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Neolithic and Chalcolithic culture | UPSC Important Notes & Study Material

Notes By-
 
Sachin Gupta
 
Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3
 

Introduction

Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures
documented is very significant for history of Noelithic culture of India. The new
technologies originated in this region, and spread to the other parts of the world,
including India.
Neolithic Stage is known from the archaeological findings. In India, remains of
this period are found from a number of areas. The nature of Neolithic findings,
along with the main diagnostic features too is important for better understanding.
The main regions of Neolithic occupation are also identified.
The regions of Neolithic spread in India can be identified as — Nucleus and
peripheral areas. Kashmir Valley, Vindhya-Ganga region, and Deccan, are marked
as Nucleus areas of Neolithic occupation. Salient features of each have been
discussed. The findings of the other areas like Ganga plain of Bihar and Bengal,
Chhotanagpur plateau and Assam, Neolithic have been discussed under the head
Peripheral regions of Neolithic in India.

1.2 WHAT IS ‘NEOLITHIC REVOLUTION’?

Terminologies and Concept
The literal meaning of ‘Neolithic’ is New Stone Age. It is the last phase of Stone
Age. It is marked by a number of new cultural traits. Like use of new technology
for making stone tools, new subsistence, new dwelling tendency etc.
All the three distinct stages of Stone Age are characterised by stone tool-making.
In the oldest, the Palaeolithic stage, the first efforts of tool making can be seen in
very primitive forms of chopping and cutting implements. In Palaeolithic period,
the development of stone technology was in the form of decrease in the size and
increase in the efficiency of the working edges. As a result, in the succeeding
stage, the Mesolithic, large quantities of micro/ pigmy tools were being made.
This category marked the culmination of Palaeolithic technology. From the use
of the individual tools, the change was to the use of small tools in composite
forms. Tools like sickle, harpoon etc., could be made by hafting some triangles
on one base. This long practice of development suddenly reversed during the
Neolithic time. Large and heavy tools made on hard stones were produced and
used. This was a new technological stage.

Neolithic tools are also named as — ‘Polished stone axes’, ‘Ground stone axes’
etc. Two new features came to be in practice. One was making of axes and the
other was, grinding of the surfaces of tools. Grinding often resulted in polishing
of the surface. Because of these features the new stone tool making tradition was
named as above.

During the Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic stages the mode of subsistence was
hunting and gathering jungle products. Animal and plant food available in natural
form was collected and consumed. Contrary to this in Neolithic stage, man for
the first time started producing food by artificial means. Two practices were
initiated at this time, — agriculture and domestication of animals. There were
some wild species of animals, such as — goat, sheep and cattle, which were
tamed. Similarly, wild variety of barley, wheat and paddy, were cropped at the
initial stage. Since this was the first stage, both these practices were in incipient
or primitive form. But, these were new and important innovations in the history
of man. Agriculture was such an important invention that a small section of the
society was able to produce food for the entire community. It was thus, termed as
‘Green Revolution’ by archaeologists. V. Gordon Childe coined the term Neolithic
7
revolution in 1920 when he was describing the first agricultural revolution. He Neolithic Revolution
considered the beginning of food production as a revolution because food
production ushered important and significant changes in the subsistence economy
and life of the communities who started this. Surplus food production by the
farmers made it possible for large section of the society to master skills of arts,
crafts and technologies. A natural outcome of which was a rapid growth of trade
and commerce and, economic affluence.

 

The new subsistence also changed the dwelling pattern. The nomadic tendency
of hunting-gathering changed into ‘sedentary’ or settled life. Wandering from
one to other place in search of edibles was not required now. Instead, man’s
dwelling was governed by the preparation and use of cultivated fields.
Construction of durable structures, villages near the farming fields were inevitable.
Domesticated animals too required a shelter, which formed part of human dwelling
complex.

 

All the above new beginnings and a number of other cultural traits justify the
term ‘New Stone Age’ for the Neolithic. The term ‘Revolution’ is attached to it
due to the unique innovation of food production strategies, particularly agriculture.
It is therefore addressed as ‘Neolithic Revolution’.

 

Main Tools and Technologies of Neolithic Period
The diagnostic feature of Neolithic period is ‘Ground stone axes’ or the ‘Polished
stone axes’. The most common type of a Neolithic tool-kit is axe or celt. Shaped
almost like the present day iron axe, this was the form having one sharp cutting
edge, and a butt. The type is found in small to large sizes. Variation in shape of
the butt in the form of English alphabets V, U and with shoulders can be found.
Similar to present day, a Neolithic axe was hafted to a stick with its cutting edge
parallel to the haft (Fig.1.1 A). The other common type is adze. Almost similar
in look the edge of this tool is so that it is used by hafting it in a way that its
cutting edge is placed perpendicular to the haft/ handle (Fig.1.1 B). This is a
carpenter’s tool. The other forms are ring-stones, chisels, hoe, pick etc. All these
types are agriculture and carpentry tools.

