The Mesolithic period coincides with the onset of milder climatic conditions with the commencement of the Holocene Period (10,000 BC), which is characteristic of warmer climatic conditions. With this swing towards warmer climatic conditions the face of the earth changed, and with it also affected were the flora (vegetation) and fauna (animals). Man too reacted positively to these changes for his survival. This resulted in 1) Modification of his tool equipment and 2) modification of his living pattern.
Till recently the very existence of the Mesolithic culture in India was in doubt because of the paucity of stratified evidence. But the discoveries in Belan valley, Chittor district, Shorapur doab in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat have provided enough gleanings to reconstruct Mesolithic evidence in India.
Depending on the evidence from different sites, Mesolithic culture can be divided into four distinct phases.
1. non-geometric tools (epi-palaeolithic) 12,000-8,000 BC.
2. geometric pre-pottery stage (Early Mesolithic-I) 8,000-2,000 BC.
3. geometric tools with pottery (early Mesolithic-II) 5,000-1,500 BC;
4. smaller microliths with precision (Advanced Mesolithic or Proto-Neolithic)
The above division is based on the sequence observed primarily at Chopani Mando and attested at other places.
The stone tools prepared in Mesolithic period are very small and hence known as ‘microliths’ meaning ‘tiny stones’. Some of the forms which could be identified amongst these tools are the blades, points, lunates, trapezes, scrapers, arrowheads, geometric and non-geometric tools. For the production of these tools fine-grained material like chert chalcedony, agate, jasper, etc was utilized. Often these microliths were used as combination tools by fixing several of them in curved wood or bone or to produce a barbed arrowhead.
LIFE AND SUBSISTENCE PATTERN:
Hunting and gathering vegetal foods are the two main occupations of the Mesolithic people. More and more dependence on the vegetal food was probably one of the reasons behind forcing the human communities to have fixed settlements from Mesolithic period onwards. In this connection the example of Mahadaha in the Ganga valley is worth mentioning. Here it was noticed that very large number of quern, muller, anvil, hammer, etc. have been found which indicate that the people exploited fully the vegetal products. The microlithic tools like blades and scrapers are well suited for processing vegetables. The presence of hearths in the habitations point to consumption of roasted food. The evidence points out that man depended more on vegetal food rather than on animal meat.
The use of composite tools revolutionized hunting, fishing and food gathering. The Mesolithic paintings at Bhimbetka throw interesting light on the contemporary hunting practices and the kinds of weapons used in hunting. The bow and arrow, barbed spears and sticks were used in hunting. Ring stones were used as stone clubs. Masks in the form of animal heads such as of rhinoceros, bull, deer and monkey were used as disguises to deceive the game. In one of the scenes animals are shown falling down a cliff. Probably animals were driven down a cliff and done to death. The paintings show men carrying dead animals suspended on a wooden bar.
DOMESTICATION OF ANIMALS:
Animal bones have been reported from almost all the excavated sites of the Mesolithic settlements, and an analysis of these bones indicated that the bones of the domesticated varieties of animals like cattle, sheep and goat constitute nearly fifty percent.
The full-fledged agricultural activity witnessed in Neolithic period must have had its roots in the Mesolithic period itself. The storage pits of this period probably indicate some incipient form of agriculture. Seeds of wild variety of rice have been found embedded in the lumps of burnt clay at Chopani Mando.
Evidence of structural activity in the form of hutments, paved floor or wind screens come from a number of Mesolithic sites. The houses were roughly circular or oval on plan with postholes around them. Some hutments had stone paved floors. Paved floors and wattle have been noticed at Bagor. The Mesolithic folk at Bhimbetka too made floors with flat stone slabs.
Pottery has been reported from a number of excavated sites like Langhnaj, Bagor, Nagarjunakonda, Chopani Mando, etc. Pottery came to be associated with the Mesolithic culture after the introduction of geometric tools. At most of the sites the sherds were very small and it was very difficult to make out shapes. Shallow and deep bowls with featureless rim are the most popular types. Pottery was wholly hand-made and usually coarse grained with incised and impressed designs rarely.
CLOTHING AND ORNAMENTS:
The human figures in the rock shelter paintings are shown wearing a loin cloth. Some of the figures are elaborately decorated with ornaments, headgear, feathers and waistbands, shell, ivory and bone beads also are evident from sites.
Mesolithic man in rejoicing moods is to be seen in the paintings at Bhimbetka. Some of the dances may be of ritual significance. The musical instruments depicted are the blowpipes and horns.
BURIALS AND SPIRITUAL ASPECTS:
The spiritual side of the Mesolithic man is very well represented by a rock-painting of a family mourning the death of a child at Bhimbetka. The dead were very carefully buried. At Langhnaj human skeletons were associated with quartzite pebbles which are not locally available. These were probably brought from the bed of Sabarmati 15 to 20 kms away.
Mesolithic burials have been excavated at Dorthy Dweep and Jambudweep Rock shelters in the Mahadeva hills in MP. Langhnaj, Baghai Khor and Lekhahia in the Mirzapur dt. UP and Sarai nihar Rai and Mahadaha UP. The evidence from different sites indicates that four types of burials were prevalent.
1. Extended burial; 2. Flexed (folded) burial;
3. Fractional (secondary) burial) 4. Double Burials.
Multiple burials were witnessed at Sarai Nihar Rai and Mahadaha. Mesolithic people interred objects like microliths, animal bones and beads along with the dead. Probably the double burials indicate the development of family units, consisting of male and female. In that case family set-up is one of the most important contributions of the Mesolithic period to the modern world.
The Mesolithic folk had left behind good evidence of their artistic pursuits in the form of painted rock-shelters. Such rock paintings were noticed in the Mirzapur district UP. And at Bhimbetka near Hoshangabad in MP. The paintings deal primarily with animals which are shown standing, moving, running, grazing, etc. The paintings are generally executed in red ochre but sometimes bluish green, yellow or white color also have been used.
From the above discussion, it is evident that the Mesolithic period represents the transformation of man from a savage to a civilized society. The family system, domestication of animals, shelter building and incipient agriculture are the important contributions of this period.
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