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Pre-historic Manipur :: Part 4
Extracts from the book 'Emergence Of Manipur As A Nation State'

N. Joykumar Singh *

 'Emergence Of Manipur As A Nation State' : Book Cover



Mesolithic or Haobinhian Period

The transition period between Paleolithic and Neolithic age is known by different names like Mesolithic or Pre Neolithic or Haobinhian. In European the archaeologists used the term 'Mesolithic' whereas in the Asian context particularly in South East Asia this transition period is called 'Haobinhian'. Some writers used to called it 'Pre-Neolithic' age. The term 'Mesolithic' is derived from the Greek word 'Meso' means intermediate or middle and 'Lithos' means 'stone' i,e, 'Middle stone age'.

H.G. Wells wrote, "It was about 12,000 or fewer years ago that, with the spread of forests and a great change of the fauna, the long prevalence of the hunting life in Europe drew to its end. Reindeer vanished. Changing condition frequently bring with them new diseases. These may have been prehistoric pestilences. The transitional cultures of this period are after called Mesolithic culture".48

In regard to the nature of the growth and development of the concept of transitional period between Paleolithic and Neolithic age it is mentioned that there were a number of reports from various areas about the discovery and collection of tiny implements called 'microliths'. In some areas these tiny implements occurred with potsherds. After discovery these tiny artifacts a debate was continued among the archaeologists about the possible period of these microliths. The person like Robert Bruce Foote wanted to place it with Neolithic age.

But the Indian archaeologists believed that this artifacts would be definitely belong to a higher state of life. So they put it with 'Mesolithic period'. In the meantime there were a number of excavation was going on in different archaeological sites in India. From the evidences it is quite clear that there was a period where the idea of the life of the people who manufacture these microliths. The hunting, fishing and cutting the body of the animals were carried out with these tiny tools. But there were no traces of using fires. However it is said that there were extremely minute quantities of potsherd which indicates the acquaintance with pottery.50

In the case of South East Asia the term 'mesolithic' is known as 'Haobinhian'. This term comes from the discoveries of the pre-history tools in 1920, in a place called Hoa Binh a province of North Vietnam. Now it is called Ha Son Binh.51

And on the basis of the findings of artifacts the culture of Haibinhian was defined by a special committee set-up by the First Congress of Prehistorians of the Far East Which was held at Hanoi in the year 1932. It is said that "Haobinhian is a culture composed of implements that are in general flaked with one what varied types of primitive workmanship.

It is characterized by tools often worked only on one face by hammerstone, by implements of sub-triangular section, by disc, short axes and almost shaped artifacts, with an appreciable number of bone tools,".52 On the other hand the idea of Haobinhian cultural concept and their claimed association with the origin of agriculture and pottery manufacture was critically examined as "still lack of definite proof, mainly because most of the data come from poorly excavated and probably disturbed cave deposits".53

It is further said that,"the term Haobinhian also hides a great deal of local and regional variation which still remains to be documented, the used of such tem for all early Holocene assemblage of mainland South East Asia from beyond the Tropic of Cancer almost to the equator does not imply technological homogeneity, or that the makers were necessarily closely related in linguistic or biological terms".54

Whatever they may be but the Haobinhian tools components are made on flat, oval or elongated river pebble flaked around their peripheries and over one or both surfaces. Apart from this there are also flake tools, grindstones, bone points and bone spatula. It is also mentioned that there are also variant of Haobinhian which was known as Bacsonian55 which emphasized on the edge groinding of pebble tools. From these tools it is suggested that it seems to have commenced about 19,000 years ago.56

Haobinhian archaeological sites are Spirit Cave of Togi Ndrawa(Sumatra), Banyan Valley Cave of Thailand, Cai Beo (Vietnam) and Tam Hang (Laos). Some people tried to fix the date of Haobihian period of South east Asia between 13,000 to 3000 B.C. The bones recovered from the Haobinhian archaeological site includes wild pigs and deer. Plants included almond. Bamboo and gourd. Evidence of domestication of millet or rice are also found.