 

Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures

 

A Neolithic tool-kit is made from locally available fine grained, but hard rock
like basalt, dolerite, schist etc. After selection of the basic lump of suitable stone,
the main form of the tool is produced by knocking off extra mass of stone by a
stone hammer (Fig. 1.2. A). This procedure is known as flaking. The initial flaking
leaves prominent ridges and depression on the surface of the tool. In the second
stage the undulation of the surface is flattened by removing very small chips
(Fig. 1.2. B). Remember, metal was not known at this stage, so this flaking too
was performed by stone or antler. The fine flaking of the second stage is named
‘pecking’. Though pecking flattens the surface of tool considerably, it still leaves
surface full of minute undulations. Thus the surfaces of the tool in the final stage
were rubbed over a block of stone covered with sand layer (Fig. 1.2.C). Such a
grinding operation made the surface completely smooth and also made it shining
at times.

1.3 ORIGINS OF FOOD PRODUCTION PRACTICES
Background for Origins
Archaeological records for the earliest food production practices come from West
Asia. In around ninth/eighth millennium BCE (Before Common Era), agricultural
and pastoral practices were innovated. Wild animal species like sheep, goat, and
pig were tamed. Also wild varieties of wheat and barley were the first crops
which were cultivated. The question is why this innovation happened in West
Asia? A number of factors worked together prompting the initiation of food
production practices, here.

Mesolithic, the preceding stage of Neolithic, was very wide spread in Levant
Valley of West Asia. The Savanna climatic condition which prevailed in the
early Holocene period, were marked by large stretches of grass land and small
patches of jungles. In this ecological niche wild variety of cereals like wheat and
barley were plenty. Also the population of grazing animals like sheep, goat, cattle,
deer etc., was high. Mesolithic man, who had acquired all the physical capabilities
of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, had a much milder and congenial climatic conditions.

 

than his ancestors. Though hunter-gatherer, he became familiar with the nature Neolithic Revolution
and behaviour of edible plants, seeds, animals etc. He got well adapted in Savanna
landscape of the post-Pleistocene arid conditions.

Activity 1
Understand tools of Neolithic Period. Make comparison of main Neolithic
tools with those of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic.
• Draw a chopper of the early Palaeolithic period.
• Draw a side scraper on a flake of Middle Palaoelithic period.
• Draw a knife made on a blade of Upper Palaeolithic period.
• Draw a triangle of the Mesolithic period.
• Draw a Neolithic axe.

While drawing mark the natural surface on the tools. Also note the number
and sizes of dressing scars on each of the tool. Make comparison of all the
drawn tools on the following:
• Size of all the five tools. Note down the tendency of the decrease and
increase of size in all select categories.
• Compare the number of flake scars on the surface of each of the five
tools. Note the difference on surface of Neolithic axe from the others.
• Note the length of working edge on the tools in proportion to their size.
Write down your observations on the difference of size, nature of surface
and edge form of Neolithic axe from the others. This will give you
understanding of features of development of stone technology, particularly
during Neolithic period.

It is a known fact that when species get adapted within an ecological niche, their
population increases. The increase of Mesolithic population in West Asia created
a situation of ‘food crises’. The natural resources of both cereal and animal began
to lessen. Because, in gathering practices, the seed/ essential part of the cereal
yield to be used for next crop was also consumed. Similarly, the hunting of
grazing animals and their younger members too was detrimental to keep balance
between the consumption and the growth. Thus, a continuous exploitation of
natural resources by hunter-gatherers created a situation of food scarcity.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. This proverb appears to be true in
this case. Mesolithic man was not only physically fully developed, but was also
familiar with his natural surroundings of edible plants and animals. Thus, he
could initiate food production by means of domestication of cereals and animals.
These efforts came up as agricultural and animal husbandry practices.

Origin of food production may also be considered as the outcome of ecological
niche formation as mentioned above. Human being has got the capability of
handling down of knowledge from one generation to the other. Knowledge
accumulates in every generation. Mesolithic people had an intimate knowledge
about the species of plants they collected and the species of animals they hunted.
It appeared that Mesolithic people with their knowledge about the environment
and its resources became species specific hunter- gatherers, meaning they preferred
certain species of plants and animals over others. The cereal, which we call

 

Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures

domesticated variety are distinguished from wild varieties by a character of its
seeds. The seeds in domesticated varieties do not fall off the stalk when ripe.
These are known as non shattering types. In case of the wild cereals after ripening
the seeds fall off the stalk and shatter around. Shattering of the seed is convenient
for natural dispersal of seed. Non shattering types are not. Non-shattering types
are mutants of the shattering types. Human beings selected the non-shattering
seed type of cereals, namely, wheat, barley, rice, millet etc. for domestication
because they could harvest and bring the cereals home with the seeds attached to
the stalk. This saved them from picking seeds one by one from the ground. They
also took charge of propagation of the cereals by planting the seeds of these
varieties near to their homestead.

