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INDIAN ARCHAEOLOGY IN RETROSPECT t s . o s . 02-

VOLUME I

PREHISTORY
Archaeology of South Asia

Edited by
S. SETTAR
RAVI KORISETTAR

Indian Council of Historical Research

MANOHAR
2002
/

First published 20()2

© Indian Council of Historical Research, 2002

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The Archaeology of the Megaliths in India:
1947-1997
R.K. MOHANTY and V. SELVAKUMAR

INTRODUCTION

Research on the monuments and burials referred to as 'megaliths'or pandukals or


pandukulis in India was initiated in the beginning of the nineteenth century, when
Babington (1823: 324-30) unearthed an inter~sting group of burial monuments at Bangala
Motta Paramba in the northern part of Kerala Siace then, the impressive visible features
and contents of these monuments, and the issues related to their origin, chronology,
authorship and other aspects have attracted the attention of numerous scholars, antiquarians
and treasure hunters, and as a result a vast amount of literature has been produced
(Ramachandran 1971; Leshnik 1974; Rami Reddy 1992; Moorti 1994). The history of
investigation of the Indian megaliths, which spans nearly two centuries, can be broadly
divided into a pre-Independence phase and a post-Independence phase, as systematic
archaeological research began in India only in the 1940s. The research undertaken from
the mid-1940s, which has contributed significantly in understanding various aspects of
the megaliths and the associated material remains, is briefly reviewed here. Our endeavour
has been to highlight the achievement and advancement made in the field of Megalithic
research rather than to critically evaluate the inferences drawn and contesting arguments
made.
The Indian Megalithic burials and monuments generally belong to the Iron Age and
are largely sepulchral in character. However, the sepulchral aspect of this tradition was
not a new feature of the Iron Age, for the antiquity of burial practice in India dates back
to the Mesolithic period (Allchin and Allchin 1983: 62-96), and marked burials begin in
the Neolithic. During the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic periods, the tradition of burying
the dead continued to exist in different parts of the Indian subcontinent (Gupta 1972a;
Leshnik 1974: 21-5; Sahi 1991; Rajan 1994: 39-40). Though evidence for an antecedent
stage of 'megalithism' is found in the pre-Iron Age context, this tradition became very
popular during the Iron Age, mostly in the southern part of India and to some extent in
northern India, and it continued to survive even during the historical and up to modem
times, in a few pockets of central, southern and north-eastern India.
The term 'megalith' derives from the Greek words megas meaning 'huge' and lithos
meaning 'stone' (Wheeler 1959: 150). In the earlier stages of research, the term 'megalith'
was used to designate only the large stone monuments. However, subsequently, in India,
the term was applied to all the burial and habitation sites yielding the pottery with 'black-
and-red' surfaces in southern India, irrespective of their association with 'megaliths' in
the Early Iron Age context. Though the inappropriateness of the term 'megalith' has
314 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

been discussed by many scholars (Begley 1965; Gupta 1972a: 188-91; Leshnik 1974: 1-
2), it has been widely used and accepted by a large section of archaeologists and has
become a well established term. In this paper, 'megalith' denotes, in the peninsular Indian
context, all the burials and monuments of the Iron Age and Early Historic period and also
the habitation sites with 'black-and-red' pottery without 'megaliths'. In the extra peninsular
region all the sites having burials and monuments with stone appendages belonging to
the Early Iron Age and post-Iron Age periods are grouped under 'megaliths'. The modern
burials resembling the 'megaliths' are treated as a separate category. It should be mentioned
at the outset that the 'megaliths' reviewed here do not form a homogeneous entity, rather
they belong to different cultural and chronological contexts.

RESEARCH ON THE MEGALITHS IN THE PRE-INDEPENDENCE PHASE

During the nineteenth century several 'Megalitftic' sites were discovered and many of
them were dug out in different parts of India, mainly in the southern peninsular region,
by colonial administrators, officers, missionaries, treasure hunters and others. Important
discoveries and 'excavations' include that of Babington (1823), Taylor (1841, 1851, 1852,
1862), Breeks (1873), Caldwell (1877), Rivett-Carnac (1879), etc., in southern India,
and Cunningham (1871), Carlyle (1883) and others, in the extra peninsular region (for
details see Fergusson 1872; Gururaja Rao 1972; Leshnik 1974; Chakrabarti 1988: 22-3,
42-3, 142-3 and 184-6). After the inception of the Archaeological Survey of India in the
second half of the nineteenth century and Archaeology Departments in the Princel y States
such as Hyderabad, Mysore, Cochin and others, several sites were discovered and
excavated (e.g. Rea 1902-3; Yazdani 1917, 1934-5; for details see, Gururaja Rao 1972;
Leshnik 1974 and also, annual reports of Archaeological Survey of India and publications
of the archaeological departments of these princely states).
Many of these early attempts on the megaliths were largely 'antiquarian' in nature, as
the investigators were attracted by the imposing nature of the megaliths and the rich
cache of antiquities they contained. Several hundreds of burials were literally robbed and
a large amount of the recovered antiquities were preserved in Indian museums and some
were also sent abroad. Wheeler aptly summarized the situation when he said that the
'Megalithic monuments had been ransacked rather than excavated, sometimes with the
help of dynamite. Urn-fields had been gathered up like rice crops' (Wheeler 1948: 181).
However, some of these early investigators went beyond antiquarian interest and raised
various questions pertaining to the origin, authorship and chronology of these monuments.
With the impact of the 'diffusionist' theory that was raging across the world, the Indian
'megaliths' were attributed to various groups of people like the Scythians, the Druids,
the Celts, etc. Another interesting aspect of the studies carried out during this phase was
the investigation of human skeletal remains with a view to finding out the racial affinity
of the 'megalithic' people (Hunt 1916,1924; Kennedy and Levisky 1985). Taylor (1852)
perceived 'pygmoid' and 'Negroid' elements (Kennedy and Levisky 1985). Zuckerman
and Elliot Smith identified 'proto-Austroloid' and 'Dravidian' elements in the skeletal
remains (Zuckerman 1930). Kennedy and Levisky (1985) point out that 'non-biologically
derived theories' influenced these propositions. The mortuary practices of various groups,
The Archaeology a/the Megaliths 315

some of which erected stone monuments resembling 'megaliths' , were also investigated.
The Todas (Breeks 1873; Walhouse 1874a, 1874b), the KurubaslKurumbas (Thurston
1909: 133-77), the Khasis (Gurdon 1914), the Gadabas and the Bondos (Hutton 1922;
Furer-Haimendorf 1943) are a few such groups whose burial practices were documented.
In spite of a large number of 'excavations' conducted during the pre-Independence
phase, the megaliths could not be placed in a clear-cut chronological framework. However,
the efforts and initiatives taken by these pioneers for collecting, documenting, and
preserving these antiquarian remains, which were being destroyed due to the expansion
of settlements, land encroachment and developmental activities, should be appreciated.
Furthermore, these investigations, irrespective of their failure to formulate a systematic
methodology towards understanding the problems related to the megaliths, provided a
foundation for subsequent studies.

RESEARCH ON THE MEGALITHS IN THE POST-INDEPENDENCE PHASE

The 1940s witnessed a marked change in the approach of archaeological investigations


in India; unlike the previous attempts, the research carried out from the 1940s was to
some extent 'problem-oriented'.
M.H. Krishna, who explored and excavated Brahmagiri and Chandravalli in the former
Mysore state with the objective of locating the ancient town 'Isila' mentioned in the
Asokan inscription made two important observations that pottery from the megaliths
were similar to those found in the Iron Age levels of the habitation sites and the Iron Age
pottery was found in the upper levels of the Neolithic indicating an overlap (Krishna
1931, 1941, 1943; Sundara 1998). It is his ground work which prompted Wheeler to
select Chandra valli and Brahmagiri for excavations, to explain some of the contemporary
issues like the cultural-chronological context of Megalithic Culture (Wheeler 1948:
181-5).
With the appointment of Mortimer Wheeler as the Director-General of Archaeological
Survey of India in 1944, archaeological planning and research got new impetus and a
definite direction. His excavations at Arikamedu (Wheeler et al. 1946) and Brahmagiri
(Wheeler 1948) established a culture-chronological sequence for the later prehistoric
and Early Historic periods of south India and fixed the position of the materials associated
with the megaliths within that sequence. Wheeler's observations that 'a thousand
megalithic cists might be excavated with the utmost care without any significant addition
to our knowledge oftheir chronology' (1948: 185) highlights the problem-oriented nature
of his research. However, it is contended that the impact of ecological and economical
issues that characterized archaeological research in Europe during the pre-World War
times is not seen in his research (Dhavalikar 1984).

