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Pre-History of Ancient India | (HISTORY OF INDIA)

Pre-History of Ancient India (HISTORY OF INDIA)

The earth is nearly 4000 million years old. It evolved in four stages. Man is said to have appeared on the earth in the early Pleistocene stage of the Quarternary Age when true ox, true elephant, and true horse also originated. But recent finds suggest that this event occurred in Africa about 2.6 million years back.


The fossils of the early human being have not been found in India. A hint of the earliest human presence in India is indicated by stone tools of about 250,000 B.C. obtained from the deposits. However, recently reported artifacts from Bori in Maharashtra to suggest the appearance of human beings in India around 1.4 million years ago.

From their first appearance to around 3000 B.C. humans used only stone tools for different purposes in life. This period is, therefore, known as the Stone Age, which has been divided into Palaeolithic (early or old Stone) Age, Mesolithic (Middle Stone) Age, and Neolithic (New Stone) Age.


In the Palaeolithic Age the human beings used stone tools, roughly dressed by crude chipping, which have been discovered throughout the country except for the alluvial plains of Indus, Ganga and Yamuna rivers. They barely managed to gather their food and lived on hunting. They had no knowledge of cultivation and house-building. This phase generally continued till 9000 B.C.

The Palaeolithic Age in India is divided into three phases according to the nature of the stone tools used by the people and also according to the nature of change in the climate. The Lower (early) Palaeolithic Age covers the greater part of the Ice Age; its characteristic tools are hand-axes, cleavers, and choppers. In this period climate became less humid, The Middle Palaeolithic industries are mainly based upon flakes; the principal tools are varieties of blades, points, borers, and scrapers made of flakes. In the Upper Palaeolithic phase, the climate became warm and less humid. In the world context, it marks the appearance of new flint industries and of men of the modern type (homo sapiens).


In the Mesolithic Age, the climate became warm and dry. Climatic changes brought about changes in fauna and flora and made it possible for human beings to move to new areas. Since then there have not been any major changes in climate. This age intervened as a transitional phase between the Palaeolithic Age and the Neolithic Age and began around 9000 B.C. The Mesolithic people lived on hunting, fishing and food gathering; at a later stage they also domesticated animals. Characteristic tools are microliths, The Mesolithic sites are found in good numbers in Rajasthan. southern U.P.. central and eastern India and also south of the river Krishna. Of them Bagor in Rajasthan is well-excavated. Adamgarh in M.P. and Bagor in Rajasthan provide the earliest evidence for the domestication of animals (around 5000 B.C.). The cultivation of plants around 7000-6000 B.C. is suggested in Rajasthan from a study of the deposits of the former salt lake, Sambhar. The Mesolithic culture spanned roughly from 9000 B.C. to 4000 B.C.

The people of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Agus practiced painting-Bhimbetka (in M.P.) is the most striking site where more than 500 painted rock shelters are extant. Most of the birds and animals that appear in the paintings were hunted for food.

In the Belan valley, all the three phases of the Palaeolithic followed by the Mesolithic and then by the Nuolithic have been found in sequence. Similar is the case with the middle part of the Narmada Valley. But in several areas, the Neolithic culture succeeded the Mesolithic tradition, which continued at places till 1000 B.C.


In the world context, the Neolithic Age began in 9000 B.C. The only Neolithic settlement in the Indian subcontinent attributed to 7000 B.C. lies in Mehrgarh in Baluchistan. Some Neolithic sites found on the northern spurs of the Vindhyas are as old as 5000 B.C. The tools and implements were now made of polished stone. An important Neolithic site is Burzahom. which means ‘the place of birth’. near Srinagar. The Neolithic people lived there by a lakeside in pits and probably had a hunting and fishing economy. Besides stone implements, the people of Burzahom also used bone implements (the only other site known for bone implements is Chirand near Patna). They used coarse grey pottery and buried domestic dogs with their masters in their graves. Pit dwelling and burial of dogs in their masters’ graves were not practiced in any other part of India.

The Neolithic people of south India usually settled on the tops of the granite hills or on plateaus near the river banks. Fir-baked earthen figurines suggest that they kept a large number of cattle. They used rubbing stone querns. which shows that they were acquainted with the art of producing cereals. Neolithic sites in Allahabad district are noted for the cultivation of rice in the sixth millennium B.C.

The Neolithic phase in south India seems to have covered the period from about 3000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.

The Neolithic settlers were the earliest farming communities. They lived in circular or rectangular houses made of mud and reed. Pottery first appears in this phase–black burnished ware, grey ware, and matimpressed ware. A few villages also appeared.


The end of the Neolithic period saw the use of metals of which copper was the first. Consequently, several cultures came to be based on the use of stone and copper implements. Such a culture is called chalcolithic which means the stone-copper phase.

The most extensive excavations have been done at the Chalcolithic sites like Jorwe, Nevasa, Daimabad, Inamgaon. Prakash. Nasik, etc. in Maharashtra. Several Chalcolithic sites have been found in Allahabad district, Chirand (near Patna) and Pandu Rajar Dhibi and Mahishadal in Bengal.