West Asia, particularly Levant region, has been mainly identified as the nucleus
area for the origin and growth of Neolithic strategies. For not only was the above
geographical background available here, but also one finds individual efforts of
taming of animals and cultivation of cereals at very early date in this region.
Wheat and barley were cultivated for the first time in Levant. There are other
nuclear areas of food production as well. For example lower Yangtze valley in
China is considered as nuclear zone for rice cultivation and Mexico for the
cultivation of maize.

West Asia

Levant includes present countries of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordon.
Zagros Mountain lying north of Rivers Tigris and Euphrates mark a half moon
shaped plain of alluvium, which is known as the ‘Fertile Crescent’. During early
Holocene, this region had savanna climate. The severe post-Glacial climatic
conditions were replaced by arid and mild seasonal climatic cycles. There was
natural growth of such plants and animals in this region, which were suitable for
human consumption. The original inhabitant of the region, the Mesolithic
population got well adapted in this ecological niche, between 10, 000 and 8500
BCE. As was explained earlier, this back ground laid the foundation for the
origin of Neolithic technologies.

Many sites of Mesolithic and Neolithic period have been discovered and some
important ones have been excavated. As a result almost complete sequence of
development of Neolithic is known to us from this region. The early dates and
details of history of animal husbandry and agriculture have made this region as
the nucleus area for the origin and development of Neolithic period. Four
following stages have been identified in the history of Neolithic of West Asia.
Stage I: Advanced Mesolithic, represented by Natufian. Named after Wadiel-Natuf,
a long strip along the eastern coast of Mediterranean in the
present day Israel, this stage was food collecting. Located at the lowest
levels of large sites like Jericho, Beidha, etc. The stage appears to
lay foundation for successive stages of food production.

Stage II: Proto-Neolithic, is a short span (8900 – 8500 BCE), with very limited
remains. This is marked by sporadic attempts of beginning of cereal
cultivation and taming of wild animals. This phase is marked at Natuf
and at Jarmo in Iraq. These are represented with the presence of
mortar and pestle – a cereal processing tool and the presence of
sickles, the harvesting tool.

 

Stage III: Archaic/ Aceramic (without pottery) Neolithic (8500 – 6000 BCE), Neolithic Revolution
is comparatively well represented. Though no pottery was used, it is
marked by settlement of permanent nature, a feature of ‘sedentary
life’. With the use of unbaked bricks (in the shape of flattened cigar),
multi-celled houses were constructed. But, the most imposing feature
in this stage was to fortify the settlement. A feature which is taken to
be a characteristic of urban centre of historical times. Stone and bone
tools, domesticated species of sheep and goat, and cultivated wheat
and barley are noteworthy finds. Domestication of cattle appears in
the last phase (around 6500 BCE). Needless to mention hunting and
gathering of food items continued.

Stage IV: Developed /Ceramic Neolithic (6000 – 4000 BCE), is marked by an
expansion in size of earlier settlements. At Catal Hüyük in Turkey
an area of 32 acre could be demarcated as settlement. An estimate of
10,000 to 8,000 people is calculated to be residing in here. Sun dried
bricks now were of bun shape and the houses rectangular. All species
of animal and cereal were being domesticated. The society was
heading towards the stage of surplus food production.

The follow up of Mature Neolithic by copper using community completed the
story of Neolithic subsistence in West Asia. However, it may be noted that in
archaeological records a hiatus, desertion of sites, is distinct, between Neolithic
and Chalcolithic horizons.

Expansion of Neolithic to the other parts

West Asia thus could be identified as the nucleus region for the origin and growth
of Neolithic practices. By 6000 to 4000 BCE, Neolithic was fully developed in
this region. Agriculture and animal husbandry through an incipient stage, could
give rise to imposing and affluent settlements, which looked similar to cities.
Soon people from Levant migrated to other parts of the world. With them spread
the food production strategies. As the evidence stands today, one branch from
West Asia migrated to west. Through Anatolia this branch reached and settled in
Europe. The other expansion was towards central and south-east Asia. It may be
mentioned here that the major crop of South and South East Asia had been Paddy.
Cultivation of rice, a complex process of agriculture appears to be of local origin
in Asia. This innovation appears to take place in more than one region – the
Spirit Cave in Thailand, Yang Sao in China and Belan Valley in India, for paddy
farming.

Activity 2

Would you not like to understand how Neolithic tools were used?
You can do it by comparing specific form of the Neolithic tool-kit with the
modern tools used in kitchen, farming and carpentry. Remember, in modern
times metal, particularly iron is used for most of the tools. While in Neolithic
period all the tools were made from stone. So compare just the form not the
medium of tools.

• Select a Neolithic axe, adze, chisel, pick, hoe, quern and Pestle.
• Draw out line, plan of each, along with cross section showing form
and position of edge.
12
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures • Go to kitchen. Try to identify the tools and equipments of food
processing with your list of tools.
• Draw or note their similarity with your comparable type.
• Note the function of the comparable type.
• Go and repeat the same exercise with the farming tools.
• Repeat the same exercise with carpentry tools.
Draw your own conclusion on following account:
• Categorize your list of Neolithic tools within the three – kitchen, farming
and carpentry tools, on account of the comparisons you have made.
• Note down the use of identified kitchen tools of your list.
• Note the use of identified farming tools of your list.
• Note the use of identified carpentry tools of your list.

