Prehistoric era refers to the time when there was no writing and development. It has five periods - Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Iron Age. This is one of the important topics under Ancient Indian History for IAS Exam. This article gives all the relevant information of the prehistoric era in India.
Prehistoric India - Prehistoric India History (from the Greek word - historia, meaning "inquiry", knowledge gained by inquiry) is the study of the past. History is an umbrella term that deals with the discovery, collection, organization, presentation, and interpretation of past events as well as information about these events. It is divided into pre-history, proto-history and history.

  1. Pre-history - Events that took place before the invention of writing are considered pre-history. The former history is represented by three stone ages.
  2. Proto-history - This refers to the period between pre-history and history, during which a culture or organization has not yet developed, but is mentioned in the written record of a contemporary literate civilization. For example, the script of the Harappan civilization is undetermined, although since its existence in Mesopotamian writings, it is considered part of proto-history. Similarly, the Vedic civilization from 1500-600 BCE is also considered to be part of proto-history. Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures are also considered by archaeologists to be part of proto-history.
  3. History - The study of the past after the invention of writing and the study of literate societies based on written records and archaeological sources constitutes history.

The making of ancient Indian history

The sources that helped reconstruct history are:

  1. Non-literary sources
  2. Literary sources - including religious literature and secular literature

Non-literary sources:

  1. Coins: Ancient Indian currency was not issued in the form of paper but in the form of coins. The earliest coins found in India had only a few symbols, punch-marked coins made of silver and copper, but later coins mentioned the names of kings, deities, dates, etc. The area where they were found indicates the area of ​​their spread. This enabled it to reconstruct the history of several ruling dynasties, most notably the Indo-Greeks, who came to India from northern Afghanistan and ruled India in the 2nd and 1st BC. The coins throw light on the economic history of different dynasties and also provide inputs on various parameters such as the script, art, religion of the time. It also helps in understanding the progress made in terms of metallurgy and science and technology. (The study of coins is called numismatics).
  2. Archaeology/Material Remains: The science that deals with the excavation of old mounds in a systematic manner, in successive layers and able to form an idea of ​​the physical life of the people, is called archaeology. Materials recovered as a result of excavation and exploration have been subjected to various types of examinations. Their dates are determined by radiocarbon dating. For example, excavation sites belonging to the Harappan period help us to know about the life of the people living in that era. Similarly, megaliths (tombs in South India) throw light on the lives of the people who lived in the Deccan and South India before 300 BCE.
  3. Inscriptions / Prashasti - The study and interpretation of ancient inscriptions is called epigraphy. Inscriptions on hard surfaces such as copper, stone and metal which usually record certain achievements, ideas, royal orders and decisions that help in understanding the different religions and administrative policies of that era. For example, the details and inscriptions of state policy issued by Ashoka, the Satavahanas, recording land grants by the Deccan kings.
  4. Foreign accounts: Indigenous literature can be supplemented by foreign accounts. Greek, Chinese and Roman visitors to India, either travelers or religious converts, left behind a rich account of our historical past.

Some of those information were:

  • The Greek ambassador Megasthenes wrote "Indica" and provided valuable information about Mauryan society and administration.
  • The "Pyripus of the Erythraean Sea" and "Ptolemy's Geography" both in Greek give valuable information about the ports and commodities of trade between India and the Roman Empire.
  • The Buddhist Travelers Fa-Hien left a vivid account of the Gupta period.
  • The Buddhist pilgrim Husn-Tsang visited India and detailed India under the rule of King Harshavardhana and the glory of Nalanda University.

Sources of literature

Religious Literature: Religious literature throws light on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the ancient Indian period. Some sources are:

  • Four Vedas - The Vedas can be assigned to c.1500 - 500 BCE. The Rigveda consists mainly of prayers, while the later Vedic texts (Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda) include not only prayers, but rituals, magic and mythology.
  • Upanishads - The Upanishads (Vedanta) contain philosophical discussions on "Atman" and "Paramatma".
  • The Mahabharata and the epics of the Ramayana - Of the two epics, the Mahabharata is the older in age and probably refers to cases from the 10th century BC to the 4th century AD. Originally it had 8800 verses (known as Jaya Samhita). The verses were brought down to 1,00,000 in the final compilation known as the Mahabharata or Satasahashree Samhita. It includes narrative, descriptive and didactic material. The Ramayana originally consisted of 12000 verses which was later raised to 24000. This epic also has didactic portions which were added later.
  • Sutras - Sutras include ritual literature such as the Shrutasutra (which includes sacrifices, royal coronations) and the Grihya Sutra (which includes births, naming, marriages, funerals, etc.).
  • Buddhist religious texts - Early Buddhist texts were written in the Pali language and are commonly known as Tripitakas (Three Baskets) - Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. These texts throw invaluable light on the social and economic conditions of that era. They also make reference to political events in the era of Buddha.
  • Religious texts of Jaina - Jain texts commonly called "Anagas", were written in Prakrit language, and contained philosophical concepts of Jains. They contain several texts that help to reconcile the political history of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the era of Mahavira. Trade and merchants are mentioned repeatedly in Jain texts.

