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The Stone Age

The Stone Age


  • The earth is over 4000 million years old.
  • The evolution of its crust shows four stages.
  • The fourth stage is called the Quaternary, which is divided into Pleistocene (most recent) and Holocene (present); the former lasted between 2,000,000 and 10,000 years before the present and the latter began about 10,000 years ago.
  • Man is said to have appeared on the earth in the early Pleistocene, when true ox, true elephant and true horse also originated. The early man seems to have moved around in Africa.
  • The fossils of the early men have not been found in India. It appears that India was settled later than Africa, although the lithic technology of the subcontinent broadly evolved in the same manner as it did in Africa.
  • The Old Stone Age or the Palaeolithic culture of India developed in the Pleistocene period of the Ice Age.

Paleolithic Age (Old Stone Age)

  • Man in the Palaeolithic age in India used tools of stone roughly dressed by crude shipping, which have been discovered throughout the country except the alluvial plains of Indus, Ganga and Yamuna rivers.
  • These tools were used for hunting, gathering as man had no knowledge of cultivation.
  • The Paleolithic age continued till 9,000 BC and is divided into three phases according to the nature of the stone tools used by the people.
  • The first phase is called the early or lower Palaeolithic between 5,00,000 BC and 50,000 BC, the second phase is called the middle Palaeolithic between 50,000 BC and 40,000 BC; and the third phase is called the upper Palaeolithic age between 40,000 BC and 10,000 BC.

Early or Lower Palaeolithic Phase

  • This phase was between 5,000,000 BC to 50,000 BC.
  • It’s characteristic feature is the use of hand-axes, cleavers and choppers.
  • Stone tools were used mainly for chopping, digging and skinning.
  • Early old stone age sites have been found in the valley of river soan or sohan in Punjab, now in Pakistan. Several sites also found in Kashmir, Thar desert, Belan valley of Mirzapur district in Uttar Pradesh and in the Narmada valley, and in the caves and rock shelters of Bhimbetka near Bhopal.

Middle Palaeolithic Phase

  • This phase was between 50,000 BC to 40,000 BC

The Middle Palaeolithic industries are mainly based upon flakes. These

  • flakes show many regional variations in different parts of India.
  • The principal tools are varieties of blades, paints, borers and scrapers made of flakes.
  • The artifacts of this age are also found at several places on the river Narmada and also at several places, south of the Tungabhadra river.

Upper Paleolithic Phase

  • This phase was between 40,000 BC to 10,000 BC
  • In this age the climate became comparatively warm
  • This phase is marked by the appearance of new flint industries and of men of the modern type (Homo Sapiens)
  • Blades and burins have been found in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Central Madhya Pradesh, Southern Uttar Pradesh, South Bihar. Caves and rock —Shelters in upper Palaeolithic phase have been discovered at Bhimbetka, near Bhopal.

Mesolithic Age

  • In 9000 BC begin an intermediate stage in stone age culture, which is called the Mesolithic age which lasted till 4000 BC. This phase intervened as a transitional phase between the Paleolithic age and the Neolithic or New Stone Age.
  • Climate change around 9000 BC 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 climatic conditions.
  • The characteristic tools of the Mesolithic age are Microliths
  • The Mesolithic people lived on hunting, fishing and food gathering; at a later stage they also domesticated animals.
  • The Mesolithic sites are found in good numbers in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Central and eastern India and also south of river Krishna. Adamgarh in Madhya Pradesh and Bagor in Rajasthan provide the earliest evidence for the domestication of animals around 5000 BC. The cultivation of plants was possibly around 7000 — 6000 BC.
  • Rock paintings from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic ages have been found from Bhimbetka, about 45 Km south of Bhopal. Many birds, animals and human beings are painted.

Neolithic Age

  • The Neolithic age dating between 5000 BC to 1800 BC is characterised by the cultivation of plants and domestication of animals.
  • The development of agriculture and cultivation of cereals transformed the nomadic hunters into sedentary farmers. This led to the beginning of village settlements, manufacture of new types of tools and greater control over nature for exploitation of natural resources.
  • Neolithic tools such as ground stone tools, celts, adzes, chisels, axes, saws and burins have been found across India.
  • The earliest evidence of Neolithic settlements comes from Mehargarh on the bank of the river Bolan in the Kachhi plain of Baluchistan around 7000 BC showing beginning of agriculture and domestification of animals. Crops cultivated include wheat, barely, plum and dates. Animals like cattle, goat and sheep were domesticated. Subsidence pattern is marked by mixed farming which rested on farming, herding supplemented by hunting.