You will be able to understand major activities which were performed by
the Neolithic tool-kit.

1.4 NEOLITHIC REMAINS OF INDIA

General characteristics of Indian Neolithic
It was explained earlier that the diagnostic feature of Neolithic period is the
category of Ground Stone Axes. In India also all the Neolithic sites have yielded
polished or ground stone axes in good number. Also adze, chisel, pick, hoe etc.
form part of this tool-kit. Mace head or ring stone and stone ball form a separated
category, as these appear to be used for defensive purposes. So are the quern,
pestle, which were used for grain processing. Since all of these are made
on large stone piece and are heavy in weight, these are also called ‘heavy duty
tools’.

Besides the ground stone tools, Neolithic remains of India include earlier tools,
like microliths and blades. Microliths are diagnostic tools of the Mesolithic period.
But in many regions, these are associated with the Neolithic deposits, in small
proportion. In some regions, like Kashmir Valley, microliths are not recorded
from Neolithic deposits.

Bone and antler tools comprised needle, point, arrow head etc. Broken bones of
food refuge with point and edge were also used, as tools. At Senuwar this tendency
was very pronounced.

Use of earthen pots in large way was a Neolithic feature. But, in regions like
Baluchistan and Kashmir, Aceramic Neolithic phase has been recorded. Earthen
pots and pans were not in use in these regions. The pottery of Neolithic period
developed from simple hand made forms like bowl, to wheel turned forms of
bowls and vases. Study of tribes who make earthen pots by hands, like Sema
Nagas of the Northeastern India, suggest that bowls can by prepared by coil
method. Surface of the pots were often decorated by pressing cord or mat in
13
semi-dried condition. Grey or dull red colour of a typical early Neolithic pot is Neolithic Revolution
due to ill firing.

On the floors of Neolithic period are found remains of simple structures. The
post-holes and earthen floors indicate that shelters were constructed by the use
of perishable material, like wood, bamboo and earth. There are also examples
when under ground dwellings were used. The huts are found in archaeological
records in small clusters. These might have looked like simple and small villages.
However, in the north-western part of Indian sub-continent, durable rectangular
houses similar to the West Asian Neolithic settlements were in use. But, in other
parts of the country Neolithic settlements were in the form of small villages
made of simple huts.

Neolithic remains also comprise items of arts and crafts. Beads of semi precious
stones, like — carnelian, chert, agate, lapis, turquoise, etc. and clay figures of
animal like bull, and human, particularly portraying mother goddess, are important
categories.

Neolithic sites and regional pattern

Recognition of Neolithic in India dates back to 1852, when an axe was found in
Mysore. Many sites have been discovered, thereafter. A number of these were
also excavated. Neolithic remains are reported from almost entire length and
breadth of our country. But, the sites of the period are confined in small regional
pockets. At least six regions, — the Kashmir Valley, Assam, Vindhya-Ganga
region, Middle Ganga plain, Chhotanagpur and Deccan have yielded Neolithic
sites. All of these are marked by varying characteristics, such as, — density of
sites, date of existence, nature of subsistence and dwelling etc. Thus each region
needs to be discussed individually. However, on account of the dates and density
of sites, it is possible to divide each region of Neolithic occupation within two
main categories — the nucleus and the peripheral regions, which are as below.

1.5 NUCLEUS AREAS OF NEOLITHIC IN INDIA

Three regions in India, — Vindhya-Ganga Valley, Kashmir Valley and Karnataka
(Deccan), can be identified as nucleus areas for the Neolithic occupation. Evidence
for early beginning of food production in India comes from Vindhya-Ganga Valley.
While the northern most, the Kashmir Neolithic and the southern most, the
Karnatak group are significant, due to their diverse culture formats.

Neolithic culture of Vindhya-Ganga Valley

This region is characterised by two geological formations. One the fertile alluvial
plain of the Ganga basin and the other is the hilly tract of Vindhyas (Fig. 1.3).
The area lying within the boundaries of Uttar Pradesh is very important for the
history of Neolithic remains. A continuous sequence of Stone Age has been
recorded in the Valley of Belan, a tributary of the river Ganga. The geological
composition of this region was very suitable for the Stone Age cultures. The
Vindhya-Kaimur ranges are rich in variety of stones, and, the flat southern plain
of Ganga is very fertile. Thus the geographical back ground which is needed for
the origin of food producing strategies was available in this region. The cluster
of sites of Neolithic, pre-Neolithic, and post-Neolithic in Vindhya-Ganga region
provides evidence of origin and developmental stages of Neolithic.