Secular Literature: There is also a large body of secular literature such as:

  • Books of Dharmashastra/Law - These carry various types as well as duties for kings and their officials. They set the rules according to which property is to be held, sold and inherited. They also punish the guilty for theft, murder etc.
  • Arthashastra - Kautilya's Arthashastra shows the condition of society and economy during the Mauryan period.
  • Literary Works of Kalidasa - The works of the great poet Kalidasa include poetry and drama, the most important of which is Abhijnanshakuntalaam. Apart from being creative works, they give information about the social and cultural life of North and Central India during the Gupta period.
  • Rajatarangini - This is the famous book written by Kalhana and depicts the social and political life of 12th century AD Kashmir.
  • Charitas / Biographies - Charitas are biographies written by king poets in praise of rulers like Harshacharita written by Banabhatta in praise of King Harshavardhana.
  • Sangam literature - This is the oldest South Indian literature, produced by a people gathered together (sangam), and provides valuable information about the social, economic and political life of the people living in delta Tamil Nadu. This Tamil literature includes literary gems like 'Silappadikaram' and 'Manimekalai'.

Prehistoric times in India -

  • Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age): 500,000 BC - 10,000 BC
  • Mesolithic Period (Late Stone Age): 10,000 BC - 6000 BC
  • Neolithic Age (New Stone Age): 6000 BC - 1000 BC
  • Chalcolithic Period (Stone Copper Age): 3000 BC - 500 BC
  • Iron Age: 1500 BC - 200 BC

Stone Age

The Stone Age is the prehistoric period, that is, the period before the development of the script, so the main source of information for this period is archaeological excavations. Robert Bruce Foote is the archaeologist who discovered the first Paleolithic tool in India, the Pallavaram handcuff. On the basis of geological age, type and technology of stone tools, and subsistence basis, the Indian Stone Age is mainly classified into three parts-

  • Palaeolithic Age (Old Stone Age): Period - 500,000 - 10,000 BC
  • Mesolithic Age (Late Stone Age): Period - 10,000 - 6000 BC
  • Neolithic Age (New Stone Age): Period - 6000 - 1000 BC

Palaeolithic Age (Old Stone Age)

'Palaeolithic' is derived from the Greek word 'paleo' meaning old and 'lithic' meaning. Therefore, the term Paleolithic Age refers to the Old Stone Age. The Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic culture of India developed in the Pleistocene period or Ice Age, which is a geological period of the era when the earth was covered with ice and weather to allow human or plant life to survive. But in the tropics, where the snow melts, early species of males may have existed.

Salient features of the Palaeolithic Age -

  1. The Indian people are believed to have belonged to the 'Negrito' race, and lived in open air, river valleys, caves and rock shelters.
  2. They were food gatherers, ate wild fruits and vegetables and lived on the hunt.
  3. There was no knowledge of houses, pottery, agriculture. It was only in the later stages that he discovered fire.
  4. In the Upper Paleolithic Age, there is evidence of art in the form of paintings.
    Humans used obsolete, rough stones such as hand axes, choppers, blades, burrs and scrapers.

Palaeolithic men are also called 'quartzite' men in India because stone tools are made of a hard rock called quartzite. The Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic Age in India is divided into three phases according to the nature of the stone tools used by the people and the nature of climate change.

  1. Lower Paleolithic Age: up to 100,000 BC
  2. Middle Paleolithic Age: 100,000 BC - 40,000 BC
  3. Upper Paleolithic Age: 40,000 BC - 10,000 BC

Lower Paleolithic Age (Early Paleolithic Age)

  1. It covers the greater part of the Ice Age.
  2. Hunters and food gatherers; Tools used were hand axes, choppers and cleavers.
  3. The equipment was thick and heavy.
  4. One of the lowest Low Palaeolithic sites is Bori in Maharashtra.
  5. Limestone was also used to make tools. There are habitats including caves and rock shelters.
  6. An important place is Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh.

