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Jwalapuram (India)

Middle and Upper Paleolithic Sites in Andhra Pradesh


Toba Ash Deposit Excavated at Jwalapuram in Southern India

Toba Ash Deposit Excavated at Jwalapuram in Southern India

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Jwalapuram is the name of several sites located near the town of the same name, in the Jurreru River valley of Kumool district in Andhra Pradesh of southern India. In this valley up to 7.5 meters (~25 feet) of river sediment has buried archaeological deposits of Middle Paleolithic artifacts before and after the Toba volcano ashfall, dated at ~74,000 years ago. Most importantly, together the sites provide abundant evidence for the presence of hominids, perhaps early modern humans within the Indian subcontinent beginning at least as early as 100,000 years ago.

The Jwalapuram archaeological complex (abbreviated JWP) includes over 20 separate sites, called localities: seven of the localities contain information about the Toba "super-volcano" ash fall, including five open air sites on the valley bottom (JWP 3, 17, 21, 22, and 23), one in the valley margins (JWP 20), and one within a stratified rockshelter (JWP 9). The oldest of the sites is the Jwalapuram Tank site, where a Late Acheulean site has been dated to ~140,000-125,000 years old; the most recent is JWP 9, occupied between 35,000 and 3,000 years ago.

Jwalapuram Localities

JWP 22 is an open air site buried 2 m (6 ft) deep within the valley floor. It contains a dense lens of artifacts (Stratum D), within a paleosol which is directly overlain by the Toba ash. Over 1,600 artifacts from this pre-Toba occupation are related to in situ knapping, tool production and use. The tools are Middle Paleolithic in character, date about 77,000 years ago, are were made from a local cherty limestone.

The JWP 22 assemblage contains three points, one deliberately tanged, and two bifacially worked. All three show some amount of retouch. A handful of fire-cracked rock does not likely represent hearths: low magnetic susceptibility in the vicinity suggests that there was no hearth, and JWP 22 is best interpreted as a restricted-use lithic reduction and processing site.

JWP 9, a rockshelter on the northern margin of the Jurreru River valley, was formed by a large quartzite boulder and encompasses an area of about 60 m2 (~650 sq ft). JWP 9 was occupied fairly continuously between 35,000 and 3,000 years ago, and it includes the most continuous and oldest microlithic sequence in India. Human remains dated between 12,000 and 20,000 cal BP were recovered from the site, as were 25 limestone and bone beads and faunal remains.

The limestone and bone beads and a large quantity of red ochre were recovered from Stratum C, thought to date between 12,000-15,000 years cal BP. Some evidence for onsite bead manufacture is noted. Above the site is a large boulder which has been painted with red ochre, including 14 human and animal figures (hump-back cow, elephant) and geometric designs, and it may have been painted at the time, although that has yet to be established.

JWP 3 is a volcanic ash quarry, with a mean tephra thickness of a little over 1 m (3 ft): the ash deposits range between 1.8-2.4 m (5.9-7.9 ft) in a continuous blanket, although ongoing quarrying is impacting that. Artifacts below the Toba tuff, and dated by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) at 77,000 bp included 215 stone artifacts and a piece of striated ochre. Stone tools made of limestone, quarzite, and chert include informal scrapers, retouched blades and a burin, and have been identified as belonging to typical Indian Middle Paleolithic.

Artifacts above the Toba tuff, OSL-dated to 74,000 bp, contained 108 stone artifacts, of limestone, chert, chalcedony and quartzite, and its blades and bladelets represent a Late Pleistocene assemblage also assigned to the Indian Middle Paleolithic. In terms of lithic technology, there seems to be no significant difference between before and after the ash fall, leading researchers to argue that the post-Toba occupants were indigenous people, not newcomers.

Importance of Jwalapuram

The evidence at Jwalapuram supports the notion of an earlier migration from Africa than the Southern Dispersal Route, comparable to the evidence from Qafzeh and Skhul caves (ca 90-115 ka). That would make the residents of Jwalapuram archaic humans, not modern humans; but the lithic materials are definitely in general associated with modern humans. The site also has implications for the settlement of Australia and Wallacea, lending support to the 50,000 year old dates from sites such as Devil's Lair and Lake Mungo.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guide to Middle Paleolithic and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Clarkson C, Jones S, and Harris C. 2012. Continuity and change in the lithic industries of the Jurreru Valley, India, before and after the Toba eruption. Quaternary International 258(0):165-179.

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