which he believed were
Mesolithic Cultures d) V.N. Misra’s Excavation
V.N. Misra excavated three shelters: IIIF-15, IIIF-23, and IIB-33. Of these, IIIF23
is the most Mesolithic. The Mesolithic habitation area was partitioned into
two by a wall of stone slabs and boulders. While Pre-Mesolithic industries were
all made of quartzite. Mesolithic assemblage was made entirely of cryptocrystalline
siliceous material. Bones collected from a secondary burial were placed
on the floor of the shelter. Shelter IIIF-13 produced a lot of ash from a fireplace,
small pieces of wheel-made pottery and microliths and other stone tools.
Shelter IIB-33 had the thickest habitation deposit of 1.5 m, and it belonged
exclusively to the Mesolithic. The deposit yielded a highly developed geometric
microlithic industry, many upper grinding stones, a few ground bone and antler
pieces, and some pieces of ground red ochre. All these were associated with
several primary burials found one above the other. The deposit also produced
plenty of charcoal which was used for dating by PRL and BSIP laboratories. A
number of dates ranging from 2000 to 8000 B.P. were obtained from this charcoal.
e) Contact between Mesolithic Hunter-gatherers and Chalcolithic Farmers
All the shelters yielded evidence of contact of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers with
settled farmers. This evidence consists of copper tools, painted pottery, stone,
steatite, faience, terracotta, agate and carnelian beads, and bangles of shell,
porcelain and glass.
f) Rock Paintings
In addition to its rich and varied evidence of human occupation during the
Mesolithic period, Bhimbetka is justly famous for its spectacular wealth of rock
paintings. Almost every shelter on Bhimbetka hill contains some paintings. The
same is broadly true of shelters on the other hills. A few shelters like the Zoo
Rock, Wild Boar and Crab, IIIC-9, and Rangmahal are particularly rich in
The paintings occur on the walls and ceilings and in the niches or hollows in
rock walls. They are made in red, white, yellow, green, and, rarely, black colours.
These colours were produced by grinding naturally occurring pigment nodules
into powder. The powder was mixed with plant sap or animal blood to form the
pigment for creating the paintings.
g) Subject Matter of Paintings
The paintings depict a large variety of wild animals which comprise oxen, gaur,
buffalo, antelopes like nilgai, blackbuck, deer like barasingha, sambhar, chital,
hog deer, and barking deer, elephant, rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, hyena, wolf,
jackal, fox, porcupine, monkey and rat. They are portrayed as sitting, standing,
walking and running individually or in groups. The animals are realistically drawn
and are characterised by vitality and dynamism. Next to them are scenes of hunting
of animals by using spears, sticks, bows and arrows, traps and snares as also of
fishing and digging of rats, tubers and roots, and collection of honey. Small
animals are collected in bags or baskets, and carried to camps with the bag slung
over the shoulder or back. There are also scenes of sanctified animals like the
wild boar which is depicted in several shelters.
h) Indian Mesolithic Cultures Importance of Bhimbetka
Bhimbetka is thus an archaeological site of exceptional importance in terms of
the record of prehistoric technology, economy, biology, and art. When V.N.
Misra and his team conducted excavation at the site in the 1970s, access to it
was very difficult. The team had to walk over uneven and steep rocks and boulders,
and close to deep ravines. Misra’s team had to transport their camp and digging
equipment on labourers’ heads and in bullock carts for which track had to be
made every time by dislodging boulders, breaking rocks, and filling depressions
with rubble and mud.
Because of its artistic treasure the site received wide publicity through national
and international news channels, news on radio and TV, articles which Wakankar
and Misra wrote for English, Hindi, and Marathi newspapers and magazines,
hundreds of visitors from Bhopal and nearby towns, and visits of a large number
of Indian and foreign archaeologists to our excavations. The visit of the
charismatic Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Smt. Sonia Gandhi to Bhimbetka
in 1984 further boosted its image. Following this visit the Madhya Pradesh
Government built a road connecting the site to Itarsi-Bhopal highway, right up
to the top of the Bhimbetka hill, a guest house and essential facilities for tourists.
In 1978 V.N.Misra organised an international symposium on Indo-Pacific
Prehistory at Pune. Nearly a hundred archaeologists from India and over 25 foreign
countries who participated in the excavation also visited Bhimbetka. This visit
further boosted the national and international image of the site.
The central and M.P. Govt. have all along been very supportive of our research
and our efforts to bring Bhimbetka to the notice of the national and international
archaeological communities and the public. Even while V.N. Misra’s team were
excavating at the site, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had declared
Bhimbetka a site of national importance. The building of infrastructural facilities
has boosted tourist traffic to the site.