Major sites of the Lower Palaeolithic Age-

  • Major sites of the Lesser Palaeolithic Age
  • Sohan Valley (in present day Pakistan)
  • Sites in the Thar Desert
  • Kashmir
  • Plains of mewar
  • Saurashtra
  • Gujarat
  • Central India
  • Deccan Plateau
  • Chotanagpur Plateau
  • North of river Kaveri
  • Belan Valley in UP

Middle Paleolithic Age

  1. The tools used were flexes, blades, pointers, scrapers and borers.
  2. The devices were smaller, lighter and thinner.
  3. The use of hand axes in relation to other tools was lacking.

Important Middle Palaeolithic sites

  • Belan Valley in UP
  • Luni Valley (Rajasthan)
  • Son and Narmada rivers
  • Bhimbetka
  • Tungabhadra river valleys
  • Potwar Plateau (between Indus and Jhelum)
  • Sangho Cave (near Peshawar, Pakistan)

Upper Paleolithic Age

  1. The Upper Paleolithic Age coincided with the last stage of the Ice Age when the climate became comparatively warmer and less humid.
  2. Origin of Homo Sapiens.
  3. The period is marked by innovation in equipment and technology. Lots of bone tools, including needles, harpoons, parallel-sided blades, fishing tools, and burin tools.

Major sites of Upper Paleolithic Age-

  • Bhimbetka (South of Bhopal) - Hand axes and cleavers, blades, scrapers and some burrows have been found here.
  • Rolling pin
  • Chota Nagpur Plateau (Bihar)
  • Maharashtra
  • Eastern Ghats in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh
  • Bone tools have been found only at the cave sites of Kurnool and Muchchatala
  • Chintamani Gavi in Andhra Pradesh.

Mesolithic Period (Mesolithic Age)

The word Neolithic is derived from the Greek words 'neo' meaning new and 'lithic' meaning stone. Thus, the term Neolithic Age refers to the 'New Stone Age'. It is also called the 'Neolithic Revolution' because it has brought about many important changes in the social and economic life of man. The Neolithic Age changed from a food additive to a food producer.

Characteristic features of the Neolithic Age-

  • Tools and Weapons - People used microlithic blades in addition to tools made of polished stones. The use of silt was especially important for ground and polished hand axes. They also used tools and weapons made from bones – such as needles, scrapers, borers, arrowheads, etc. The use of new polished tools made it easier for humans to farm, hunt, and perform other activities better.
  • Agriculture - The people of the Neolithic Age cultivated land and developed fruits and corn such as ragi and horse gram (kulti). They also domesticated cattle, sheep and goats.
  • Clay pottery - With the advent of agriculture, people needed to cook food as well as cook, eat produce etc. That is why it is said that earthen pots appeared on a large scale in this phase. The pottery of this period was classified under greyware, black-burnt ware and mat-affected ware. In the early stages of the Neolithic Age, handmade pottery was made, but later, foot wheels were used to make pottery.
  • Habitat and settled life - The people of the Neolithic Age lived in rectangular or circular houses made of mud and reeds. The people of the Neolithic period knew how to make boats and could wear cotton, woolen and woven clothes. The people of the Neolithic Age led a more settled life and paved the way for the beginning of civilization.

The newlyweds did not live far from the mountainous areas. They mainly inhabited mountainous river valleys, rock shelters and slopes of hills, as they were entirely dependent on weapons and tools made of stone.

Important Neolithic sites-

  1. Koldihwa and Mahagara (located south of Allahabad): This site provides evidence of rough hand-made pottery as well as circular huts. There is also evidence of rice, which is the oldest evidence of rice, not only in India but anywhere in the world.
  2. Mehrgarh (Balochistan, Pakistan) - the earliest Neolithic site, where people lived in houses made of sun-dried bricks and cultivated crops such as cotton and wheat.
  3. Burzahom (Kashmir)-Domestic dogs were buried with the masters in their graves; People lived in pits and used tools made of polished stones as well as bones.
  4. Gufral (Kashmir) - This Neolithic site is famous for house pits, stone tools and graveyards.
  5. Chirand (Bihar) - The people of the Neolithic period used tools and weapons made of bones.
  6. Piklihal, Brahmagiri, Muski, Taklakota, Hallur (Karnataka) - The people were cattle herders. They domesticated sheep and goats. Ash mounds have been found.
  7. The Belan Valley (which is located in the northern regions of the Vindhyas and the central part of the Narmada Valley) - is found in all three phases i.e. Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic ages.

Chalcolithic Age (Chalcolithic Age)

The Chalcolithic Age marked the emergence of the use of metal with stone tools. The first metal used was copper. The Chalcolithic era largely refers to the pre-Harappan phase, but in many parts of the country, this bronze appears after the end of the Harappan culture.

