Attirampakkam, a small village 60 kilometres from Chennai, has one of the classic sites in the history of Indian Palaeolithic archaeology. Known for its sporadic research for over a century from 1866, recently the findings at Attirampakkam has fanned speculations about the current theoretical timeline of the evolution of technology in human beings.
The research in the site is under the care of Sharma Center for Heritage, led by Professor Shanti Pappu. And over the past 20 years, archaeologists from the Sharma Centre have unearthed a cumulation of over 7200 stone tools in the site – which is making archaeologists rethink history.
The tools found here have two major significances –
One is that they are of the type Levallois – a sophisticated technique for making stone tools that were believed to have first originated in Africa and Europe around 3,00,000 to 4,00,000 years ago.
And two, these types were thought to have been brought to India around 1,25,000 years ago. But luminescence dating puts these tools at 3,85,000 years back; shifting the timeline about 2,60,000 years.
The previous theory goes like this; hominins, our ancient human relatives, started making heavy stone tools at least 1.75 million years ago. But around 3,00,000 to 4,00,000 years ago, hominins in Africa and Europe started making tools by chipping stones into blade-like objects. At the time, this was a technological revolution and the Levallois tools were at the forefront of it.
Previous digs suggested that more advanced technology didn’t catch on in India until much later, after around 1,40,000 years ago. So the earlier theory suggests that modern humans brought their technological revolution with them to India when they first started leaving Africa around 1,25,000 years ago.
But this may be inaccurate as John Hawks, an anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who wasn’t involved in the research, said to the Verge “These data show that (the earlier theory) was wrong,”. As these tools appeared in India the same time it did in Africa and Europe, John Hawks adds that “India is part of this network of cultural innovation that included Neanderthals and Africans,”.
By analyzing thousands of stone tools and dating the layers of soil where they were found, Shanti Pappu and her colleagues were able to reconstruct how technology changed over the course of nearly 2 million years.
The new discovery opens a world of possibilities, as humans fossils are yet to be encountered in the site. The tools, for now, can only serve as proof for a well-based assumption and the research isn’t quite sure what it replaces in history. But it does gives an outline of technological progress during the evolution of humankind.
Efforts from centres like the Sharma Centre for heritage plays an important part in discovering our linked pasts that lets us better understand ourselves better.
As John Hawks puts it “We carry our ideas with us, and trade ideas and exchange genes. They did that, too, even though the technology was much more basic than we use today.”