This unit describes the Middle Stone age or Mesolithic cultures, which is in
between Palaeolithic and Neolithic cultures. This stage is much shorter when
compared to Palaeolithic stage. Mesolithic period is characterised by Microliths
or the tiny tools. The diet of the Mesolithic people consisted of leaves, flowers,
fruits, seeds, roots, and tubers, flesh of wild land and water animals, and birds.
Mesolithic stage in India represented in the following states: Rajasthan, Gujarat,
Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra
Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.
Suggested Reading
Agrawal, D.P. J.S. Kharakwal. 2002. South Asian Prehistory: A Mutidisciplinary
Study. New Delhi: Aryan Books.
Misra, V.N. 2002. Mesolithic Culture in India, In, Mesolithic India, (V.D. Misra
and J.N. Pal (Eds.)., PP. 1-66. Allahabad: Department of Ancient History, Culture
and Archaeology, Allahabad University.
Mesolithic Cultures Misra, V.N. and Malti Nagar. 2009. Typology of Indian Mesolithic Tools, Man
and Environment, XXXIV (2): 17-45.
Wakankar, V.S.and R.R.R. Brooks. 1976. Stone Age Paintings in India. Bombay:
Taraporewala and Sons.
Sample Questions
1) Define Mesolithic and mention its chief characteristics.
2) List the principal Mesolithic sites of India, their location and names of their
3) What are microliths. Mention their chief types and features. What NonMicrolithic
tools are found in Mesolithic cultures?
4) Describe the burial practices of the Mesolithic period.
5) Give an account of the art of the Mesolithic period.
6) Summarise the evidence of contact between Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and
their technologically and ecnomically more advanced neighours.
7) Discuss the economic and social consequences of contact between
Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and their technologically and ecnomically more
advanced neighours.
8) Write short notes:
9) (i) A.C.L. Carlleyle; (ii) V.A. Smith; (iii) Robert Bruce Foote; (iv) H.D.
Sankalia; (v) G.R. Sharma; (vi) B. Subbarao; (vii) Grahame Clark; (viii)
Langhnaj, (ix) Bhimbetka, (x) Bagor, (xi) Tilwara, (xii) Birbhanpur, (xiii)
Teri Sites, (xiv) Ppachmarhi (xv) Kanjars, (xvi) Baheliyas, (xvii) Bhils,
(xviii) Van Vagris, (xix) Birhors, (xx) Chenchus, (xxi) Kadars, (xxii)
Kurubas, (xxiii) Kal Beliyas.
10) Discuss the importance of the Mesolithic in human cultural evolution.
Indian Mesolithic Cultures UNIT 3 MESOLITHIC ART
3.1 Introduction
3.1.1 When did First Rock Art Evolve?
3.1.2 The Rock Art Sites in India
3.2 Bhimbetka Rock Art
3.2.1 Location of Bhimbetka
3.2.2 Why the Name Bhimbetka?
3.2.3 The Bhimbetka Rock Art
3.2.4 Why were such Paintings Made?
3.2.5 Classification of Bhimbetka Rock Art Complex
3.3 Pachmarhi Rock Art
3.3.1 The Location of Pachmarhi
3.3.2 The Shelters, Paintings and Antiquity
3.3.3 Who are the People in the Paintings?
3.4 Adamgarh Rock Art
3.4.1 The Location of Adamgarh
3.4.2 The Rock-Shelters and Paintings
3.4.3 The Antiquity
3.5 Art on Ostrich Egg Shells
3.6 The Cup-marks and Petroglyphs
3.6.1 What are Cupules?
3.6.2 The Antiquity of the Cupules
3.6.3 How were Cupules Made?
3.6.4 Why were the Cupules Made?
3.7 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to know:
Ø how do people express ideas through art? ;
Ø why do people use images to tell stories and to communicate?;
Ø what did people use to record important events in their lives or history long
Ø how has art been used throughout history to tell stories or to show us what
people in other times and places considered important?;
Ø how paintings and drawings help to convey significant ideas and events and
how people today understand the past from putting together stories and
history from these images?;
Ø what do you know about the life of these people shown in paintings? When
and where did they live? What animals lived when the cave people lived?
what did cave people use animals for? What tools did they have? Why do
we call them cave people?;
Mesolithic Cultures Ø how are their lives similar to and different from our lives today? Where do
we get our information about the cave people?;
Ø what was the period of the Lower Paleolithic, the Middle Paleolithic, Upper
Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic, Neolithic?;
Ø how to identify the images of the bison, ibex, ox, stags, mammoths, reindeer,
bears, felines, rhinoceros, birds, fish, etc., human images drawn?