Surveys and Excavations


The surveys and excavations undertaken in the post-Independence phase have shed
considerable light on the distribution, typology, chronology and characteristics of the
megaliths. Krishnaswami's detailed investigation in Chingleput district resulted in the
316 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

discovery of over 200 Megalithic sites. His exploration in the Pudukkottai and Cochin
areas, respectively in collaboration with KR. Srinivasan and Anujan Achan between
1944 and 1948, brought to light a number of Megalithic sites and recorded the typological
features of the megaliths (Krishnaswami 1949; Srinivasan and Banerjee 1953). Subsequent
to his surveys, stressing the need for a 'precise and self explanatory nomenclature'
Krishnaswami (1949) classified and defined the Megalithic types of southern India on
the basis of 'morphological and other intrinsic features' and also discussed the
contemporary Megalithic types of north-east India. Subsequently, YD. Sharma (1956)
investigated the rock-cut tombs of Kerala and convincingly argued that these tombs
belonged to the Megalithic tradition.
From the 1950s, researchers associated with the Archaeological Survey of India and
the archaeological departments of various state governments, universities and museums
undertook extensive explorations for archaeological remains and the discoveries included
a number of sites with megaliths (see Indian Archaeology-a Review 1953-4 onwards
and also Banerjee 1956; Das 1957; Kosambi 1962; P. Singh 1968-9, 1985; Raman 1970;
Chakrabarti 1971; Gupta 1972a; Gururaja Rao 1972; Subbayya 1972; Deo 1970a, 1970b,
1973b, 1982b, 1983; Leshnik 1969, 1970, 1971a, 1971b, 1974; George 1975; Sundara
1967, 1975; Ansari and Dhavalikar 1976; Noble 1976; Misra and Misra 1977;
Narasimhaiah 1980; McIntosh 1982, 1985; Krishna Sastry 1983: 51-116; Tampi 1983;
Pant 1985; Ramakrishna Rao and Dhananjayudu 1988; Sharma 1985; K Rajan 1986,
1990, 1991, 1991-2, 1994, 1997, 1998; KP. Rao 1988; Moorti 1989, 1990, 1994;
Sathyamurthy 1992; Joshi 1993; Tripathi 1993; Mohanty 1993-4; Kharakwal 1994;
Paddayya 1995; Rambrahman 1995-6; Selva umar 1996, 1997; Chedambath 1998;
Darsana 1998; Bharucha 1998). As a result ofth se surveys a large number of sites have
been discovered. According to Moorti (1989, 19 , there are about 2,000 sites in south
India alone. Though, no updated catalogue of the recently explored Megalithic sites is
available, it can be inferred that the new discoveries after 1989 have added at least a
couple of hundred sites to the existing list. However, looking at the present distribution
map of the explored regions in south India, it can be presumed that the explorations
carried out so far have not been consistent in any particular region or zone; thereby
enough scope for intensive exploration has been left, which could result in bringing out
innumerable sites to light.
Most of the surveys undertaken for uncovering the Megalithic evidence are
unsystematic. There are hardly any intensive surface surveys carried out at the 'micro-
regional level', with the exception of a preliminary attempt by Mohanty at the site of
Bhagimohari in Vidarbha region (1993-4: 61-4). During these surveys, information about
a number of variables, such as nature of distribution of burials and habitations in the
landscape, similarity or dissimilarity in their external features and their location in the
cemetery and other aspects, which could have enhanced the scope of generating enough
data base for answering a large number of queries pertaining to the settlement pattern,
socio-cultural and religious practices, were not either collected or the collected data have
not been published (save for a brief report in IAR). Resistivity surveys carried out at
The Archaeology a/the Megaliths 317

Naikund (Deo and Jamkhedkar 1982; Gogte 1982a, 1982b) and Kodumanal (Rajan 1994)
are significant for they could locate the iron smelting areas within the habitation sites.
This method could be applied in many more sites to prospect similar kind of evidence.

Excavations
More than 100 sites with Megalithic association have been excavated so far leading to
the recovery of an enormous body of data on the nature, architecture and contents of
the burials and the various features associated with the settlements (see Appendix IV;
Figs. 1-2). Among the excavated sites, burials form a substantial proportion; and there
are a few excavations of habitation sites, but none are extensively excavated, like for
example the Chalcolithic site of Inamgaon in Maharashtra, which could have revealed
vital information regarding various aspects of the culture. For most of the sites detailed
reports are not available, only some brief accounts in the fAR published annually by the
Archaeological Survey of India. The excavations carried out prior to the 1960s did not
make conscious efforts to recover biological remains. Excavations and researches
undertaken in the Vidarbha region from the 1970 onwards are quite significant in this
direction and they were part of multidisciplinary programmes (Lukacs 1981, in press;
Kennedy et al. 1982; Kajale 1982, 1989; Gogte 1983, 1992; Deotare 1984; Gogte et al.
1984; Deo 1985; Walimbe 1988,1992; Deotare and Kajale 1990; Gogte and Kshirsagar
1992; Joshi 1993; Kshirsagar 1992; Thomas 1992a, 1992b, 1993; Mohanty and Walimbe
1993; Mohanty and Joshi 1996).

DISTRIBUTIO A D CHRONOLOGY OF THE MEGALITHS

Sites with megaliths or Megalithic association occur in chronological contexts ranging


from the Early Iron Age down to the modern period in different parts of India (peninsular
India) (Soundara Rajan 1963; Gupta 1972a; Thapar 1985; Thapar and Sharma 1994;
Gururaja Rao 1972; Deo 1973a, 1973b; Leshnik 1974; Moorti 1994), in Vindhyan region
(G.R. Sharma 1985; P. Singh 1985; Pant 1985; A.K. Sharma 1996), in eastern India
(Brandtner 1994; Behera 1995-6; Tripathy 1996-7; Mohanty and Tripathy 1997-8;
Mohanty and Misra 1998), in northern India (Leshnik 1974: 26-32; Misra and Misra
1977; A.K. Sharma 1991, 1977; Kharakwal 1994; Agrawal et al. 1995; Khanduri et al.
1997), in north-eastern India (O.K. Singh 1985; Sharma 1997-8). A form of this tradition
is also prevalent among groups like the Nagas (Binodini Devi 1993; O.K. Singh 1985;
A.K. Sharma 1997; Jamir 1997-8) and the Khasis (Cecile-Maw long 1990) in north-
eastern India and the Bondos of central India (Elwin 1945, 1950; Tripathy 1969) and
in parts of south India among the Kurubas (Kapp 1985) and the Malarayans (Krishna
Iyer 1967).
Krishna's preliminary investigations and Wheeler's excavations at Brahmagiri and
Chandravalli (Wheeler 1948: 200, 300) placed the megaliths tentatively between
200 Be to first century AD, based on stratigraphical and comparative typological evidence
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Fig. 1: Megalithic sites in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh: 1. T. Narasipur,


2. Jadigenahalli, 3. Ramapuran, 4. Hallur, 5. Chandravalli, 6. Brahmagiri, 7. Maski,
8. Nagarjunakonda, 9. Yelleswaram, 10. Hashampet, 11. Khapa, 12. Takalghat,
13. Mahurjhari, 14. Ranjala (courtesy: Ravi Korisettar).
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Fig. 2: Megalithic sites in Kerala and Tamil Nadu: 1. Pamparippu, 2. Adichanallur, 3. Thiruthu,
4. Paravai, 5. Perumal Malai, 6. Pollachi, 7. Porkalam, 8. Machad, 9. Pazhayannur,
10. Singanallur, 11. Kodumanal, 12. Kothaqalayarn, 13. Tirukkumpuliyur, 14. Alagarai,
.15. Ariamedu, 16. Muttarapalayam, 17. Suttukkeni, 18. Kadamaliaputtur, 19. Perumbayur,
20. Sanur, 21. Amirthamangalam (courtsey: Ravi Korisettar). ~
320 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

