Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Those early man tools found in Sikkim!

Display of Neolithic tools recovered from Sajyong, 2003 (Weekend Review)


Not only old, but existence of the Himalayan land of Sikkim is looked upon more of being a part of ancient times. The archeological findings of different Neolithic tools in this part of the Himalayas over the last three decades speak its antiquity.

It may be of little importance to many but still findings of various Neolithic tools from the remote pockets in Sikkim over the past five decades have collected vivid interest in people beyond this region. On three separate occasions Neolithic tools had been dug out from Sikkim that unfolded the age of this Himalayan mountain land much against the period we were supposed to. “The term Neolithic Period, or New Stone Age, defines the second period, at the beginning of which ground and usually polished rock tools, notably axes, came into widespread use after the adoption of a new technique of stone working. The beginning of the Neolithic, the retreat of the last glaciers, and the invention of food crops, involving agriculture and animal domestication, were more or less contemporary events. The period terminated with the discovery of metals.

The Neolithic stage of development was attained during the Holocene Epoch (the last 10,000 years of Earth history). During this time, humans learned to raise crops and keep domestic livestock, and were thus no longer dependent on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. Neolithic cultures made more useful stone tools by grinding and polishing relatively hard rocks, rather than merely chipping softer ones down to the desired shape. The cultivation of cereal grains enabled Neolithic peoples to build permanent dwellings and congregate in villages, and the release from nomadism and a hunting-gathering economy gave them the time to pursue specialized crafts.

Archaeological evidence indicates that the transition from food-collecting cultures to food-producing ones gradually occurred across Asia and Europe from a starting point in the Fertile Crescent. Cultivation and animal domestication first appeared in southwestern Asia by about 9000 BC”.

The evidence of the first Neolithic artifacts collected in Sikkim was unearthed by Janak Lal Sharma, celebrated archeologist from Nepal. In his paper work titled “Neolithic Tools from Nepal and Sikkim” published at Ancient Nepal J.L. Sharma along with Dr. N.R. Banerjee examined the ten tools found in Nepal and Sikkim. In his own words Sharma described the lone found early man’s tool from Sikkim as: “It is a thin chisel made of slate in the shape of a trapezium, the cutting edge being slightly chamfered on one side. It is 5 cm in length, 4.5 cm wide at its lower end and 2.5 cm at the top and the maximum thickness of the piece is .75cm.

It was found in the midst of a cultivated field at Odhare, Ramtek Basti, not very far from Gangtok on the southern slopes of the Himalayan ranges, in Sikkim, corresponding to the midland zone of Nepal’s topography.

It is interesting to note that the word Odhare, where the specimen was found means a cave. It would, therefore, point to the probable existences of such caves, where folks using such polished implements may have once lived in the remote past. Its occurrences in the cultivated field may be attributed in this context to a discard. The sides are flattened as in the cases of the other chisels, from Nepal.”

I along with my fellow friends Padam Parajuli and Kamal Sharma visited this remote village Odhare some time back, the wide spread rocky location looked a probable site for early men’s settlement. Considering the fact that Odhare lies adjacent to Sajyong (another excavated site of early man tools) and also the mere fact that these two places are found along the old routes connecting Nepal and Sikkim with that of Tibet prior to Younghusband’s 1904 route from Jelapla, there are ample chances that more priceless findings could be explored. Although nothing extraordinary narrative about any so-called caves was heard off at Odhare but old folks did mentioned about listening ghost (!) stories of the large Rocky Mountains that were used to scare them off by their parents during their early days.

Once while surfing the web page on internet I came across the name of K.N Dixit, member of Indian Archeological Society, through him another chapter of the prehistoric exploration in Sikkim was about to be unfolded. Dixit was kind enough to send me an attachment of two scanned pages on Sikkim Prehistoric exploration in 1980 published in Indian Archeological Society “Puratattva”. The article reports on the pre historic potentialities of Sikkim exploration undertaken by Prehistory Branch of Archeological Survey of India, Nagpur in October- November 1980.

The certain places of North Sikkim and East Sikkim was preferred in view of different geographical and climatic form for the purpose where off headquarter of the entire exploration was setup at Singhik near Mangan. Exploration was conducted along River Teesta and its tributaries, entire Djangu (it should be Dzongu) area up to Dikchu on the west while places up to Lachen and Lachung in extreme north was covered. Well polished Neolithic stone tools were recovered from different locations in North Sikkim. The tools included harvesters (2), knife (1), axes (7), adzes (13) and single and double perforated celts (3). These tools were mostly schist, shale and a few pieces on basalt. Highlight of the findings in the north Sikkim was beautiful single eyed harvester and Honan Knife. A polisher having three conclave working sides and perforation on the top was recovered from the village north of Chungthang on the way to Lachen.

Except for a single polisher no major tools was recovered from the area north of Mangan. The places in North Sikkim where the tools was recovered included Lingthen, Lingdon, Barpak, Sankalan, Gytong, Sangdong, Gnon, Tarang, Gor-Tarand and Linkyong. In a short exploration in the district of East Sikkim around Pakhyong, six polished celts comprising of two axes, four adzes and a single polisher were recovered.

The article also confirms the perforated harvesters and Honan Knife being typical of the South Chinese Neolithic assemblage. Harvesters with one or more perforation in rectangular or semi lunar shape had been reported from the provinces of Honan in China. Similar single perforated celts had also been reported from Kiangsu Province. But double perforated celt was typical of Sikkim.

Enthrallingly it had been found in the villages of the North Sikkim that the local people considered the Neolithic tools as a source for the betterment of material life. These tools were worshiped and used in medicinal purposes particularly at the time of child birth. They called those tools “Vajra Dunga”!

More recently it was in January 2003, the archeologist team from Prehistory Branch of Archeological Survey of India, Nagpur again found few interesting Neolithic material around Rumtek-Martam area. The team led by P.K. Mishra, Superintendent Archeologist, ASI, Nagpur surveyed around Martam, Adampool, Rumtek, Samdur and Sajyong areas in the East district. Agriculture tools along with other stuffs were recovered from these areas. The most excellent part of the exploration was the findings of a fossilized antelope horn in Sajyong area near Rumtek that was reported to about 1,50,000 years old.

Off course in order to ascertain the route through which Neolithic Culture entered Sikkim, further work has to be conducted. Several research works are to be done on different subjects in Sikkim that might well place the age of Sikkim par the stage of early primitive. Study on Sikkim Primitive, a fossilized maize variety found in Sikkim in 1950s has made Sikkim, the secondary origin of maize after Mexico. Accounts of Yeti incidents in remote North Sikkim could be an interesting and path breaking discovery. Much-talked human foot prints scattered in places of Sikkim could provide ample chances of early man’s foot print rather than surrounded by myths. Presence of one of the oldest molar teeth of the human ancestors on earth dating some eleven million years old found in Nepal, results of the Neolithic tools found around Kalimpong and Peking Man found in China might create ripple of the presence of the more traces of the early men in Sikkim!