Ø what were the cave artists trying to say?;
Ø why there were so many animals and not as many people in the paintings?;
Ø what can the paintings tell us about other aspects of the life of cave dwellers
or Paleolithic people?;
Ø how did mesolithic men of India make these pictures if there were no stores
to buy paint and brushes or tools for carving?;
Ø what colors are prominent in the paintings, and what natural sources might
provide these pigments if they didn’t have crayons or markers?;
Ø what challenges cave people might have encountered in painting on cave
walls and ceilings- pitch-black darkness, irregular surface of the rocky walls,
steepness and height, adherence of the pigment to the surface, etc. ; and
Ø speculate how the Palaeolithic people overcame some of these challengeswhat
did they use for lighting?.
Rock Art or Palaeoart is our ancestors’ earliest signature drawn on rock surfaces
either on the open cliffs or inside the rock shelters and caves where they lived. It
can be seen in the form of rock paintings (petrographs) and / or in the form of
engravings, cupules, etc. (petroglyphs). They provide a unique opportunity to
understand the origins of human mind and serve as source for studying the material
culture of the society in its ecological setting. These along with other oral
traditions, myths and legends of the tribal people help social scientists to
reconstruct the ethno-history.
3.1.1 When did First Rock Art Evolve?
It is yet not clear whether Homo erectus, the species which preceded ours, had
developed art during the Lower Palaeolithic time, though he had made amazingly
beautiful well refined stone implements seen in Narmada valley collections which
ought to be more than utilitarian and definitely of great aesthetic value. It is
widely observed and understood that with the emergence of modern human
species, Homo sapiens, during Upper Palaeolithic time over 150,000 years ago
fast brain or neurobiological evolution of man occurred and the higher faculty of
abstraction of ideas and their expressions was achieved by our species. This
faculty heralded fast development in the next Stone Age period known as
Mesolithic which witnesses behavioural and social and cultural modernity
manifested in the creativity of visual representations, various kinds of art artistic
skills, the Mesolithic art.
Mesolithic Art 3.1.2 The Rock Art Sites in India
Rock Art is widely distributed in Northern, Western, Eastern and Southern part
of India right from Ladakh, (J&K), Manipur and Himachal Pradesh to Tamil
Nadu and Kerala. But most of the rock art sites are in the central India, notably
in the Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. This is primarily
due to its unique geo-environmental set-up which favoured the evolution of early
human culture on the Central Indian plateau. This is therefore that the mountainous
region of the Vindhya and Satpura ranges which confine the Central Narmada
Valley where Stone Age man flourished, have the largest number of rock art
sites. The Vindhyan and Satpura ranges are fractured and elevated to such a way
which produced natural shelters and caves of the Block Mountains. These shelters
could easily be occupied by early hunter-gatherers and pastorals whose
descendants, such as Gond, Muria, Korku, Bhilala, etc. tribal communities still
thrive on incipient or marginal farming and continue with their traditional
lifestyles. Bhimbetka rock art shelters in the Vidhyan Range and the Adamgarh
and Pachmarhi in the Satpura are among the most important rock art sites in
India, beside the Daraki Chattan in Chhattisgarh and numerous in the Hazaribagh,
Giridih and Kodarmada, Chatra region of the Jharkhand several which have
become fairly known in recent years through the efforts of Dr. (Colonel) A.K.
Prasad. The rock-arts of Bhimbetka, Pachmarhi and Adamgarh have greater
antiquity since the Upper Palaeolithic though Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic
and early historic periods.
3.2.1 Location of Bhimbetka
Bhimbetka rock-art-site is in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh, located at
22o56’N: 77o36’E latitude, 45km south of Bhopal or 30 km northwest of
Hoshangabad on Obaidullaganj – Itarsi national highway. The site looks like a
huge fortified segmented ridge from a short distance. The rocky terrain covered
by dense forest at the southern edge of the Vindhyan hills. Its topmost peak is
619 meter high from mean sea level. Narmada River flows in the south of the
Vindhya and in the north of Satpura range. The lush green dense forests on a
rocky terrain and craggy cliffs appear the natural guards of Bhimbetka. In fact,
Bhimbetka cluster of shelters starts from the Shyamla hills in Bhopal as a chain
towards south along the River Betwa in a ‘S’ twisted course followed by its
tributaries; Bhimbetka hill being in middle. About half of the painted rock-shelters
of Bhimbetka are accessible but the rest are in dense forested area infested with
The paintings at Bhimbetka are found on the walls, ceiling and hollows in
the shelters. They are made in red and white colours and less commonly
in green, yellow and black colours derived from minerals in the rocks and
earth. The paintings can be divided into two chronological stages:
prehistoric and historic. The chief subjects of the prehistoric paintings
are scenes of wild animals, hunting, trapping and fishing. Less common
are depictions of daily life, dancing, singing, playing musical instruments,
celebrating birth, and grieving sickness and death. The scenes in historic
paintings comprise processions of caparisoned elephants and horses and
fighting with swords, shields, spears, and bows and arrows.