 

Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures

The important sites which have been excavated in this region are – Chopanimando,
Mahgarha, Koldihwa, Pachoh and Indri. The recent findings from
Lahuradeva and the earlier excavated remains from Adamgarh rock-shelter sites
are also important to note. On account of all of these the following stages of
Neolithic of Vidhya-Ganga region can be reconstructed.

i) Advanced Mesolithic/Proto-Neolithic: This stage is reported from Period
III of Chopani-mando. It is significant to note that through a long continuous
development this stage was reached at this site. For example, during earlier
two periods size of tools had become tiny and the stone used was of fine
grained semi-precious category. But at this stage large tools made on hard
rocks like quartzite and sandstone appear. Grinding technology also appears
for the first time. Heavy duty tools were ring stone, quern, pestle, and
hammer. Microliths in good proportion continue.

Use of earthen pot was initiated at this stage. Bowl and small vase of this
phase were hand made and ill fired. A lone example of stone bead and
engraved bone piece were the other significant findings.

In Belan valley, shelters were being constructed right from the Mesolithic
times. In ‘Proto-Neooithic’, this tendency becomes pronounced. A group of
13 huts arranged in bee-hive pattern were exposed at Chopani-mando. Floor
full of tools, pot fragments and fragments of bones were covered by bamboo,
wood and earth. Post-holes suggested that the circular huts had support of
wooden frame and thatched roof. However, hearths were made out side the
huts, and were used for community cooking, as was the case during
Mesolithic times.

This stage is dated around 9th /8th millennium BCE. It was pre-food producing,
as the bones of animals included wild species of cattle and other animals.
Also, the paddy husk after analysis was identified as of wild variety. But,
the pots and the food processing equipments suggest consumption of such
species of wild cereals and animals, which could be domesticated
subsequently.

ii) Early Neolithic stage: This stage is reported from sites like Koldihwa and
Mahgarha. The most significant finding of this stage is the very early date
for the cultivation of paddy, which is seventh to 5th millennium BCE. Though
Fig.1.3
15
there was doubt expressed for acceptance of this date-bracket, a number of Neolithic Revolution
recent sites, like Lahuradeva, confirm cultivation of rice, at this early period
in the Ganga plain.

Remains of settlement of this period from Mahgarha, a site close to Koldiwa,
reveals that the huts were associated with cattle-pens. Small animals like
sheep and goat were kept there. But, for cattle, a large enclosure was
constructed of wooden fence. These places revealed hoof marks. In the
domesticated animal bones identification of horses are noteworthy.
Group of 20 huts were exposed at Mahgarha. These were also constructed
by use of wood, bamboo and mud. Circular in plan, the floors of these were
full of food processing equipments like pestle, muller, quern etc. Axes,
microliths, pottery, bone arrow head and animal food refuge were other
noteworthy remains.

The earthen pots discovered from this phase are developed and are of diverse
fabric. Important types were cord impressed Black-and-Red and rusticated
wares. Baking technology now was much developed. The shapes included
bowl, vase, basic and handi.

Neolithic phase of Belan Valley does not have good representation of ground
stone tools. The proportions of carpentry tools were negligible. Axes were
few, but food processing equipments were many. Bone tools included hunting
tools.

iii) Late Neolithic: The Koldihwa-Mahgarha group suggest that Neolithic in
this region continued up to 2nd millennium BCE. The later phase, date
between third and 2nd millennium BCE, evidence continuation of the earlier
culture with intrusion of Chalcolithic characteristics.

It was during this phase that there was migration of farming communities
from Belan region to east. Sites near the slope of Kaimur hills in Bihar were
occupied during the process. Excavations of Senuwar in Rohtas district
support this presumption. From the lowest level evidence for rice cultivation
is attested. This is dated to 2200 BCE. A little later, multi crop agriculture
which appears to be inspired by Harappan crops, have been identified. This
indicates a change from Neolithic to Chalcolithic subsistence in this region.
Recent archaeological evidence suggests that in Vindhya-Ganga region Neolithic
food producing practices had very early dates. At more than one place rice
cultivation was attempted. One in Belan Valley and the other inner land of the
Ganga plain, as is evident by Lahuradeva. Similarly, domestication of animal
may also have been initiated in Vindhya-Ganga region. Pasotral practices, around.

th millennium BCE, appear to spread to the hilly tracts of the Vindhyan region.
Excavation of Adamgarh rock-shelter indicates that this branch was using
microliths, but was also domesticating animals like cattle, sheep and goat for
their livelihood.

Neolithic culture of Kashmir Valley
Kashmir Valley was occupied between 3rd and mid 2nd millennium BCE, by
Neolithic communities. Main sites like Burzoham, Gufkral, Begagund,
Hariparigom, Pampur, Badatal etc., indicate that small groups of people were

Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures.

spread in this region. Excavations of Burzoham (16 km Northeast of Srinagar)
and Gufkral (41 km East of Srinagar) have given to us full sequence of Neolithic
in Kashmir Valley. The Neolithic remains in this region is divisible within the
following stages —

i) Aceramic Neolithic Stage: This earliest phase of Kashmir Neolithic has
been reported from the lowest levels of Gufkral. Dated around 3rd millennium
BCE, typical Neolithic findings from this phase were ground stone axes,
adzes, chisel, muller made on schist, the local Himalyan rock. Bone tools
comprised points and needles. But a number of broken bone fragments with
points were also rubbed and used. Two beads of bone and stone paste were
noteworthy finds. But, the most significant finding from earliest levels of
Gufkral was pit dwellings. Circular or oval pits were dug. Floors of these
pits were prepared by ramming earth.

