The first prehistoric artifact in India was discovered by Robert Bruce Foote on 30th May, 1863 at Pallaveram, Chennai. On September 28th, Foote and William King discovered the famous Palaeolithic site of Attirampakkam.
This workshop forms a part of our year- long celebrations to commemorate these discoveries. The first workshop focused on students of archaeology and anthropology and aimed at providing an introduction to prehistory, lithic knapping (techniques for making stone tools) and other aspects of stone artefact analysis and use.
The inaugural function, to celebrate 150 years of Indian Prehistory, was held jointly with the Department of Museums, Government of Tamil Nadu, at the Centenary Exhibition Hall at the Museum.
The function was inaugurated by Dr. Vaigai Chelvan, Honourable Minister for School Education, Youth Welfare and Sports. Dr. R.Kannan, I.A.S, Principal Secretary to Government, Tourism, Culture & Religious Endowments delivered the Presidential Address for the function. Prof. K. V. Raman, Prof. of AIHC and Archaeology, Madras University (retd.) was honoured in absentia for his great contribution to the archaeology of Tamil Nadu.
Prof. M.L.K. Murty, Tagore National Fellow, Archaeological Survey of India delivered the first R.B.Foote Memorial lecture, instituted by the Sharma Centre for Heritage Education, entitled 'Robert Bruce Foote, Father of Indian Prehistory'. Dr. Shanti Pappu presented the welcome address and discussed the importance of the function. Dr. Kumar Akhilesh highlighted the significance of the R.B.Foote collection of artefacts and introduced the workshop program of the Sharma Centre. The Centre also announced two cash awards, 'Robert Bruce Foote Memorial Awards' for postgraduate students to complete their M.A/M.Sc. dissertations in pre-protohistoric archaeology.
The Museum organized a special exhibition of the valuable Robert Bruce Foote Collection of Stone Tools from Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites, while the Sharma Centre organized a poster exhibition on prehistory.
We read out messages from Mrs. Mary Foote (the grand daughter-in-law of Mr.R.B.Foote) and family, and played a short video of their greetings for our function. We also read out a greeting from Mrs. Florence Ashton, a descendent of Rev. Peter Percival, the father-in-law of R.B.Foote (through his first wife).
A small video on this occasion prepared by Mrs.Mary Foote and family was shown.
Practicals, lectures and lithic knapping were held at our campus in Sholinganallore. A select group of 20 students, from all over India, participated in a structured program involving a series of lectures on prehistory, observations on lithic artefacts and lithic knapping.
The focus of the program was on practical training, with great emphasis on handling of lithic artefacts including tools, cores, waste flakes, etc. from prehistoric sites in Tamil Nadu; and on flint-knapping. Students were taught different techniques of knapping and experimented with different raw materials and techniques.
They began with the bipolar technique and detachment of simple flakes, and were introduced to basic principles of flaking including choice of flakes/cobbles, raw material types, hammerstones, flaking angles, force, etc. Over the next few days, they moved on to learning bifacial flaking and the manufacture of handaxes, followed by introduction to different Levallois techniques and blade manufacture. Students then documented use of different types of tools on wood, meat, bone, and a range of roots/tubers, documenting the procedures used, edge angles and other features.
Prof. Prakash Sinha, University of Allahabad, guided the students through lectures on lithic technology and cognition, on microwear analysis, and making blades. The final test was held as part of a 'Prehistory Party' organized by a participant, Mr. S. Udaya Kumar, where students had to dig out roots and tubers, make fire, roast and process their food and eat it, within a stipulated time period. Students were also introduced to different methods adopted in artefact analysis, as also an introduction to statistical approaches, lithic illustration, photography and software used.
A field trip to Attirampakkam was organized, where students were introduced to the research being conducted at the site, the stratigraphy and culture sequence.
The workshop concluded with a valedictory function, where students were awarded certificates and a replica of a handaxe.
We remembered the contribution of Robert Bruce Foote to Indian prehistory. We plan more such workshops during the course of this year.