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Very old, very sophisticated tools found in India (washingtonpost.com)
160 points by cpncrunch 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

Ah, when I read "very sophisticated" I was hoping to see something more than images of few stones.

To clarify: for a few days in my pre-adolescent years in India, I had gotten into a quirky habit of picking chipped-stones lying around (which I imagined could be from pre-historic ages). Finding some really interesting shapes wasn't all that difficult.

I'm genuinely curious about how archeologists/anthropologists come up with such definitive conclusions.

There's something called a Conchoidal fracture, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conchoidal_fracture ... the presence of which is technically diagnostic of material that's been artificially manipulated.

Link didn't work for me, this did: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conchoidal_fracture

Thanks for the heads up, i fixed the formatting.

The WaPo article only makes a glancing reference to the fact that they look like Levallois tools, which require a more complex manufacture than simple knapping (including imagining the internal structure).

Here's a bit more discussion: https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/31/16955858/stone-tools-atti...

Perhaps there are signs of knapping on the pieces? I would surmise such signs may not be obvious to a layman, but may be to an archaeologist.

they seem to have the same doubts as the layman

"Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University, said she's not convinced that the smaller tools described by Pappu and her colleagues are true Levallois points.

“It's still basically a single point in a giant continent,” she added — more discoveries are required to give context to this find"

Regarding the age, the tools were found via excavation in soil layers that have a known geological age range determined via Geochronology[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geochronology

Hiking in the hills outside of Bangalore I found some absolutely ancient stone dwellings completely covered in thick shrub. The villagers down below told me that they "belonged to an ancient race of dwarves." And a few km away, I stumbled across an obviously very old cave painting in a style I've never seen before anywhere in the world. Not soul in sight and miles from the road. My guess is that there are huge archaeological discoveries waiting to be found in India for anyone who takes the trouble to look for them.

Well that would match up, apparently the Elven city was in Guatemala (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-42916261)

Why Elven?

The implication is that the Elves lived in cities in the forests (perhaps like Guatemalan rain forests), Depending on if you are more of Tolkien fan or a Pratchett fan, Dwarves are more mountains/rocky types.

And of course there are neither Dwarves nor Elves (in the fantasy fiction sense) around today.

Not really seeing any connection beyond the jungle part. Mayan world and religion doesn’t appear to share much with Tolkien: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_religion vs https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf_(Middle-earth)

"Dwarves"? Is that just the closest word you have for the rendering, or is that really a thing in their local mythology? I thought they were strictly a Germanic/Norse staple. I've never seen them mentioned in Hinduism.

Looks like Hinduism has a precedent for dwarves, and it's not a trivial mention either: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vamana

Yes, I was told, in English, "an ancient race of dwarves."

That is fascinating. Any pics?

Lol, wish I could see this ancient race of dwarves

A minor question/quibble with the article: it states "The first hominins to leave Africa — whoever they were — carried with them oval- and pear-shaped hand axes used to pound and scrape food — a technology called Acheulean"

I thought that Oldowan[1] technology was older than Acheulean, and had spread across both Africa and Eurasia before the appearance of Acheulean tech.

Regardless, the Levallois technique is considered to be much newer than Acheulean tech, so it's still an interesting find.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldowan

"spans 385,000 to 172,000 years ago (plus or minus about 50,000 years on either end)"

do journalists now get paid by word?

This sounds like a perfectly natural description of the estimated date range to me. Is there some significantly more efficient way of phrasing it that I'm overlooking? (Without resorting to scientific ± notation, at least?)

I'd be okay if we removed 'on either end'.

are you implying they should have said "spans 435,000 to 122,000 years ago" ?

why not? if that is exactly what they are saying.

Did that find seem awfully pat? A neat layering of all know tool types found in one site. Its what you'd find if somebody was constructing a myth.

Is this actually atypical? What other sites worldwide compare with this complete history in one plot?

I know that there are ancient sites with an incredible number of layers due to a very long history of habitation. I was just reading about Mount Megiddo which is a so-called mountain because of the accumulated layers (something like 26) of ruins. Human history is long enough that it has happened more than once that a site was appealing for thousands of years, but then it was abandoned thousands of years before the present, perhaps due to climate or technological change.

