Pre-history to Chalcolith


Prehistoric period belongs to the time before the emergence of writing. It is believed that man learnt writing only about 5000-8000 years ago during the Neolithic period. The earliest known Neolithic writings are Dispilio Tablet (found in Greece) and Tărtăria tablets (found in Romania). Both of these belong to 6th millennium BC. Thus, Prehistory began with appearance of the human beings about five lakh years ago, and finished with the invention of writing about 6-8 thousand years ago.


Classification of Prehistoric Period

Three classes of prehistoric period are stone, bronze and iron ages, with the latter two overlapping with historic age.

Stone Age is divided into three periods viz. Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic. Out of them, Palaeolithic {longest) and Mesolithic represent hunting-gathering stage while the Neolithic represents the stage of food production, i.e. plant cultivation and animal husbandry.


Palaeolithic Age

  • The term Palaeolithic was coined by archaeologist John Lubbock in 1865.
  • Palaeolithic Age spanned from 500,000 years ago {when tool making members of Homo erectus had arrived} till 10,000 BC.
  • It is divided into three period viz. lower Palaeolithic, middle Palaeolithic and upper Palaeolithic The transition from each of these phases to successive phases was slow and marked by increased fineness in the stone tools and technology of the time as follows:
    • Lower Palaeolithic age tools – Handaxe and cleaver
    • Middle Palaeolithic ager tools – Flakes
    • Upper Palaeolithic tools – Flakes and blades
  • Further, this division is not uniform around the world because of several factors such as time lag, climatic vagaries, great distances, numerous geographical and physical barriers etc.
  • Palaeolithic age ended with the end of Ice Age in about 10,000 BC.


Narmada Man

  • Narmada Man or Narmada Human is the earliest Homo species of Indian sub-continent.
  • This fossil was found on banks of Narmada River in Hathnora Village of Madhya Pradesh in 1982. Narmada Man used to live 2.5 Lakh years ago and belonged to Homo erectus species, which was first among the three Homo species (Homo habilis, Homo ergaster and Homo erectus) to acquire tool making skills.
  • These three species predate Homo sapience sapience, to which we belong.
  • The importance of Narmada man is that it is only authentic record of a Homo species fossil from Stone Age in India.


Lower Palaeolithic Period

  • In lower Palaeolithic phase, the tools were mainly hand axes and cleavers with some flakes also. These tools were relatively blunt and have been found all over India except plains of Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra {because raw material may not be available in these plains to make tools}.
  • Many Palaeolithic tool assemblages were found around Tapti, Godavari, Bhima and Krishna rivers. The raw material used for making tools was mainly quartzite and chert but quartz and basalt was also used.


Various cultures in Lower Palaeolithic era

The Palaeolithic period in India shows several distinct cultural and technological traditions.


Soan Culture

  • Extensive deposits of pebble tools and choppers found in the Soan river (a tributary of Indus) valley in Pakistan along with some other similar sites in nearby area are collectively called Soan culture or Sohan culture.


Madrasian Culture

  • Father of Indian Pre-history Robert Bruce Foote had discovered hand axes near Chennai and called it Madrasian culture. Foote was a geologist of the Geological Survey of India.


Nevasan Culture

  • Some Middle Palaeolithic era flake tools, scrappers, borers etc. were found at Nevasa site (Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra) in the valley of river Godavari and are called Nevasan culture.


Acheulian culture

  • Acheulian culture was named after the French site of St. Acheul, which was first effective colonization of the Indian subcontinent and is almost synonymous with the lower Palaeolithic settlements in India.
  • Most of the sites in India including those in peninsular India, Deccan, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, East and North East have been categorized in Acheulian culture


Middle Palaeolithic Period

  • The lower Paleolithic cultures slowly transformed into the middle Palaeolithic by shedding some of the tool types; and by incorporating new forms and new techniques of making them.
  • In comparison to the lower Palaeolithic era, the tools in middle Palaeolithic became smaller, thinner and lighter.
  • Due to this, middle Palaeolithic period is also known as Flake took industry.
  • Further, there was also a significant change in the choice of raw material for making tools. While quartzite, quartz and basalt continued to be used, in many areas they were replaced or supplemented by fine-grained siliceous rocks like chert and jasper.
  • Important Middle Palaeolithic Sites in India included Luni valley, around Didwana, Budha Pushkar in Rajasthan; Valleys of the Belan, Son river, Narmada river and their tributaries in central India {including Bhimbetka} and some sparse sites in Chota Nagpur plateau, Deccan plateau and Eastern Ghats.



