South India possesses an outstanding archaeological heritage, including some of the best known religious and settlement sites in South Asia (such as the World Heritage Site at Hampi, Karnataka). Equally remarkable, but less well investigated are south India's late prehistoric remains, which include enigmatic monuments dating to the Neolithic and Iron Age periods. Especially notable are the Neolithic ashmounds, and the diverse array of megaliths, many of which were created during the early Iron Age.
The ashmound phenomenon is focused on the semi-arid granitic region of the southern Deccan, where a great number of Neolithic-period mounds of burnt cowdung, in some cases up to 30 feet high, can be found.. Both functional and ritual interpretations have been proposed for the ashmounds, but the activities that led to their creation remain enigmatic. Whatever these activities were, they came to an end sometime in the middle or late Neolithic period, and were eventually replaced by altogether different activities, that led to the creation of monuments made of up of very large stones. These megaliths are found all across the south Indian peninsula, and many, though not all, seem to mark human burials.
ashmound, with Hiregudda peak in
Along with these more enigmatic features, we also find the remains of numerous habitation settlements dating to the late prehistoric period in south India. Neolithic peoples seem to have settled primarily on the plateaus atop the large granitic hills that jut like islands out of the peneplain in the Southern Deccan. Since the 19th century, archaeologists have reported finds of abundant pot sherds, animal bones, ground stone axes, querns, grinding hollows, stone enclosures and terraces on the tops and slopes of the hills. In the subsequent Iron Age, settlement moves down off the peaks onto the plain itself, a pattern that is maintained to this day in south India.
Until recently, most prehistoric archaeology in south India has focused on description and chronological reconstruction, and much interpretation has looked to diffusion and migration as explanations for cultural change (Raymond Allchin's excellent 1963 synthesis, Neolithic Cattle-Keepers of South India, is a notable exception). In recent years, however, a number of new projects have sought to investigate the internal dynamics of late prehistoric societies in South India, by exploring evidence for economic, social and ritual practices. The publcations of the present project have made important contributions in this area.
Neolithic groundstone axes