It's pretty typical for this type of site, where it naturally harbors the resources for building tools and being inhabited. It's a somewhat unusual site in that the water brings a lot of quartz and other materials used for tool making.


I was expecting an article on make or ant.

Or how about Turbo C++? It seems there are still technical schools in India that are still teaching using very old (but not sophisticated) tools. It's frustrating too see modern C++ tutorials using 1980/1990s compilers.

The fourth verse of the Rigvedic hymn 1:50 (50th hymn in book 1 of rigveda) is as follows:

तरणिर्विश्वदर्शतो जयोतिष्क्र्दसि सूर्य | विश्वमा भासिरोचनम |

taranirviśvadarśato jyotishkridasi sūrya | viśvamā bhāsirocanam ||

This means “Swift and all beautiful art thou, O Surya (Sun), maker of the light, illuminating all the radiant realm.”

Exlpaining this verse in his Rig Veda commentary, Sayana, who was a minister in the court of Bukka of the great Vijayanagar Empire of Karnataka in South India (in early 14th century), says:

tatha ca smaryate yojananam. sahasre dve dve sate dve ca yojane ekena nimishardhena kramaman.

This means “It is remembered here that Sun (light) traverses 2,202 yojanas in half a nimisha.”

Note: Nimisharda = half of a nimisha In the vedas Yojana is a unit of distance and Nimisha is a unit of time.

Unit of Vedic Time: Nimisha

The Moksha Dharma Parva of Shanti Parva in Mahabharata describes Nimisha as follows: 15 Nimisha = 1 Kastha 30 Kashta = 1 Kala 30.3 Kala = 1 Muhurta 30 Muhurtas = 1 Diva-Ratri (Day-Night) We know Day-Night is 24 hours So we get 24 hours = 30 x 30.3 x 30 x 15 nimisha in other words 409050 nimisha We know 1 hour = 60 x 60 = 3600 seconds So 24 hours = 24 x 3600 seconds = 409,050 nimisha 409,050 nimisha = 86,400 seconds 1 nimisha = 0.2112 seconds (This is a recursive decimal. The wink of an eye is equal to 0.2112 seconds.) 1/2 nimisha = 0.1056 seconds

Unit of Vedic Distance: Yojana

Yojana is defined in Chapter 6 of Book 1 of the ancient vedic text “Vishnu Purana” as follows:

10 ParamAnus = 1 Parasúkshma 10 Parasúkshmas = 1 Trasarenu 10 Trasarenus = 1 Mahírajas (particle of dust) 10 Mahírajas= 1 Bálágra (hair’s point) 10 Bálágra = 1 Likhsha 10 Likhsha= 1 Yuka 10 Yukas = 1 Yavodara (heart of barley) 10 Yavodaras = 1 Yava (barley grain of middle size) 10 Yava = 1 Angula (1.89 cm or approx 3/4 inch) 6 fingers = 1 Pada (the breadth of it) 2 Padas = 1 Vitasti (span) 2 Vitasti = 1 Hasta (cubit) 4 Hastas = a Dhanu, a Danda, or pauruSa (a man’s height), or 2 Nárikás = 6 feet 2,000 Dhanus = 1 Gavyuti (distance to which a cow’s call or lowing can be heard) = 12,000 feet 4 Gavyutis = 1 Yojana = 9.09 miles

Calculation of the Speed of Light from the Rig Veda:

So now we can calculate what is the value of the speed of light in modern units based on the value given as 2202 yojanas in 1/2 nimisha

= 2,202 x 9.09 miles per 0.1056 seconds = 20,016.18 miles per 0.1056 seconds = 189,547 miles per second

As per the Rig Veda the speed of light is 189,547 miles per second. As per modern science the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second!



Isn't it an irony, that the parent posts this long comment, supposedly to glorify the ancient texts of the East, attempting to assert an innate superiority of the scientific thought achieved in the past by their culture and yet s/he uses a device invented more or less in the West using science ( math, physics, chem) developed by western minds in no more than last 300-400 years.