Mesolithic Cultures 3.2.2 Why the Name Bhimbetka?
The gigantic rocks of Bhimbetka owe its name to Bhima, literally the seat of
Bhima (Bhimbethak), the mighty character of Mahabharata, who along with other
Pandavas is said to have stayed in these caves. The name of the nearby places is
also Pandapur, and Bhiyanpura, which could be a distortion of Bhimpura (meaning
the town of Bhima).
Bhimbetka finds first mention in Indian Archaeological Records (1888) as a
Buddhist site, but its painted rock shelters were first discovered in 1957-58 by
an Archaeologist Dr. Vishnu Wakankar of Ujjain. Without being much aware of
the paintings the local villagers used to assemble on the hilltop for annual fair of
Shivaratri in the month of March. A Siva devotee and a medicine man, Baba
Shalik Ram Das has maintained a temple within the painted rock-shelter premises
where he has kept the tribal artefacts, such as bow and arrows.
3.2.3 The Bhimbetka Rock Art
The rock shelter complex of Bhimbetka exhibits the earliest pictorial traces of
prehistoric man’s life in Indian Sub-continent. It is a natural art gallery-complex
of prehistoric man and a land of archaeological treasures serving as invaluable
historical chronicle since the Palaeolithic through the Mesolithic until the early
history. Bhimbetka rock-shelters were also inhabited by the Middle to Upper
Palaeolithic man as is evident from stone tools, and for its quantum and quality
of rock paintings as well as for its surroundings still inhabited by primitive tribes
who continue with the Stone Age traditions, it has been declared as an important
World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 2003.
According to Yasodhra Mathpal and Somnath Chakraverty, there are about
estimated 6214 rock art motifs in Bhimbetka predominated by zoomorphs (animal
art) and a combination of them with human figures (anthropomorphs). A series
Fig. 3.1: Bhimbetka & Adamgarh Rock-Shelters of India & Rock Paintings
Photographs by
Dr. A.R. Sankhyan
of hunting scenes of archers are remarkable in Bhimbetka representing inter Mesolithic Art –
group conflicts and probably within the group clashes as well. The paintings of
the later period have human figures and designs in geometric pattern as well as
other ritualistic/ religious symbols and conch–shell inscriptions. There are
paintings of dance scenes and horse-riding warriors with umbrella-like head gears,
scenes of honey collection and fishing, hunting of the wild boar, etc. There are
depiction of musical instruments of horns, pipes, drums and tom-toms. We can
also notice palm prints, thumb impressions, hand stencils and finger markings.
On the whole they bear similarities with the subsistence patterns of the
surrounding contemporary marginal cultivators and food-gatherers.
The paintings show different overlapping layer in red and white. The paintings
in green are considered the earliest though the haematite (red ochre) was also
quite common. The earliest layer mostly represents large figures of wild animals
either depicted in red ochre or in white/ grey colour. The black colour from
charcoal or manganese was used likely later.
3.2.4 Why were such Paintings Made?
Some of you may think that these paintings were drawn to decorate the caves
and for pleasure. K. L. Kamat observed that many of them are not planned or
organised nicely; not have taken the trouble even to erase the older paintings and
drawings. There are several overlaps of layers of sketches on one another. We
can separate them through colour and style differences. Most probably, these
were created as a means of escape from suffering and as devotion to supernatural
entity since there are red, green, and white colours in all hues and varieties used
to decorate the dead. Some paintings appear made with finger, some with brushes
of feathers, wood and peacock feather stems or porcupines needles as per the
style and the texture. With full freedom of expression the prehistoric man
expressed life in a simplified way, drawing the animals and birds in just two or
three strokes, and then using symbols; some are single line sketches whereas
some are finished with a fair stroke. Interestingly, the engraved figures in
Bhimbetka are almost non-existent unlike Pachmarhi, and several other sites in
Central India.
