The Social Composition of Megaliths in Telangana and Andhra: An Artefactual Analysis

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This article attempts to understand certain aspects of society between 1000 BCE to 300 CE in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. As is known the region during this period was dominated by a unique funerary culture, the megaliths. They occur
   International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention  ISSN (Online): 2319  –   7722, ISSN (Print): 2319  –   7714 ||Volume 6 Issue 6||June. 2017 || PP.24-30 24 | Page  The Social Composition of Megaliths in Telangana and Andhra: An Artefactual Analysis Avantika Sharma  Abstract: This article attempts to understand certain aspects of society between 1000 BCE to 300 CE in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. As is known the region during this period was dominated by a unique  funerary culture, the megaliths. They occur in mainly three varieties: pit, chamber and urn/sarcophagus. Of these, the pit and chamber burials were the most common in these two states. Due to the paucity of excavations at habitational sites, our main clue for the study of this period are the graves. Certain inferences can be drawn  from them. For instance, given the labour involved, we can argue that these were built for the elite. In this  paper, we attempt to understand the social composition of the burials by studying the artefacts buried in them. These artefacts can be divided into ritualistic and personal. The personal artefacts includes things like weapons, axes, sickles, ornaments and others. It is possible through the study of the latter we may discover the occupations followed by the deceased. This may help us understand the differentiation in the society, and also reveal to us the strata for which these magnificent burials were built.  Keywords:  Archaeology, South India, Megaliths, Society I.   Introduction Between 1000 BCE to 300 CE, south India saw a practice of distinct funerary culture known as the megaliths. The word can be broken down as megas meaning big and lithos  meaning stone. It implies funerary architecture that was built of large stone. They broadly occur in three types: i) Pit burials ii) Cist/Chamber burials and iii) Urn/ Sarcophagus burials. 1  The aim of this paper is to understand the social composition of these burials by studying the artefacts buried in them. The artefacts buried in these monuments can be of two types: ritualistic and personal. In ritualistic artefacts, we can identify objects like pottery, in which the final offering for the deceased was kept. Similarly, the presence of animal bones in the graves could imply sacrifice. On the other hand, some artefacts may be identified as personal, for example in Maski, a pit burial of a child had stone balls. The excavator identified it as a play object of the child. 2   Similarly, in a couple’s burial at Pochampad, an ivory comb was kept near the head of the female skeleton. 3  So it is possible that a study of artefacts can reveal to us the social compositions of the burials. Since the data involved is huge, we restrict ourselves to Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The megaliths occurring in these states are in two varieties: pit burials and chamber burials. These further could be further sub-divided on the basis of lithic appendage occurring with them. 4  This means presence/absence of capstone, cairn packing, passage, port-hole and single/ double stone circle. Thus, nearly eight variations of pit burials are known: 1) Pit enclosed by earthen mound, 2) pit enclosed by cairn packing, 3) Pit burial enclosed by boulder circle/s 4) pit burial enclosed by cairn packing and bound by boulder circle/s 5) Pit circle capped by a slab and enclosed by boulder circle/s 6) pit circle enclosed by boulder circle/s, having flat slabs at the centre 7) pit circle with a ramp and enclosed by cairn stone circle/s 8) pit circle with a passage and enclosed by cairn stone circle/s. Similarly, around six variations of cist burials have been recorded. 