It was the transitional between Palaeolithic and Neolithic ages. Its characteristic tools are microliths, all made of stone.
Microliths were first discovered by Carlyle in 1867 from Vindhyan Rock Shelters.
This age is also known by various names like Late Stone Age or Microlithic Age.
The Mesolithic people lived on hunting, fishing and food-gathering. Earliest domestication of animals has alo been witnessed from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Tools are characterised by parallel-sided blades taken out from prepared cores of fine-materials as chert, crystal, chalcedony, jasper, carnelian, agate etc. and were generally one to five centimeters long.
Paintings have been discovered at various sites in Bhimbetka, Adamgarh, etc. In these paintings, various subjects including animals and human scenes have been found. Animals are the most frequently depicted subjects either alone or in large and small groups and shown in various poses. Depiction of human figures in rock paintings is quite common. Dancing, running, hunting, playing games and quarrelling were commonly depicted scenes. Colours like deep red, gree, white and yellow were used in making these paintings.
The Mesolithic culture in India corresponds to the second cultural phase of Pleistocene.
Early scholars considered the Mesolithic industries as ‘Proto-Neolithic’.
Most of the deposits have been discovered from stratified sites formed by the second phase of aggradation as found in Maharashtra, specially on Godavari river valley and its tributaries.
The middle Stone Age in India bears the following characteristics;
- Microlithism is totally absent in north India.
- There was a sudden disappearance of pebble tools, which were conspicuous in the preceding cultures.
- Heavier tools were not be discovered in the microlithic assemblages, excepting a few sites in Western and Central India.
- Microliths contain scrapers, points, scraper-cum-borers, and scraper-cum-points in common.
- Hand-axes, choppers, discoid have also been discovered.
This important microlithic site is situated on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati River. Three distinct phases could be recognized:
- The first phase contained microliths, pot-sherds, graves and fossilized bones of animals.
- In the second phase, a larger number of such findings could be discovered along with some polished Celts and ring-stones and fragments of pots.
- The third phase is composed of numerous pot-sherds, stone arrow heads, and fragments of corn-grinders.
The Tinnevalley site, located at Madras, was first discovered and studied by Zeuner and Allchin in the year 1956.
Many different types of arrow heads, scrapers, curved arrow heads and borers were found. Explorers linked these with the Middle Stone Age tools of central Sri Lanka where the same type of Tens stratum has been found, which dates approximately 4000 B.C.
Birbhanpur is in the district of Burdwan in West Bengal. Microliths of different geometric designs, points, scrapers, borers of very small size are common in this site.
Aspects of the Mesolithic way of life
Reconstructing the story of climate at the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene reveals a picture that is far from uniform for the subcontinent. While soil samples from the site of Birbhanpur in West Bengal suggested a trend towards comparative dryness and semi-aridity, the study of pollens in Rajasthan and the study of sites in eastern Madhya Pradesh indicated an increase in rainfall in these regions.
Palaeoclimatic research, though limited, aids a few general conclusions. From the cold and arid conditions of the Pleistocene, the climate moved towards becoming warm and wet due to the gradual recession of glaciers. The melting of snow and formation of rivers resulted in dense forests and vegetation that could now provide shelter to a new range of fauna.
The giant animals of the Pleistocene, gradually made way for smaller species like cattle, sheep, goat, various species of deer, etc.
With the formation of water bodies, marine resources also became available for exploitation.
Regional distribution and settlement patterns
The geographical spread of the Mesolithic sites clearly indicates that mesolithic sites cover almost the entire country, with the exception of a few areas like most of the Indo-Ganga plains, the northeast and most of the western coast.
Their absence over much of the Gangrtic Plains is attributed to the remoteness of the region from the sources of the primary raw material – stones, for making tools. Similarly, the heavy rainfall resulting in dense vegetation is likely to have discouraged human habitation, accounting for the absence of sites in northeast India and their sparseness in the Western Ghats and along the west coast.
Regions like the north Gujarat plains, Marwar and Mewar in Rajasthan, and the alluvial plain of the Ganga in the south-central U.P.-Allahabad-Mirzapur area have a denser concentration of sites than others.
A significant development of the Indian mesolithic phase was the extension of settlements into new ecological zones and virgin areas like the Ganga plains and the peninsula, south of the Kaveri river. Archaeological investigations also reveal an intensification of habitation in previously colonised areas like Marwar, Mewar, central India and the Deccan plateau. This is generally attributed to an increase in population due to the new landscape and favourable environmental conditions, as well as technological innovations.
The distribution of sites suggests the principal environments favoured by the mesolithic people and the range of ecological zones and food resources they exploited.
In Gujarat, Marwar and to some extent Mewar, they settled on sand dunes. In the densely wooded and hilly country of central India and the Eastern Ghats, caves and rock shelters were the chosen habitat. The forests provided plant and animal foods in plenty. They also settled on tops of low hills and rocky outcrops near the sea-shore. Near the tip of the peninsula they occupied coastal dunes. Marine foods must have been the mainstay of the diet in both these regions. Settlements in the Ganga Plain were centred around the horse-shoe lakes formed by meandering rivers. Living close to lakes as well as to the dense forests of the alluvial plains enabled them to exploit both terrestrialand aquatic fauna.
Elsewhere, people lived in the open, on tops of low hills, in the valleys and along the banks of perennial as well as seasonal streams. In the Deccan plateau, microliths are found atop almost every hill and rocky outcrop. Habitation in areas with limited rainfall suggests settlements of a seasonal nature.
Mesolithic sites reflect different levels of sedentariness. There were camps that were seasonal but in areas where water and food was available all the year round, it seems probable that people would have settled permanently or at least inhabited for long periods of time. Thick habitation deposits as well as the continuity of technological tradition, for instance at Bagor and Bhimbetka, certainly indicates the return of people to the same campsite over long periods of time.