Finding India’s Earliest Settlement

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Around 60 kms north of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, you will find the small township of Attirampakkam, in the Tiruvallur district. Though most people would not have heard of either place, let alone be able to spot them on the map, archaeologists have been trooping here for over 150 years now. This is because the area in and around Tiruvallur has one of the densest prehistoric settlement clusters in the country with more than 40 localities spread across the area. Of these, Attirampakkam, is the most significant. It is here, that you will find the earliest traces of human existence on the subcontinent – going back to 1.7 million years ago!
The story goes that almost 155 years ago in 1863 CE, a young geologist, Robert Bruce Foote, chanced upon a rough stone tool, strewn at the Parade Ground at the British cantonment of Pallavaram near Chennai. This chance find turned out to be the most significant one in Bruce’s lifetime. Later dubbed the ‘Father of Indian Prehistory’ Bruce would go on to lead extensive excavations across the region. So prolific were the stone tools found here, that archaeologists dubbed the whole genre of paleolithic tools in the Peninsular India- ‘Madras Hand Axes’. These tools were used for a variety of activities such as hunting, scraping meat from bones, splitting bones to extract bone marrow and so included hammers, scrappers, cleavers and choppers and were made of Quartzite rock found in abundance here.

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