1) Chamber burial with/without cairn packing and boulder circle/s 2) Passage chamber burial with/without cairn packing and boulder circle/s 3) port-holed chamber burial with/without cairn packing and boulder circle/s 4) passage, port-holed chamber with/without cairn packing and boulder circle/s 5) chamber with a sarcophagus burial and with/without a passage/port-hole and with/without cairn packing and boulder circle/s 6) rock-cut chamber burial II.   The Society Represented By Megaliths Before analysing the artefacts, we shall take a brief survey of the historiography on the nature of the society. On this, varied opinions from nomadic-pastoralists to rank society have been expressed. Leshnik argued that the burials belonged to nomadic pastoralists. 5  This is because very less habitation sites were associated with 1 Moorti, U. S. (1994),  Megalithic Culture of South India: Socioeconomic Perspectives , Ganga Kaveri Publishing House, p. 2 2 Thapar, B. K. (1957). Maski 1954: a chalcolithic site of the southern Deccan.  Ancient India , 13 , pp. 32-33 3    IAR 1966-67, p. 1 4 Moorti, (1994), ibid. p. 2 5 Leshnik, L. S. (1974), South Indian megalithic burials: the Pandukal complex , Steiner, pp. 247-251  The Social Composition of Megaliths in Telangana and Andhra: An Artefactual Analysis 25 | Page these burials. At sites like Brahmagiri and Maski, which have been reported as habitational, have very thin deposits. Further, the two sites gave data for sickles, arrowheads, and nail fragments which, he argues, are characteristics of seasonal camps than permanent settlements. The data of horses in the burials makes them comparable to present-day Ahir pastoralists who are known for their equestrian skill. The pastoralists, like their central Asian counterparts, might have practiced agriculture on a small scale, as the presence of sickles and occasional plough, hoe discovered in the data shows. The occurrence of carpentry tools like adze, and celts was dismissed by him and he believed that specialised division of labour did not exist. A similar opinion on the Vidarbha megaliths was offered by S. B. Deo. 6  He also argued the society to be nomadic pastoralist. This is seen in the dominance of cattle, sheep and goats bones in the faunal assemblage; recovery of small number of agricultural equipment like sickles and ploughs; and fewer amounts of grains at various sites. Also, these sites had wattle-and-daub structures which are characteristic of pastoral society. However, unlike Leshnik he postulated the existence of goldsmiths, ironsmiths and coppersmiths. This implies division of labour. And the graves also reflect a difference in status as the presence of horse, gold and copper/bronze lid shows. These were possibly the graves of the elite. On the other hand, presence of semi-precious stones, sacrifices of bull, pig in some graves indicates mid-level status of those buried there. On the other hand, U.S Moorti rejected the observation of lack of habitational sites by Leshnik. 7   According to him, since 1930’s, nearly 176 habitational cum burial sites have been reported. Howev er, deposit thickness is known for only 19 sites. The average is around 1.5m - 2.5 m which are by no standards flimsy. In B. Narasimhaiah estimation, a culture deposit of a metre indicates 400 years of occupation. 8  This means that the groups represented by the megaliths were not nomadic. Moreover, the megalithic folks are credited with the introduction of tank-irrigation as many of the sites are located near deep valleys where water can be trapped for irrigation. So this indicates an agricultural society. Further, V. D. Misra pointed out that wattle-and-daub structures were also known with PGW (correlated with later Vedic), which by no means was a pastoral society. 9  Also, the existence of potters, coppersmiths, ironsmiths and bead-makers meant the existence of surplus production. A. Sundara argues that it is difficult to conclude whether the society is nomadic-pastoralist or settled agricultural. 