3.2.5 Classification of Bhimbetka Rock Art Complex
Yashodar Mathpal and other scholars consider about nine successive
developmental phases in Bhimbetka rock art complex as follows:
A) Prehistoric
Phase 1: Large size animals (buffaloes, elephants, wild bovids and big
cats), outlined and partially in-filled with geometric and maze patterns; no
Phase 2: Diminutive figures of animals and humans, full of life and
naturalistic; hunters mostly in groups; deer dominant; colours red, white
and emerald green- the latter is with the humans in dancing, S-shaped bodies.
Phase 3: Large size animals with vertical strips and humans.
Phase 4: Schematic and simplified figures.
Mesolithic Cultures Phase 5: Decorative; “large-horned animals” drawn “in fine thin lines with
body decoration in honey-comb, zigzag and concentric square pattern”.
B) Transitional (Beginning of Agricultural Life)
Phase 6: Quite different from the previous ones; conventional and schematic;
body of animals in a rectangle with stiff legs; humps on bovines, sometimes
horns adorned at the tip; chariots and carts with yoked oxen.
C) Historic
Phase 7: Riders on horses and elephants; group dancers; thick white and
red colour: decline in artistic merit.
Phase 8: Bands of marching and facing soldiers, their chiefs riding elephants
and horses equipped with long spears, swords, bows and arrows; rectangular
shields, a little curved; horses elaborately decorated and caparisoned; white
infilling and red outlining.
Phase 9. Geometric human figures, designs; known religious symbols and
3.3.1 The Location of Pachmarhi
Pachmarhi is more famous for its rock-cut Pandav caves associated with the
Pandavas of the Mahabharata and gets its name from the seat of five Pandavas.
It is the only hill station in the central region of India, situated in the Satpura
range and Mahadeo hills at about 1100 meters height above mean sea level.
Discovered by Captain James Forsyth of the British army in 1857, it became a
hill station and sanatorium for British troops in the Central Provinces of India. It
is popular as ‘Satpura ki Rani’. Jatashankar is an important rock formation in
Pachmarhi is –a place sanctified by the Shaivite lore; its rocks are indeed shaped
like the mater hair of lord Shiva, and inside its natural cavern there is a stone
formation like the hundred-headed divine snake Seshnag. The Pachmarhi valley
is glorified by ravines and maze of gorges, deep azure pools, sculpted in red
sandstone by the wind and weather, and cascading waterfalls flash silver in the
sunshine, a natural sanctuary of wildlife and birds.
3.3.2 The Shelters, Paintings and Antiquity
Pachmarhi is an archaeological treasure-house besides being magnificently gifted
by nature. There are numerous works of early human workmanship. The cave
shelters of the Mahadeo hill are rich in rock paintings, most of which are dated
to 500 – 800 AD, but the earliest paintings are about 10,000 years old of Mesolithic
period. Most of the paintings are in white, sometimes also outlined in red. They
depict scenes from every day life and hunting as well as the warfare. There are
about 22 clusters of rock-shelters and caves within about 100 square km which
have preserved paintings. Some of the best cave shelters and groups of shelters
around Pachmarhi are: Dhuandhar, approached from the footpath to Apsara Vihar.
Mesolithic Art
At Bharat Neer (Dorothy Deep) there are animal paintings, where 1930s
excavations also yielded many potshards and Microlithic tools. Asthachal (Monte
Rosa) is another site where four shelters exist with paintings, which are linear
drawings. Along the northern side of Jambu Dwip valley there are six shelters
with paintings of animals and human figures, including a battle scene. Harper’s
Cave is another, so named for its paintings, i.e. a man seated and playing a harp
close to the Jatashankar Shrine. The Chieftain’s Cave derives its name from a
battle scene showing two chieftains on horses. A terrace that runs the length of
the South, South East and East faces of Kites Crag has some fine cave paintings,
the majority of which are in white or outlined in red.
3.3.3 Who are the People in the Paintings?
Several of the Pachmarhi rock paintings depict the traditional way of its ancient
inhabitants, and presently too Pachmarhi is an important abode of very ancient
semi-nomadic tribal people like, Gonds, Kols, Bhills, Murias, Baigas, Korkus,
Kamaras, Marias and Oraons, some of them have preserved very remarkably
their distinct way of life in isolation, hunting and shifting cultivation.
3.4.1 The Location of Adamgarh
Around 40 km from Bhimbetka, Adamgarh Hills are a part of the southern edge
of the central Indian plateau elevated as Satpura Range, located just 2 km from
Hoshangabad town (Madhya Pradesh) along the Nagpur national highway, quite
close to the left bank of river Narmada. Since Stone Age Man lived around
Hoshangabad, which is evident from its historical back ground revealed by the
excavations made on the nearby rivers namely; Narmada, Tawa, Doodhi,
Palakmati, Denwa, etc.