Upper Palaeolithic Culture

  • Upper Palaeolithic culture developed during the later part of the upper Pleistocene.
  • There were very important changes in the Palaeolithic-environment which had its own impact on the distribution and living ways of the humans. Some of them were as follows:
    • There was extremely cold and arid climate in the high altitude and northern latitudes.
    • There was extensive formation of deserts in North west India
    • The drainage pattern of western India became almost defunct and river courses shifted “westwards”.
    • Vegetation cover over most of the country thinned out during this period. Coastal areas of south-eastern Tamil Nadu, Saurashtra and Kutch developed quartz and carbonate dunes as a result of the lowering of the sea level.
    • During terminal Pleistocene south-westerly monsoons became weak and the sea level decreased by scores of metres.
  • Due to the harsh and arid climate, the vegetation was sparse though the faunal fossils show presence of grasslands. The human population faced rusticated food resources and that is the reason that the number of Upper Palaeolithic sites is very limited in the arid and semi-arid regions. The most opulent archaeological evidence of this period comes from the Belan and Son valleys in the northern Vindhyas , Chota Nagpur plateau in Bihar , upland Maharashtra, Orissa and from the Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh.


Tools of Upper Palaeolithic Era

  • The tools of Upper Palaeolithic Era are further refined upon the lower and middle periods and show a marked regional diversity with respect to the refinement of techniques and standardization of finished tool forms.
  • Man also used prototypes of traps, snares and nets during the upper Palaeolithic times.
  • The advancement in tools is evident from bores in stones, grinding slabs etc. The bored stones are still used by fishermen as net sinkers in riverine fishing and marine fishing. The use of grinding stones might have been for processing plant foods such as wild rice.
  • Another important discovery of upper Palaeolithic period was of rubble built in circular form.
  • Further, the upper Palaeolithic settlements also show a distinct trend obfeing associated with permanent sources of waters.
  • The earliest form of art by humans also belongs to upper Palaeolithic period in the form of rock paintings.
  • The Upper Palaeolithic period has recorded a rich panorama of fossils in the peninsular rivers of India. One important discovery is of the ostrich egg shells at over 40 sites in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which shows that ostrich, a bird adapted to arid climate, was widely distributed in western India during the latter part of the upper Pleistocene.


Important Palaeolithic sites in India

  • Lingsugur in Raichur district, Karnataka was the first site to be discovered from India.
  • Lidder river Pahalgam , Kashmir
  • Sohan valley Punjab,
  • Banks of River Beas, Banganga, Sirsa Haryana, Chittorgarh and Kota, Rajasthan,
  • River Wagoon, Kadamali basins Rajasthan.
  • River Sabaramati and Mahi basins (Rajasthan & Gujarat),
  • Basins of river tapti, Godavari, Bhima and Krishna
  • Koregaon, Chandoli and shikarpur (Maharashtra),
  • River Raro (Jharkhand),
  • River Suvarnrekha (Orissa),
  • Ghatprabha River Basin (Karnataka).
  • Belan Valley, Allahabad
  • Sinsgi Talav, Didwana , Nagaur Rajasthan
  • Hunsgi, Gulbarga in Karnataka.
  • Attirampakkam in Tamilnadu


Mesolithic Era

  • The transition from the Palaeolithic period to Mesolithic period is marked by transition from Pleistocene period to Holocene and favourable changes in the climate.
  • The climate became warmer and humid and there was expansion of flora and fauna contributed by increased rainfall. This led to availability of new resources to humans.