Characteristics of the Chalcolithic Age - Agriculture and Animal Husbandry - The people living in the Stone-Chalcolithic Age kept domesticated animals and cultivated food grains. They hunted cows, sheep, goats, pigs and buffaloes and hunted deer. It is not clear whether they were familiar with the horse. People ate beef but did not take pork on any large scale. The people of the Chalcolithic phase produced wheat and rice, they also cultivated millet. They produced several pulses such as masoor (lentil), black gram, green gram and grass peas.

Cotton was produced in the black cotton soils of the Deccan and ragi, bajra and many millets were cultivated in the lower Deccan. People belonging to the stone-copper stage in the eastern regions lived mainly on fish and rice, which is still a popular diet in that part of the country.

Pottery - People of the stone-copper stage used different types of pottery, one of which is called black and red pottery and seems to have been widely practiced in that era. Ocher colored utensils were also popular. A potter's wheel was used and painting with white linear designs was also done.

Villagers were not familiar with the settlements - bricks made. They lived in thatched houses made of mud bricks. This era also marked the beginning of social inequalities, as chiefs lived in rectangular houses while commoners lived in round huts. Their villages consisted of more than 35 houses of various sizes, circular or rectangular. Anarchic economy is considered as village economy.

Arts and Crafts - Chalcolithic people were expert copysmiths. They knew the art of smelting copper and were also good stone workers. They knew spinning and weaving and were well acquainted with the art of manufacturing cloth. However, he did not know the art of writing.

Worship - Small clay images of the earth goddess have been found from Chalcolithic sites. Thus it is possible to say that he worshiped the Mother Goddess. In Malwa and Rajasthan, rock paintings on bull roofs show that bulls served as a religious cult.

Infant Mortality Rate - The Chalcolithic people had a high infant mortality rate, as evidenced by the large number of child burials in western Maharashtra. Despite having a food-producing economy, the infant mortality rate was very high. We can say that Chalcolithic social and economic patterns did not promote longevity.

Jewelry - Chalcolithic people were fond of ornaments and decorations. Women wore shell and bone ornaments and worked fine combs in their hair. He made beads of semi-precious stones such as carnelian, steatite and quartz crystals.

Important Chalcolithic (Chalcolithic) places -

  • Ahar (Banas Valley, South Eastern Rajasthan) - The people of this region practiced smelting and metallurgy, supplying copper tools to other contemporary communities. rice was cultivated here
  • Gilund (Banas Valley, Rajasthan) - Stone blade industry was discovered here.
  • Daimabad (Ahmednagar, Gujarat) - The largest Jorwe culture site in the Godavari Valley. It is famous for the collection of bronze items such as bronze rhinoceros, elephant, two wheeled chariot with rider and buffalo.
  • Malwa (Madhya Pradesh) - The settlements of Malwa culture are mostly situated on the Narmada and its tributaries. It provides evidence of the richest Chalothic ceramics.
  • Kayatha (Madya Pradesh) - The settlement of Kayatha culture was mostly situated on the Chambal River and its tributaries. The houses had floors made of clay, with pre-Harappan elements found in pottery as well as sharp-edged copper items.
  • Chirand, Senur, Sonpur (Bihar), Mahisdal (West Bengal) - these are the main dungeon sites in these states.
  • Sangamon, Inamgaon and Nashik (Maharashtra) – Large mud houses with ovens and circular pits have been discovered here.
  • Navadtoli (on Narmada) - It was one of the largest Chalcolithic settlements in the country. It was spread over 10 hectares and cultivated almost all food grains.
  • Nevasa (Jorwe, Maharashtra) and Eran (Madhya Pradesh) - These sites are known for their non-Harappan culture.

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Prehistoric Era FAQs:

The first domesticated animal possessed by Stone Age people is believed to be the dog. Dogs were domesticated by humans as early as the Paleolithic period, which is commonly referred to as the Stone Age.

Nalanda University became very famous in the post-Gupta period. Nalanda University was an ancient center of learning located in present-day Bihar, India. It was founded during the Gupta Empire, but gained prominence and flourished in the post-Gupta period, especially during the reign of the Pala dynasty in the 8th to 12th centuries.

Information about the civilization of the early Vedic age is mainly found in the Rigveda, which is the oldest of the four Vedas. The Rigveda is a collection of hymns composed in Vedic Sanskrit and is considered one of the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism.

Both Beetapala and Dhiman were the artists during the Pala rule in Bengal who flourished in the 9th century A.D. The artistic centre of gravity was displaced after the decline of the Buddhist kings of Bengal when decadence in the style of Dhiman became apparent.

The Gupta Empire was founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta. He is considered the founder of the Gupta dynasty and laid the foundation of the Gupta Empire. Srigupta's successors, such as Chandragupta I and Samudragupta, further expanded the empire and contributed to the Golden Age of the Gupta Empire.

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