Fig. 3.2: Pachmarhi & Jharkhand Rock Art
Photographs courtesy Dr. (Col.) A.K. Prasad & Dr. Minakshi Pathak
Mesolithic Cultures 3.4.2 The Rock-Shelters and Paintings
Adamgarh rock-shelters have the earliest known Rock art in India maintained by
the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) as is Bhimbetka. We can find numerous
stone tools of the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic cultures at and around
Adamgarh. Mesolithic tools are tiny flakes of geometric trapezes, triangles,
lunates, etc. used in the combined way by the prehistoric man. The remains of
Stone Age in the form of cave paintings can be seen in the rock shelters of
Mesolithic was the transitional phase between the Palaeolithic Age and the
Neolithic Age. There was rise in temperature and the climate became warm and
dry. The climatic changes affected human life and brought about changes in
fauna and flora. The technology of producing tools also underwent change and
the small stone tools were used. Man was predominantly in hunting/gathering
stage but there was shift in the in pattern of hunting from big game to small
game hunting and to fishing and fowling.
At Adamgarh there are twenty painted rock-shelters scattered over a deserted
sandstone cliff within four square kilometre area. Depiction of human figures in
rock paintings is quite common in various postures — dancing, running, and
hunting, playing games, wars and quarrelling made in deep red, green, white and
yellow colours. The material and ecological changes are also reflected in the
rock paintings. Animals are frequently depicted either alone or in large and small
groups and shown in various poses; the domesticated animals include zebu cattle,
buffalo, goat, sheep, pig and dog, whereas the wild species painted are Varanus
griseus, Hystrix cristata, Equus sp., Cervus duvauçeli, Cervus unicolor, Axis
axis and Lupus nigricollis.
3.4.3 The Antiquity
Two dates have been obtained for the Mesolithic layers at Adamgarh, viz.,
2765±105 BP (TF-116) and 7450±130 BP (TF-120). The found Mesolithic tools,
called microliths, are of various types made on chert, agate, chalcedony, quartz,
jasper, carnelian, etc., and measure about one to five centimetres in length. The
life style of the Late Stone Age or Mesolithic people was primarily hunting,
fishing and food-gathering, nicely portrayed on the painted walls.
The ostrich eggs are so big and strong that one can carve and cut intricate designs
into their shells. The evidences show that engravings on ostrich shell were started
as early as 60,000 years ago. A French scholar Pierre-Jean Texier discovered
about 270 eggshell fragments in a South African cave known for various
archaeological finds, and the engravings came from at least 25 separate eggs,
and displayed a very limited set of motifs — only hatched — bands like parallel
lines, intersecting lines or cross-hatching. Texier believed that the shell motifs
are enough evidence to show that these prehistoric humans were capable of
symbolic thought. Contemporary Kalahari hunter-gatherers also collect ostrich
eggs as noticed by Texier in some Bushmen groups (e.g. Kung), who used similar
graphics. Christopher Henshilwood found a slab of ochre covered in geometric
carvings as old as 70,000 years ago in a South Africa cave, Blombos.
The portable art of Indian Mesolithic is meagre. Among many ostrich eggshell
objects found in India the Patne (Maharashtra) specimen authenticated by Robert
Bednarik is dated to about 25000 years BP Mesolithic Art
. The Patne engravings resemble those
of the Upper Palaeolithic find in Israel; similar borderlines are also seen on the
Chinese and other early Palaeoart. Another classical instance is a chalcedony
core with delicate geometric engraving found at Chandravati by V.H. Sonawane,
considered to be of Mesolithic antiquity because of its context and artefact
typology. An engraved human tooth and a few engraved bone objects described
by V.S. Wakankar were found at Bhimbetka III A-28, considered authentic by
Robert Bednarik.
The petroglyphs are often unpatinated or only partly patinated. Body decoration
and Petroglyphs might have preceded the visual iconic and non-iconic art. But
Robert Bednarik maintains that it is not plausible that the first form of body
decoration must have been by beads or pendants, which might or might not
necessarily been made of non-perishable materials since recent hunting societies
made most of their beads from perishable plant seeds, shell, bone or ivory
ornaments. Most body decorations, such as body painting, tattoos, cicatrices,
infibulations, headdresses, coiffures, deformation, etc. could never survive in
the archaeological record. The Neanderthals of the Châtelperronian used
ornamentation (ivory rings, perforated and incised pendants, ochre, fossils and
crystals) that is so similar to that of the contemporary Early Aurignacians.