10  He believed that some of the sites were in danger of being submerged if a bund was raised in the vicinity. So instead of irrigation, the availability of raw material in the vicinity was the major criteria for location of settlements. Thus, the society could not be a settled agricultural. On the other hand, he thinks that the pastoral society paradigm is also difficult to substantiate. 11  Like at Brahmagiri, the lower megalithic layer overlaps with Neolithic layer and upper layers of the culture overlaps with the early historic. As a result, we cannot ascertain with certainty the kind of animals that are associated with megalithic pastoral economy. So the current state of data is inconclusive. U.S Moorti has postulated a mixed economy based on agro-pastoral production. 12  Further, he argues the archaeological data to represent a rank-society. He followed five criteria laid by Peebles and Kus to recognise rank society from the graves: i) presence of hierarchy of settlements, ii) location of settlements in an area of subsistence sufficiency, iii) organised production activities that transcend the basic household group, iv) correlation between those elements of the cultural system’s environment which are of a frequency, amplitude and duration to be dealt with but which are least predictable and evidence of society-wide organizational activity to buffer and deal with them. 13  Moorti found the archaeological data to fulfil the criteria of a rank-society. The settlement size of about 116 sites is known, out of which 26 large settlements are above 5 hectares, and 90 are smaller settlements, less than 5 hectares. Among the smaller settlements, the size ranges from less than a hectare to 5 hectares. Moreover, most of these sites were located on agriculturally fertile zones which indicate some sort of sufficiency. The building of megaliths shows some kind of inter-community organization. However, the presence of non-kin 6 Deo, S. B. (1985), The megaliths: their culture, ecology, economy and technology, in S B Deo and K Paddayya.  Recent Advances in Indian Archaeology , Pune: Deccan College, pp. 89-94 7   Moorti, (1994), ibid. p. 5 8 Narasimhaiah, B. (1985), Response to S.B Deo, in S B Deo and K Paddayya,  Recent Advances in Indian  Archaeology  Pune: Deccan College, p. 96 9 Misra, V.D. 1985, Response to S.B. Deo, in S.B. Deo and K Paddayya,  Recent Advances in Indian Archaeology  Pune: Deccan College, p. 95 10 Sundara, A. (1975).  Early Chamber Tombs of South India . University Publishers, p. 155. Sundara, A. 1985. Response to S.B. Deo in S.B. Deo   and K. Paddayya.  Recent Advances in Indian Archaeology Pune: Deccan College   pp. 97-98 11  Sundara, (1985), ibid., p. 98 12  Moorti, (1994), op. cit., p. 44 13  Moorti, (1994), op. cit., p. 107  The Social Composition of Megaliths in Telangana and Andhra: An Artefactual Analysis 26 | Page labour cannot be understood from the archaeological data. For the fourth criteria, Moorti identified warfare as the pre dictable disturbance that occurs with ‘frequency, amplitude and duration’ and presence of weapons means a ‘society -wide organizational activity to buffer or deal with these perturbations. ‘ An additional criterion is existence of ‘non -volitional ascribed ranking of per sons.’ To ascertain this, Moorti analysed the artefacts from 186 burials across the region, and found the data to conform to that of a rank society. Thus, we still do not have an answer on the nature of society to which these burials belonged. We now focus on the artefacts found in these burials. For our purpose, we further divide these graves into skeletal and non-skeletal type. The latter category can be further divided into symbolic and dummy. If the graves had artefacts but were without skeletal remains, they could be considered as symbolic. However, if the graves were without any skeletal data and artefacts, it is likely that they were dummy, a trap for treasure hunters or forgotten and abandoned. III.   