Thursday, 25 January 2007

Digital historic atlas of South India throws light on prehistoric Dravidian land

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 25: Was the prehistoric Dravidian land a habitat of Homo Erectus, the ancestor of modern man, Homo Sapiens? Did the modern man evolved in South India, as opposed to the general view that the ancestor of modern man had his origin in Africa?
According to the first-ever digital historic atlas of South India, the land of Dravidian people, an analogy of prehistoric South India with African sites shows that the "man" who dominated the early Stone Age in the region south of the Vindhyas belonged to the species of Homo Erectus.
The South Indians were adept in making jewellery and making tools from iron. But they learnt about the "Varna" system from their counterparts in the north.
The population density in South India at that time was very low and actually so far only two localities of this lower Palaeolithic culture are known, namely Upper Krishna valley in Karnataka and Attirampakkam valley about 50 kilometres to the north-west of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The man at this stage was mostly a hunter using large-sized stone tools such as handaxes and choppers.
"An analogy with African sites shows that this man is supposed to belong to the species of Homo Erectus. The real ancestor of modern man (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) who appeared around 50,000 years before present was a more developed species who could fabricate thinner flake tools and blade-like tools using a variety of stones," the atlas, prepared by the French Institute of Pondicherry, points out.
In their presentation made early this week at the Map World Forum meeting held in Hyderabad, Frederic Borne, head of Geomatic Laboratory, Pondicherry and others, pointed out that the aim behind the digital atlas was to give an objective information on the cultural, social, economic and political information pertaining to South India, from prehistoric times to 1600 AD, using a combination of maps, illustrations and texts, and using GIS techniques.
The compilers of the atlas heavily relied on the epigraphic records (nearly 9,000) for the period from 600 CE to 1600 CE and on archaeology for the pre-600 CE period. Using maps, the digital atlas gives vivid information on the important areas in South India including traces of Ramayana, wherein Sri Rama was mentioned as having crossed the Vindhyas to free Sita from the clutches of Ravana.
The period 3000 to 1000 BC in south India was marked an important technological development when man took much care to make the stone tools in finer shapes by grinding and polishing. "For the first time some storage vessels were made using clay. Also first experiments were made to cultivate grains on a small scale. Cattle and sheep were domesticated. That is, the Neolithic man had more than one avenue of getting his subsistence, hunting being just one among the many," the atlas observes.
According to the compilers, more areas were begun to be occupied by man in several parts of Indian sub-continent but in different times, starting at the earliest in 7000 BC in Baluchistan (Pakistan) and from 3000 BC onwards elsewhere. In the south India, the Neolithic period had its advent around 2500 BC. The Neolithic stage man lived mostly on small flat hills or on the foothills in small, more or less permanent settlements but for periodical transhumance for grazing purposes.
The South Indian neolitithic man gave his dead kin proper burials within urns or pits. His aesthetic sense can be appreciated in the form of rock-art found near or within the rock-shelters. Such structures are reported from Gulbarga district. These monuments are so far mainly distributed in the Central Deccan, in the districts to the south of Hyderabad.
During the Megalithic Age (1000 to 300 BC), unlike in north India, the Iron Age culture in peninsular India is marked by Megalithic burial sites, which are found in several hundreds of places. For the first time most of south India is studded with Iron Age sites; in other words, most of the macro-region, from Nagpur in the north to Kanyakumari in the extreme south was populated by the Iron Age folk during the course of the first millennium BC.
"Still there is much to be learnt regarding the chronology of these sites. On the basis of some excavations, and on the basis of the typology of the burial monuments, it has been suggested that there was a gradual spread of the Iron Age sites from the north to the south. The southern sites are therefore considered chronologically later than the northern sites," the Atlas says.
Iron technology was highly developed and shows a high degree of uniformity through the length and breadth of peninsular India. Both iron tools and weapons show quite a variety.
The ancient South Indians were also adept in making gold, silver, copper, and bronze jewels and objects of art. "They were things of prestige. Beads made of carnelian were ubiquitous prestige objects found among the grave goods," according to the Atlas.
The period 300 BC to 200 BC marked the first or earliest historical phase of south India including Tamizakam or Tamil land comprising present Tamil Nadu and Kerala states, as writing in the proper sense started appearing from early 3rd century BC, though written documents is not available in sufficient quantity to help in the reconstruction of history.
During the third century BC, the Deccan was part of the Mauryan kingdom whose political centre was in Pataliputra in north India, and from the middle of the first century BC to second century CE the same area was ruled by the Satavahana dynasty. The Tamil area had all along an independent political set-up.
"Gradually the rulers came under the spell of north Indian ideology of kshatriya varna (ruling class), which encouraged performance of Vedic sacrifices to enhance the status of the ruler and equated him with the heroes of the Itihasa-Purana tradition," it points out.

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