Neolithic Money: A Matter Off Market

Subrata Chakrabarti

Tashiding Sankhe Dunge
Samdong-2 Conclusion

    I propose to make a few hazardous guesses on the idea of ‘money’ in the context of the Neolithic in the Kalimpong sub-division of the Darjeeling Hills of North Bengal. The Neolithic is certainly not the Age in which one can conceive of coinage as circulation money between market and people, or even people to people. The Ancient Athenians dictum of “money makes man” would by no means hold ground in the Neolithic stage of culture anywhere in human civilisations. The Neolithic money economy, if we can use the term, is based largely on barter system, thereby exchange for goods and commodities make up the economy of the culture in question. It has long been argued that Neolithic is self-sufficient village economy. But, more importantly, it has also been seen as a time of “escape from the impasse of savagery” to bring out “an economic and scientific revolution that made the participants active partners with nature instead of parasites on nature” (Gordon Childe 1942: 48. What Happened in History. Penguin Books). Nevertheless, Marshall Sahlins’(1963 Poor man, rich man, big-man, chief: Political types in Melanesia and Polynesia. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 5(No. 3): 285-303) claim of “Big Man” status to leaders in egalitarian society, the Neolithic did remain a decentralized and non-stratified socio-political structure.

    I shall recount below in brief the three Neolithic sites and their environs in the Kalimpong sub-division of the Darjeeling Hills where with, my then pupil, Ms Salina Thapa, we conducted excavation between 2003 and 2008 to enumerate and understand whether the concerned people were ‘active partner with nature’ and whether anyone from among them played the role of big brother, and set forth any agenda for history down the line till money economy became desideratum for everyday living of poor man rich man big man leaders and kings. These sites are Tashing-1, Samdong-2, and Sankhe Dunga.


    Tashiding at 27⁰039′ 32.08”N : 88⁰26′ 9” 26.11”East is a small village settlement distant about 10 km west from the Kalimpong Town. The discovery of the Neolithic site (with two Localities) was made in 2003, just a century later of the first discovery of the Neolithic from the area (E. H. C. Walsh 1904 A Note on the Stone Implements in Darjeeling District. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Vol. LXXIII part III. Pages 20-24), and is the first Neolithic site to have been excavated in the field season of 2003 – 2004 and 2004 – 2005, which was conducted at, what has been designated as Tashiding-I Locality situated at an elevation of 2311 feet above MSL (mean sea level). The physiographic unit of the country around Tashiding, as in the major parts of the Kalimping sub-division of the Darjeeling Hills, is made up of Gondwana Group consisting of Premian Damuda Formation and of Siwalik Group of Geabdat Sandstone Formation, which may be placed in Mio-Pliocene. The Quaternary and Recent sediments are present but not as prominent as that of the Buxa or Daling sediments and their metamorphics.

    Geography of the Tashiding area belongs to Lower or Outer Himalayan Zone. Geomorphology of the area is governed by the lower half of the south-western spur of the Chola Range. The rivers here or for that matter anywhere in the hilly regions of the Kalimpong sub-division do not play any role whatsoever to build up the personality of the Neolithic culture. However, much of the river Teesta’s behaviour in the region owes its character to physical particularity of the Chola Range.

    The Tashiding area shows mixed vegetation, the most predominant are Musre Katus (castanopsis tribuloides), Dhalne Katus (C.indica), Chilauni (Schima wallichii), Panisaj (Terminalia myriocarpa), Mauha (Engelhardita spicata), Saur (Betula), Utis (Alnus nepalensis), etc. Tama and Pheling bamboos (Pseudostachyum polymorphum) are most predominant. The fauna is rich and varied; a particular reference must be made of wild goats (Capricornis sumatrensis jamachi) and jungle fouls.

    A 2.5 m x 2.5 m trench was laid within the permissible space available on the Tashinding Locality-I terrace. In fact more than a metre of original surface were removed for converting it to a cultivating terrace, thereby 0 cm datum point is actually below > 1 m. The salient features as could be recorded in the excavation are a 4.5 cm paved nodule horizon, sherds of handmade burnt brick colour pottery, cord impressed ware and various light duty tool, tanged points, arrowheads with invasive retouch, backed blades, trapezes, awls, lunates etc.

    The Neolithic economy at Tashiding is a mixed economy and could have evolved in exchange of material goods and barter system.


