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  • Indian Archaeology in Retrospect, Volume I: Prehistory—Archaeology of South Asia
  • Dilip K. Chakrabarti
Indian Archaeology in Retrospect, Volume I: Prehistory—Archaeology of South Asia. Edited by S. Settar and Ravi Korisettar. 2002. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers. xviii + 489 pp., tables, illustrations, bibliography, index, appendices. ISBN 81-7304-319-1.

The total number of articles in this volume is fifteen, out of which ten are devoted to what is known as protohistory in the Indian context—roughly the period between the [End Page 391] beginning of food production in the subcontinent around 7000 B.C. and the beginning of its historical period in c. 700–600 B.C. In Indian archaeology the term prehistory is used generally for the Paleolithic and the Mesolithic. This working definition has been in use at least since 1962 when H. D. Sankalia published his Prehistory and Protohistory in India and Pakistan (Sankalia 1962). Some authors in this volume even deal with historical material (cf. R. K. Mohanty, K. K. Basa). Under the circumstances, an explanation of why the volume is entitled "South Asian Prehistory" was necessary. A similar explanation was also necessary for the use of the term South Asia. With the exception of a few desultory references to the lithic situation in Pakistan and Nepal, the volume deals only with the modern nation state of India. The editorial introduction to the volume is written by an art historian and textual scholar of ancient Karnataka (S. Settar) and a Stone Age specialist with focus on the same region (R. Korisettar). One may not see eye-to-eye with them over a large number of issues discussed in their introduction. To give only one example, the work at Mehrgarh indicates, according to them, the transition from food-gathering to food-production in the subcontinent, "under the impact of an external stimulus." To most of us Mehrgarh shows that Baluchistan (and thus, the subcontinent) was within the nuclear area of certainly barley cultivation and possibly wheat cultivation as well.

Korisettar's opening article on the history of Paleolithic research in India and its current status fails to mention that the basic distribution of Indian Stone Age material was understood by the end of the nineteenth century and the discoveries made in post-independence years were simply a stratigraphic and typological elaboration of what was discovered in the second half of that century. Panchanan Mitra's book Prehistoric India (Mitra 1922), the first book of its kind, ought to have been cited. Korisettar's history is basically a checklist of Deccan College dissertations. Even the survey of nineteenth-century research is desultory. For instance, the contribution of Valentine Ball (cf. 1865) to East Indian prehistory and Carlleyle's discovery of a Mesolithic horizon in the Ganga Plain (Carlleyle 1885 : 97–105) are forgotten. Korisettar's notion of current status is equally Deccan College-centered and in many cases uncritical. Nowhere is it mentioned that the reports of paleoliths in areas such as the Alakananda Valley in Garhwal, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Manipur may be unrealistic claims. The Paisra work by P. C. Pant and Vidula Jayaswal is mentioned but its significance as one of the very few subcontinent sites to have possessed traces of lean-tos and deliberate arrangements of rock pieces is ignored. A monograph on the archaeology of the Chhotanagpur plateau, which discussed the Paleolithic stratigraphy of the entire region (Chakrabarti 1993), and a report on the prehistory of Bangladesh in a monograph on the archaeology of this country (Chakrabarti 1992), are equally ignored. Basudev Narayan's monographs on prehistoric Bihar (now Jharkhand) (Narayan 1996, 1999) have met with the same fate along with a report on the Stone Age of the Union Territory of Delhi and Haryana (Chakrabarti and Lahiri 1987). It is also not realized that the flake industry from Jammu reported by H. M. Saroj from Jammu, which he cites and was subsequently reported from Kangra, is identical to the stone industry from the Hissar Neolithic context of central Asia (Ranov 1982). It is not Lower Paleolithic at all.

On a more serious level, this article does not highlight the emergent issue of early Pleistocene antiquity of stone tools in...