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Reviewed by:
  • Prehistory of the Chitrakot Falls, Central India
  • Mark Lycett
Review of Prehistory of the Chitrakot Falls, Central India. Zarine Cooper. Pune: Ravish Publishers, 1997. viii + 115 pp.; maps, illustrations, tables, index, bibliography. $34.40. ISBN: 8-1900-2941-X.

This monograph, a revision of Cooper's 1983 Ph.D. thesis at Deccan College, includes two distinct but interrelated studies of the historical economy of Chitrakot, Bastar District, Madhya Pradesh. The first of these is a report of six field seasons of archaeological survey, detailed surface documentation, and test excavation on flood plain of the Indravati River. The second is a brief but detailed ethnographic [End Page 196] study of subsistence technology among Kuruk Gond populations currently occupying this region. Each of these studies is admirable in its own right; however, like any divided venture, the coherence of Cooper's work depends on the sometimes tenuous links between these two research domains. Cooper suggests that the structure of aquatic resources in her study area influenced human settlement and technological organization just as strongly and in much the same way in the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene as they do today. Whether or not such a strong claim of historical stability can be sustained, this monograph is a genuine contribution to both prehistory and ethnography in the service of archaeology.

The principal goals of this study were to characterize the content and spatial structure of these assemblages and examine their relationship to environmental variables in relation to ethnographic models of aquatic resource exploitation. Cooper begins with an introduction to the study region, a 107 sq-km area around Chitrakot Falls on the Indravati River. Forty-nine sites consisting entirely of microlithic tools and debitage were located in twelve months of archaeological survey. Like most Mesolithic sites in peninsular India, these scatters are relatively shallow and exhibit a wide range of variation in areal extent and density. Nine of these sites were chosen for more detailed documentation including mapping and systematic collection of up to 30 percent of the surface sample of chipped stone. In addition to the morphological and functional analyses of these materials, these samples formed the basis of an intrasite spatial analysis of artifact clustering.

Chapter 4 contains a detailed description of the lithic industry. A number of important observations regarding raw material use, blade manufacture, and production of formal tools arise from this work. Clearly, the relationship among procurement, manufacture, use, and discard of this technology is a complex one, and one that is only partially represented in any one sample. The results of these analyses are presented clearly and in quantitative terms, allowing the reader to evaluate the evidence behind the author's inferences.

Chapter 5 builds on the discussion of assemblage content to discuss the spatial structure of the nine sampled sites. The analysis focuses on associations of clustered artifact types through spatial mapping of correlation matrices. Although begun under the optimistic premise that "activity areas" may have survived centuries of displacement, erosion, and reoccupation, Cooper's interpretation of spatial patterning is unflinchingly pessimistic. She concludes, for example, that spatial patterns are in large part due to erosional processes. A lack of three-dimensional data hinder the precision of this conclusion; however, Cooper's argument is persuasive.

In the subsequent chapter, a summary and interpretation of the archaeological research, Cooper moves beyond this pessimism to make a number of important suggestions for advancing prehistoric research on the subcontinent. These include the need for detailed study of formation processes and the development of appropriate ethnographic models of technology and settlement. More important, perhaps, is Cooper's recognition of the need to develop archaeological methods for the interpretation of surficial contexts and her shift in focus from sites as exemplars of functional categories to regional archaeological records as indicators of occupational history. If the activity areas of an ethnographic time frame are elusive, the long-term history of local land-use patterns may be more accessible archaeologically.

It is at this point that the monograph moves from a discussion of archaeological research to an ethnographic profile of the economy of local fishing communities. There is a wealth of detail, particularly regarding procurement of aquatic resources, in this...


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