    The Samdang-2 at 27° 109′ 35.73” N : 88° 369′ 45.83” E is a small hamlet, on the west bank of the river Rishi, of eight houses, distant about 25 km east from Kalimpong Town. The surroundings are still pristine, well wooded and rich with wild edible fruit trees, tubers, bamboos, etc. People of this village live in relative isolation. Their lives in isolation approximate the live in the distant Neolithic self-sufficient villages. The Neolithic site at Samdand-2 was discovered and excavated in April 2009. The site is actually located at 2480 ft above MSL. Its exact situation is 10/11 terraces down the village and 6/7 terraces above the beginning point of the deep gorge that goes down 50/60 m below. The site is now an agricultural terrace that measures 5 m x 2/2.5 m in West-East direction and slopes 47 cm in its SE-NW direction. The breakdown of the slope from the starting point to the base into terraces that one visualises now could have been a single unit slope occupied by the Neolithic inhabitants at the time of their colonisation in the region. The terrace in question that yielded Neolithic cultural evidence is the mid-section of the original terrace, originally 3 – 4 m high. The terrace cut immediately above the excavated terrace is 1.34 m high, thereby the 0 cm datum point laid at the below terrace at 20°SE had 1.34 m sealed in material.

    A 2.5 m x 1.5 m trench was laid at the sloping end from the northern side of the trench. The trench was laid here for the owner of the land had earlier recovered a Perforated Celt, which is still with him. The clue indeed was helpful. The trench was divided into two grids, which was further sub-divided into four quadrants. The surface of the laid trench surface was cleared off debris, and the 20 cm talus material was removed. The actual dig is between 20 and 80 cm that yielded light duty tools, ground tools and, above all, sherds of hand-made ceramics. Thereby, we are now in a position to say, on the basis of this excavation and the earlier two excavations, that the Neolithic at the Kalimpong region is without uncertainty a culture of Ceramic Neolithic.

Sankhe Dunge

    The Sankhe Dunge an ellipsoidal rock having a slightly protruding overhang is an inselberg, which is located at 27⁰ 02′ 9” 49⁰.66” N : 88⁰ 269′ 33⁰ 26” E, which was discovered in 2003 and excavated in 2007 – 2008. The ellipsoidal rock has three groove marks on its outer surface that make the site more distinct from the other two sites in the region. The site is situated at an altitude of 2889 feet above MSL, distant 5 km southwest from the Kalimpong Town. Geomorphology, flora, fauna are more-or-less similar with Tashiding. But at altitude above 2500 feet vegetation are more dominated by plants of the Castanopsis-Schima Association. And when the forest was thick wild animals, notably wild bears, inhabited the jungle.

    A 4 m x 2 m trench was laid out opposite the grinding grove rock face below the entrance of the overhang that was dug to a depth of 40 cm, which in fact is below 2.5 m from the surface as the top horizon was removed to converting the area as an agricultural terrace. The excavation revealed three distinct layers of sediment deposits incorporating cultural material. The archaeological inventory at the site is quite rich and diverse: scrapers of various types, borers and burins, arrowheads, pointed tools, composite tools, blades, and sherds of cord impressed pottery, red pottery and grey pottery. The tool inventory here also includes a finely produced long elongated highly polished bifacial thin point that could have been a prestige-tool rather than a utilitarian object. The presence of unfinished artefacts and the evidence of grinding groove suggest the site has been a long duration habitation cum factory site. This excavation also confirms that the Neolithic here is also a Ceramic Neolithic Culture. A Thermoluminescene Date (TL) of pottery from the site places the culture in the time bracket between 5100 and 4300 years before present.


    Money is a matter of function four: A medium, a measure, a value and a store. The Neolithic resources, as can be discerned from the sites in the Kalimpong region, consist of wood, stone, bamboo and clay. These are of value but certainly could not be a medium and the forests cannot be measured. Some resources can be stored, for example, some logs, some pieces of stones, some shoots of bamboo and some lumps of clay. But people in all the sites have wood and bamboo in the vicinity of their settlements; thereby they will have no exchange value. The clay can be singled out as a pocket of clay in the hilly terrain is not easy to come by. All is off market in Neolithic economy but every exchange is people to people, individual than collective. Thereby, in cash less world, in the coin less society - clay is wealth, wealth clay.