Two representative Neolithic sites from the time range of 2500 BC-1500 BC have been found from Kashmir valley on the Jhelum river, they are Burzahom (the place of birch) and Gufkral (the cave of the potter). Excavations yield great number of typical bone tools, wild grains of wheat,

  • pea, barley, bones of animals such as goat, sheep, cattle, etc. Excavations give indications of predominantly hunting economy in the beginning and later developing into agricultural economy. In Burzahom and Gufkral there are Pit Dwellings which are circular at top and rectangular at the bottom for protection from cold. At Burzahom, we have the characteristic feature of Dog burial alongwith human graves which is a cultural feature of Central Asian Neolithic culture.
  • Neolithic sites also are seen in Belan valley in Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh. Significant sites of the region are Koldihawa, Mahagara and Chopani — Mando. Belan valley culture shows an advanced sedentary life characterised by well-defined family units, standard pottery tradition, specilised tool types as colts, adzes, chisels. Belan valley agriculturists were the earliest agriculturists producing rice. Chopani Mando provides the earliest evidence of the use of pottery.
  • In the mid- ganga valley region, excavations at Chirand, Chachar, Senuar show the emergence of sedentary village settlements at around 2000-1600 BC. Excavations indicate the cultivation of rice, wheat, barley, Pea. Chirand and senuar yield large number of remarkable bone tools.
  • In eastern India, early farmers emerged in Assam region. This phase is tentatively dated around 2000 BC. Early farming communities of the region are characterised by shouldered celts, small axes and pottery.
  • Early settlement in South India have been found on hilly and dry deccan plateau at sites such as Nagarjunakonda, Brahmagiri, Maski, Piklihal, Hallur and Sanganakallu. On the basis of excavations, Neolithic culture of this region has been classified into three stages. The first stage is characterised by hand-made unsophisticated and unrefined kind of reddish brown pottery, blade tools of chert and ground stone tools. The first phase (about 2500 BC) shows that rudimentary form of cultivation had emerged but people probably did not domesticate animals. New features which characterize the second phase are red ware and domestication of animals. The third phase (around 1500 BC) is characterised by grey ware though red ware of second phase continued. Excavations yield evidence of practice of agriculture — food gathering and hunting losing relevance. Neolithic tools of various types too have been discovered. Communal life of early agriculturists in this region is characterised by dwelling pits, cultivation of millet, wheat, moong, domestication of cattle such as cattle, sheep, goat, buffalo, etc.

Chalcolithic Cultures

  • The Neolithic age is followed by the Chalcolithic or stone-copper age, which generally occurred from 1800 — 1000 BC. This period was marked by the use of copper (the first metal used in India) as well as stone. They extend geographically from the Banas and Berach basins northeast of Udaipur through Malwa and into Western Maharashtra upto the Bhima Valley.


