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Birbhanpur


Birbhanpur a microlithic site in Birbhanpur village, on the right bank of the Damodar near Durgapur, district Burdwan, West Bengal, was discovered by AK Mukherjee, a local zamindar in early 1950s. Initially the site was explored and excavated on a small scale in 1954 by BB Lal, the then superintendent of the Eastern Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (henceforth referred to as ASI). From this excavation the geological context of the microliths were ascertained. The microliths were found occurring without any pottery.

The site covers an approximate area of about 2.59 sq km and is bounded in the south by the Damodar River. The locality is situated on two of the youngest terraces of the Damodar. The excavator believed that there are older terraces north of the locality. Therefore the terraces were provisionally numbered as Tn and Tn-1. The bed of the river lies 58.83m above MSL. Terrace Tn is located 67.06-68.88m above MSL and terrace Tn-1 is located on higher ground, 82m above MSL. The terrace ends at 70.10m above MSL. The sequence observed at a railway cutting and in the trenches was 0.75m of sandy earth at the top, followed by mottled silty sand, which represented the in situ weathering of the underlying whitish sandstone. Microlithic industry was found in the context of the mottled silty sand occupying about 0.46m of the upper portion.

The first trench was laid in terrace Tn and was named BBP-1. This trench was excavated in 1954. In order to carry on further work, in 1957 another trench was laid in terrace Tn-1 and was named BBP-2. Tn was excavated to a total depth of twelve feet. Five layers were marked in this trench. Layer 3 represented the land surface on which the microlithic man settled. Layer 2 consisted of earth mixed with coarse granules mainly of quarzite and haematite. The thickness of this layer varied from 20.30cm to 0.30m. Most of the microlith yield came from the lower 0.15m to 0.20m of this layer.

Trench BBP-2 was laid hundred yards north of BBP-1. Another trench was excavated east of BBP-2 and was named BBP-2 eastern extension. The average depth of 1.83m was reached in these two trenches. In Tn-2 eastern extension, a restricted area of 1.83m by 0.90m was excavated and reached a total depth of 3.70m. Five layers could be marked in this trench. The fifth layer composed of mottled silty sand with lateritic pebbles. The top of this was undulating and was the occupation surface for the microlithic man. The fourth layer was reddish silty sand with lateritic pebbles. This was the implementiferous layer in trench Tn-2. The microlith bearing level was devoid of pottery, thus confirming the findings in trench Tn. The microliths were found occurring in cluster wherever the earth was eroded, exposing the implementiferous layer in trench Tn-1.

Based on the occurrence of cores, waste flakes and finished tools, both on the surface and from the trenches, the excavator suggested that this may have been an industrial complex where microliths were manufactured. The raw material used were quartz, rock crystals, chert, chalcedony, quarzite, basalt, and fossil wood. Quartz outnumbers other raw materials in the total assemblage (68.7%). However fossil wood used for the manufacture of tools (1% of the total assemblage) is quite striking. It was found that the raw materials were locally available except for the fossil-woods. Quartz and crystal were preferred for the manufacture of borers and burins. Typological analysis shows that the industry at Birbhanpur is essentially non-geometric. Cores, flakes, blades, lunates, points and scrapers of different types, shapes and technique were found from surface and excavation.

The most interesting feature of the excavation is the discovery of an anvil from a pit measuring 45cm in diametre at a depth of 1.37m below the surface. The discovery of ten holes or pits at a depth of 1.2m below the surface may also suggest the existence of thatched huts.

The excavator placed the microlithic site at Birbhanpur early in the Holocene, but with extreme caution. Based on the typological classification of tools and comparative study of other such sites in India. The probable date of fourth millenium BC has been suggested for the site. The absence of geometric forms and pottery are important indicators. The geological data suggests that the microlithic man occupied the terrace, perhaps after the last pluvial phase of the Pliestocene. Therefore, the excavator hints at a range from early to middle Holocene. [Samir K Mukherjee and Kaushik Gangopadhyaya]

Bibliography BB Lal, Birbhanpur, 'A Microlithic Site In the Damodar Valley, West Bengal', Ancient India, 14, 1958.