‘A Very Special Place’: Exploring Prehistoric Landscapes in southeast India

Global Pasts lecture
Prof. Shanti Pappu (Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India & SIAS, Krea University, Sri City, India)


The South Asian Palaeolithic record has a long history of research, with a rich body of information on site contexts and palaeoenvironments, yet marked by sparser information on chronological controls, technological variability and inferences on past behaviour.  We discuss recent debates in Palaeolithic studies in India focusing on nomenclatures and issues related to population migrations, technological convergence and debates on cultural evolutionary trajectories.

We proceed to situate our ongoing research into the prehistory of southeast India within the context of these debates. We highlight aspects of research into the Acheulian and Middle Palaeolithic at the site of Attirampakkam and ongoing projects at other prehistoric sites in the region that have provided new insights into behavioural variability in this region. Short and long-term occupational records at prehistoric sites and shifting spatial patterns of landscape usage reflect varied behavioural strategies and decision-making through time. Some sites are ‘very special’ areas of interest for hominins over time.

We discuss our theoretical approaches, methodological approaches adopted, including lithic knapping experiments, and the significant results of this work. We conclude by discussing the urgent need for heritage management planning in light of increasing impacts at sites and our long-term public archaeology outreach programmes to generate awareness of prehistory for sustainable conservation efforts.