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Prehistory of Indian Subcontinent

Bhimbetaka Cave Paintings

1. Further Classification of Prehistory

Prehistoric AgeTime Period in Indian Subcontinent
Paleolithic Age1 Million Years Ago to 10,000 BC
Mesolithic Age10,000 BC to 4000 BC
Neolithic Age4000 BC to 1000 BC
(‘lith’= stone, ‘paleo’ = old, ‘meso’ = middle, ‘neo’ = new).

2. Paleolithic Age [10,00,000 BC – 10,000 BC]

The primary occupation of the humans during this period was hunter gatherers. This age is further divided into 3 ages i.e.

2.1 Lower Paleolithic Age(10,00,000 BC to 1,00,000 BC)

Man transformed from homo habilis (walking on hand) -> homo erectus (walking on two feets).

2.2 Middle Paleolithic Age (1,00,000 BC to 30,000 BC)

Man became homo sapiens (present day human).

2.3 Upper Paleolithic Age (30,000 BC to 10,000 BC).

Evolution of man according to prevailing theory

3. Prominent Paleolithic Sites in India

In India, the earliest evidence of man is from Bori in Latur Dist., Maharashtra where man lived around 14 lac years ago. Other evidence of this age are found in foothills of Shivalik range and Vindhyas. However the most developed settlements were probably in Sohan river valley in Punjab (presently in Pakistan). Therefore Palaeolithic culture is also called ‘Sohan Culture’. Interestingly no evidence is found of this culture in Gangetic plains, and the evidences in South India are meagre. Pallavaram in Madras is first cultural site of palaeolithic site. Adichannalur is also another palaeolithic site.

Paleolithic Sites in India

4. Features of Paleolithic Age

  1. This was a Pleistocene age (very cold age), so their residences are found mostly near mountain foothills and caves. They are not found in river plains. It was stone age, and abundance of stone in hilly region was also another reason for it.
  2. People were mostly hunter gatherers.
  3. There were no artificial habitat, as mentioned above, man lived in caves.
  4. Cave paintings were also very simple. Simple stick like figures. Lacudiyar (1 lac paintings) in Uttarakhand and some paintings from Bhimbetaka site are from this age.
  5. The tools of this age were made of quartzite. We see improvement in tools from lower to upper palaeolithic age.
Bhimbetaka Cave Paintings

5. Mesolithic Age [10,000 BC – 4000 BC]

It was a period of transition from Palaeolithic to Neolithic Age. The most important feature of this age is increase in global temperature (end of ice age) known as Holocene epoch.

5.1 Prominent Mesolithic Sites in India

The Mesolithic culture was spread in Rajasthan, UP, Central India and also Gangetic valley.
Bhimbetaka caves is most important site of this age. These are located in Madhya Pradesh, at foothills of Vindhya mountain range. V S Wakanker was the first person to excavate these collection of more than 500 caves and rock shelters.

These caves primarily portray the hunting scenes. Elephants, Bison, Tigers and stick like human figures are depicted in painting. Natural colours have been used for painting (Red and White colours dominate the paintings). Other places where similar paintings are found are, Adamgadh in Madhya Pradesh and Baghor in Rajasthan.

Mesolithic Sites in India

5.2 Features of Mesolithic Age

  1. Domestication of animals started. They were used primarily for meat and their use for milk was probably unknown.
  2. Animal domestication further gave rise to pastoral life.
  3. Some people used to live in artificial homes like mud-brick house.
  4. Microliths (small stone tools) of superior quality are found from this age.
  5. People in this age were aware of fire, spear, arrow and projectile motion.

6. Neolithic Age [4000 BC – 1000 BC]

Neolithic age is also called ‘Neolithic revolution’, (a term coined by Gordon Childe), due to number of important inventions in this period. Interestingly, the number of neolithic sites is greater in South India, probably because good quality stones were found in this region. One of the oldest neolithic site is in the valley of river Golan in Balochistan region (Pakistan).

