|Differences in artefact density and raw material availability
The raw material utilised for the production of both Siwalik Acheulian
and Soanian artefacts was the same- quartzite pebbles, cobbles,
and boulders. However, general field observations reveal that quartzite
pebbles and cobbles are much more abundant than boulders in the
Siwalik ecozone. This differentiation in clast size may have also
existed during hominid occupation of the region. If this is true,
the amount of sizeable clasts (large cobbles and boulders) available
for the production of classic Acheulian bifaces would have been
inadequate. This scant availability of large blanks may explain
the low number of Siwalik Acheulian sites. Furthermore, the low
density of artefacts at all Siwalik Acheulian localities demonstrates
that the bifaces were manufactured elsewhere but utilised and abandoned
in the Siwalik region. This observation is confirmed by the absence
of debitage, biface-thinning flakes, and cores. Factory/workshop
sites of the Acheulian tradition have not yet been reported from
anywhere in the Siwalik region. In contrast, high-density factory
sites of the Soanian tradition have been observed by de Terra and
Paterson (1939; Paterson and Drummond 1962) in Pakistan and recently
by the author in India. Although smaller artefacts are prone to
surface transport through erosion and heavy monsoon rains, notably
at low-density sites (Chauhan and Gill 2002), this processes cannot
be taken for granted at all known sites. This difference
in artefact density may be explained in part through a change in
the availability of raw material(s).
Prior to the formation (and concluding depositional phases) of the
Boulder Conglomerate Formation, the availability of suitable raw
material in the Siwalik region was minimal. The Boulder Conglomerate
formed over a long period of time through fan formation which was
critically dependent on the upliftment of the Lesser Himalayas to
the north, the source of the conglomerates. For example, Mohapatra
(1990) states that the Siwalik Frontal Range area was still receiving
the conglomeratic material and simultaneously rising between 0.35
and 0.2 myr ago. Moreover, when the Formation subsequently became
prominent in the region, quartzite nodules were not available consistently
throughout the hill range. Other sources of the same raw material
(i.e., in uplifted palaeo-channels within other Siwalik formations,
in the small channels emanating from the hills, dun terraces,
and so on) most probably became available only after 0.2 myr ago,
when Boulder Conglomerate sedimentation was in its terminal phase
(Mohapatra 1990). However, this broad generalisation is made complicated
due to the time-transgressive nature of the Boulder Conglomerate
and needs to be supported through intensive mapping and dating of
such sediments. Its genesis, development and age as a lithological
unit varies from region to region, primarily owing to an intense
but sporadic tectonic history. In fact, various exposures visible
today did not form a continuous, contemporaneous landscape during
hominid occupation. This latter observation plays a meaningful role
in assigning a relative chronology to the palaeolithic material
in the Siwalik hills.
Despite the difference in edge-angles and a compromise in overall
functional efficiency, Soanian tool-types may have gradually replaced
Acheulian core-tools at a functional level owing to the meagre availability
of large nodules or clasts for biface production. For instance,
Schick and Toth (1993) have demonstrated through feasibility experiments
that different tool-types were utilised by early hominids to achieve
different tasks. Interestingly, all activities mentioned by them,
including hide slitting and scraping, heavy and light-duty butchery,
bone breaking, nut cracking, and heavy and light-duty woodworking,
can be accomplished through the use of bifacial and/or non-bifacial
tool-types. Although they have compared the Oldowan with the Acheulian
in East African palaeoecological and archaeological contexts, such
concepts may also be applicable to the Soanian.
For instance, Soanian bifacial and bimarginal choppers can (probably)
functionally replace Acheulian handaxes. Large flakes from boulders
and unifacial and unimarginal choppers may be able to replace Acheulian
cleavers in the same manner. In fact, the Siwalik Acheulian may
have chronologically overlapped (briefly) with the Soanian at one
point in time before the latter became the predominant lithic tradition
in the region. In addition, both Soanian sites and late Acheulian
assemblages in general, appear to share advanced tool-types such
as Levallois flakes/cores and distinct scraper types. These advanced
features and tool-types are markedly absent in the Siwalik Acheulian
facies, hence hinting at its own older antiquity. In light of these
techno-functional similarities, the Soanian may be regarded as a
sub-Himalayan ‘variant’ of the late Acheulian and understood
in terms of a change in planning behaviour in an evolving landscape.