(relative dating) which was earlier tentatively dated to anywhere between 4000 and
400 BP. With the introduction of the radiocarbon dating method, the megaliths are dated
with a relatively better level of accuracy. More than fifty 14Cdates are available so far for
Megalithic sites and have pushed back the antiquity ofIndian megaliths (Seshadri 1955;
Sundara 1973; Deo 1973a, 1991; Possehl 1988, 1994; Moorti 1994) and they broadly fall
within the range of the late second millennium Be to the early centuries of the Christian
Era. However, most of the 14Cdates are from the habitation and only a few from the
burials such as at Naikund and Kodumanal. Besides 14Cdates, thermoluminescence (TL)
dates have also been obtained for the burials from Komaranahalli (Singhvi et a!. 1991).
In the absence of datable materials in most of the burials where pottery is a common
feature, thermoluminescence dating of pottery could be of great help in organizing the
chronology of burials at regional levels. Relative dating of the bones from the Megalithic
sites by fluorine/phosphate method has also been attempted by Kshirsagar (1993) and
Rajendran and Kshirsagar (1993).
The internal chronology of the megaliths has been a difficult problem (McIntosh 1985),
though the radiocarbon dates are useful for determining the overall chronological span
of the megaliths. Leshnik's (1974) typological approach to the burials and the artefacts
from them is a remarkable attempt towards establishing the internal chronology. However,
Leshnik (1974: 246) had placed the megaliths between third and second century AD and
even later. Considering the chronological position and associated material culture along
with available radiocarbon dates, Leshnik's propositions of dates cannot be taken seriously. (
McIntosh (1982, 1985) combining the radiocarbon dates and typological analysis of the
artefacts has worked out the internal chronology of the south Indian megaliths and dated
them from 1100 to 100 Be (1985: 469).
Summarizing the evidence from the research carried out so far, the megaliths of
peninsular India can be tentatively dated from the end of the second millennium Be to the
middle of the first millennium AD. The megaliths of northern Karnataka and Andhra
Pradesh had an early beginning, while those of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are later, probably
around the second quarter of the first millennium Be. It appears that in Tamil Nadu and
Kerala, the Megalithic tradition continued to exist even during the fourth and fifth centuries
AD (Das 1947; Chedambath 1998). This could be the case in other parts of south India, at
least in a few regions.
The megaliths of the Vindhyan region have been grouped into two categories, viz.,
pre-Iron Age megaliths and proper Iron Age megaliths. The former are dated from
1500 Be to 1000 Be, while the latter, from 800 Be to third century Be (P. Singh 1985: 475;
G.R. Sharma 1985: 480).
In northern India, the megaliths at Gufkral, Kashmir, are dated to the mid-second
millennium Be (A.K. Sharma 1991: 107). The two radiocarbon dates available for the
Megalithic period at this site are: BS 371,1888-1674 cal. Be and BS 431,1885-1671 cal.
Be (Possehl 1994). At Gagrigol, in the Kumaon region, the megaliths are placed around
the middle of the third millennium Be (Agrawal et al. 1995; Khanduri etal. 1997). However,
'v the date from Gagrigol was obtained from a sample collected from the upper filling of
The Archaeology a/the Megaliths 321

the cist, and hence, its context is uncertain. Since there are only a few 14C dates available
for the megaliths from this region, more research is necessary for testing the justifiability
of the radiocarbon dates mentioned earlier. These 14C dates have to be taken into account
in combination with the comparative typological analysis of ceramics and other materials
found at these sites as well as those from the non-Megalithic contexts in their vicinity.
In north-eastern India, no systematic attempt has been made to evaluate the chronology
of the megaliths. Probably, they belong to the period of Eastern Neolithic and continue
up to the modem times (O.K Singh 1985; Binodini Devi 1993; Sharma 1997-8; Jamir
1997-8).

BURIAL TYPES

A bewildering variety of burial types, with distinctive features, are encountered among
the megaliths of India. Several sites have more than one type of burial, with a lot of
variation in their external and internal architecture and content. I}ve;-:; broadly classified
types, for example, stone circles or cairn circles of a particular si~e, vary considerably in
their shape, size, nature of deposit and are rarely similar in all aspects, suggesting an ever
changing process governing the erection of the burials (Deo 1970a, 1973c; Deglurkar
and Lad 1992; Mohanty 1993:4). It has been noticed that the geological features influenced
the burial types prevalent in a particular region (Krishnaswami 1949). Besides, cultural
choice also seems to have played a major part in the variations in burial types. There are
many studies available on the typology of the megaliths and they differ in the methods
adopted for classifying the burial monuments as well as in the number of basic types
available (Krishnaswami 1949; Allchin 1956; Dikshit 1969b; Gururaja Rao 1972; Leshnik
1974: 226-7; Sundara 1975, 1979: 331-40; Agrawal 1982: 257-61; Allchin and Allchin
1983: 331-3; KJ. John 1985; KP. Rao 1988; Moorti 1994). In his recent study, Moorti
(1994) has grouped them under two broad categories, viz., sepulchral (pit, chamber, and
legged and unlegged burials) and non-sepulchral ('either commemorative or memorial
in nature'. Regarding the latter group Moorti says that 'excavations at various places
have firmly proved that these are not sepulchral in nature and served some other socio-
religious purpose' (1994: 2). .
The Megalithic burials have pits or stone chambers or rock-cut chambers or urns or
sarcophagi, etc., externally marked by either one or a combination of more than one of
the features like cairn-heap, cairn-circle, stone-circle, kodakkal, topikkal, menhir, etc.,
and some of the burial types like dolmen are partly buried and partly above the ground
and pit burials and urn burials, in some cases, do not have any surface markers. At several
sites monuments such as menhirs, kodakkals (John 1982; fAR 1990-1: 33-4) and dolmens
(Fukao 1996) are without any artefactual remains and appear to be symbolic.
At a few sites In south India the burials are marked by carved monoliths known as
'anthropomorphic figures' (Narasimhaiah 1980: 201-3; Prasad Rao 1982; Sundara 1985;
KP. Rao 1987-,-1988; Moorti 1994: Ill; Poonacha 1995-6; Rajan 1998). The megaliths
or the rocks near the megaliths are reported with rock paintings or engravings at some
322 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

sites (Krishna Sastry 1983; Rajan 1991, 1996; Sundara 1998) and the excavations also
have revealed a large number of art objects (Deo 1984).
A majority of the Megalithic burials do not have complete skeletal remains but only a
few fragmentary bones and in some instances nothing is found. Evidence of multiple
skeletons in a burial are also found at some sites (Deo 1973c; Deglurkar and Lad 1992;
Mohanty and Walimbe 1993). It is stated that in the secondary burials, fragmentary bones
were collected from the deceased which was laid on the open ground exposed to the
natural forces and were buried some time after the death (Leshnik 1974: 1). Evidence for
cremation is also found at some sites (Walimbe et al. 1991; Walimbe 1992; Sathyamurthy
1992). Unlike the Neolithic-Chalcolithic periods of peninsular India, where a large number
of child burials have been encountered, in the Megalithit;eriod there is a negligible
percentage of child burials (Mohanty and Walimbe 1993). t is generally observed that in
the majority of cases people in the age group of 18-35, irr ective of sex, were given
this kind of ceremonial burial, which probably suggests that the burial was not conferred
to everybody in the community (Mohanty and Walimbe 1993, 1996). In comparison to
the eolithic-Chalcolithic phase in peninsular India, one notices a shift in the locality
selected for the burials during the Iron Age. While in the previous case they are found in
the settlement, in the latter case they are found away from the settlement, either scattered
in the neighbourhood or in a proper cemetery. At times these imposing burial monuments,
in the absence of recognizable habitation in the vicinity, dominate the landscape which
are visible and recognizable from a distance.

CERAMICS

The characteristic ceramic repertoire of the Megal ithic sites of peninsular India are Black-
and-Red (plain and white painted varieties), Black, Red, Russet Coated and Painted and
Micaceous Red Wares (Mujumdar 1969; Soundara Rajan 1969; Gururaja Rao 1972; Deo
1973b: 22-8,1983; Leshnik 1974; Gurumurthy 1981; H. . Singh 1979,1982; G.R. Sharma
1985; Joshi 1992; LK. Sarma 1997). The 'Black-and Red' Ware which was earlier thought
to be exclusively associated with the megaliths has been found to occur in different cultural
and chronological contexts (pre-Iron Age) (Subbarao 1958; H.N. Singh 1979, 1982).
Regional variation in the distribution of ceramics has also been recognized; for instance,
the Russet Coated and Painted Ware which is associated mainly with the western-interior
peninsula and Kerala, is absent along the east coast; the Micaceous Red Ware is confined
to the Vidarbha region. Typological aspects of ceramics mainly aimed at dating the burials
have been studied by Leshnik (1974), McIntosh (1985) and Wessels-Mevissen (1991).
Technical analysis on the fabric, paste, slip and firing temperature has also been carried
out on the Megalithic pottery from many sites (Wheeler 1948: 203, note 2, 208 notes 2
and 4 and 237 note 1; Paramasivan 1967; Ghosh 1986; Duraiswamy et al. 1991; Gogte
1992; Gogte and Kshirsagar 1992; for a general survey see Krishnan 1997). The source
and antecedent of some of these wares, especially the Black-and-Red Ware remained a
vexed problem and could resolve some of the important queries regarding the origin and
development of south Indian Megalithic tradition.
The Archaeology of the Megaliths 323

Besides the typo-technological and contextual study of the pottery available, Gogte
and Kshirsagar (Gogte 1992; Gogte and Kshirsagar 1992) have identified three groups of
pottery having different clay sources at Raipur on the basis of analysis of the chemical
and physical properties. It has been interpreted to indicate the contacts Megalithic people
had with the people from different regions.
The graffiti found on the Megalithic pottery have been analysed and classified by Lal
(1960). His study shows similarities between the characters found on the Harappan seals
and the Early Brahmi script on the one hand and graffiti from the megaliths on the other.
The Megalithic site at Kodumanal has yielded Tamil Brahmi and non-scriptural graffiti
marks together (Rajan 1994: 116-2P has been argued that they could be potter's marks
or owner's marks. \