Large under ground pit dwellings measured 3 m long, 1.5 m broad and one meter deep. In the centre of this pit
was a platform, on which were located three grain storage pits. The under
ground pits were covered by thatched roof, which was supported by wooden
logs and hay. Under ground huts are suitable for the cold climate of Kashmir.
The earliest subsistence of Aceramic Neolithic of Kashmir Valley was animal
husbandry. In the remains of bones domesticated sheep and goat species
have been identified. These species were tamed from the local wild forms.
Hunting of deer, wild cattle, wolf, bear and Ibex was the supporting edible
consume.

Beginning of agriculture was introduced a little later. But, right from its
first appearance it was recorded in developed form. Since the cereal remains
recovered from the period were wheat, barley, mansur and pea. Clove (Banmethi)
was also cultivated. It is believed that knowledge of agriculture in
Kashmir Valley migrated from out side. The seeds of the cereals for initiating
cultivation were also brought to the region during this process.

ii) Early Neolithic Stage: In view to food producing practices and also nature
of dwelling this stage was similar to the above. But, now earthen pots were
being made and used. This Cermaic Neolithic stage has been reported both
from the Period IB of Gufkral and Period I of Burzoham. Pottery is hand
made and ill fired and are of grey and ochre colour. Main forms of pots used
were bowls, vases and bases. On the flat surface of pots, was mat impressed
design.

Stone tools in this stage were large in number and also new forms like, —
quern mace-head, picks were found along with axes, adzes, chisels etc.
Similarly, in the category of bone tools, important forms were, — harpoon,
needle (eyed and with out eye), arrow-head, point scraper, etc.

The pit dwelling continued in Early Neolithic of Kashmir Valley. At
Burzoham, where good evidence for pit dwellings has come to light, two
types have been recognised. One was of circular and oval shapes and the
other of rectangular shape. These pits were dug by the use of picks. Side
walls were many times plastered by mud. For entering into the pit-huts
steps used to be dug at one corner of the hut or wooden stairs were also
used. On the living floors were found traces of small and large pits, which
were storage of edible items, like grain or also meat, roots etc.

Remains of domesticated species, like sheep and goat increased. Cattle Neolithic Revolution
breeding too were added. Findings of Gufkral Period IB suggested that
cultivation of pea and clove was dropped at this stage. The economy at this
stage appears to be dominated by pastoralism, the subsistence which even
now is followed by tribes like Gaddis of Kashmir region.

iii) Late Neolithic Stage: This phase is represented by the findings from Period
IC of Gufkral and Period II of Burzohom. The subsistence though remained
similar to the earlier stage; it is marked by development in livelihood
strategies, e. g. potting technology and change in the nature of dwelling.
The list of domesticated animals now includes sheep, goat, humped cattle,
pigs, dog and buffalo. Hunting continued. So were the agricultural practices.
The most prominent feature was use of over ground huts.

Remains at Burzohom suggest that some of the pits of earlier times were filled. The
surface was plastered and used as floors. Two types of structures were
constructed. One which was only thatched with the help of erecting posts,
and in other the area of the hut was enclosed by mud or wooden screens.
Traces for the use of sun dried bricks were also noticed in the excavations.
Earthen pots were made both by hand modeling and wheel. The grey and
dull red color of these indicates less perfection of firing technique. Besides,
bowl and vase, basin and dish on stand were also found. The surface of pots
was decorated variously by impression cord, hay, matt or by incising
geometric designs.

Ground stone tools have some new forms like two pointed picks. Cloth
weaving is also attested by terracotta or stone spindle whorls. The dead
were buried in the residences in pit burials, in which animal pets like dogs
were also buried.

Increase in such items which suggest trade included beads, copper tools
like arrow head, needle, ring etc. A painted pot contained 950 carnelian
beads, which was perhaps imported from Harappan region in BaluchistanPakistan.
Exchange of goods or trade between far places and Kashmir Valley
is indicated by these finds.

Neolithic in Kashmir Valley appears to be migration from out side. As presence
of Mesolithic stage was not established here. Perhaps one of the groups from
West Asia had reached this Valley. The physical features of the skeletons from
Burzohom bear similarities with West Asian population. The local species of
sheep and goat, and subsequently, cattle were domesticated by these immigrants.
But, the seeds which they sowed for cultivation of cereals were brought by them
from out side. The noteworthy variation of Kashmir Neolithic was its’Aceramic
stage and the pit dwellings.

