The National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) is part of an international project, funded by the PALARQ Foundation and The Leakey Foundation, whose objective is to study the chronology of the end of the Acheulean and the characteristics of the transition process to the Middle Palaeolithic in India.
To this end, excavations and surveys are being carried out in the surroundings of the Sendrayanpalayam field (SEN), in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Day by day, two hypotheses try to explain the complex history of changes in hominin behavior in South Asia.
On the one hand, the one that states that these changes are due to the arrival of new populations from Africa; and on the other hand, the one that states that these technological changes are the product of a local cultural evolution.
In order to investigate this transition problem, a team of international scientists from SCHE (India), CENIEH (Spain), CNRS and MNHN (France), PRL, IFP (India), and PGIAR (Sri Lanka) have initiated this year a fieldwork campaign in the Sendrayanpalayam field during the months of March and April, looking for clues to answer these key questions.
"In this first campaign, we have carried out different surveys and an excavation to have elements that allow us to investigate the variations in stratigraphy and lithic assemblages and obtain samples for the different geochronological, sedimentological and paleobotanical studies", points out Mohamed Sahnouni, coordinator of the CENIEH Archeology Program, and head of the Spanish team for that project.
A sequence of stratified gravel and colluvium deposits dominated by laterite remains has been identified. The upper part of this gravel formation shows a distinctive layer of sandstone and quartzite ridges.
The study of lithic industry set recovered in this upper unit, still in progress, offers elements that suggest a attribution to the final Acheulean.
The high density of artifacts and the diversity of nuclei reduction strategies indicate that hominins have been attracted to this environment rich in raw materials to manufacture their industry.
On the other hand, the underlying level of ferricreta represents a different context of occupation, also Achelense, but with a lower density of findings and with a clear preference for sandstone as a raw material. The presence of pump-overs between artifacts in these layers points to a high degree of reservoir integrity.
“In addition to this excavation, we have located other deposits in the region thanks to surface surveys and inspection of other sedimentary deposits. We hope that all these discoveries will shed new light on cultural processes, regional evolutionary trajectories and hominin dispersal patterns in South Asia, ”says Mohamed Sahnouni.
The antecedents of this project can be found in the multidisciplinary research carried out in the nearby Attirampakkam (ATM) deposit.
Thanks to these excavations, led by Professor Shanti Pappu and Dr. Kumar Akhilesh of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education (SCHE), important discoveries were made about the age and nature of the Acheulean industries in the Lower Pleistocene of the region and on the transformation processes of the Achelense that give rise to the first evidences of Middle Palaeolithic in the Indian subcontinent.
However, the existence of a hiatus in the stratigraphic and archaeological record in ATM between the Ancient Acheulean and the Middle Paleolithic has left many unanswered questions regarding the evolutionary trajectories of the Superior Acheulean in this region.
Preliminary surveys carried out by the SCHE around ATM have made it possible to delimit several localities that show some potential to address these problems. One of these locations is the Sendrayanpalayam field (SEN) that is part of this project, located on the inclined surface of a glacis that today forms a spur between two depressions.
Scientists from institutions on three continents are part of this project: Dr. Kumar Akhilesh and Professor Shanti Pappu, Sharma Center for Heritage Education (SCHE, Chennai) (direction of excavation), Professor Ashok K. Singhvi and Dr. Naveen Chauhan, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, and Dr. K. Anupama and S. Prasad, Institut Français de Pondicherry (IFP), (India); Professor Mohamed Sahnouni (coordinator of the Spanish team), together with Dr. Sileshi Semaw, Dr. Josep Pares, Dr. Joseba Rios (National Center for Research on Human Evolution CENIEH (Spain) and Dr. Mathieu Duval, Griffith University, Australia; Professor Yanni Gunnell, University of Lyon, and Dr. Salah Abdessadok, Museum National Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), (France); and Professor R. Premathilake, Postgraduate Institute of Archeology (PGIAR), University of Kelaniya, (Sri Lanka).