I suppose it is in our nature to beam in the artificial yet comforting light of the (false) understanding that we once were at the foremost of scientific thought, thus helping us in ignoring or god forbid, forgetting, the follies of our past or pathetic state of our current affairs.

If even after the industrial revolution and the information age, both of which have made our (humans everywhere in general) lives far easier and comfortable and have thus given us an opportunity to carefully think about the state of the world and ascertain, without any bias, our position in it and to plan for our future, some of us still fall for the trap laid down by scheming politicians and (unholy) religious gurus, we truly should not be very proud, either of our past or of our present.

disclaimer: I am an Indian

Where exactly he is glorifying? Merely stating a amazingly correct piece of information from the past cannot be considered glorification. Donald Knuth has a hobby of researching the origins of algorithms and giving the credit where its due[1]. By your logic he too is struck in past and a hindrance to progress. When Carl Sagan famously quoted this, he too was engaging in glorification of the past. If India possessed this knowledge in the past then what should we do? Hide it somewhere, erase it from our memories? I can quote many more examples of East and West drawing from each other but you get the point.

“The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

> yet s/he uses a device invented more or less in the West using science ( math, physics, chem) developed by western minds in no more than last 300-400 years.

How did you arrive at this conclusion? He is just doing plain Arthematics. Do you think this was invented 300 years back by western minds? Well then I will say you are giving too much credit to "Western Minds". In-fact you are engaging in glorification of Western Mind.

> some of us still fall for the trap laid down by scheming politicians and (unholy) religious gurus, we truly should not be very proud, either of our past or of our present.

Did you notice the irony in your argument? You are proud of Western Minds but you do not want to be proud of Indian history?

[1] http://steiner.math.nthu.edu.tw/disk5/js/computer/1.pdf

FWIW, I found this after digging into the comments on the Quora link - https://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/9804020v3.pdf. It explains the context of Puranic cosmology.

I, too, am an Indian, and a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted. However, it is admittedly enjoyable for me to read about Indian history and ancient science.

>> However, it is admittedly enjoyable for me to read about Indian history and ancient science.

I am with you on this one.

I have read Mahabharata, Ramayana and Bhagwad Gita ( one of my favorite works ) along with many foreign as well Indian vernacular works. I merely seek to use the teachings/lessons taught in our ancient scriptures so that I can live a wholesome life and find ways for the betterment of my family and my society. It hurts me that some of my well educated fellow countrymen quote these texts to spread pseudo science and sometimes even hatred for others.

Perhaps the skepticism is true, perhaps not.

For me, the take away is not the accuracy in the speed of light.

It's the fact that there was recognition that light is something that has a finite speed that can be measured, and the recognition that that speed is a very high value, measured in thousands of distance units in half of a time unit.

This is extremely remarkable in itself.

Sadly this shows literacy has nothing to do with critical thinking and where the most literate of us should yield a higher standard on consuming fake whatsapp forwards, this shows that it is not always the case. In Ancient times we also invented flying ( pushpak viman) and there is a Shiva temple buried under the Taj Mahal called Tejo Mahalaya? Somewhere in India if we dig deep, we will find fossilized versions of a prehistoric TV set complete with Netflix? Why did they not invent a device to erase all corruption and build some good infrastructure is what boggles my mind.

Why should critical thinking be an effect of literacy? There are people who are not literate by western standards, but pretty sharp(Michael Faraday) and those who are literate but not that clever

There is glory. So? Is it wrong to glorify something that is unique, astounding and clearly thought inducing as to the methods, reasoning, mathematics and observational strengths of ancient Indians?

Glorifying something does not automatically imply "asserting innate superiority". That is just a juvenile view.

So, using a modern device to point out meanings in olden texts implies just what you are saying - "asserting innate superiority of western science"

> "I suppose it is in our nature to beam in the artificial yet comforting light of the (false) understanding that we once were at the foremost of scientific thought, thus helping us in ignoring or god forbid, forgetting, the follies of our past or pathetic state of our current affairs."

Civilizations rise and fall, societies become good, go bad, times always change. Mentioning an advanced scientific achievement of our culture, in my view, sets out an ideal to which we have to collectively strive for, from the present state of affairs. This is true of anyone. There must be a lofty goal, to which the society must strive for. Pointing out an already achieved state is a better stepping stone as it does not give the voices of naysayers any strength.