HUMAN SKELETAL REMAINS

Human skeletal remains form one of the important categories of archaeological evidence
from the Megalithic sites and they playa significant role in understanding demography'
related issues. Since most of the burials are fractional and the state of preservation is very
poor, very few complete skeletons have been recovered. Human skeletons from the
following sites have been studied: Sanur (Bose 1959); Brahmagiri (Sarkar 1960, 1972);
Yeleswaram (Gupta and Dutta 1962, Sarkar 1972); Adichanallur (Chatterjee and Gupta
1963, Sarkar 1972, Kennedy 1986); Raigir (Kennedy 1965, 1990); Nagarjunakonda (Gupta
et al. 1970, Subrahmanyam and Rao 1975: 185-95); Khapa (Y. Y. Rao 1970); Mahurjahri
(Rao 1973, Lukacs 1981, in press; Kennedy and Burrow, in press); Naikund (Kennedy
et al. 1982); Satanikota (Pal 1986); Borgaon (Walimbe 1988); Khairwada (Walimbe 1988);
Raipur (Walimbe 1988, 1992); Kaniyatirtham (Walimbe et al. 1991); Kodumanal (Rami
Reddy and C. Reddy 1987, Pal 1994); Tadakanahalli and Komaranahalli (Caldwell and
Kennedy 1995); S.Pappinayakkanpatti (Walimbe and Selvakumar 1998). For a survey of
the studies on skeletal remains from south India and Sri Lanka, see Kennedy (1975,
1984) and Kennedy and Levisky (1985) for the Vidarbha megaliths, Walimbe (1988,
1992) and Mohanty llnd Walimbe (1993, 1996).
Most o(i"he studies unde~n untiITfie 1960s focused mainly on the 'racial' affinities
of the skeletal materials in order to find out the 'origin and authorship' of the Megalithic
people and identified racial elements such as Megalithic people belonging to Proto-
Australoid, Negroid and Mediterranean groups (Sarkar 1960, 1972; Gupta and Dutta
1962). Recent investigations have addressed questions related to the biological and cultural
adaptations including demographic and pathological aspects (Walimbe and Tavares 1995).
Moreover, there is a marked shift in the methodology; the earlier studies adopted only a
'limited number of anthropometric variables and minimal statistical analysis', while the
recent studies use more variables comprising age and sex distribution, pathology, trauma,
adaptive responses to agricultural and pastoral activities (Kennedy and Levisky 1985;
Caldwell and Kennedy 1995: 47).
These skeletal studies have brought out variability which is noticed in the physical
characteristics and hence it is opined that the Iron Age population was not homogeneous
- ---

324 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

(Kennedy 1975; Kennedy and Levisky 1985: 462). It is also suggested that there was no
catastrophic invasion of people from outside the subcontinent as has been proposed earlier
(Kennedy and Levisky 1985). Caldwell and Kennedy (1995) on the basis of their study
of the physical anthropological evidences from Komaranahalli observe that the skeletal
materials do not show any evidence for the migration of new groups as postulated by
Nagaraja Rao (1971).
Evidence for cremation is reported from a few sites including Kaniyathirtharn, where
bones were exposed to fire on 'flesh on or green condition ;Walimbe et al. 1991) and
Raipur (Walimbe 1992: 129). In their demographic approac~ to the Vidarbha megaliths,
Mohanty and Walimbe (1993: 101) have suggested, based-on the rare occurrence of
infant burials and the related evidence from the Megalithic sites, that the Megalithic
burials were usually meant for only certain individuals (probably for indiviudals suffering
a traumatic or untimely death) and not for all members of the community. The infants
were rarely accorded a ritual burial which was the case during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic
phase in south India.
The dental pathological aspects of the skeletons from Mahurjhari show a high incidence
of caries suggesting the mixed economy of the Megalithic folk (Lukacs 1981). At the
same site 'massive pilastering of the linia aspera of femora' noticed in the case of two
males is attributed to 'occupational-habitual stress pattern' (Kennedy and Burrow in press).

ARCHAEOZOOLOGlCAL EVIDENCE

Systematic investigation of the archaeo-zoological evidence from the Megalithic sites


began mainly in the 1960s and as a result a fairly clear picture of the economy of the
Megalithic society has emerged. Faunal evidence from the following sites has been studied:
Maski (Nath 1957); Sanur (Bose 1959: 42); Junapani (JAR 1961-2); Brahmagiri (Nath
1963a); Nagarjunakonda (Nath 1963b); Kaundinyapura and Paunar (Shah 1968);
Sanganakallu (Alur 1969); Takalghat (VV Rao 1970); T. Narasipur (Alur 1971a); Hallur
(Alur 1971b; Nath 1971); Mahurjhari (VV Rao 1973); Jami (Ramachandraiya and
Subrahmanyam 1976); Koppal (Sundara 1976); Pochampad (Alur 1979a); Yeleswaram
(Alur 1979b); Naikund (Badam 1982); Veerapuram (Thomas 1984); Peddabankur (Alur
1990); Raipur (Thomas 1992b); Bhagimohari (Thomas 1993); Tharsa (Joglekar and
Thomas 1998) (for a general survey, see Thomas 1974, 1984, 1992a and Thomas and
Joglekar 1994).
These studies have revealed that pastoralism played a major role in the Megalithic
economy and hunting of wild animals and fishing also added to the subsistence. Bones of
domestic animals like cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, pig and horse, ass and dog, and many
varieties of wild animals have been found. Among the animal species represented, cattle
is predominant (Thomas 1992a: 77; Thomas and Joglekar 1994) and an introduction of a
new breed of cattle is recorded at Veerapuram (Thomas 1984; Thomas and Joglekar
1994: 198). At Bhagimohari, based on faunal evidence it has been suggested that
butchering of animals was taking place outside the settlement (Thomas 1993: 116). Besides
humans skeletal remains, mainly horse bones are reported from several burial sites
The Archaeology of the Megaliths 325

including Raipur, Naikund and Mahurjari. According to Thomas, horse bones found in
the burials at Raipur suggest that stallions and mares of 3.5 to 6 years were sacrificed
(Thomas 1992b: 77-8). Since charred horse bones with butchering marks are found in
the habitation at Naikund and Bhagimohari, it has been suggested that horse meat could
have been consumed. Bone tools have also been found at many Megalithic sites including
Bhagimohari (Thomas 1993). Only one burial at Naikund has yielded cattle bones and
another burial at Sanur had bones of cattle, sheep, goat, domestic fowl, etc.
The faunal studies undertaken till the 1970s were concerned only with species
identification. In contrast, the recent studies have adopted various methods of quanti-
fication of faunal remains such as metrical analysis, minimum number of individuals and
weight method, butchering te~hnique, taphonomy, pathology, sex and age distribution,
etc. This approach has therefore thrown more light on animal domestication at a particular
period and region and their exploitation (Thomas and Joglekar 1995).

ARCHAEOBOTANICAL EVIDENCE

The archaeobotanical remains have been recovered from the Megalithic context at many
sites and have been subjected to various degrees of interpretation. The literature avail-
able for the sites are: Mutrapaleon (Casal and Casal 1956), Maski (Vishnu-Mittre 1957;
Ghosh and Chowdhury 1957), Adichanallur (Swamy 1972), Kunnatur (JAR 1957-8: 38),
Jadigenehalli (Seshadri 1960), Kaundinyapura (Vishnu-Mittre 1966, 1968), T. Narasipur
(Swamy 1971), Hallur (Vishnu-Mittre 1971; Kajale 1988-9), Guduvancheri (IAR 1977-
8: 93), MaUapadi (JAR 1977-8: 92), Naikund (Kajale 1982), Veerapuram (Kajale 1984),
Bhagimohari (Kajale 1989), Kodumanal (Kajale 1994) and Koppa (Kajale 1997; see
also Kajale 1991). These archaeobotanical studies along with agricultural implements
found in the graves have augmented in bringing out the various facets of agricultural
aspects of the Megalithic economy. Some of these reports are non-technical and they
make only a casual reference to the plant remains (Kajale 1989: 90-1). Systematic
investigations by Vishnu-Mittre and Kajale have exposed the remains of rice, barley,
wheat, kodo millet, job's tear, common pea, lentil, grass pea, horse gram, red gram,
Indian jujube, etc., from the Megalithic sites (Kajale 1989: Table 3; Kajale; 1991; Vishnu-
Mittre 1989).