Petroglyphs generally last longer than rock paintings, except in deep caves or
where a silica skin covered paintings. Among various types of petroglyphs that
have the greatest potential to survive include cupules and simple geometric figures.
So, the objective record of Palaeoart and related phenomena provides no
justification at all for distinct cognitive differentiation between human
‘subspecies’ in the Pleistocene, i.e. between Homo erectus and archaic Homo
sapiens, as between Neanderthals and their late contemporaries in Europe, the
pre-Cro-Magnon people.
3.6.1 What are Cupules?
The cupules are hemispherical, cup-shaped, non-utilitarian, cultural marks that
have been pounded into a rock surface by human hand. Robert G. Bednarik has
used the term “cupule” and raised it to the status of an extraordinary art form
among the earliest known prehistoric art and the most common motif type in
world rock art. He rules out the similar natural formations since the cupules
should display some microscopic signs of percussion, such as crushed particles,
and surface bruising, and must possess some non-utilitarian or symbolic function,
even though an additional utilitarian function may be present. Therefore potholes
(fluvial abrasion hollows) and lithological cupmarks (tessellated sand-stone
pavements caused by cumulative underground stresses) should be excluded.
3.6.2 The Antiquity of the Cupules
Cupules are typically found in groups, normally measuring around 1.5 to 10 cm
in diameter and about 10-12 mm in depth, often occurring on horisontal or in
many cases sloping at 45o
, and also on vertical rock-surfaces. A number of them
are found on boulders, e.g., La Ferrassie Neanderthal cave in France dated between
70,000 and 40,000 BC by Bednarik. In Bhimbetka Auditorium Cave as well as
in the Daraki-Chattan in India, they occur on very hard erosion-resistant quartzite
Mesolithic Cultures rock, gneissic granite and even crystalline quartz dated to between 290,000 and
700,000 BC. They are regarded as the oldest cupules by Bednarik since they
occur on immobile hard surface sandwiched between a solid upper level stratum
of the Middle Palaeolithic and Acheulian cultural level of the Lower Palaeolithic.
Elsewhere too they are found to have been made by the chopping tools using
hominins like the Oldowan of Africa. Some of the cupules have been re-worked
by later artists, e.g., one cupule at Moda Bhata, India, created about 7000 BC
was re-pounded about 200 AD. A large cupule reported from Sai Island (Sudan)
is thought to be about 200,000 years old, but the oldest cupule-bearing rock is in
the primordial Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, dating to approximately 1.7 million
BCE. In Australia, the Turtle Rock cupules in northern Queensland may be as
old as 30,000 or 60,000 BP. Bednarik attributes the earliest cupule-making to
Homo erectus and thinks that the cupules had clear evidence of symbolic language.
3.6.3 How were Cupules Made?
Giriraj Kumar experimented with cupule-making process at Daraki-Chattan using
hammer-stone technique and after five experiments observed that different cupules
worked out to different depths required different time span. For instance Copule
1 took 8,490 blows involving 72 minutes of actual working time. Cupule 2,
worked to a depth of 4.4 mm, required 8,400 blows involving 66 minutes of
actual working time, before the tester reached exhaustion. Cupule 3 required
6,916 strikes to reach a depth of 2.55 mm; Cupule 4 took 1,817 strikes to attain
a depth of 0.05 mm (then abandoned); Cupule 5 required 21,730 blows and
reached a depth of 6.7 mm.
The experiments clearly demonstrated that pounding a cupule on a hard rock
required a colossal expenditure of energy. Given that Daraki Chattan has over
500 cupules, one can readily appreciate the serious nature of the endeavour.
Therefore, the cupule-making was no trivial exercise – at least not where hard
stone was involved.
Fig. 3.3: Some Palaeoart Petroglyphs in India
Mesolithic Art 3.6.4 Why were the Cupules Made?