Arrival of Neolithic age was no less than a revolution

Gordon Childe
Neolithic Sites in IIndia

6.1 Features of Neolithic Age

  1. Agriculture commenced in neolithic age. Wheat and Barley were grown in North India whle Ragi and Gram were grown in South India.
  2. Agriculture gave rise to a settled life, man-made houses, granaries, pottery (though not on potters wheel).
  3. Animal rearing also progressed in this age, with Goat and Sheep being prominent reared animals.
  4. Wheel was invented during neolithic age
  5. Hand Axe was invented. Thus, by clearing forests, felling trees etc., man started modifying natural environment around him.
  6. Bone tools are also typical to Neolithic age
  7. All the inventions in this period, gave a stable life to humans in this period. This also resulted in significant increase of population during this age.

7. Chalcolithic Age [2800 BC Onwards]

( ‘Chalco’ = copper, ‘lithic’= stone.) Along with stone, the copper was also used in this age, hence the name. It is important to note that the chalcolithic culture co-existed with neolithic culture for some part of history.

7.1 Prominent Chalcolithic Sites in India

The culture was mainly concentrated in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhypradesh, Maharashtra region due to presence of copper in these regions. However traces of chalcolithic culture are found all over India except forest regions.

  1. Kayatha in M.P. around Kalisen river valley.
  2. Ahar in Rajasthan on Banas river. It was also called Tambavati due to prominence of copper.
  3. Malwa – MP, Gujarat region. Navadatoli is prominent site in the region.
  4. Jorwe in Maharashtra.
  5. Rangpur in Gujarat.

The culture also developed in above mentioned sequence i.e. Kayatha was 1st to develop while Rangpur was last.

Chalcolithic Sites in India

7.2 Features of Chalcolithic Culture

  1. Copper was discovered and combined with microliths for making tools.
  2. Potters wheel was known by this time. Chalcolithic man was also the first to use painted pottery. (Ochre coloured pottery).
  3. Animal rearing was common practice by now (primarily for flesh)
  4. Agriculture further developed. Barley was main crop. Other crops include wheat, rice, pea, gram etc. However, agriculture was mainly ‘slash and burn’ agriculture.
  5. Trade and commerce based on barter system started during this period
  6. The artifacts found include semi-precious stone beads, terracotta, pottery, ivory

7.3 Social System of Chalcolithic Culture.

  1. These people believed in life after death as evident from grave-goods.
  2. Most of the graves are found in North-South direction. Whereas in Harappa, they are in East-West direction.
  3. Predominance of mother goddess.
  4. Bull was probably used as symbol of worship.
  5. Social stratification started for first time. It is evident in small and big huts, variety of grave-goods.

7.4 Limitations of Chalcolithic Culture

  1. They didn’t knew writing.
  2. Agriculture was not much advanced. Slash and burn agriculture dominated.
  3. Trade and commerce was not developed. Therefore culture was primarily rural.
  4. Although they knew copper, no Bronze artefacts are found. So use of Bronze was unknown.

Chalcolithic culture disappeared in Central and Western Asia around 1200 BC. This happened because less rainfall would make black soil hard, difficult to plough with soft copper tools.
However, the culture continued to thrive in eastern part of subcontinent, where laterite soil dominated. Which was easier to cultivate.

8. Megalithic Culture [1500 BC – 200 AD]

(‘mega’ = big, ‘lith’ = stone) As name suggests, megalithic culture is characterised by the use of big stones to surround graves. Illustration By Hanay, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

8.1 Prominent Sites

The culture was prominent mostly in South Indian region i.e. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana region.

  1. Jaunapani in Maharashtra.
  2. Maski in Karnataka
  3. Nagarjunkonda in Andhra Pradesh.
  4. Adichannalur in Tamil Nadu.
Megalithic Sites in India

8.2 Important Features

  1. It was also a iron age i.e. use of iron was known
  2. They domesticated goat, sheep, cattle
  3. Arrowheads, spearheads were used as tools
  4. However the elements of nomadic life were also present since the habitat of megalithic people have continued to change with passage of time
  5. Megalithic people believed in life after death, as indicated by the grave-goods and big stone boulders kept around the grave.
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