METALLURGY

The Megalithic sites, especially burials, have yielded an enormous amount of metal objects
made of iron, copper, bronze and some in gold. They have been analysed to understand
the metallurgical and smithery technologies of the period (Hegde 1981, 1991; Prakash
and Tripathy 1986). The habitation sites have also yielded evidence for iron smelting in
the form of furnaces, slag, ore and terracotta pipes (tuyeres), crucible fragments, etc.
(Gogte 1982b; Gururaja Rao 1972; Leshnik 1974; Dhavalikar 1968).
Leshnik (1974) has carried out a detailed typological analysis of the iron objects, which
could focus to some extent on the gradual development of tool types and placing them
326 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

tentatively in a chronological framework. However, the technical analysis of some of the


iron objects from many a site including Takalghat (Munshi and Sarin 1970; Deo 1981,
1982a), Mahurjhari (Joshi 1973), Pazhayannur (George 1975), Tadakanahalli and
Komaranahalli (Agrawal et al. 1980-1) was undertaken to understand various aspects of
metallurgy (Gururaja Rao 1970; Agrawal et al. 1980-1, 1990; Gogte 1982a, 1982b, 1983;
Gogte et al. 1984; Deo 1985; Biswas and Biswas 1996: 225-33; Swamy 1996). These
studies have revealed that at some sites the iron objects have more than 98 per cent pure
iron (Deo 1985: 22) and at a few sites a high percentage of carbon, around 1.5 per cent,
has been noticed (Biswas and Biswas 1996; Mudhol 1996). Evidence for the use of
lamination, quenching and tempering techniques has also been reported from
Komaranahalli, indicating the professional expertise of the Megalithic smelters (Agarwal
et al. 1990; Biswas and Biswas 1996: 228). An advanced riveting technique used in the
copper vessels has been reported from Naikund (Deo and Jamkhedkar 1982).
Evidence of iron smelting is found at a large number of sites (l08 sites according to
Moorti 1994: 38-42, Table 3.3). However, iron smelting furnaces have been unearthed
only at Naikund (Gogte 1982a, 1982b), Kodumanal (Rajan 1994: 65-6, 93-8, 140),
Banahalli (fAR 1984-5: 44) and Khuntitoli (Swamy 1996). Gogte (1982a, 1982b) on the
basis of his study of the Naikund furnace has concluded that 'the megalithic smelters
used 10 to 12 kg of iron ore in a single smelting operation producing 3.0 to 3.2 kg pure
iron' (1982b: 59).
A meagre amount of copper and bronze artefacts such as horse ornaments, bangles,
rings, bowls, bells, iron daggers with copper handles, etc., are available from the Megalithic
sites (Deo 1970a. 1985; Gururaja Rao 1972: 268-72; Leshnik 1974: 261-3; Deo and
Jarnkhedkar 1982; Deglurkar and Lad 1992). The bronze artefacts from the Megalithic
sites of different regions or even in a particular region have varying proportions of tin-
J (Mahurjhari 8.5 per cent, Brahmagiri 15.8 per cent, Raipur 21 per cent and the Nilgiri
hills 29.89 per cent, Deo 1985: 92)-suggesting different sources of origin. Srinivasan
(1994) has compared the contemporary bronze artefacts of southern India with those
from the Nilgiri hills graves and also the Medieval period and has noticed similarities in
the technology involved.
Gold ornaments are reported from a few Megalithic burials (Gururaja Rao 1972: 272).
The gold ornaments from Mahurjhari have 25.6 to 94 per cent of silver (Nasnolkar 1973:
78-9). It has been concluded that either the Megalithic technicians did not know how to
separate silver from the metal or they were meant for the poorer section of the society.
Unlike the gold ornaments from Vidarbha, the gold ornaments from Arippa in Kerala,
studied by Rajendran and Iyer (l ~97) show that they are very pure. Thapar (1957) had
suggested that Hutti gold mines could have been exploited by the Megalithic people of
Maski.

ANALYSES OF SEDIMENTS

Chemical analysis of sediments from the sites has been carried out to identify the nature
of the habitation sites and various activity areas within the site to understand various
activities performed by Megalithic people-Cat Burzahom, Mahurjhari, aikund, and
The Archaeology a/the Megaliths 327

Veerapuram (Joshi et al. 1982; Joshi and Deotare 1983; Deotare 1984); at Raipur
(Kshirsagar 1992); at the burial sites of Kumaon (Farswan and Nautiyal 1997). Soil
samples from the ceramic and copper vessels found in the Megalithic burials at Raipur
have been analysed for organic carbon and phosphate to know whether they were filled
with grains or any other materials. It has been concluded that 'the pots and copper bowls
were perhaps kept in the stone circles for symbolic purposes' and they were not filled
with any material (Kshirsagar 1992: 123). The analysis of burial soils from the Kumaon
sites shows enrichment of different fractions of phosphorous in the bmial complex, whereas
at the habitation sites available phosphate is low (Farswan and Nautiyal 1997; Khanduri
et al. 1997: 81-2). On the basis of these analyses, bone-rich and bone-devoid areas have
been identified and the possible mode of disposal of the dead has also been suggested
(Khanduri et al. 1997).

MEGALITHS: TEXTS AND TRADITIONS

References to the mortuary practices found in the literature and the oral traditions regarding
the Megalithic burials have been a subject of study by many scholars (Subbarao 1962;
Gupta 1960, 1969; Gupta 1972a: 160-7 and 233-6; GururajaRao 1972: 319-22; Soundara
Rajan 1974). Arokiaswamy (1952) summarizes the beliefs prevalent in different parts of
India concerning the origin of megaliths. Srinivasan (1946,1958-9) studied the references
found in the early Tamil Sangam texts to the burial customs and concluded that the
Megalithic Culture became well established before 300 Be and due to the impact of Aryan
ideas it gradually disappeared. Similar references to mortuary practices found in the
Sanskrit texts have also been evaluated (Gururaja Rao 1972: 316; Gupta 1972a: 160-7;
Pant 1985: 482-3).

ETH OGRAPHY OF MEGALITHIC PRACTICES

The beliefs and rituals associated with contemporary megalithism are being investigated
by many scholars providing ethnographic parallels to the past. These studies suggest that
Megalithic monuments are not only erected for a funerary purpose, but also to com-
memorate feasts of merit and other events coupled with various faiths and beliefs. At
times it is an expensive affair and is not performed for each and every member of the
community. Important studies on the contemporary burial practices include that of Bond os
(Elwin 1945, 1950), the Nagas (Hodson 191; O.K. Singh 1985; Binodini Devi 1993;
Jamir 1997-8, Sharma 1997-8 ), the Khasis (Bareh 1981; Cecile-Mawlong 1990; S.N.
Rao 1991), the Savaras (Rami Reddy 1992), Kurubas (Das 1957; Kapp 1985), etc. These
studies are more ethnographical in nature than ethnoarchaeological.

INTERPRETATION AND EXPLANATION

The literature available on megalithic archaeology for the past fifty years provide a broad
spectrum of publications dealing with empirical aspects pertaining to the discovery of
sites, the description of burial types, the results of excavations, nature of biological remains,
328 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

analysis of specific artefact categories and sometimes with higher level investigations
concerning the interpretative aspects of culture through the integration of various kinds
of evidence. Most of the works are descriptive and there are a few works of the last
category, which survey and synthesize the evidence at a regional level (Srinivasan and
Banerjee 1953; Gupta 1972a; Gururaja Rao 1972; Deo 1973b, 1985; Leshnik 1974;
Sundara 1975; Narasirnhaiah 1980; Ramachandran 1980; McIntosh 1982, 1985; K.p.
Rao 1988; Moorti 1989, 1994; Joshi 1993; Rajan 1994).
The earliest attempt on synthesizing the available data on megalithism was that of
Srinivasan and Banerjee (1953), which mainly discussed the typology, chronology and
economy of the Megalithic Culture. Subsequently, Gupta (1972a) in his study on the
mortuary practices in ancient India extensively.dealt with the origin and diffusion of
cultural traits and religion. Similarly, Gururaja Rao (1972) and Deo (1973b) compiled a
vast body of data and attempted to reconstruct various aspects of megaliths such as
'chronology and origin', 'authorship' and 'every-day life', 'people' and 'society', 'religion,
superstition and belief' and 'food economy'. However, Leshnik (1974) in his detailed
and in-depth study of the factual remains, analysed the typological aspects of the burials
and their contents, and recognized their characteristics and attempted to provide a better
chronological resolution.
Among the studies undertaken in the 1980s. Dee's (1985) paper on the ecology,
economy and technology of the megaliths is important, for it incorporated the concept of
'ecology'. McIntosh with a view to understanding the internal chronology of the megaliths
undertook a detailed typological study and classified megaliths into an Early Phase and a
Late Phase, comprising five periods and studied the economy and settlement. She
concludes that the changes in the environment, which led to increased dependence on
pastoralism saw the emergence of burial traditions in the initial stage of the Iron Age,
around the beginning of the first millennium Be (1985: 481).
By adopting some of the latest ideas of archaeological theory and method, Moorti's
recent study (1989, 1994: 7-10) made an attempt to analyse some important socio-
economic aspects of the Megalithic Culture of south India. This has been one of the most
analytical pieces of work in this field. Darsana (1998) has viewed the megaliths of the
Palar Basin in Tamil Nadu as territorial markers and dealt with the ritual and symbolic
aspects.
An experiment on Megalith building was carried out at Bhagimohari for calculating
the 'energy expenditure' for a medium sized cairn circle having a diameter of 13.5 m
with an average deposit of 0.82 m, was surrounded by 22 peripheral boulders of various
sizes (Mohanty and Walimbe 1993, 1996). Taking into consideration various aspects of
Megalithic building, architecture and the source of raw material for construction, it has
been calculated that for such a burial, 200 to 230 man-days were required. This work was
probably accomplished within three to four days with a work-force of 70 to 80 young
adults and this could have been possible with a population of approximately 400 to 500
at the site. Furthermore, it has been suggested that this population size is not acceptable
for a 'nomadic hunting-gathering group' (Mohanty and Walimbe 1993).
The Archaeology of the Megaliths 329

