Prehistory is the period in human history before recorded events i.e no written records are available for pre-history of India. We can divide Prehistoric India into 4 ages.
- The Paleolithic (Old Stone Age),
- Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age),
- Neolithic (New Stone Age) and
- the Metal Age.
One thing that you should note is that these periods were not uniform throughout the Indian subcontinent.
The research and development in archaeology help us to understand the life and culture of the people who lived in this period.
How Historians Calculate Date?
- Radiocarbon dating is used to calculate the date in history. Here archaeologist measures the loss of carbon in organic materials over a period of time.
- Dendrochronology is another dating method. The date of the wood is proportional to the number of tree rings in the wood.
[Pre-History] Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age in India
The period before 10000 B.C. is assigned to the Old Stone Age.
Location of Old Stone Age
The old stone age sites are scattered on the map of the Indian Subcontinent (look at the map below). Generally, these sites are located near water sources, as the water was imp for survival.
Where They Lived?
Several rock shelters and caves used by stone age people are scattered across the subcontinent.
Most of them lived in huts made. These huts were made of leaves.
What Food Did They Eat?
These people hunted animals and gathered plants and fruits, that is why we call them hunter and gatherers.
Man is the only organism which uses a tool. These people used stone tools. Stone implements were made of a hard rock known as quartzite. Also, large pebbles are often found in river terraces.
To hunt large animals they worked in packs like wolves and used large stone axes.
How Did They Communicate with Each Other?
We have very little knowledge of their language and how they communicated with each other.
With the passage of time, their way of life changed. They domesticated animals made pots and started growing crops. All this led to a settled way of life.
[Pre-History] Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age in India
The next stage of human life is called Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age which falls roughly from 10000 B.C. to 6000 B.C.
This phase was the transitional phase between the Paleolithic Age and Neolithic Age.
Sites of Mesolithic Phase
Archaeologists found Mesolithic remains in,
- Langhanjin, Gujarat
- Adamgarhin, Madhya Pradesh
- Utter Pradesh
- The paintings and engravings found at the rock shelters
- These paintings give an idea about the social life and economic activities of Mesolithic people.
What Are Microliths?
Excavators found a different type of stone tools here. These tools were not more than five centimetres in size called microliths.
Change in Way of Life
- The hunting-gathering pattern of life continued but there was a shift from big animal hunting to small animal hunting.
- Use of bow and arrow also began during this period.
- Also, there began a tendency to settle for longer periods in an area. Therefore, the domestication of animals, horticulture and primitive cultivation started.
- How we can tell this? Archaeologists found bones of dog, deer, boar, and ostrich on site. Furthermore, burials of the dead along with some microliths and shells found occasionally.
[Pre-History] Neolithic Age
The chief characteristic features of the Neolithic culture are the practice of agriculture, domestication of animals, polishing of stone tools and the manufacture of pottery. In fact, the cultivation of plants and domestication of animals led to the emergence of village communities based on sedentary life.
- Stone Tools: There was a great improvement in the technology of making tools. They used polished stone tools and axes for gathering and hunting.
- Houses: Houses built of mudbricks instead of grass huts.
- Pottery: Utensils made on wheels used for cooking and storing food grains.
- Burials: Neolithic people buried dead in coffins (large urns)
- Agriculture: Above all, there was an improvement in agriculture. Neolithic people cultivated wheat, barley, rice, millet.
- Domestication: People domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle. Furthermore, they used cattle for cultivation and transport. Likewise, the people of the Neolithic Age used clothes made of cotton and wool.
[Pre-History of India] Metal Age
The Neolithic period is followed by the Chalcolithic (copper-stone) period when copper and bronze came to be used.
- The new technology: Smelting metal ore and crafting metal artefacts is an important development in human civilization.
- Tools: While they continued the use of stone tools. Some of the micro-lithic tools continued.
- Chalcolithic Cultures: People travelled a long distance to obtain metal ores. This led to a network of Chalcolithic cultures.
So, Iron age followed the Chalcolithic period.
What is Megalith?
- Historians correlate iron age with megaliths of south India. Megalith means Large Stone. These large stones covered burials.
- We can find such graves extensively in south India. Some of the important megalithic sites are Hallurand, MaskinKarnataka, Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh, and Adichchanallurin, Tamil Nadu.
Excavators found black and red pottery + iron artefacts such as hoes and sickles and small weapons in the burial pits.
Some Pre- Historic Sites in India
In the next post, we will learn – Harappan civilisation.