There is yet no convincing explanation of the cultural or artistic meaning of
cupules, but they are first and foremost a pattern of behaviour common to nearly
all known prehistoric cultures around the globe. Many scholars associate the
cupules with fertility rites. For instance, Bednarik cites a report of Mountford
who witnessed making of cupules in central Australia in the 1940s as a ritual for
the pink cockatoo. The rock out of which the cupules were pounded was believed
by the Aborigines to contain the life essence of this bird, and the mineral dust
rising into the air as a result of this pounding was believed to fertilise the female
cockatoos to increase their egg production, which the Aborigines valued as a
source of food. So, Bednarik opines that the meaning and purpose of such ancient
art cannot be understood without understanding the ethnographic beliefs of their
Rock is our ancestors’ earliest signature on rock surfaces in the form of petrographs
(rock paintings) and petroglyphs (engravings, cupules, etc.), which provide a
unique opportunity to understand the origins of human mind and serve as source
for studying the material culture of the society in its ecological setting. These
along with other oral traditions, myths and legends of the tribal people help
social scientists to reconstruct the ethno-history. In terms of petroglyphs, rock
art is quite old in India traced back to the Lower Palaeolithic age but it flourished
during Mesolithic time. It displays all major developmental phases all through
the early historic period, distributed to the length and breadth of the country with
special concentrations in the Plateau region of central and eastern India. The
most important Mesolithic rock art sites include Bhimbetka, Adamgarh, and
Pachmarhi, and many in the Jharkhand region. Based on the subject matter, colour,
style, encrustation and superimposition, the rock art of India is in general classified
in four broad developmental stages. The Stage 1 is represented by the hunters
and gatherers in symbols/ petroglyphs bearing Palaeolithic to Mesolithic antiquity,
whereas in Stage 2 depicts the hunters and gatherers in hunting and dancing
scenes, in addition to the symbols and geometric designs of the Mesolithic period.
The Stage 3 rock art depicts the settled agriculturist and animal keepers using
pottery corresponding to the Neolithic/Chalcolithic period. The Stage 4 rock art
represents the people of the early historic period. Among the zoomorphs, the
horses and horse-riders predominate within the anthropomorphs in which figures
of the archers and armed men/ warriors are quite frequent representing interethnic
or intra-ethnic struggles especially in the Central India. The dance-styles
and certain rituals portrayed in the rock art find similarity with the contemporary
regional tribal way of life.
We have to protect the priceless heritage of humankind from various threatening
agencies, which include exposure to extreme hot humidity, the lichens and fungus,
the termites, which in fact, is a specialised task of the conservators employed by
the Archaeological Survey of India. But, we can certainly prevent the damage to
them from rampant ignorant human vandalism.
Suggested Reading
Bednarik, R. G. 1993a. Palaeolithic Art in India. Man and Environment 18 (2):
Mesolithic Cultures Bednarik, R. G. 1993b. About Palaeolithic Ostrich Eggshell in India. Indo-Pacific
Prehistory Association Bulletin 13: 34-43.
Bednarik, R. G., G. Kumar, A. Watchman and R. G. Roberts. 2005. Preliminary
Results of the EIP Project. Rock Art Research 22: 147–197.
Brooks, R. and Wakankar V. S. 1976. Stone Age Painting in India, Yale.
Chakravarty, K. K. (ed.) 1984. Rock Art of India. New Delhi.
Chakravarty, K. K. and R. G. Bednarik. 1997. Indian Rock Art and its Global
Context. Delhi-Bhopal.
Chakraverty, S. 2003. Rock Art Studies in India: A Historical Perspective. The
Asiatic Society, Kolkata.
Kumar, G. 1996. Daraki-Chattan: a Palaeolithic Cupule site in India. Rock Art
Research 13: 38–46.
Mathpal, Y. 1995. Rock Art Paintings of Bhimbetka, Central India. New Delhi:
Abhinav Publications.
Sample Questions
1) How do people express ideas through art?
2) Why do people use images to tell stories and to communicate?
3) What did people use to record important events in their lives or history long
4) How has art been used throughout history to tell stories or to show us what
people in other times and places considered important?
5) How paintings and drawings help convey significant ideas and events and
how people today understand the past from putting together stories and
history from these images?
6) What do you know about the life of these people shown in paintings? When
and where did they live? What animals lived when the cave people lived?
What did cave people use animals for? What tools did they have? Why do
we call them cave people?
7) How are their lives similar to and different from our lives today? Where do
we get our information about the cave people?
8) What was the period of the Lower Paleolithic, the Middle Paleolithic, Upper
Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic, Neolithic?
9) Identify the images of the bison, ibex, ox, stags, mammoths, reindeer, bears,
felines, rhinoceros, birds, fish, etc., human images drawn.
10) Why do you think that there were so many animals and not as many people
in the paintings?
11) What can the paintings tell us about other aspects of the life of cave dwellers Mesolithic Art
or Paleolithic people?
12) How did they make these pictures if there were no stores to buy paint and
brushes or tools for carving?
13) What colors are prominent in the paintings, and what natural sources might
provide these pigments if they didn’t have crayons or markers?
14) What challenges cave people might have encountered in painting on cave
walls and ceilings- pitch-black darkness, irregular surface of the rocky walls,
steepness and height, adherence of the pigment to the surface, etc.

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