  • Economic base of these cultures was associated with agriculture and cattle rearing. This was supplemented by wild game and fishery as well as attested by archaeological evidences.
  • Excavations at various sites reveal cultivation of a variety of crops. Barley was the main crop besides wheat, rice, gram, pea, bajra, jowar etc.
  • Archaeological evidence form lnamgaon establish the knowledge if the inhabitants about crop rotation, harvesting and irrigation.
    • The regional Chalcolithic cultures are characterised by regional and village settlements as attested by excavations.
    • There was hierarchical pattern in social organisation with prevalence of the concept of social ranking.
    • There was some kind of administrative authority as a suggested by the distribution pattern of various sites.
    • Existence of structures such as rampart, granaries, embankment too suggest some kind of administrative authority.
    • Various objects
    • Chalcolithic cultures are characterised by the discovery of various copper and
    • terracotta objects.
    • Copper objects comprise arrowheads, spearheads, bangles, rings, beads and flat axes.
    • Daimabad yielded a large copper hoard comprising copper rhinoceros, elephant, two wheeled chariots, buffalo etc.
      • Excavations have shown that the people domesticated animals like goat, sheep, dog, horse etc. Besides certain references are there about wild animals like various types of dear, buffalo, rhino.
      • Excavations of certain sites have also yielded bones of fish, turtle etc. This shows that people consumed all these.Terracotta objects comprise human and animals figurines; bull being the most numerous in number.Certain references of use of ploughshare are also present
    • Pattern of Settlement
      • Excavations of various sites suggest that distribution pattern was characterised by
        regional centers and village settlements. This is suggestive of existence of some kind of hierarchical system.
      • Excavations also reveal various structures like fortification, granaries, embankments
        as are seen at Eran of Malwa culture and at lnamgaon of Jorwe culture.
      • The distinctive house pattern in various sites is rectangular and circular.
      • Walls made-up of mud and thatched roof too being characteristic feature of the
        houses in most of the sites.
      • So far as the size of the houses is concerned it varied from place to place.
      • The house pattern in Ahar culture is marked by the use of mud, use of timber, fairly large size, longer axis being north-south and shorter being east-west, simple furnishing and with chullas.
      • The Malwa houses at Daimabad, lnamgaon, Navdatoli are large in size having partition wall made up of mud chullahas are common.
      • The Jorwe settlement is characterised by presence of a large centre in each region. House pattern shows social differentiation with houses of prosperous farmers being larger and in the central part and houses of the artisans situated in western outlying areas. Jorwe houses were large and rectangular in shape characterised by low mud walls.

      Social Structure

  • Pottery tradition
    • Pottery was painted and was mostly black on red.
    • The Jorwe pottery is painted black-on-red and special forms, are bowls, jars and globular vases.

    Ahar pottery shows seven varieties but the most important type being

    • black and red ware painted in white.
    • Malwa pottery possesses buff slip and various patterns are displayed in black or dark brown colour. Small goblets are an important feature of Malwa pottery.
    • Kayatha pottery is marked by three types — Red slipped ware painted in dark
      brown; red painted buff ware and a combed ware.
    • Rangpur pottery is known as lustrous red ware. It is derived from Harappan red
      and black ware, black used for painting.

    Religious Beliefs

    • Various findings in excavations throw light on the religious outlook of the people
      and their religious practices.
    • Excavations rarely give any indication of male gods. Three male figurines of clay
      discovered from Inamgaon give same indication of male gods.
    • Female figures of clay both baked and unbaked have been discovered. A
      headless female figure from Nevasa and terracotta female figurines from lnamgaon too have been discovered. This suggests that people worshipped mother goddesses.
    • Excavations throw light on various practices of disposal of dead. Burial was a
      common custom. Burying of dead in north-south orientation has been revealed by excavations. There are evidences of pit-burial also. A typical custom shown by excavations was burying the dead in the precincts of the house besides cutting off the feet before the burial too a peculiar outlook of people in Jorwe culture.

    Megalith Cultures

    • Megaliths usually refer to burials amidst stones in graveyards away from the
      habitation area. In South India this kind of elaborate burial came with Iron age starting around 1000 BC and continuing for many centuries subsequently.
    • The material remains of the Iron age are represented by pottery with certain
      specific features, besides Iron and other metal objects Megalith burials have been reported from Maharashtra around Nagpur, Karnataka in sites like Maski, Andhra Pradesh in sites like Nagarjunakonda, Tamil Nadu in sites like Adichanallur and Kerala.
    • The pottery that we discover from the excavated graves is black and red ware.
    • Iron objects have been found universally in all the megalithic sites right from
      Janapani near Nagpur down to Adichanallur in Tamil Nadu with use of identical tools which testifies to the movement of a fairly tightly knit group of iron workers.
    • The settlements found near the Megalithic complexes have very thin debris of
      This would indicate that these people were living in one area for a very short time. May be with the knowledge of Iron they could colonize new areas. Thus, some of the population was nomadic and some settlements might indicate colonization of new areas. Where the settlements continue from the preceding period, people continued to live in their old ways. Use of iron tools enabled them to use granite stones for their graves. It is these agro-pastoral groups that enter the historical phase in the early centuries of the Christian era. They have been mentioned in the Sangam literature. Some of the graves have yielded Roman coins which suggest their entry into history and their participation in trade networks spread over a large area.



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