In regard to Manipur, O.K. Singh said that there is no evidence about the existence of the Mesolithic culture as characterized by microliths. But so far the characteristic stone tools assemblages are concerned there are similarities with the nature of characteristic of South East Asia which is identified as Haobinhian culture. In Manipur there are two archaeological site having the character of Haobinhian stone culture i,e, Nongpok Keithelmanbi and Tharon Cave.

(1) Nongpok Keithelmanbi

It has already been mentioned above that the archaeological site of Nongpok Keithelmanbi was divided into three areas. It was called 'locality'. Number two and three localities was identified on the basis of the artifacts as the area of Paleolithic period. The Haobinhian or Mesolithic character was discovered only from Locality No. 1. This site is located at a distance of about 2 k.m. downstream from the place of keithelmanbi.

It is said that the deposits of Haobinhian artifacts was discovered after digging at the depth between 51 c.m. and 61 c.m. from the outer surface. Apart from this a thin layer of busut earth was also found at the depth of 26 c.m. Most of the artifacts of this site is of a pebble tools with a few flakes and a blade. These tools are made out from the Quartzitic sandstone. Seventynine Haobinhian artifacts types were discovered.

They are
(1) Chisel edge pebb le tools,
(2) Round edged pebble tools,
(3) Pebble pick,
(4) Scraper,
(5) Blade,
(6) Split pebble,
(7) Pebble with batter marks,
(8) Pebble with ground faces,
(9) Flake and
(10) Manuport.

On the basis of the character of the artifact. The approximate date is also fixed to 4,460 +-120 B.P.58

(2) Tharon Cave:- Tharon cave is also another important archaeological site of the prehistoric stone culture of Manipur. On the basis of the finding of nature and characteristic of artifacts this site is identified on the area of Haobinhian of Mesolithic period. The Tharon cave is located at a distance of about 2.5 k.m. to the north of the tharon village in the midst of thickly forested Reyangling hills. It lies between 93032/ E longitude and 2503/ N latitude. It is said that this cave was not a new to the local people and they believed that this cave was the ancestors house of Liangmei Nagas.59

The local people called it 'Kalemki' i,e, kalem means bat, ki means house. The house of bats. This cave is situated at an altitude of 976 metres above the sea level. Near the cave the Kalemkimagu streams flows cutting through the sandstone bedrock and formed a waterfall on its way towards west. The first exploration of this cave was made in the year 1979 by the State Archaeology Department Government of Manipur and discovered five caves and the site again re-explored in the year 1989.

The rock type of the area is sandstone of Barai series. It is said that such types of rock weathering perhaps might be a factor for the permeation of caves and rock shelters. "One cave (No.1) is very long and looks like a carved tunnel. There are fourteen passages inside the cave that is completely dark and inside the cave that is completely dark and inside exploration is very difficult. The cave has three openings, two of which lead to the stream.

The cave No. 2 locates at a short distance towards downstream and it faces stream. The third cave (No. 3) locates to the north of Cave No. 1 at a little higher altitude, while the fourth and fifth caves locate just opposite to the third cave across a narrow plateau. The floors of all these caves are filled with sandstone slabs that fall from the walls and roofs, and no artifacts is formed inside the caves is the exploration. But edge-ground pebble tools are found in the course of exploration around the cave site along the stram".60

It is also mentioned that the rock engraving on the anthromorphic figures discovered during the exploration have similarity with Folk art of the Kabui Naga.61 Thirty nine Haobinhian artifact types were disciovered at the time of exploration. They are
(1) Chopping tools,
(2) Handadze,
(3) Handaxe,
(4) Pointed tools,
(5) Scraper,
(6) Edge-ground knife,
(7) Quern,
(8) Grinder and
(9) Twenty-five unclassified ground pebbles.