Neolithic Culture of Deccan

The plateau of Deccan in Karnatak has a dense concentration of Neolithic sites,
such as, Maski, Piklihal, Hallur, Brahamgiri, Tekkalkotta, Snagankallu, Kopagal
etc. The southern part of Andhra Pradesh too has revealed important Neolithic
habitations, Uttanur, Nagarjunakonda, Palvaya, Rampuan etc. Extension of
Deccan Neolithic was also in north Tamilnadu, as is attested by Payampalli site.
18
Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures

The time span for Deccan Neolithic is 2500 – 1000 BCE. The Neolithic remains
of the region is divisible into four phases:
i) Aceramic Neolithic: Reported from the earliest levels of Sangankallu, is
composed of just flake tools.

ii) Mature Neolithic: This Ceramic Neolithic is pre 1600 BCE. Period IA of
Sangankallu and other sites have revealed this horizon.

iii) Neolitihic-Chalcolithic: Dated between 1600 and 1500 BCE, it is reported
from Sankallu Period IIB, and many other sites. The Neolithic appears to be
in close contact with Chalcolithic communities of the north.

iv) Neolithic-Megalithic: This phase is very common at sites of Deccan, where
overlap between Neolithic and Megalithic can be seen.

All the Neolithic phases of Deccan are influenced by the ecology of the plateau.
Composed of Dharwar formation, the granite and trap, the rocky terrain is drained
by rivers, which have alluvial stretch. Till the mature phase, Neolithic
communities of the region were occupying the hilly terrains, which could support
pastoral subsistence. In the succeeding phase, when these groups came in contact
with Chalcolithic communities, their villages got concentrated in the alluvial
plains. For the reason that fertile land for agriculture was available around the
water channels.

The main subsistence of the Mature Neolithic phase was animal husbandry. In
archaeological remains 80-85 % bones of animals were found to be of humpless
cattle, and buffalo. The other domesticated animals were sheep, goat and ass.
Agriculture at this stage was secondary. Only coarse grains like, Kuthali, Jowar,
lentils and gram were cultivated.

Four types of shelters have been recorded in the Neolithic period of Deccan.
1) Pit dwellings were found at Nagarjunakonda and Payampalli. These pits
were covered by thatched roof, supported by wooden posts. Smaller pits
associate the dwelling which were used for storage of edibles, discard of
garbage or burying the dead.

2) Circular huts with thatched roof supported by wooden posts have come to
light from Period I of Tekkalkotta. The wooden posts were supported by
block of stones.

3) Circular huts with walls made of wood and mud were covered by thatched
roof. Many sites including Tekalkotta have yielded this type.

4) Square and rectangle shaped huts were being constructed in the last phase.
In this case the mud walls up to half height were constructed. Over which
wood and mud walls were made. The conical thatched roof was the upper
component.
The later huts resembled huts made by Boya tribes of the region. Small cluster of
Neolithic huts perhaps looked similar to these tribal villages. Each of the hut had
cattle-shed. Also, cattle-pen, for the village was made adjacent but away from
the village. The ash mounds of Deccan Neolithic, like the one excavated at
Uttarnur, suggested that accumulation of cattle dung were burnt from time to
time.

 

Burying the dead was an important ritual practice of the Deccan Neolithic. Burials Neolithic Revolution
were made within the residential area. Two types of burials have been reported.
Pit burials, in which adults were buried along with edible items and pots. Children
were buried mostly in earthen pots. This custom appears to continue during
Megalithic times in the south.

The culture content of Deccan Neolithic was characterised by polished stone
tools which were made of local rocks – dolerite and trap. Small to medium sized
axe, adze, pick, quern, pestle, ring-stone etc., were the main types. Continuation
of earlier technology, microliths was another feature. Besides usual types a number
of flake and blade tools with serrated edge, point and scraping edge were used.
In the bone and antler tools the forms found were scraper, point and chisel.

Except for Stage I, pottery was found from all the phases of Neolithic of Deccan.
Grey and red ware pots made by hand or slow wheel were characteristic of the
region. These were often painted, grey with ochre colour, and red with purple or
dark brown. Painting included simple geometric designs.

Terracotta figures of animals like bull and birds associate the collections from
Neolithic sites of the Deccan. These forms appear to correspond with Chalcolithic
clay models. Similarly, beads of semiprecious stones also looked similar to the
Chalcolithic beads. Occurrence of lead bead in the Neolithic horizon of the late
phase may be taken to be a Megalithic trait. Similarly small copper objects which
occur in the third phase of Neolithic of Deccan, evidence Chalcolithic contacts.
Occurrence of gold ornaments, particularly earring is accepted as an important
indication of trade between the Deccan Neolithic communities with the
Harappans. For, the gold used by city dwellers of the north during 2nd millennium
BCE, was known to be coming from the Kolar mines of the southern India.

On account of the above it may be summarized that the Neolithic culture of
Deccan though retained earlier culture traits, microliths, it does not appear to
have originated in this region. As the earlier stages of Neolithic are not represented
in this region, and also the time span too is quite late.

1.6 PERIPHERAL AREAS OF NEOLITHIC IN INDIA

The other remains of Neolithic are very late, and also sporadic in nature. There
were early farming communities in Ganga plain, — in Bihar and Bengal, —
Chhotanagpur plateau, — lying within the boundaries of Bengal and Orissa, —
and Assam.

