The term Palaeolithic is derived from two Greek words meaning old stone. This name is applied to the earliest people, as the only evidence of their existence is furnished by a number of crude stone implements. Tools of the Early Stone Age (ESA) or Palaeolithic period comprised of hand-axes, cleavers, discoids, etc.
The early man in India used these tools of stone roughly dressed by crude chipping, which have been discovered throughout the country except the alluvial plains of Indus, Ganga and Yamuna rivers. They served as weapons for hunting wild animals, and could also be used as hammers or for purposes of cutting and boring. Palaeolithic man barely manayed to gather his food and lived on hunting. He had no knowledge of cultivation and house-building. This phase generally continued till 9000 B.C.
The Palaeolithic tools, which could be as old as 1, 00,000 B.C. have been found in the Chotanagpur plateau. Such tools belonging to 20,000 B.C. 10,000 B.C. have been found in Kurnool district in Andhra-Pradesh. These tools were made up of a species of hard rock called “quartzite”, hence the Palaeolithic men in India are also known as “Quartzite men.”
In association with these, bone implements and animal remains have been discovered. Animal remains found in the Belan valley in Mirzapur district (U.P.) shows that goats, sheep and cattle were exploited. The Old Stone Age or the Palaeolithic culture of India developed in the Pleistocene period of the Ice Age.
- The Palaeolithic Age commenced from the time when the earliest man learnt the art of making stone tools. The greatest achievement of the earliest man could be traced to his learning as to how to make a ﬁst hatchet, the spear and the ﬁre.
- In India, the Palaeolithic Age developed in the Pleistocene period or the Ice Age and was spread in practically all parts of India except the alluvial parts of Ganga and Indus.
- Food gathering and hunting were the main occupations of the people of this phase and Palaeolithic men learnt to use animal skins for wrapping their dead bodies.
- Man during this period used tools of unpolished, undressed rough stones and lived in caves and rock shelters. They had no knowledge of agriculture, ﬁre or pottery of any material and mainly used hand axes, cleavers, choppers, blades, scrapers and burins. Their tools were made of a hard rock called ‘quartzite’ and hence Palaeolithic men are also called ‘Quartzite Men’.
- Homo sapiens ﬁrst appeared in the last of this phase and the Palaeolithic man belonged to the Negrito race.
- Sir Robert Bruce Foot discovered the ﬁrst Palaeolithic stone tool in the Indian sub-continent near Madras in 1863 A.D. The discovery of Indian Pre-history got a boost after the Yale-Cambridge expedition in 1935 under De Terra and Patterson.
- The Paleolithic stage has been divided into Lower Palaeolithic (250,000-100,000 B.C.), Middle Palaeolithic (100,000-40,000 B.C.) and Upper Paleolithic stage (40,000-10,000 B.C.) primarily based on tool typology and technology and also according to the nature of change in the climate.
- The tools of the lower Paleolithic stage are mainly hand axes, cleavers, choppers and chopping tools and covered the greater part of the Ice Age. In this period the climate became less humid.
- The middle Paleolithic age tools are mainly based on ﬂake industries.
- The upper Paleolithic stage is characterized by burins and scrapers and a warm and less humid climate.
- Agewise the lower Paleolithic extended upto 100,000 years ago, middle Paleolithic extended upto 40,000 years ago and upper Paleolithic up to 10,000 BC.
- The Son and the adjacent Belan valley (Mirzapur, UP) provide a sequence of artifacts from lower Paleolithic to Neolithic.
- Situated around Bhimbedka hill, in central India near Hoshangabad on the Narmada River, the caves and rock shelters have yielded evidence of Paleolithic habitation.
- At Bhimbetka near the Narmada, a series of rockshelters have been excavated from caves. This site lacks in Chopper and Abbevillian hand axes.
- During middle palaeolithic age, Pithecanthropus or Homo erectus evolved. But this cultural stage was dominated by Neanderthal Man.
- The upper Palaeolithic culture belongs to the last phase of the Ice Age. This culture is marked by the appearance of new ﬂint industries and the evolution of Homo sapiens or the modern man.
- At Chopani-Mando in the Belan valley of the Vindhyas and the middle part of the Narmada valley, a sequence of occupation from all the three stages of the Paleolithic to Neolithic stage have been found in sequence. Chopani Mando is an important site where fossil animal bones have been found.