NOTE : The achievement in this case is that ancient Indians recognized that light has a finite measurable speed and that it is a very high value. To me, this revelation is proof of the advancement of ancient Indian thought.

> Isn't it an irony, that the parent posts this long comment, supposedly to glorify the ancient texts of the East, attempting to assert an innate superiority of the scientific thought achieved in the past by their culture and yet s/he uses a device invented more or less in the West using science ( math, physics, chem) developed by western minds in no more than last 300-400 years.

No, math/physics/chem are no more Western than air/water/sun is. The west was on its quest to conquer the world, so we felt the immense need and desire to twist history projecting a Western superiority, it was much easier to sell to the world - we had all money extracted from plantations and new found world to market aggressively. A lot of ideas known to West originated in East, westerns commercialized them and spread them far and wide, later we also made active efforts to destroy the pieces of evidence too. The only downside was that not all pieces of evidence were available to us at that time, so you'll still find them if you look hard and are lucky enough.

Disclaimer: I am a western.

It’s also totally off topic because not only were these tools not made by Indians they weren’t even made by humans.

Pride in the past or present is a personal choice. Facts about the past/present should not be twisted or ignored for that sake.

My reply to parent got downvoted, which tells you all there is to know. I too like history, but this is stretching it.

Accepted answer:

> This looks very much as if the units may have been converted to obtain the desired result. Indeed the different conversion factors but similar result in your second link increase the likelihood that there may cognitive bias involved

> For example, your distance conversions lead to 1 yojan being 29.2608 kilometres. Compare this with Wikipedia's 12–15 km and your second link's 9.09 miles (about 14.5 km)

> Similarly on time, your calculation gives 202,500 nimishas (twinklings of the eye) in a day-night while Wikipedia quotes Manusmṛti to give 486,000 and your second link gives 409,050

> Both references reach the same result by different conversion factors, which implies they're both biased and unreliable.

True, but an ancient text giving the speed of light even within an order of magnitude is ... interesting. Though it's not clear that the author was really talking about the speed of light and not the speed of the sun. The 2202 is intriguing. To me, unfamiliar with Indian mythology and numerology, it looks like the result of a measurement or a calculation rather than a "magic" number. Is it possible that they calculated the speed of the sun on the assumption that it orbits the earth every day at a distance estimated using Aristarchus's method? With the correct distance to the sun that would give a result of about 1e7 m/s, but they could have had an incorrect distance. In the 3rd century BC Aristarchus himself was out by a factor of about 100, but in the wrong direction, unfortunately for my theory.

In most ancient Indian texts, the meaning of Sanskrit verses refer to light, rather than the sun.

> it looks like the result of a measurement or a calculation rather than a "magic" number

That is because in Sanskrit, numbers are represented in form of "value" "qualifier" "qualifier", "value" "qualifier".. and so on.

For example

"sahasra" means 1000 (can be thousand anything), "sata" means 100, "dasa" means 10, & "varsha" means year (this year, that year, a year, next year, etc)

To quote the famous Ramayana, to represent 11,000 years, it was written in the book as

"dasa varsha shahasrani, dasa varsha sata nicha"

meaning 10 x 1000 years + 10 x 100 years = 11000 years.

One number placed after the other, without any conjunction implied addition.

Elsewhere in the same epic, Rama goes to live in the jungle for

"nava pancha cha varshani"

meaning 9 + 5 years = 14 years, "nava" is 9 and "pancha" is 5

Note : "cha", "nicha" etc are similar to filler words in english

You didn't go through the links yourself? Entire arguments rests on the premise that second as a unit of time was not defined until recently.

I am no way supporting glorification of past but inventing arguments to discredit the past is equally distasteful to me.

I was not expecting to find this reverse engineered piece of logic from Facebooks stream of nonsense to appear on HN.

All well and good, except the Rig Vedic people no longer exist today, nor do their civilisation or thought. Only we do. We need to move forward not look back in nostalgia. It is the same as modern Westerners looking back on ancient Greeks and Romans. There's not a whole lot of good all of this is going to do to the present and future except in so far as there are valuable lessons to be learned.

