Lithic Blade Implements and their Role in the Harappan Chalcolithic Cultural Development in Gujarat

Lithic (stone) tools were the machine tools of the Bronze Age. This very well-written article shows how "the study of stylistic difference and technological continuities and discontinuities observed in lithic assemblages at ancient sites can provide important new information regarding the spread and development of Harappan Civilization as well as about other regional Chalcolithic cultures," in Gujarat (p. 1). It emphasizes technological evolution, shedding light on the adaptation and application of these versatile objects in varying contexts across four different sites: Datrana, Bagasra, Shikarpur, and Pithad. As usually the case for the period, it shows how complex and multi-layered interactions were among cultures, how Harappan or Indus civilization played itself out differently across areas that were quite close to each other in space and time, but adopted different strategies around using and generating these tools. And as usual with Indus archaeology, many unanswered questions remain when new evidence emerges.

"Chipped stone tools have been associated with man since the beginning of human evolution. They are one of the few artefacts to have withstood the inroads of environmental and human perturbation, such as erosion, decay and landscape development. Because of this, lithic artefacts represent one of the most important clues to understanding prehistoric/protohistoric lifeways (Andrefsky 2005)," (p. 1). The paper reveals distinct lithic tool traditions and technological practices across the four sites and explores the introduction and prevalence of the crested guiding ridge technique in blade manufacturing, a significant technological advancement correlating with the Early Harappan period.

A complex interplay of local innovations and external influences, notably from the Sindh region, contributed to regional cultural development in Gujarat. The study contrasts the lithic assemblages of urban sites like Bagasra and Shikarpur with those of more rural settings, highlighting variations in lithic tool usage, manufacturing, and trade networks. This underscores the diversity within the Harappan Civilization's lithic tool culture and its implications for understanding social, economic, and cultural dynamics. Clearly the Indus Period II, around 2400-2100 BCE, brought about enormous changes and wealth, both at Bagasra and particularly at Shikarpur, where flint blades from the Rohri Hills in northern Sindh seem to have been imported wholesale in large quantities given its status as a trading instead of manufacturing center. This is further evidence that smaller and medium-sized Indus settlements were highly specialized: "Shikarpur presents a very different picture than Bagasra. The people here were able to afford imported tools such as Rohri chert blades and, thus, there is very little evidence for the local manufacturing of lithic tools. Most of the debitage recovered from the site appears to be debris of the bead manufacturing rather than blade manufacturing," (p. 207).

Nonetheless, finds at the site of Datrana – "one of the oldest blade factory sites in Western India" – "suggests a cultural interaction with the Indus Valley going back to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. It also points to the cultural processes responsible for the development and spread of early village farming communities in North Gujarat where Datrana is located," (p. 198). A puzzle that emerges is why so many blades at Datrana show utilized blade blanks - why and what purpose such intermediate objects served remains unclear. The authors write that "most probably the inhabitants of Datrana adopted the new crested ridge technology though contact with the Early Harappans of Sindh but, at the same time, continued their familiar technology as well," (p. 200). Ancient societies and practices seem to have been layered upon each other in distinctive ways, even within the small area of Gujarat [map, Image 2 above].

One can only look forward to more excavations and analyses in a state that is proving to be a boon to ancient Indus Valley studies, hopefully with the same rich, insightful analysis of Drs. Gadekar and Ajithprasad.

Images: 1. Blades from Datrana (courtesy Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, MS University of Baroda).
2. Map showing the location of selected sites (map by the author).