Origin and Authorship


Questions concerning the origin, authorship and diffusion of the Megalithic tradition and
the associated cultural elements such as iron and Black-and-Red Ware pottery formed
the major interest of most of the studies in the post-Independence phase (Chi Ide 1948;
Furer-Haimendorf 1953; Gordon 1950, 1958; Subbarao 1958; Narain 1969; Gupta 1972a,
1972b; Gururaja Rao 1972: 330-347; Leshnik 1974: 3-12,251; Soundara Rajan 1969,
1996; Subbayya 1996; Sundara 1975, 1998).
Citing the typological similarities between some types of the Indian megaliths and
their counterp~rom the Western world, especially in West Asia, it has been argued
that either there was a migration of people or ideas from those regions (Dikshit 1969a;
Ramachandran 1969; Soundara Rajan 1969; Gupta 1972b: 322-35; Leshnik 1974: 238,
251). The presence of burials in the pre-Iron Age context in India has been recognized
(Leshnik 1974; McIntosh 1985; Moorti 1994; Rajan 1986; Sahi 1991) and some of the
burial types such as pit burials and urn burials are considered indigenous (Moorti 1994:
111). McIntosh suggests that the chamber burial type was an indigenous development
(1982: 84, as quoted in Moorti 1994: 111). However Moorti disagrees and argues that it
was a borrowed practice (Moorti 1994: Ill). Some scholars contemplate the idea of an
indigenous origin for megaliths especially in peninsular India which, however, warrants
more investigation. However, the origin and spread of the northern Indian Megalithic
Culture appears to have developed from a different source as has been suggested by their
chronology and associated material culture (Ramachandran 1969-70, 1975; Chakrabarti
1976, 1985, 1988, 1992; Misra and Misra 1977; p. Singh 1985; G.R. Sharma 1985;
Chakrabarti and Lahari 1993-4).
Based on the concentration of the megaliths in south India, coinciding with the
distribution of the languages belonging to the Dravidian family it has been argued that
the authors of the megaliths could be the 'Dravidians' (Furer-Haimendorf 1953). Soundara
Rajan contends that the Megalith builders were outside the pale of the Vedic society
(1996: 134). Parpola (1973) argued that the megaliths were Aryan in origin.
The origin of iron in India is a complex issue which has witnessed an enormous amount
of debate (Gordon 1950; Wheeler 1959: 24; Banerjee 1965a, 1965b; Gupta 1972a;
Nagaraju and Gururaja Rao 1979; Nagaraj Rao 1985; Prakash and Tripathy 1986;
Chakrabarti 1976,1985,1992; Deo 1991; Roy 1991; Shahi 1991). Though it was argued
earlier that iron technology was perhaps introduced from the west, now many scholars
believe that it could have evolved indigenously and there could be more than one source
of origin within India (Chakrabarti 1985, 1992; Chakrabarti and Lahiri 1993-4). However,
the origin of iron in India and Megalithism are two separate issues, one is technological
advancement and its repercussions on social behaviour and the other is technological
advancement and its impulse felt in socio-religious behaviour. But, whatever may be the
source or origin of the introduction of iron, it played a catalytic role in the emergence of
the second urbanization in India.
Another major component of the south Indian megaliths has been the Black-and-Red
330 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

Ware. This ware has its antecedents in pre-Iron Age contexts. The Black-and-Red Ware
appears from the Harappan times especially in Saurashtra and it is a characteristic ware
of the Ahar Culture of Mewar which later on spread to cental India and subsequently
evidenced in the western Indian Chalcolithic culture, spreading as far south as Tekwada
and Bahal in Khandesh of Maharashtra. The Megalithic Black-and-Red Ware, typo-
technologically has a lot of similarity with the Black-and-Red Ware of the central Indian
Chalcolithic Culture (Subbarao 1958; Gururaja Rao 1972: 335-7). At times this pottery
has been identified at regional levels with groups like Yadavas (Thapar 1975-6) and
Velirs (Champakaiakshmi 1975-6). However, recent studies yave shown that this pottery
does not have any specific characteristics to assign it.19h particular group of people
(H.N. Singh 1979, 1982).

Settlement Pattern
Settlement pattern studies are useful in understanding human adaptation (Chang 1968;
Trigger 1968; Vita-Finzi and Higgs 1970). A few detailed studies have been undertaken
on the settlement pattern of the Megalithic Culture (Moorti 1990, 1994; Joshi 1993;
Selvakumar 1997). Moorti 's analysis of the settlement pattern of the south Indian megaliths
shows that resources like water, minerals and arable land conditioned the location of the
sites (1994: 11-15). He has identified twenty-six large settlements and says that they
could have served as regional centres and also had a population of around 1000.
The relative scarcity of settlement sites of the Megalithic people is one of the widely
discussed issues (Leshnik 1974: 247; Agrawal 1982: 257; Allchin and Allchin 1983:
345; McIntosh 1985: 345) and it is taken to indicate pastoral, nomadic or semi-settled
agriculturist way of life of the Megalithic people (Leshnik 1974; arasimhaiah 1980:
201; Deo 1985). However, it appears that the lack of systematic and intensive regional
surveys, the poor detectable features of the habitation due to short duration/period of
occupation which might have resulted in flimsy deposits, dispersed settlement pattern
and frequent shifting of settlements in order to cope with the changes in resource
availability or due to warfare/conflict with the neighbouring groups, etc., appear to be
some of the reasons for the lack of recognizing habitation at a large number of places in
comparison to the burial sites (Mohanty 1993-4). McIntosh, according to her classification
of sites, says that in Periods I to IlIa grave sites are more and settlement evidences are
less and attributes this to deterioration of environment and cultural response (1985: 481).
In the late phase, irrigated agriculture became more common and new areas were
colonized.

Economy

The problem related to subsistence base of the Megalithic people has witnessed a
considerable amount of debate resulting in views ranging from settled agrarian (Gururaja
Rao 1972: 298-9; Ramachandran 1980: 68; Rao 1988: 64; Sathyamurthy 1992), pastoral
The Archaeology of the Megaliths 331

nomadic (Leshnik 1967, 1972,1974; Leshnik and Sontheimer 1975; Narasimhaiah


1980; Deo 1985) and 'pastoral and agricultural economy' (Deo 1985a: 450) or semi-
sedentary agriculture (Ramachandran 1962; Soundara Rajan 1962; Deo 1985b).
However, the biological evidence recovered from the excavated sites shows that the
Megalithic econo y was a mixed one with a predominance of pastoralism. In this case it
has been sugges d that a clear-cut demarcation is not possible between agriculture and a
pastoralism ased economy as different modes of production existed side by side (Moorti
1994: 44). Moorti (1994), Rajan (1994) and McIntosh (1985) are of the opinion that
during the early phase, pastoralism was dominant and irrigated agriculture became
prominent in the later stages, mainly in the riverine tracts.
Compared to the preceding Neolithic-Chalcolithic periods, the Megalithic period
witnessed population increase and emergence of craft specialization and increased
interaction between various regions. The trade and communication networks became
well established. Long distance trade gradually increased in the late phase of the Megalithic
Cultures leading to the rapid distribution of artefacts and ideas as has been evidenced
from the beads and ornaments of the period (M.G. Dikshit 1949; Knox 1985). Evidence
from the Early Historic Megalithic sites like Kodumanal indicate the active participation
of Megalithic communities in the trade. It seems that the Megalithic people of Mahurjhari
were proficient in lapidary which contributed to their economy as reflected from the
abundant burial goods in comparison to the neighbouring sites (Deo 1973c; Mohanty,
in press). .

