The Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) is part of an international project, funded by the Fundación PALARQ and The Leakey Foundation, whose objective is to investigate the characteristics and timing of the end of the Acheulian and transitions to the Middle Palaeolithic in India.
For this purpose, excavations and prospections are being carried out in the area of the Sendrayanpalayam (SEN) site in the state of Tamil Nadu, in southern India.
Between the competing hypotheses of hominin dispersals out of Africa and endemic technological changes arising from local cultural evolution, there is at present no consensus on the complex story of hominin behavioural changes in South Asia. To investigate this transition issue, an international team of scientists from SCHE (India), CENIEH (Spain), CNRS and MNHN (France), PRL, IFP (India), and PGIAR (Sri Lanka) launched fieldwork at Sendrayanpalayam in March and April of this year.
“In this first season, a horizontal trench and test-pits were excavated and sections were mapped across the site, to investigate variations in the stratigraphy and artefact assemblages, and for geochronological, sedimentological and palaeobotanical studies”, explains Mohamed Sahnouni, archaeological program coordinator at CENIEH, and coordinator of the Spanish team.
In addition to detailed mapping of all artefacts, clasts and features, photogrammetric reconstruction of levels is ongoing. The emerging picture is a sequence of stratified colluvial and sheetflood gravel deposits dominated by laterite debris. The top of this gravel formation displays a distinctive layer of sandstone and quartzite cobbles.
While analysis is ongoing, the assemblage structure represents a potential Terminal Acheulian. The high artefact density and diversity of core reduction strategies, indicates that hominins were attracted to this environment for its rich source of raw materials for knapping.
An underlying ferricrete level represents a different context of occupation, containing low-density artefact scatters with a clear preference for sandstone as raw material. The presence of conjoinable artefacts in these layers points to a high degree of site integrity.
Regional surveys of the landscape and of regolith with associated archaeological horizons were also conducted, and we expect these findings to reveal new dimensions to the cultural processes, regional evolutionary trajectories and hominin dispersal patterns in South Asia”, says Mohamed Sahnouni.
The background to this project lies in long-term multidisciplinary research at the neighbouring site of Attirampakkam (ATM), where excavations by a team led by Professor Shanti Pappu and Dr. Kumar Akhilesh, from the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education (SCHE), initially paved the way to some exciting new discoveries about the age and nature of Early Pleistocene Acheulian industries in the region and about transitional processes leading to an early Middle Palaeolithic culture.
An information gap in the stratigraphic and archaeological record at ATM between the earlier Acheulian and the Middle Palaeolithic has nonetheless left many questions unanswered concerning later Acheulian evolutionary trajectories in this region.
Preliminary surveys by the SCHE around ATM, leading to generation of data on other Acheulian to Late Palaeolithic sites in the landscape, have resulted in the demarcation of several locations that display some potential for addressing these issues. One of these is Sendrayanpalayam (SEN), situated on the gently sloping but flat surface of a pediment which today forms a spur between two topographic embayments at slightly lower elevations.
Header Image – SEN Team – Credit : CENIEH