It has already been mentioned above that one of the special characteristic features of the Mesolithic or Haobinhian are the discoveries of 'monoliths' and widespread pebble tool technological tradition. Particularly is South East Asia there were enough evidences of the existence of pebble tool industry. But there are also regional variation in the character of tools industry from one place to another.

For example in Yunan a kwangji chipped stone tools were found in association with shell middens and charred animal bones. But pre-pottery chipped pebble tools from Nongpok keithelmanbi Locality I(one) have no evidence of association with shell middens and charred animal bones.62

Likewise Sunatraliths of Malaya are not found in Manipur. The edge ground axes and pebble tools in association with fully ground stone tools discovered from Bacsonian site are not found at the Tharon cave site. However the artifact such as handaxe, handadze, scraper, pointed edge tools etc. typologically are quite comparable with those of Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma).

By quoting the observation of Socheim of the two diagnostic features of the late Haobinhian and in Mainland South East Asia particularly in the context of the edge grinding and cord marked pottery O.K. Singh suggested that Haobinhian culture of Manipur may be sub-divided on the basis of the chipped pebble tools from Nongpok keithelmanbi Locality I(one) and egde ground tool from Tharon cave site.

But in regard to the absolute date of Haobinhian culture in Manipur he further said that no date for this culture in Manipur is available. Tentatively he suggested that the time period may be between the early and mid Halocene for the early Haobinhian and mid-Holocene for the Late Haobinhian culture.63

Neolithic Period:- Neolithic age is marked as the concluding phase of the stone culture of mankind. It is also a very important continuous part of the introduction of stone tool culture which started right from the origin of the human being and their culture. The Neolithic Culture characterized by the introduction of more evolved and developed typo Technological features. It is said the Neolithic followed the terminal Holocene Epipalaeolithic pariod and commenced with the beginning of farming.

From this observation it is also observed that the Neolithic period is a progression of behavioral and cultural characteristics and changes, including the use of wild and domestic crops and of domesticated. This period is ended with widespread of other materials like upper, upper bronze so also iron. The term Neolithic comes from the Greek words 'Neos' means 'new' and 'lithos' means stone or New stone Age. The term was invented by Sir John Lubbock in in 1865 as a refinement of the three-age system.

It is mentioned that this period in the development stages of human technology begins about 10,2000 B.C. and in some parts of the middle East and other parts of the world the ending of this period was fixed between 4,500 and 2,000 B.C. In Europe the Neolithic phases began about 5,000 B.C. or 10, 000 B.C. years ago.64 The Neolithic period is divided into three periods i,e, (1) Pre Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), (2) Pre Pottery Neolithic B(PPNB) and (3) Pottery Neolithic (PN).

Pre-Pottery Neolithic A:- The discovery of Neolithic cultural site in the Levant (Jericho, Modern day West Bank Palestine and Lebanon) is considered in the beginning of Pre Pottery Neolithic A. Though the actual dated is not fully established it is estimated that the Neolithic cultural site in the Levant was around 9,5000 to 9000 B.C. and others also suggested between 10,200 8,800 B.C.

It is also said that this culture was directly developed from the Epipalaeolithic Natufian culture in the region. The people of these region pioneered the use of wild cereals, which then involved into true farming. The dating Natufian period was fixed between 12,000 and 10,200 which is also called 'proto - neolithic'. This period is also included in Pre-Pottery Neolithic period A. During this period people become dependent on wild cereals in their diet and sedimentary way of life had begun among them.

The grain was grounded into flour. Emmer wheat was stored and animals were herded and domesticated. Settlement became more permanent with circular houses with single rooms. In Jericho their settlement area was surrounded by stone wall perhaps to protect from nearby groups or from flood or to keep animals penned.

To be continued..


* This is the Chapter 2 from the book 'Emergence Of Manipur As A Nation State' by N. Joykumar Singh
This article was posted on March 12, 2015.


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