Artefactual Analysis  3.1 Artefacts in the Pit Burials :  We take a total of 34 pit burials from all the two states. The major sites are Uppalpadu, 14  Upperu, 15  Kadambapur, 16  Pochampad (Adilabad), 17  Hashmatpet, 18  Kharakpala, 19  Pochampad (Nizamabad) 20  in Telangana; and Yeleshwaram, 21  Nagarjunakonda, 22  Ramapuram, 23  Satanikota 24  in Andhra Pradesh. The details of the burials at the various sites and the corresponding artefacts are given in Table I. Table I  :  A summary of the artefacts occurring in the pit burials of the two states    DUMMY Site Name Skeletal Remains Funerary Articles Uppalpadu, Telangana Megalith III none none Uppalpadu, Telangana Megalith IV none none PIT BURIALS WITH SKELETAL DATA BUT NO FUNERARY ARTICLES Upperu, Telangana Megalith I   skeletal remains none PIT BURIALS WITH SKELETAL DATA AND WEAPONRY Upperu, Telangana Megalith II two skeletons BRW, RW, Iron blades, chisels and knives Upperu, Telangana Megalith III two skeletons BRW, RW, BW, fluted core, microliths chert blade, iron knife, wick lamp, tripod, ladle, terracotta ram finial Kadambapur, Telangana Megalith I one skull RW, BW, 1.25 m javelin, copper hilted dagger Kadambapur, Telangana Megalith II two skull RW, BW, dagger, javelin Kadambapur, Telangana Megalith III one skull BRW, RW, dagger, gold earrings Kadambapur, Telangana Megalith V two skeletons BRW, BW, RW, iron javelin, tanged spearhead, arrowhead, dagger, knife Pochampad(Adilabad) , Telangana Burial 1 two skeleton BRW, BW, RW, Sickle, chisel, triangular object, ivory comb, horse ritually sacrificed. Hashmatpet, Telangana Megalith 2 fragmentary bone polished BRW, burnished BW, bright red ware, and dull red ware, iron sickle and stirrup Yeleshwaram, A.P. Cairn Circle two skeletons BRW, RW, BW, javelins, large lance, spike, horse sacrifice Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith II skeletal remains RW, iron lance, spear or lance, arrowheads, tanged daggers, wedge, knife, ploughshare Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith V five skeletons BRW, iron lance and wedge Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith VI multi-skeletal remains BRW, iron dagger (2), unidentified iron objects, animal bones Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith VIII skeletal remains RW; lance, dagger, iron wedge, spindle whorl Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith X skeletal remains RW, BRW; iron spears, lances, dagger, wedge 14    IAR 1977-78, p. 12;  IAR 1978-79  , pp. 65-66 15  Subrahmanyam, B. (1997). Pre, proto and early historic cultures of Krishna Tungabhadra Valley . Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. pp. 143-144 16  Sastry, V. K. (1983). The Proto and Early Historical Cultures of Andhra Pradesh  (No. 58). Government of Andhra Pradesh. p. 83 17    IAR 1963-64  ,  p. 1;  IAR 1964-65, p. 1;  IAR 1966-67  ,  p. 1 18  Krishnasastry, V.V., (1983), op. cit., pp. 72-73 19  Subrahmanyam, B., (1997), op. cit., p. 130 20  Krishnasastry, V.V., (1983), op. cit. pp. 82-83 21  Khan, M. A. W. (1963). A Monograph On Yeleswaram Excavations, Andhra Pradesh Government Archaeological Series No. 14), p. 6 22  Subrahmanyam, R. (1975),  Nagarjunakonda, 1954-60  (Vol. 1), Archaeological Survey of India, pp. 166-182 23    IAR 1981-82, pp. 6-8 24  Ghosh, N. C. (1986),  Excavations at Satanikota, 1977-80  (Vol. 82). Archaeological Survey of India, pp. 42-50  The Social Composition of Megaliths in Telangana and Andhra: An Artefactual Analysis 27 | Page  Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith XII multi-skeletal BRW, RW; iron lance, dagger , wedges bovine animal bones Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith XIV skeletal remains BRW, RW; iron lance and wedge, jewellery: 35 gold beads,18 silver beads, two spiral earring; animal bones Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith XV skeletal remains Primary Deposit  :   BRW, RW; iron dagger Secondary Deposit  :   BRW , RW    PIT BURIALS WITH WEAPONRY BUT WITHOUT SKELETAL DATA Pochampad (Adilabad), Telangana Burial 2 None BRW, RW, BW; lances, javelins, daggers with copper hilts, sickles, cross shaped hatchets Pochampad (Adilabad) Burial 3 None BRW, RW, BW, lances, javelins, daggers, sickles, cross-shaped hatchets Ramapuram A.P. Megalith I None BRW, RW; iron dagger, long lance Ramapuram, A.P. Megalith III None BRW; javelin, strap like iron object with crescentic ends; stone mortar; conch shells with perforations Ramapuram, A.P. Megalith IV None BRW; chisel, knives, spearheads and a tanged dagger Nagarjunakonda, A.P. Megalith IX None Primary offering: BRW, RW; iron dagger animal bones; Secondary offering : lance, knife-blades  PIT BURIALS WITH SKELETAL REMAINS BUT WITHOUT WEAPONRY Upperu, Telangana Megalith IV four skeleton BRW, polished BW; microliths Kharakpala, Telangana cairn burial fragmentary skull BRW, BW; copper bell Nagarjunakonda , A.P. Megalith XI two skeletons BRW, RW; iron wedge or celt; spindle-whorl Satanikota , A.P. Megalith CI Set1: 2 skeletons Set 2: teenage girl(?) Set 1: pottery, goat bones Set 2: none Pochampad (Nizamabad). Telangana Megalith 1 two skulls RW, BRW Pochampad (Nizamabad) Megalith II Four skulls RW, BW, BRW Pochampad (Nizamabad) Megalith III one skull RW, BRW, BW; animal bones  PIT BURIALS WITHOUT SKELETAL DATA AND WITHOUT WEAPONRY    Satanikota , A.P. Megalith BI none RW, BW BRW: Black and Red ware. RW: Red Ware. BW: Black Ware. A.P. :Andhra Pradesh From the table we may identify two pit burials at Uppalpadu as dummy since these have neither any skeletal data nor any funerary goods. In addition, a burial at Upperu only had skeletal data without any grave goods. This is an exception. On excluding them, we have a total of 31 burials. Of this, 24 have skeletal data and seven were without any skeletal remains. In the artefacts, pottery is common to all. After pottery, we see that weaponry to be the recurring artefact in the burials. Thus, the graves can be divided into weaponry and non-weaponry. In the skeletal graves, about 17 were with weaponry, and seven without weaponry. In the non-skeletal graves, six are with weaponry and only one grave is without weaponry. The data is summarised in the following table II. Table II: The number of Pit Burials divided into weaponry and non-weaponry TYPE TOTAL WEAPONRY NON-WEAPONRY Skeletal Data 24 17 07 Non-Skeletal Data 07 06 01 3.2 Artefacts in the Chamber Burials We take a total of 22 chamber burials from the two states. The major sites are Chinnamarur, 25  Uppalpadu, 26  Kadambapur, 27  Singapur, 28  Moula Ali 29  in Telangana; Nagarjunakonda, 30  Agripalli, 31  Satanikota, 32  Karumpundi, 33  and Yeleshwaram 34  in Andhra Pradesh. The details of the various burials and the artefacts are given in Table III (on the next page). In this, one burial from Chinnamarur (Subrahmanyam 1997: 123) can be identified as a dummy. A burial from Uppalpadu (  IAR 1978-79: 66) had skeletal data but was without any 25  Subrahmanyam, B. (1997), op. cit., pp. 121-126 26    IAR 1977-78, p. 12;  IAR 1978-79, p. 66 27  Krishnasastry, V.V., (1983), op. cit., pp. 85-86 28  Krishnasastry, V.V., (1983), op. cit., pp. 76-77 29  Krishnasastry, V.V., (1983), op. cit., pp. 73-74 30  Subrahmanyam, R. (1975), op. cit., pp. 166-167, 171-173 31    IAR 1976-77  , p. 5 32  Ghosh, N. C. (1986), op. cit., pp. 46-49 33  Rao, B. K. G. (1972).  