5. Conclusions

The Sanganakallu-Kupgal area represents a unique archaeological complex in South Asia. Given that there has been a reprieve in the present-day quarrying of the granite inselbergs, the archaeological sites of the area will continue to offer exceptional opportunities to investigate the social and economic organisation of prehistoric axe production strategies. The research carried out so far shows that at least three hill settlements, probably with a few hundred inhabitants each, were engaged in the quarrying and working of a special type of dolerite. Its easy extraction, fine-grained texture and extreme hardness made it a highly suitable raw material to manufacture chisels, adzes and axes through flaking, pecking and intense polishing. The access of all three settlements to raw material, and the similarity between them of working techniques and artefact types, indicates that the communities shared basic economic resources and were closely related. Accordingly, a marked division of tasks between the hill settlements did not develop. Apart from axe manufacture, all communities were engaged to some extent in other tasks, such as food processing, pottery-making, bead production, etc.

The botanical evidence from Sannarachama and Hirregudda Areas A and D also points towards similar agricultural practices amongst the hills and the broader regional culture, based primarily on the cultivation of two types of millet (Setaria verticillata, Brachiaria ramosa) and three pulses (Macrotyloma uniflorum, Vigna radiata, Lablab pupureus). The increase of wheat and barley in the final stages of occupation is detected in both settlements where botanical studies have been undertaken (Fuller et al. 2001; Fuller et al. 2004; Fuller 2006, 48-53). Evidence of associated weed seeds and limited chaff (and hulled millet grains) suggests that archaeobotanical data derives from routine dehusking and final winnowing activities, and that initial threshing and winnowing after harvest was carried out elsewhere and not on occupation sites (Fuller et al. 2004, 117). The presence of quernstones and some grinding hollows on the hills suggests the context for final processing on these hill sites (Fuller et al. 2001), although it is now clear that large, round and shallow food-processing features must be distinguished from the more narrow and deep features involved in axe production (a distinction not recognised in the earlier paper of Fuller et al. 2001). Faunal evidence indicates the predominance of domesticated cattle, sheep and goat meat in the diet, with a small proportion of hunted game, mainly of antelope and deer (Korisettar et al. 2001b). Evidence from recent context-based analysis, including evidence for burning and cutmarks, suggests that caprines may have been the mainstay of the diet, with cattle restricted to larger consumption events (feasts) (Boivin et al. 2005, 74-5; S. Meece pers. comm.). These subsistence data suggest household or kin-group based production strategies rather than specialisation between households, while the cattle evidence suggests some inter-household communal consumption events, which might have coincided with periodic communal axe mass-production episodes on the one hand and ashmound conflagration events on the other (though these events need not have been contemporary).

A further outcome of the limited division of tasks is the importance of unskilled flaking procedures apparent on axe blanks. Even the prismatically shaped dolerite blocks could be worked by knappers with little experience. Such an economic pattern implies that the intensification of production taking place between c. 1750-1250/1200 cal BCE was not achieved through an increase in efficiency, but rather through the larger number of people participating in the manufacturing process. Under such circumstances, raw material scarcity cannot have been a relevant economic consideration at that time.

One exception in this general tendency seems to have been the preparation of long cylindrical chisel blanks. Survey and excavation data suggest that these tools were flaked and probably polished by highly skilled knappers working (and living?) in Area A of Hiregudda, more precisely in the area dominated by Feature 1. Otherwise, economic differences between the settlements were restricted to the relative importance of the different activities in the communities. In the occupation areas close to the dolerite dyke, time was devoted to the preparation of axe blanks, while at a greater distance, subsistence production and possibly the production of other types of object was more relevant.

The final polishing of the axe edges was carried out in a special area located on the plain and separated from the hill settlements and the dolerite dyke. Covered with over 100 narrow grooves, this area must have represented a particular place of production, but possibly also of communication and exchange with other communities. However, a large proportion of the axes must have left Sanganakallu in an unfinished state. Axe blanks of similar shape, rock texture and colour have been found in other prehistoric sites of the Deccan, where evidence of flaking is absent or marginal. One example is Piklihal, located c. 100km north-west of the Hiregudda outcrop, where 14 axe and chisel blanks and 29 dolerite flakes were found (Allchin 1960). The flakes seem to have originated from broken axes or the reworking of axes. Similar evidence is reported from Budihal (Paddayya 2001, 198).

The existence of a large-scale distribution network for blanks and finished tools (the existence and precise organisation of which still needs to be investigated) also agrees with the scale of the quarrying and knapping activities identified in the Sanganakallu-Kupgal complex. Moreover, the absolute chronology has confirmed that the phase of intense production only lasted a few centuries, between c. 1500-1250/1200 cal BCE, i.e. the time that corresponds to the transition between the local Neolithic and the Iron Age. The expected wider economic implications of such a marked intensification in the production of wood-cutting and wood-working instruments are increased land clearance, expansion of agricultural land, and demographic growth in the Deccan. The appearance of copper ornaments and weapons, and textile manufacture, all starting before c. 1500 BCE, with the addition of tree crops, wheel-finished pottery and iron by 1200 BCE, also hints at a time of economic as well as social change (Fuller et al. 2007). So far the distribution of working instruments, as well as of highly valuable objects, such as stone, shell and metal beads, in the Sanganakallu-Kupgal area does not allow us to relate this production increase to a clear social differentiation between as well as inside the studied settlements. As can also be observed in other geographical and historical contexts, a qualitative change in the social relations and the appearance of a dominant class frequently takes place only after society has gone through a phase of economic intensification. In this sense, the appearance of Megalithic burials by 1300-1200 BCE probably testifies that the emergence of social and political elites coincided with the conclusion of large-scale axe production activities at Hiregudda.


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