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Cultural age of the Naga Hills

By: R. Vashum (AngelFire.com)

The prehistoric cultural age of the Naga Hills is still undated in the real sense of the term. Some explorative archaeological works are being carried out, but scantily, in the recent decades by few anthropologists and other few more related scientists in the subject matter in the Southern Naga Hills (Naga Hills of Manipur). Barring these works in the southern part of the Naga Hills (or Nagaland), no substantial archaeological explorations have been done in Naga area. In such situation,, it will be necessary to date the prehistoric cultural age of the Naga Hills using the data available in the Naga Hills of Manipur for the moment. In 1935 we feel the first archaeological finds of Manipur to the credit of W.Yumjao Singh. We may consider it as the “First Phase” of archaeological investigation in Manipur. It was only in 1967 that archaeological works are carried out again when an eminent anthropologist (prehistoric archaeologist) O.K. Singh carried out systematic archaeological explorations in different parts of Manipur including the Naga Hills.

This ‘Second Phase’ as I would like to call it, of the archaeological discoveries in Manipur gave a tremendous boost to the subject (prehistoric archaeology) from ‘almost none’ to ‘something new’. Due to devoted scientists like T.C. Sharma, O.K Singh and others, we have had some access to the knowledge of prehistoric cultures in Manipur. Among the cave sites discovered by O.K Singh, mention may be made of the Khangkhui cave (in Ukhrul district), Songbu cave (in Chandel district) and open-air sites at Machi and Singtom (in chandel district) and Nongpok Keithelmanbi (in senapati district). These sites are all assignable to the Paleolithic culture on the basis of the relics discovered. Many artifacts like hand axe, chopper, chopping tools, blades, scrapers, points, bores, burins and several bone tools and faunal remains including cattle, deer, pig, etc. are being reported in the above mentioned sites. After examining the finds in Khangkhui cave, Singh concluded that the people of Khangkhui knew the use of fire and their economy was based on hunting and gathering in the prehistoric days which culture is closely comparable to the Karnul cave in Andhra Pradesh and the Late Vhoukoutien locality 15 of China belonging to the Late Pleistocene age.

Cheng (1966) was of the opinion that “during the upper pleistocene the North-East India including Manipur had the same culture tradition with Island South-East Asia. This may be explained that the culture tradition in the areas may have a common center of origin, probably the Choukoutien culture. During the loess deposition of the upper Pleistocene, the North China was very dry and became very difficult to survive except in some oasis. Singh also opined that the palaeolithic and hoabinhian culture of Manipur (including Naga Hills) was akin to the Island South-East Asia and ruled out the former’s affinity with the rest of mainland India. However, to Sankalia (1974), the Songbu cave has “some common features with the Indian Middle Palaeolithic culture” in terms of the tool assemblage and flaking techniques.

Although, no fossils and absolute date have not been available from the Palaeolithic sites of the Naga Hills discussed above, we may safely conclude that sometime before 12,000 B.P. the Khangkhui cave settlers had already arrived at their cave settlement. It is also probable that the Late Pleistocene cultures discovered in Chandel district (viz., Songbu, Singtom and Machi) and Senapati district (Nongpok Keithelmanbi) will not be very different from the cultural age of the Khangkhui cave. There are no palaeolithic remains-cultural or physical discovered so far from Tamenglong district. It was only in 1979 (and again in 1989) that O.K Singh explored some pebble tools around the Tharon cave (Tharon is locally called Kalemki: Kalem, bat; Ki, house) in Tamenglong district for the first time which is assignable to Late Hoabinhian culture. Singh dated the Tharon cave to a period earlier than 5000 years B.P. However, much has to be found out from the unfound fossils and/or culture remains for correct cultural datings which will also help in construction and reconstruction of culture(s) in the Naga Hills (or Nagaland). And this still remains to be seen for the future.

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