WE must not make the mistake of being proud of ancient people. We are as far removed from them as the big bang. We should be careful not to identify too closely with imperfect knowledge and scraps of evidence that we have.

Personally speaking, I believe it is unethical and disingenuous to lay claim to achievements that are not one's own, especially those that are (supposedly) part of one's ancestry/heritage, a sentiment I first heard from the great George Carlin [1].

> It is the same as modern Westerners looking back on ancient Greeks and Romans.

I'd have to disagree with you somewhat there. Those that forget history are doomed to repeat it. While it is important to live in the present, it is equally important to remember that we are standing on the shoulders of giants. There is a lot of value in casting glances at the past from time to time.

[1]: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/228332-pride-should-be-rese...

The problem with completely ignoring the discoveries of the past are that we may miss out some solutions to current problems. No harm in learning things from the past

> Rig Vedic people

What exactly do you mean by that?

One question: doesn't the definition of a Yojana vary a lot, with differences across texts and times? I am also very curious about Ancient Indian math, but I think we should also question how results were calculated.

For instance, 108 is a sacred number in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Some people say it was chosen because the ratio of distances of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters, and Ancient Indians knew that! But how did they know that?

Make a wooden disc and a stick whose length is 108 times the diameter of the disc. Attach the disc to one end of the stick and hold the other end near your eye. Observe that the disc has the same apparent diameter as the moon, eclipsing it. You could do the same with the sun through light clouds or mist, but be careful, obviously. There are indications that some ancient peoples, such as the builders of Stonehenge, were sufficiently interested in astronomical observation that they might have done a measurement like that and noted the result.

While being correct is a great start, it is necessary to also explain why one is correct. PS. Deep Learning aficionados, take note.

As anyone who's watched Ancient Aliens knows!

Slight /s. Only slight.

I'm not saying people need to take Ancient Aliens at face value, but the show is great when it comes to forcing you to think about how the ancient world really might have been.

I often think the narrative we get in public school history is really just the compromised, politically acceptable version of history. Shows like Ancient Aliens at least get us to ask some questions.

Exactly like how Homeopathy forces us to talk about real medicine? Or UFOs forces us to talk about Rocket design? Take Ancient Aliens at face value? There are other avenues to get your thinking fix from: real books and real research. That's hard to do for an average couch potato addict I think.

How do you think that ancient indians figured out the speed of light, recorded it for posterity, but forgot how to actually calculate it?

Why did Europe go into the dark ages after several years of incredible advancement and prosperity?

We've gotten used to the idea of steady gains and prosperity, but there are cycles that include book burning, knowledge destruction, and civilizational declines. Ancient Aliens forces the viewer to ask what civilizations were even doing with odd constructions and what purpose they served; the only difference is they suggest that extra-terrestrials were involved. Extra terrestrial involvement may seem outlandish to some, but the question of why any civilization was doing what it was remains.

Those statements do not come directly from the rig Veda but instead 13th century commentary on the rig veda

Old sophisticated tools in India? We talking about Xcode 6?

Maybe older: were the tools _Carbon_ dated?

A PS4 ad crashed my browser on this page. I wasn't able to figure out what exactly went wrong, just curious if anyone else had problems when trying to view it.

This is in Tamil Nadu. As usual, Central Government will stop excavation like they did in Keeladi, because the site was from Sangam Era.

Why would the Central Government want to stop excavation because its from the Sangam Era?

They won't. Like USA, we have our own gaggle of extreme conspiracy theorists who are always paranoid that the Central Government is a dictator that wants to reduce states to powerless puppets.

But what's with the Sangam Era that (some people thinks) the gov is trying to cover?

If I had to guess the conspiracy is that Central government does not want to excavate sites that prove that Sangam culture was greater and earlier than the Northern Indian culture.

I have never heard of this, but knowing the mistrust for the Centre in the Southern states I can believe how it is accepted.

It's simple. Remains from Keezhadi tell that Tamil ancestors had no religion. If it is true, they need to start finding the origin of Sanskrit.

Thanks for this! Almost dropped my phone in to the potty laughing out loud. Xcode 9 is that bad huh??

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