Palaeolithic archaeology at Kibbanahalli, Southern Karnataka, India
Kibbanahalli is a well-known Palaeolithic site in Southern Karnataka, South India (Figure 1). 90 years of research at this site (Sampat Iyengar 1924–1925; Seshadri 1955; Shivarudrappa 1990; Shivatarak 2001) have sought to reconstruct various aspects of its Palaeolithic occupation, especially its lithic assemblage and palaeoenvironment, with some discrepancies noted between various studies. Research at this site has yielded most of the information regarding the Palaeolithic of the South Karnataka region, an area in which Palaeolithic archaeology has otherwise not been as systematically and extensively investigated as at neighbouring regions (Murty 1966; R.S. Pappu 1974; Korisettar 1979; Paddayya 1982; Petraglia et al. 1999; S. Pappu 2001) where firm stratigraphy and, at some sites, chronology have been established (Pappu et al. 2011). A multi-disciplinary study of the Kibbanhalli region was therefore deemed necessary to address issues of site context, stratigraphy and lithic technology.
Location and context of Palaeolithic localities
An area of 28.65km2 around the Banasandra Hills was subjected to intensive field survey and sampling. Previously reported Palaeolithic localities were revisited and the entire study area was reconnoitred to identify areas of high potential for further intensive pedestrian survey. A total of 23 localities were located, of which 14 were previously unknown (Figure 2).
The initial work was focused around the locality of Kibbanahalli, along the Banasandra Hills, where a random sampling strategy was employed to identify any exposed sections and to establish possible stratigraphical sequences. Artefacts were observed and recorded only at localities where they were weathering out of the original sediments.
All of the Palaeolithic localities identified are located along, or within one kilometre of, the Banasandra foothills; prior to the study, evidence for Palaeolithic activity was confined to the north-eastern slopes.
The archaeological horizon is a regolith/colluvial deposit, derived from the various facets of the Bababudan Formation (Archean), which appears to be common to all of the Palaeolithic localities identified. Erosion of the overlying red sandy sediments/soil reveals the underlying archaeological horizons.
Remotely sensed data from IRS LISS-III (1997), RESOURCESAT-I LISS-IV (2006) and CARTOSAT-I (2008) satellites, along with topographic maps (Topographic Survey of India Map 57 C/11 1926, 1973), were used to document the changing character of contemporary land-use practices between 1924 and 2014 (Figure 3). The results indicate that records of Palaeolithic site distribution are related to the differential exposure of sediments stemming from increasingly mechanised and large-scale agricultural cultivation and quarrying, which results in the greater visibility of underlying archaeological deposits in some places, while completely erasing them from other, previously reported localities.
The dominant raw material used for lithic tools is coarse-grained quartzite, with fine-grained quartzite and quartz as minor sources. Blanks selected for tools were both flakes and natural tabular pieces derived from the regolith. The raw materials are locally available from the various facets of the Bababudan Formation (Archean). Two parallel reduction streams are noted:
Strategy I: Flakes detached from boulders, tabular chunks/angular pieces or from other flakes are used as blanks for making tools.
Strategy II: Natural angular and tabular pieces, and thermal flakes resulting from exfoliation, were retouched into a variety of large and small tools. Natural pieces were sometimes used without any retouching or flaking.
Waste flakes from both sequences were used or discarded. Technologically, the assemblage is Acheulian in nature, with large cutting tools, including bifaces (Figure 4), smaller retouched pieces and cores.
Variability in reduction streams is also seen at other Acheulian localities in India, with good examples from the Hunsgi-Baichbal basins in Northern Karnataka (Paddayya 1982: 41–9). This is an important observation as it suggests behavioural choices made by the Acheulian populations in the study region, as the raw material employed in both strategies is the same.
The core of this study has been the definition of the spatial and stratigraphical context of the Acheulian occupation of Kibbanahalli. It has also identified and isolated formation processes affecting the visibility of the archaeological record, providing a better understanding of the distribution pattern of the Palaeolithic localities of the region.
The use of two parallel reduction strategies in the manufacture of the lithic assemblage of Kibbanahalli has implications for the understanding of the cognitive flexibility of Palaeolithic groups in the region. Their ability to isolate the mental template for the desired tool and to apply it to various forms of media using different techniques indicates a significant degree of cognitive flexibility.
This paper is part of my Master’s dissertation conducted at Deccan College, Pune, under the guidance of Professor Shanti Pappu (current designation: Secretary, Sharma Centre for Heritage Education) and Dr. S.K. Aruni [Deputy Director (Research), Southern Regional Centre, Indian Council of Historical Research, Bangalore]. I thank Dr. Shivatarak for his advice on this region, Dr. Kumar Akhilesh for aid in field work and input on the original location of the site and Ms. Malavika Chatterjee for field assistance. I thank the Indian Space Research Organisation, Regional Remote Sensing Centre-South, Bangalore (Mr. Uday Raj, General Manager, and Dr. Sudha Ravindranath, Senior Scientist), who provided the satellite data and aided in interpreting the same. The copyrights of the satellite data belong to them. I also thank the Archaeological Survey of India, Bangalore Circle, for providing all the necessary permissions to undertake this study.
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- Akash Srinivas
Dipartimento Studi Umanistici, Università degli Studi di Ferrara, C.so Ercole I d'Este 32, 44121 Ferrara, Italy (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)