Megalithic culture in south India . Mysore: Prasaranga, p. 199 34  Khan, M. A. W. (1963), op. cit.,   pp. 4-6  The Social Composition of Megaliths in Telangana and Andhra: An Artefactual Analysis 28 | Page funerary articles. So we exclude a total of two burials, and we are left with 20. Out of 20 chamber burials, 18 are with skeletal remains, and only two were without any skeletal data. Just like the pit burials, pottery occurs in almost all the burials. The next common occurring artefact is weaponry. But they occur only in skeletal burials. These are about 10. Other than this about 08 skeletal burials are without weapons. In the non-skeletal graves, only two graves were without any weaponry. The following table IV summarises it. Table IV: The number of Chamber Burials divided into weaponry and non-weaponry   TYPE TOTAL WEAPONRY NON-WEAPONRY Skeletal Data 18 10 08 Non-Skeletal Data 02 00 02 Table III:  A summary of the artefacts occurring in the chamber burials of the two states BRW: Black and Red ware. RW: Red Ware. BW: Black Ware. A.P. :Andhra Pradesh From the above analysis, we can see certain kinds of artefacts were deposited in the graves. The graves mainly contain pottery like black-and-red ware, black ware and red ware and iron objects. The iron objects were of various kinds. Some of these were weaponry like lances, spears, javelin, spikes, iron trident, arrowhead, iron blades, stirrup, sword, daggers, knives and battle-axe. A grave gave data for copper hilt signifying iron sword. There is also data for carpentry tools like chisels, iron axes, adzes, flat celts, wedges and iron nails. The agricultural tools from few graves include sickles, hoes or ploughs. Alternatively, one can also argue that flat celts, hatchets and axes were used for clearing forests, and so were agricultural tools. In this paper, when they occur independently, they have been classified as carpentry tools. However, when they occur with agricultural tools like sickles, as seen at some pit burials at Pochampad, 35  they have been classified as agricultural tools. On a minor scale, some of the graves have objects of copper, beads of different raw material, ornaments, lamp, bells and tripods. These artefacts tell us a great deal about the gender and rituals of the burials, but understanding this is beyond the scope of the current article. 35    IAR 1963-64: 1,  IAR 1964-65: 1  DUMMY Site Name Skeletal Remains Funerary Articles Chinnamarur Telangana Cist 1 none none CHAMBER BURIALS WITH SKELETAL DATA BUT NO FUNERARY ARTICLES Uppalpadu Telangana Megalith V long bone and three small bones none CHAMBER BURIALS WITH SKELETAL DATA AND WEAPONRY Chinnamarur Telangana Cist 2 (A) Skeleton remains BRW, RW; iron arrowhead Chinnamarur Telangana Cist 3 (A) one skeleton Four polished RW, BRW; iron dagger Chinnamarur Telangana Cist 4 (A) extended skeleton knife and flat iron celt Chinnamarur Telangana Cist 5 (A) skeleton with legs drawn close big red ware with BRW lid over it, iron battle axe, butt end of an axe, chisel Chinnamarur Telangana Burial 1 (B) skeletal remains BRW, RW iron dagger Kadambapur Telangana Megalith IV two skulls crushed BRW, RW; tanged battle axe, pointed knife; animal bones Singapur Telangana Cist with 19 boulders piece of bone potsherds; iron spear or arrowhead Moula Ali Telangana Cist with capstone skeletal remains BRW; iron knives, daggers, spears, hatchet axes, chain, lamp; copper or bronze bell Nagarjunakonda A.P. Megalith I   6 adults pottery,   dagger, knife - blades, iron lance   stone pestle  , animal bones  , spindle-whorl   Satanikota A.P. Megalith BXVII 5 adults pottery; iron arrowhead; animal bones CHAMBER BURIALS WITH SKELETAL DATA BUT WITHOUT WEAPONRY Chinnamarur Telangana Cist 1 (C) fragmentary bone pieces BRW Uppalpadu Telangana Megalith II five adults, one child BW Agripalli A.P. Megalith 2 six skulls BRW, pale RW Satanikota A.P. Megalith AIII skeletal remains in urn 30 pots animal bones Karumpundi A.P. Square or oblong cist calcined bones, funerary urns BRW, RW, BW; ivory or bone bracelet Yeleshwaram A.P. Dolmenoid Cist Three skulls, one outside the cist and two inside BRW, RW, BW Yeleshwaram A.P. Cist with a porthole splinters of charred bone BRW, RW, BW Nagarjunakonda A.P. Megalith VII one adult and fragmentary human skull pottery; animal bone   brass armlet,   iron wedge   CHAMBER BURIALS WITHOUT SKELETAL DATA AND WITHOUT WEAPONRY Chinnamarur Telangana Cist 2(B) none polished RW Agripalli A.P. Megalith 3 none BRW, RW
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