The Chalcolithic people used tiny tools and weapons of stone in which the stone-blades and bladelets occupied an important position. In certain settlements, copper objects are found in good numbers, e.g., at Ahar and Gilund in Rajasthan. The characteristic pottery of the Chalcolithic phase was black-and-red. People domesticated animals and practiced agriculture. They ate beef but not pork. Occasionally their houses were made of mud bricks, but mostly these were constructed with wattle and daub. and seem to have been thatched. However, the people in Ahar lived in stone-built houses.

The Chalcolithic people made tools, weapons, and bangles of copper, manufactured beads of semi-precious stones such as carnelian, steatite, and quartz crystal. They knew the art of spinning and weaving because spindle whorls have been discovered in Malwa. Discovery of collon. flax and silk threads shows that they knew the manufacture of cloth.

Regional differences in regard to cereals, pottery, etc., appear in this phase. The dead were buried. Terracotta figures of women suggest that the Chalcolithic people venerated the mother goddess. Probably bull was the symbol of a religious cult. Both the settlements and burial practices suggest the existence of social inequalities.

Chronologically there are several series of Chalcolithic settlements in India. Some are pre-Harappan, others are contemporaries of the Harappan culture and still others! are post-Harappan. Pre-Harappan strata on some sites in the Harappan zone are also called early Harappan to distinguish them from the mature urban Indus civilization. Thus the pre-Harappan phase at Kalibangam in Rajasthan and Banwali in Haryana is distinctly Chalcolithic. So is the case with Kot Diji in Sind. The Kayatha culture in Madhya Pradesh (2000-1800 B.C.) is a junior contemporary of the Harappan culture. It has some pre-Harappan elements in pottery, but it also shows Harappan influence. Several post-Harappan Chalcolithic cultures in these areas are influenced by the post-urban phase of the Harappan culture.

Several other Chalcolithic cultures, though younger in age than the mature Harappan culture, are not connected with the Indus civilization. The Malwa culture (1700-1200 B.C.) found in Navadatoli, Eran and Nagda is considered to be non-Harappan. So is the case with the Jorwe culture (1400-700 B.C.) which covers the whole of Maharashtra except parts of Vidarbha and Konkan. In the southern and eastern parts of India, Chalcolithic settlements existed independently of the Harappan culture. In south India, they are found invariably in continuation of the Neolithic settlements. The Chalcolithic settlement of the Vindhyan region, Bihar and Bengal are also not related to the Harappan culture.

Pre-Harappan Chalcolithic cultures spread farming communities in Sind, Baluchistan, Rajasthan, etc., and created conditions for the rise of the urban civilization of Harappa.

Chalcolithic cultures in central and western India disappeared by 1200 B.C. or so; only the Jorwe culture continued until 700 B.C. However, in several parts of the country, the Chalcolithic black-and-red ware continued till the second century B.C. The eclipse of the Chalcolithic habitations is attributed to a decline in rainfall from about 1200 B.C. onwards. In fact, the Chalcolithic people could not continue for long with the digging stick in the black soil area which is difficult to break in the dry season. In the red soil areas especially in eastern India, however, the Chalcolithic phase was immediately followed, without any gap, by the iron phase which gradually transformed the people into full-fledged agriculturists. Similarly, at several sites in southern India Chalcolithic culture was transformed into megalithic culture using iron.

The Chalcolithic people were the first to use painted pottery. They used both lota and thali. In south India, the Neolithic phase imperceptibly faded into the Chalcolithic phase, and so these cultures are called Neolithic-Chalcolithic. The Chalcolithic communities founded the first large villages in peninsular India and cultivated far more cereals than is known in the case of the Neolithic communities. The settlements at Kayatha and Eran in Madhya Pradesh and Inamgaon in western Maharashtra were fortified. No plough or hoe has been found at Chalcolithic sites. The rate of infant mortality was very high. Although most Chalcolithic cultures existing in the major part of the country were younger than the Indus Valley civilization, they did not derive any substantial benefit from the advanced technological knowledge of the Indus people.


More than 40 copper hoards consisting of rings, celts, hatchets, swords, harpoons, spearheads, and human-like figures have been found in a wide area ranging from Bengal and Orissa in the east to Gujarat and Haryana in the north-west, and from Andhra Pradesh in the south to Uttar Pradesh in the north. The largest hoard comes from Gungeria in Madhya Pradesh. But nearly half of the hoards are concentrated in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. They presuppose good technological knowledge on the part of the copper-smith, and cannot be the handiwork of nomadic people or primitive artisans. At places, these objects have been discovered in association with ochrecoloured pots and some mud structures. Stone tools have also been found in excavations. This suggests that the people of this culture led a settled life, and were one of the earliest Chalcolithic agriculturists and artisans to settle in a good portion of the Doab. The period covered by the ochre-colored pottery (OCP) culture may roughly be placed between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C. After the OCP settlements disappeared, the doab does not show much habitation until about 1000 B.C. At no place did these settlements last for more than a century or so.

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