Tools of Mesolithic Era

  • The Mesolithic tools smaller in size and better in finishing (more geometric) than the Palaeolithic age and are called Microliths.
  • These microliths are tiny tools of one to five centimetres length, made by blunting one or more sides with steep retouch.
  • The main tool types are backed blades, obliquely truncated blades, points, crescents, triangles and trapezes. Some of the microliths were used as components of spearheads, arrowheads, knives, sickles, harpoons and daggers. They were fitted into grooves in bone, wood and reed shafts and joined together by natural adhesives like gum and resin.
  • Use of bow and arrows for hunting has been documented by Mesolithic man in rock art of that period.
  • The Bored stones, which had already appeared during the upper Palaeolithic, became common during this, and the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. These are believed to have been used as weights in digging sticks and as net sinkers. Similarly, shallow querns and grinding stones also occur at several sites. These new technological elements led to enhanced efficiency in hunting, collection and processing of wild plant foods.



Changes in Life in Mesolithic Era


Domestication of Plants and Animals

  • The economy of early period of Mesolithic age was based on hunting, fishing and food gathering. Slowly domesticating crops and animals made their way into human life.
  • By 6000 BC, food production became prominent part of Mesolithic life. Agriculture had not fully developed by was only a prototype of domestication of crops and animals.
  • The earliest evidence of domestication of animals has been provided by Adamagarh in Madhya Pradesh and Bagor in Rajasthan. Some examples of earliest cultivation of plants around 7000-6000 years back have been found near Sambhar lake in Ajmer Rajasthan, Mehrgarh in Pakistan etc.
  • The first animals to be domesticated were dog, cattle, sheep and goat and the first plants to be cultivated were wheat and barley.
  • This new subsistence economy based on food production had a lasting impact on the evolution of human society and the environment.
  • In the humid lands, extending from the middle Ganga valley to China and Southeast Asia, rice cultivation and domestication of pig was accomplished probably around the same time because rice and pig existed in wild form in this region. The cultivation of yams and taro also took place in this region. Domesticated animals proved to be useful not only for meat but also for milk, hide, agricultural operations, and transport.


Nomadism to Sedentary settlements

  • The favourable climate, better rainfalls, warm atmosphere and increased food security led to reduction in nomadism to seasonally sedentary settlement and increased population. They moved to new areas such as nearby rivers which provided water.
  • First human colonization of the Ganga plains took place during this period.


Disposal of dead and making of Graves

  • The sedentary settlements lead to beginning of the tradition of various ways of intentional disposal of the dead. The first evidence of intentional disposal of the dead comes from Mesolithic Era.
  • Mesolithic human burials have been found at Bagor in Rajasthan, Langhnaj in Gujarat, Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh etc. The dead were buried in graves both in extended and crouched position {in crouched position knees are bent and the upper body is brought forward and down}. In some cases two individuals were buried in a single grave. The dead were occasionally provided with grave offerings which include chunks of meat, grinding stones, stone, bone and antler ornaments, and pieces of haematite.


Mesolithic Art

  • The Mesolithic man was a lover of art, evident from the paintings in several thousand rock shelters in the Vindhyan sandstone hills in central India.
  • The paintings have been found in both inhabited and uninhabited shelters. The paintings are made mostly in red and white pigments, made from the nodules found in rocks and earth.
  • The subject matter of the paintings are mostly wild animals and hunting scenes, though there are some related to human social and religious life such as sex and child birth.
  • These Rock arts are paintings {petrographs} and engravings {petroglyphs} done in rock shelters or natural caves. In India also, most of the rock art, especially paintings and carvings, have been known to exist from the Mesolithic Age, which continued to Neolithic Age, Iron Age and early historic period. This art not only reflects the cultural life of the times but also a fine aesthetic sense comparable to modern paintings.


Important Mesolithic Sites

  • In Rajasthan, Bagor is almost largest Mesolithic site in India. Other major Mesolithic sites in Rajasthan are Tilwara, Pachpadra basin and Sojat Area etc.
  • In Guajarat, mesolithic sites include those on banks of river Sabarmati asuch as Akhaj, Valsana, Hirpur, Langhanj etc.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, Sarai Nahar Rai, Morhana Pahar and Lekkahia are important Mesolithic sites.
  • In Madhya Pradesh, Bhimbetka along with Adamgarh, Chaturbhujnath Nala are major Mesolithic sites. In Jharkhand Chhota nagpur plateau is a major Mesolithic site in India.
  • In Odisha, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh are major mesolithic sites.
  • In South India, Mesolithic sites are abundant in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh


Neolithic Revolution, Mehrgarh Culture and Chalcolithic Era

  • The Neolithic period began around 10700 to 9400 BC in Tell Qaramel in Northern Syria. In South Asia the date assigned to Neolithic period is 7000 BC and the earliest example is Mehrgarh Culture.