Most palaeolithic sites in the Siwalik region appear to represent
hominid occupation following the formation of the hills, both spanning
the Pleistocene. Surprisingly, workers have been debating the Soanian-Acheulian
dichotomy based on the assumption that both traditions were contemporaneous,
without any stratigraphical and geochronological confirmation. The
fact that both traditions belong to the Middle to Upper Pleistocene
and/or Lower Palaeolithic phase does not rule out the possibility
that they may not have been contemporary. If this turns out to be
the case, then the direction and objectives of archaeological queries
alter drastically. Traditionally, previous workers have placed the
Siwalik Acheulian as being younger than the Soanian. For example,
discussing the sole ‘mutual’ association of Soanian
and Acheulian tool-types documented by de Terra and Paterson (1939)
at Chauntra, Mohapatra (1990: 254) states: 'Here the Acheulian could
have arrived much later than the Late Soanian, probably during the
Riss-Würm Interglacial or even later'.
However, from comparative observations of landforms, tectonic history,
artefact density, and the timing of raw material availability and
size constraints discussed above, the Siwalik Acheulian appears
to be chronologically older than the Soanian, the latter occurring
in relatively younger sedimentary contexts. Indeed in Nepal, Corvinus
(1995) has reported Acheulian artefacts in much older deposits in
comparison to the Soanian-like assemblages in the area (though these
have not been labelled as Soanian). In Pakistan, Rendell et al.
(1989) have provisionally placed the early palaeolithic in the Soan
Valley as simply being older than 30 kya. Scholars such as Sen (1954)
have also opined that the Acheulian is older than the Soanian. This
application of broad relative chronologies is the sole option available
to prehistorians until in situ artefacts are recovered and
precisely dated on a consistent basis.
Recent OSL Dates
Recent optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of alluvial
fans in the Pinjore dun valley (India) suggests that fan
formation initiated well before 57 ka BP and continued at least
up to 20 ka BP (Suresh et al. 2002). Sedimentation within the dun
probably started after ~200 ka, and well after closing of sedimentation
in the Siwalik basin. The sudden termination of fan deposition in
the dun was followed by the subsequent river incision and
terrace formations. The oldest associated terrace formations are
proposed to be between 20 and 15 ka in age (Suresh et al. 2002)
and have yielded several Soanian sites throughout the dun
(Karir 1985). These dates do not apply to similar geomorphological
features located in other duns, nor do they represent all
known Soanian assemblages. The latter is particularly true if the
Soanian existed within an extended and dynamic technological gradient.
However, the dates certainly imply a rather young age for the Soanian
sites known from the Pinjore dun terraces. Furthermore,
the dates (if accurate) demonstrate a longer continuation than previously
known of heavy-duty implements, such as choppers and core-scrapers,
in the Soanian toolkit. Since these Pinjore-Nalagarh dun
assemblages appear to be contemporaneous with the Upper Palaeolithic
phase, the Soanian is in need of careful re-analysis and re-interpretation.
The Siwalik Acheulian is dispersed in varying geological and ecological
settings, demonstrating a highly varied settlement pattern (indicating
site-selection) and temporal record. From observations of raw-material
size, associated artefact-size, and from the lack of original cortex,
the majority of Siwalik Acheulian bifaces appear to have been manufactured
through either the reduction of large quartzite cobbles and/or by
the removal of large flake blanks from quartzite boulders. General
observations further indicate that Acheulian bifaces occur in a
lower density than Soanian artefacts in the Siwaliks. This may primarily
be due to the increasing availability of quartzite pebbles and cobbles
of restricted sizes and the virtual scarcity of boulders. Soanian
artefacts were, most certainly, manufactured when the raw material
was in abundance.