Social Organization
Investigations regarding social organization undertaken till the 19805 have made only a
few passing remarks about Megalithic society (Deo 1973b; Gururaja Rao 1972; Moorti
1986). These works came up with a few observations such as that the burials with 'socio-
technic' artefacts like gold ornaments, and remains of horse or horse ornaments belong
to persons of a higher social or economic status in the society (Deo 1985: 93-4) but no
systematic attempts were made to understand the organizational aspects of the society.
Moorti (1994: 45-109) has carried out a detailed analysis on the social organization of
the south Indian megaliths, utilizing theoretical and methodological procedures advocated
in recent research works, which focus on the use of mortuary remains for the investigation
of social organization (Binford 1972; Renfrew 1973; Shennan 1975; Chapman 1977;
Peebles and Kus 1977; Tainter 1978; Alekshin 1983; Kristiansen 1984; 0' Shea 1984;
Moorti 1994: 45-7; Darsana 1998: 126-30). Adopting Binford's categorization of artefacts
into 'technomic, socio-technic and ideo-technic' and also the criteria developed by Peebles
and Kus (1977) for recognizing social ranking in the archaeological context, Moorti has
analysed the Megalithic burials of peninsular India and has suggested that 'megalithic
population of south India was organised into a ranked society' (Moorti 1994: 109). In a
similar attempt, but with limited data on hand, Darsana has attributed a 'clan-based
segmentary society' to the builders of the dolmens and a 'hierarchy based chiefdom
332 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

society' to the authors of the stone-circles (1998: 186-7) in the upper Palar Basin in
Tamil Nadu, by correlating the pattern of distribution of critical resources and the
Megalithic monuments on the landscape.

Ideology and Belief System


Megalithism represents a form of anryS'tral worship and it seems to have been accompanied
with elaborate rituals and a complex system of beliefs including the existence of soul and
life after death (Gururaja Rao 1972: 306-8; Deo 1973b: 39). Variations observed in the
dimensions, internal and external architecture and the content and nature of the burials,
i.e. freshly buried, fragmentary and post-cremation and multiple post cremation, etc.,
and also the location of burial sites provide some clues to the belief system of the
Megalithic society.
Very little research has been carried out pertaining to the study of ideology and belief
systems of the Megalithic Culture and the available few make only cursory remarks
(Gupta 1972a: 241-2; Gururaja Rao 1972: 306-8; Deo 1973b: 38-42; Krishna Sastry
1983: 111-13). The negative viewpoint that material remains cannot shed light upon the
'religion and beliefs' of the past human groups/society is reflected in most of the earlier
studies (Gururaja Rao 1972: 306). This negative approach has changed in recent years
and ritualistic and symbolic aspects of the Megalithic monuments have become one
of the major concerns among the European archaeologists (Renfrew 1981, 1984b;
Kristiansen 1984; Cooney 1994; Tilley 1994).
There are a few research attempts on the south Indian megaliths, which incorporate
the ideas derived from the recent studies on European megaliths. Citing the explanation
offered for the development of Megalithic tombs of Europe, McIntosh (1985: 481) has
suggested that the increased dependence on pastoralism and the consequent mobile way
of life that emerged during the beginning of the Iron Age in south India due to the
'environmental deterioration led to the increased emphasis on burials as the main link
with traditionally occupied localities'. Moorti observes that 'ritual and religion clearly
served material functions in the social organization of production and the tombs formed
part and parcel of the reproduction of power relations' (Moorti 1994: 112). A preliminary
attempt has been made by Darsana (1998) towards understanding the sacred aspects of
the monuments, using textual evidences and local traditions in the Palar Basin of
Tamil Nadu.
The ethnographic studies undertaken on various contemporary Megalithic builders
provide valuable information for understanding the complexity of the beliefs involved
in megalithism. Though direct analogical reasoning cannot be applied here since these
contemporary and ancient Megalithic building traditions, belong to different cultural
contexts, the important concepts that emerge from these ethnographic studies are that the
megaliths might not have been always erected for funerary purposes and they could have
been erected to commemorate other social events.
The Archaeology of the Megaliths 333

DISCUSSIO

The researches undertaken during the last fifty years have enhanced the state of
understanding of the various aspects of the Megalithic Culture. Archaeological research
in India in the 1940s witnessed a shift from an 'antiquarian' approach to the 'culture-
historical' approach. Evidence from the ground surveys and excavations, were
typologically classified and compared to reconstruct and date the regional cultural
sequences. The cultural materials from the Megalithic phase were compared with those
of the preceding cultural phases and the appearance of new cultural traits such as
megalithism, iron technology, Black-and-Red Ware were interpreted to indicate the
migration of new groups of people or ideas. The possible sources and routes of such
supposed migrations were also important issues of debate. In order to find an explanation
to these questions, linguistic, textual and anthropological evidence was also utilized. It
was argued that extensive explorations and large scale horizontal excavations could
increase the state of knowledge and fill in the gaps. With the introduction of the radiocarbon
dating method, the antiquity of the megaliths has been pushed back and some of the
earlier theories on the origin and diffusion of iron technology and megalithism lost their
ground. Due to the lack of a general theoretical framework, the results of the analysis of
various categories of evidence like faunal and floral remains and other material objects
largely remained uninterpreted.
The theoretical and methodological developments that took place in the Western world
from the 1960s onwards (for a survey see Butzer 1982; Paddayya 1985, 1990, 1994;
Trigger 1968; Renfrew 1984a; Renfrew and Bahn 1991) stressing upon the explanatory
aspects of archaeology, did not have any significant impact on research until the eighties
(McIntosh 1982, 1985; Deo 1985; S. . Rao 1985; Moorti 1990, 1994; Joshi 1993;
Mohanty and Walimbe 1993; Mohanty 1993-4; Selvakumar 1997; Chedmabath 1998;
Darsana 1998). Moreover, the introduction of new techniques and methods in the
archaeological sciences like physical-anthropology, archaeozoology, palaeobotany,
geoarchaeology, metallurgy, etc., has also provided a valuable data base which is quite
useful for addressing issues focused by new theoretical developments. The transformation,
i.e. from 'culture history' approach to the 'ecological' approach, has not been uniform
and widespread in India as only a handful of researchers have paid attention to these
issues. The impact of these developments is not evident in many of the research works of
the nineties, which are still obsessed with typology and description of ceramics, burial
types, origin and authorship of the megaliths. Even the available works that have
incorporated the 'new' theoretical developments, in most cases suffer from inadequate
and 'defective database', as either they have not adopted the systematic data recovery
methods or they mainly depended upon published data collected through unsystematic
methods (Moorti 1994; Selvakumar 1997; Darsana 1998). Despite many achievements
and laudable works of many scholars, the picture of the Megalithic Culture that has
emerged as a result of the last fifty years of work further needs a lot of problem-oriented
planning and systematic investigations with the help of various scientific disciplines
available in the field of research for arriving at a holistic understanding of the Megalithic
334 Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia

Culture. In this regard the following points should be taken into consideration in future
investigations.
The archaeological research design has to be given priority and an enquiry needs to
have specific goals other than describing, comparing and dating the archaeological
remains. More than the quantity of the data, it is the data collected against the background
of specific research problems which can answer questions related to the 'adaptive' and
'non-adaptive' cultural behaviour patterns.
The focus of research should be shifted from 'site' to region/landscape. The site-oriented
approach in which one or a few sites are partially excavated and a few sites are discovered
through unsystematic surveys needs to be replaced by a regional approach by incorporating
intensive surface survey techniques and if possible, a long term systematic, horizontal
excavation incorporating all the scientific methods available for data retrieval and
interpretation (Redman and Watson 1970; Dunnell and Dancey 1983; Flannary 1976;
Schiffer et al. 1978; Ammerman 1981; Foley 1981; Lewarch and O'Brien 1981; Mohanty
1993-4). Archaeological research undertaken until now in India have considered and
used excavation as a primary means of collecting data, while systematic and intensive
surface survey methods which are cost-effective and has the potential for generating an
enormous amount of data in comparison to small scale excavations have not been seriously
attempted. Institutions should take up intensive regional surveys similar to those conducted
at the medieval township of Ham pi (Vijayanagar) in Kamataka (Devaraj and Patil1991).
Only an intensive regional survey can throw light on the patterning of distribution of the
monuments and other archaeological remains such as 'off-sites', 'seasonal camps' and
'regular settlement' sites on the landscape.
The technical and scientific investigation of the findings such as chemical analysis,
X-ray diffraction analysis, micro-morphology of living area, study of phytoliths and DNA
analysis on biological remains and isotopic analysis of the human skeletal remains, etc.,
- will provide valuable information to answer some of the queries. These findings will no
doubt enhance the level of interpretation in the light of recent advancements made in
archaeological methods and theory.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors are grateful to Vimala Begley, P.K. Thomas, S.R.Walimbe and Richa Jhaldiyal
for their useful suggestions, to A. Sundara for kindly providing a copy of the review
article on Megalithic Culture, and to Rajan Chedambath, S.B. Darsana, P.S. Joshi, Pradeep
Mohanty and Bilal Khrisat, Anup Mishra and Jitu Misra for providing some of the
references cited here.