The Neolithic Revolution

  • The human settlements in the Mesolithic era got more sedentary and this was the beginning of establishment of villages. Man now could keep cattle, sheep and goats and protect crops from pests.
  • In due course, as the efficiency of agricultural production improved, some farmers were able to generate surplus food. As a consequence, a section of the population were freed from the task of food production and their talents and energies were diverted to tasks such as the production of pots, baskets, quarrying of stone, making of bricks, masonry and carpentry. This was the beginning of the new occupations such as the oil presser, washerman, barber, musician, dancers etc. This transition from hunting-gathering to food production is called the Neolithic revolution.
  • Around 6000BC, the smelting of metals such as Copper began which was used for raw material to be used in tool production. Later, Tin was mixed with cooper and bronze appeared which stronger metal than both tin and copper was. Use of bronze for tools led to the invention of wheel which revolutionized transport and pottery production.


Mehrgarh Culture

  • Mehrgarh is located on the Bolan River, a tributary of the Indus, at the eastern edge of the Baluchistan plateau overlooking the Indus plain.
  • It is supposed to be the oldest agricultural settlement in the Indian subcontinent. Despite being an agriculture settlement, the Mehrgarh people used only stone tools, so it is considered a part of Stone Age.
  • This culture flourished from 7000BC to 2600 BC and showed improvisation in almost every area of life until it was abandoned.


Important Facts about Mehrgarh

  • The main domesticated animals in Mehrgarh were cattle, sheep, goat and water buffalo while the main cultivated plants were wheat and barley.
  • Houses made in mud and mud-bricks, created rooms to store grains, buried dead under floors of houses where they lived, used ornaments of steatite, turquise, sea shells etc.
  • Domesticated cotton for the first time.
  • Used pottery decorated with images of birds, animals.
  • Learnt use of making stone beads, copper smelting, timber, terracotta, commercial transactions.
  • The first evidence in human history for the drilling of teeth in a living person was found in Mehrgarh.


Mehrgarh was discovered after discovery of Indus Valley Civilization and it is now seen as a precursor to the Indus Valley Civilization. The above features of Mehrgarh have changed the entire concept of the Indus civilization.


Other Important Neolithic Sites

  • In Kashmir valley, Burzahom (meaning place of birth) and Gufkral (meaning cave of the potter) are important Neolithic / Chalcolithic sites.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, Belan valley is a Neolithic site known as earliest rice-farming community in India.


Chalcolithic Period

  • Use of metals along with stones began with the Chalcolithic or Eneolithic period with abundant use of Copper.
  • The economy of this period was based upon agriculture, stock raising, hunting and fishing. The earliest settlements of the Chalcolithic period in India range from the Gangetic basin to Chhotanagpur Plateau.


Salient Features

  • The use of painted pottery is a hall mark of the Chalcolithic period. Chalcolithic pottery ranges from red ware, deep red ware to deep brown and black, pictographic red and black and polished red.
  • The burial practice was another striking feature and the dead were buried in a particular direction all over a particular area. In Kashmir, the people of Neolithic settlements used to bury dogs with their masters.
  • The largest site of the Chalcolithic period is Diamabad situated on the left bank of the Pravara River.



Some Chalcolithic Cultures

  • Ahara Culture:The sites of Ahar Culture were Aahar (Rajasthan), Balathal, Gilund etc. The distinctive feature is black and red ware.
  • Kayatha Culture:Located in Chambal and its tributaries, the sturdy red slipped ware with chocolate designs is main feature
  • Malwa Culture:Narmada & its tributaries in Gujarat. One of the largest Chalcolithic settlements.
  • Svalda Culture:The well-known sites are in Dhulia district of Maharashtra.
  • Prabhas & Rangpur Culture:Both of them are derived from the Harappa culture. The polished red ware is the hall mark of this culture.


January 1, 2018

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