Looking at tools that early humans settled in southern India used, archaeologists now suggest that the 'Middle Palaeolithic' age (middle stone age) began in India around 385, 000 years ago, much earlier than so far thought for South Asia1.

Researchers led by Sahnti Pappu of Sharma Centre for Heritage Education in Chennai have presented new archaeological evidence in the form of the Acheulian hand axe, a signature tool that hominins — members of Homo erectus or similar — carried when they left Africa more than 1.7 million years ago. Since human skeletal evidence is rare to come by, human evolution in Eurasia is often gauged by changes in the tools early humans used. The tools gradually shifted from Acheulian technologies into the 'Middle Stone Age' or 'Middle Palaeolithic' culture.

Till now, very little evidence has been recovered from India. Pappu and colleagues found the archaeological evidence dating back to 385, 000 years ago from Attirampakkam in southern India.

The researchers say in Attirampakkam, "the gradual disuse of bifaces, the predominance of small tools, the appearance of distinctive and diverse Levallois flake and point strategies, and the blade component highlight a notable shift away from the preceding Acheulian large-flake technologies".

These findings point to substantial behavioural change and have parallels in similar evidence recorded in Africa and Europe during that period, they suggest. The researchers advocte a re-evaluation of earlier models that restrict the origins of Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture to the incidence of modern human dispersals after approximately 125, 000 years ago.