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APPENDIX IV: LIST OF EXCAVATED MEGALITHIC SITES AND BLACK AND RED WARE SITES
OF EARLY IRON AGE-EARLY HISTORIC PERIOD IN INDIA (after 1944)
Compiled by Rabi Mohanti and V. Selvakurnar

SI. Site ame State ature of Reference


No. the Site

1. Brahmagiri KAR HB Wheeler (1948: 181-270)


2. Chandra valli KAR H Krishna (1931); Wheeler (1948: 270-310);
IAR 1977-8: 27-9
3. Arikamedu POND H Casal (1949)
4. Porkalam KER B Thapar (1952)
5. Suttukeni POND B Casal and Casal (1956)
6. Moutrapaleon PO D B Casal and Casal (1956)
7. Sanur T B Banerjee and Soundara Rajan (1959)
8 Maski KAR H IAR 1953-4: 8-9; Thapar (1957)
9. Arnirtha- TN B IAR 1954-5: 20-2
mangalam
10. Kunnattur TN HB IAR 1955-6: 23; 56-7: 31-4; 57-8: 37-8
II. Bahal MHR H IAR 1956-7: 17-18
12. Tekwada MHR B IAR 1956-7: 16
13. Ranjala MHR H IAR 1960-1: 26
14. agarjunakonda AP B Subramanyam and Vtdyadhara Rao (J 975, J G5-2 J J)
15. Jadigenahalli KAR B Seshadri (1960)
16. Yeleswaram AP B Khan (1963); IAR 1963-4: 4; 64-5: 4.
17. T. Narasipur KAR H Seshadri (1971): IAR 1964-5: 32
18. Kesarapalli AP H Krishna Sastry (1983: 82-3); IAR 1961-2: 1-2
19. Junapani MAH B IAR 1961-2: 32-4
20. Kanchipuram TN H IAR 1962-3: 12; 69-70; 34-5; 70-1: 32; 74-5:
37-38
21. Kaundinyapura MAH H Dikshit (1968); IAR 1961-2: 29-30
22. Thirukkampuliyur TN H Mahalingam (1970)
23. Banirnlia-Behra UP HB IAR 1962-3: 38-9
24.. Kakoria UP HB IAR 1962-3: 39-41; 63-4: 57-8
25. Pochambad AP B IAR 1963-4: I; 64-5: I; 66-7: I
26. Kaveripauinarn TN H Soundara Rajan (1994)
27. Alagarai TN H Mahalingam 1970
28. Dharanikota AP H IAR 1962-3: 1-2; 63-4: 2-4: 64-5: 2-3;
29. Sanganakallu KAR H IAR 1964-5: 29-30
30. Kotia UP B IAR 1963-4: 40. 57-8
(Bhadhawan Hillock)
31. Hathinia-Pahar UP B IAR 1963-4: 57
TN HB IAR 1964-5: 22-3; 66-7: 22; 67-8: 26-30
32. Paiyyampalli
33. Uraiyur TN H Raman (1988)
KAR HB IAR 1964-5: 31-2; 76-7: 25 Nagaraja Rao(1971)
34. Hallur
35. Halingali KAR B IAR 1965-6: 34
KAR HB IAR 1965-6: 34
36. Terdal
BIH BH IAR 1965-6: 10
37. Khuntitoli
MAH H IAR 1966-7: 27; 67-8: 27; 68-9: 14-16
38. Paunar
MAH H IAR 1968-9: 14-16
39. Pauni
MAH HB Deo (1970a)
40. Takalghat-Khapa
AP H IAR 1968-9: 1-2; 70-1: 2: 74-5: 5
41 . Peddabankur
MAH HB IAR 1968-9: 17
42. Gangapur
(Ganwaripur)
480 Prehistory: The Early Archaeology of South Asia

43. Buditittu KAR H JAR 1968-9: 24


44. Hunur KAR B JAR 1968-9: 20-1
45. Korkai TN HB fAR 1968-9: 32
46. Hasmatpet AP B fAR 1970-1: 1-2
47. Mahurjhari MAH B Deo (l973c)
48. Perur TN HB fAR 1970-1: 33-4
49. Amaravati AP H JAR 1973-4: 4-5
50. Banahalli KAR H JAR 1973-4: 17; 83-4: 42-6; 85-6: 43-4
51. Kadambapur AP HB JAR 1974-5: 3-4; Krishna Sastry (1983: 83-7)
52. Satanikota AP H Ghosh (1986): fAR 1974-5: 5-6
53. Mutta1avadi KAR H JAR 1974-5: 20-1
54. Machad KER B Mehta and George (1978)
55. Pazhayannur KER B Mehta and George (1978)
56. Pa1akonda AP H fAR 1975-6: 5-6; 76-7: 10
57. Sittanavasa1 TN B fAR 1975-6: 39-42
58. Agiripalli AP B JAR 1976-7: 5; Krishna Sastry (1983: 69-72)
59. Budigepally AP HB fAR 1976-7: 3-4; Krishna Sastry (1983: 79-80)
60. Jonnawada AP B fAR 1976-7: 9; Krishna Sastry (1983: 67-8)
61. Appukallu TN H fAR 1976-7: 47-8; 79-80: 70
62. T.Kalluppatti TN HB JAR 1976-7: 46-7; 79-80:
63. Peddamarur AP HB fAR 1977-8: 12-13; Krishna Sastry (1983: 62-7)
64. Uppalapadu AP B JAR 1977-8: 12; 78-9: 65-6; Suryanarayan (1982)
65. Chagatur AP HB fAR 1977-8: 11-12; 78-9: 64
66. Mallapadi TN H fAR 1977-8: 50
67. Tennur AP B Krishna Sastry (1983: 68-9)
68. Mottur TN B fAR 1978-9: 72-3
69. Kallerima1ai TN HB fAR 1978-9: 73
70. Hullikallu AP H fAR 1978-9 62-3
71. Tadakanahalli KAR B fAR 1978-9: 45-6; Nagaraja Rao (1981)
72. Muktya1a AP B Krishna Sastry (1983: 72-3)
73. Pagdigutta AP H fAR 1978-9: 65
74. Ami MAH H fAR 1980-81: 37-8
75. Veerapuram AP H Sastri et al. (1984)
76. Budidapadu AP HB JAR 1979-80: 8
77. Chinnarnarur AP HB fAR 1979-80: 8
78. Kovalanpotta1 TN HB fAR 1979-80: 69
(Madurai)
79. Naikund MAH HB Deo and Jamkhedkar (1982)
80. Karapakalla AP HB JAR 1979-80: 8-9
81. Magha UP HB fAR 1980-1: 72-3
82. Komaranahalli KAR B JAR 1980-1: 29
83. Amahatta MP HB fAR 1980-1: 37-8
84. Munhai MP HB fAR 1980-1: 38-9
85. Borgaon MAH B fAR 1980-1: 40
86. Manikpur UP B fAR 1980-1: 70
87. Ramapuram AP HB fAR 1980-1: 3-7; 81-2: 3-8; 82-3: 3-6; 83-4: 3-5
88 Gufkra1 JK HB fAR 1981-2: 25' Sharma (1991)
89. Khairwada MAH HB fAR 1981-2: 51-2
90. Adiyamankottai TN H fAR 1980-1: 65; 81-2: 62-3
91. Guttur TN H fAR 1982-3: 71-2
92 Kambarmedu TN H fAR 1982-3: 72, 89; 83-4: 78-79
93. Bhagimohari MAH HB JAR 1982-3: 61-2; 83-4: 57-8
94. Auroville TN B fAR 1984-5: 77; 85-6: 70-1
95. Raipur MAH B Deglurkar and Lad (1992)
96. Tiruvakkarai TN B fAR 1984-5: 77
Appendix IV 481

97. Mallipadu AP H fAR 1987-8: I


98. Jainal-Naula UP B fAR 1987-8: 105
99. Ladyura UP B Sharma (1997: 77-8)
100. Karkabhat MP B Sharma (1996: 21-4)
101. Adam MHR H fAR 1989-90: 62; A. ath (1992)
102. Kodurnanal TN HB Rajan(1994)
103 Heggedehalli KAR B Dhavalikar and Subbayya (1976); Devaraj et al.
(I 996b)
104. Talakad KAR H Devaraj et al. (1996a)

AP = Andhra Pradesh; KAR = Karnataka; MAH = Maharashtra; T = Tamil Nadu; UP = Uttar Pradesh;
POND = Pondicherry; MP = Madhya Pradesh; JK = Jammu and Kashmir; H = Habitation site; B = Burial site