The Prehistoric Period – Ancient India
The Prehistoric Period
- The prehistoric period in the history of mankind can roughly be dated from 200000 BC to about 3500-2500 BC when the first civilizations began to take shape. The history of India is no exception.
- The first modern human beings or the Homo sapiens set foot on the Indian subcontinent anywhere between 200000 BC and 40000 BC and they soon spread throughout a large part of the subcontinent, including peninsular India.
- They continuously flooded the Indian subcontinent in waves after waves of migration from what is present-day Iran. These primitive people moved in groups of few ‘families’ and lived mainly on hunting and gathering.
The age when the prehistoric man began to use stones for the utilitarian purpose is termed as the Stone Age.
The Stone Age is divided into three broad divisions —
- Paleolithic Age or the Old Stone Age (100000-10000 BC),
- Mesolithic Age or the Middle Stone Age (9000 BC-4000 BC) and
- the Neolithic Age or the New Stone Age (4000 BC-1800 BC)
on the basis of the specialization of the stone tools, which were made during that time.
Paleolithic or Old Stone Age (100000-10000 BC)
- The human beings living in the Paleolithic Age were essentially food gatherers and depended on nature for food.
- The art of hunting and stalking wild animals individually and later in groups led to these people making stone weapons and tools.
- First, crudely carved out stones were used in hunting, but as the size of the groups began to increase and there was a need for more food, these people began to make “specialized tools” by flaking stones, which were pointed on one end.
- These kinds of tools were generally used to kill small animals and for tearing flesh from the carcass of the hunted animals. The basic technique of making these crude tools was by taking a stone and flanking its sides with a heavier stone.
- These tools were characteristic of the Paleolithic Age and were very rough. By this time, human beings had come to make and use fire.
Mesolithic Age or Middle Stone Age (9000-4000BC)
- In the Mesolithic Age, the stone tools began to be made more pointed and sharp. To ensure a life that had the abundance of food and clothing, the stone tools began to appear in increasingly specialized way.
- The simple handheld stone tools were now attached to thick branches from trees with a rope made from animal skin and sinew.
- These tools are known as hand axes, which could be flung at fast-moving animals from a distance. Apart from hand axes, they also produced crude stone-tipped wooden spears, borers, and burins.
- This period also saw the domestication of animals and graving of wild varieties of crops. Because of farming, small settlements began to take shape.
- Archeological excavations have unearthed Mesolithic sites in the Chota Nagpur area of central India and the areas south of the Krishna River.
- The famous Bhimbetka caves near Bhopal belong to the Mesolithic Age and are famous for their cave paintings. The exact date of these paintings is not certain, but some of the paintings are as old as 12,000 years.
- The prehistoric artist used natural white and red pigments in depicting the various themes, which were close to his heart and sustenance.
Neolithic Age or New Stone Age (4000-1800 BC)
- The Neolithic Age (4000 BC-1800 BC) or the New Stone Age was the last phase of the Stone Age and is characterized by very finely flaked, small stone tools, also known as blades and burins.
- The Neolithic Age also saw the domestication of cattle, horses, and other farm animals. which were used for dairy and meat products? An important invention of this time was the making of the wheel.
- The Neolithic Age quickly gave way to a number of small “’cultures” that were highly technical. These people used copper and bronze to make a range of utilitarian tools. This phase or period is termed as the Chalcolithic Age’(1800BC-I000BC).
- Towards the end of the Neolithic period, metals like bronze and copper began to be used. This was the Chalcolithic phase (1800 BC to 1000 BC).
- Chalcolithic cultures extended from the Chotanagpur plateau to the upper Gangetic basin. Some of the sites of this era are Brahmgiri (near Mysore) and Navada Toli on the N armada.