Acheulian bifaces were (most probably) made in, or transported into
and abandoned in the Siwalik region, where large quartzite clasts
were generally absent or available in minimal quantities. In concordance
with the neo-tectonic history of the Siwalik belt, quartzite clasts
in rounded form only became available (where the Boulder Conglomerate
Formation was not generally present) during the late Middle
Pleistocene and onwards. Therefore, Soanian sites cannot be older
than the initial availability of the associated raw material, notably
when considering the large density of artefacts at such sites. The
geological features at all known Lower Palaeolithic sites in the
Siwalik region display a general pattern of differential temporal
placement. Acheulian occurrences in the Siwaliks, although comparatively
low in number, tend to be recovered from older geological scenarios
than the Soanian. This perception is broadly sustained by such evidence
as young OSL dates for specific Soanian assemblages, geomorphic
and landform contexts, raw material availability, and artefact densities.
Considering our present state of knowledge of the Siwalik palaeolithic
record, understanding the Acheulian-Soanian dichotomy continues
to be a highly challenging endeavour. The hypothesis presented above,
involving the Siwalik Acheulian’s technological and temporal
attributes, can only be conjectural at this stage and more intensive
investigations are needed to support or challenge it. Without the
recovery of primary stratified sites, larger numbers of artefacts,
suitable material for absolute dating, and associated hominid fossils,
our knowledge pertaining to hominid identity, the timing of colonisation,
site-catchment, ecological adaptations, behavioural and technological
changes, and mobility patterns (among others) in the Siwaliks will
continue to remain fragmentary. Until then, the abundant surface
sites warrant considerable attention and can confidently reveal
such valuable aspects of hominid behaviour as ecological preferences,
artefact-processing trajectories, tool-type frequencies, and overall
strategies to raw material exploitation. Overall, the ‘chrono-techno-geographical’
differences between all palaeolithic sites in the Siwaliks strongly
display varied subsistence strategies and a change in environmental
adaptations through time.
I would like to thank R.W. Dennell, G.C. Mohapatra, and an anonymous
reviewer for offering valuable comments and suggestions. All generalisations
and conclusions in this paper are entirely my own.
 This paper
reintroduces a topic (the Acheulian-Soanian dichotomy) that has
been debated for over seven decades and only attempts preliminary
hypothesis-building at an exploratory level. The concepts presented
here need more supporting evidence before they can be fully substantiated.
 Acheulian sites
found by de Terra and Paterson are not discussed in detail here
due to revised interpretations of the local geology and associated
terrace sequences. However, for their original interpretations,
refer to de Terra and Paterson (1939) and Paterson and Drummond
(1962). For the revision of their work, refer to Rendell et al.
 The author is
presently engaged in analyzing a rich Soanian workshop/factory site,
of which the results are to be published in a separate paper. The
work should reveal previously unknown tool types and modes of lithic
 The utilization
of the “MODE” system to classify lithic assemblages
was first initiated by Clark (1977). Mode 1 is represented by pre-
and non-Acheulian lithic technologies (Lower Palaeolithic); Mode
2 includes Acheulian or biface technology (Lower Palaeolithic);
Mode 3 comprises Middle Palaeolithic flake-based technologies; and
Mode 4 is represented by Upper Palaeolithic blade technology.
 Length dimensions
for artefacts from Pakistan and Nepal were calculated from illustrations
and photographs from Dennell (1986) and Corvinus (1996). Therefore,
these length estimates should be considered as approximate. For
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Parth R. Chauhan
Parth R. Chauhan studied anthropology (B.A.) with a thrust in
African prehistory at Rutgers University (N.J., USA), followed by
an M.A. in Archaeology from Deccan College Post-graduate & Research
Institute (Pune, India), completed in 1998. He has also worked as
an archaeologist for firms active in Cultural Resource Management
in New Jersey and is currently in his final year as a Ph.D. student
at Sheffield. He plans to focus on South Asian prehistory (palaeolithic
archaeology) on a long-term basis. Parth can be contacted at: email@example.com.