Early Farming communities of Middle Ganga Plain
In the fertile alluvial plain of middle Ganga Valley, many sites were occupied for
many centuries. The earliest levels have been identified as Neolithic. Chirand
(Saran district), Chechar (Vaisali district) and Sahgaura (Gorakhpur district), are
noteworthy. The earliest levels at Chirand (Period IA), was pre-metal, when pitdwellings
were used. The subsistence was characterised by multi-crop cultivation.
The cereals found were wheat, paddy, barley, gram and lentils. Also domestication
of sheep, goat and cattle were practiced. Pottery is characterised by evolved
techniques like Black-and-red ware, and polished red and black wares.

Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures

evolved forms, like, — spouted and lipped vases associated the ceramic collection.
Proportion of ground stone axes was nominal. But, bone and antler tools were
many. Called also as ‘Neolithic-Chalcolithic’, this phase of Chirand is dated
between 1800 and 1400 BCE.

Similar Neolithic horizons have been reported from, — Tamluk and Pandurrajardhibi
in Bengal. Characterised by ground stone axes and primitive pottery, all
these remains fall in the later part of 2nd millennium BCE.
Neolithic remains of Chhotanagpur Plateau
Chhotanagpur is a wide spread plateau, comprising parts of Bihar, Bengal and
Orissa. Many surface finds of ground stone axes included shouldered axe, round
butted axe, chisel, Ring-stone hammer etc., are reported from Santhal pargana,
Chakradharpur, Ranchi and Mayurbhanj districts. Only a few sites have been
excavated. These too have revealed very limited deposit of habitation.

Dated between 1200 and 800 BCE, Barudih in Bihar, revealed round butted
axes, adze, quern, muller, pestle, ring-stone etc. Also hand and wheel made pottery
were obtained. Bowls and dishes were the main forms. Like wise Kuchai in
Orissa, was a contemporary site. Near Baragaon, in Sundergarh district factory
sites of Neolithic tools have recently been discovered, which suggest production
of large quantities of stone axes and Celts in this region.

Neolithic remains of Assam

Many surface findings are reported from Assam. The ground stone tools of this
region are characterised by shouldered axe. Two sites of the region — Sarutaru
and Deojali-handing are significant. Neolthic tools and cord impressed hand
made and wheel turned pottery are reported from the excavation of these sites.
The evidence of Markdola, near Sarutaru suggests that the Neolithic way of life
in this region continued up to first century CE (Common Era).

All the finds of incipient farming from Chhotanagpur plateau, and Assam are
late to very late in date. Thus, could be accepted as late survival of Neolithic
technologies in these geographically isolated areas. It may be recalled that even
to day, Chhotanagpur plateau and eastern India are occupied by tribal population,
who live in cultural isolation.

1.7 SUMMARY

The Neolithic period was the first stage of food production in man’s history. In
India this period is well represented by beginning of agriculture and animal
husbandry. The main regions from where sites of this period are reported are
marked by diverse climatic conditions. Accordingly, the cultures of these regions
differ in time and contents. The earliest Neolithic culture, with rice cultivation
comes from Vindhya-Ganga region. While the other nucleus regions, the northern
and southern parts were of late date. In Kashmir, domestication of animals and
agriculture of the first stage was associated with the immigrants, who were pitdweller.
The Neolithic communities of Deccan were pastoral. Neolithic of both
of these regions were almost contemporary to Chalcolithic cultures of the northwestern
part of the sub-continent. The other regions like the Chhotanagpur plateau,
the middle Ganga plain of Bihar and Bengal and north east, were such areas
21
where Neolithic way of livelihood survived very late, and may not be classified Neolithic Revolution
in the category of true Neolithic.

Suggested Reading
Sankalia, H.D. 1974. Pre-And-Proto-History of India and Pakistan. Poona:
Deccan College.
Thapar, B.K. 1985. Recent Archaeological Discoveries in India. UNESCO
Singh, P. 1991. The Neolithic Origins, Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan.
Vidula Jayaswal, 1992. Bharatiya Itihas ka Nava-Prastar Yuga (Hindi). Delhi:
Swati Publications.

Sample Questions
1) Explain the term ‘Neolithic’.
2) How was a Neolithic axe made?
3) What does ‘Aceramic Neolithic’ mean?
4) What is the diagnostic subsistence of Neolithic period?
5) How do Neolithic food obtaining strategies differ from earlier Stone Ages?
6) What role did ecology play in the origin of food producing practices of
Neolithic period?
7) What is the significance of findings of Period IA at Gufkral?
8) What was the main subsistence of Neolithic communities of Deccan?
9) What was the evidence for the origin of Neolithic in Belan Valley?

 

Neolithic and Chalcolithic Cultures UNIT 2 NEOLITHIC REGIONAL VARIANTS
Contents
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Neolithic Cultural Complexes in India
2.3 Finds from Northern India
2.4 Finds from Southern India
2.5 Finds from Eastern India
2.6 Finds from North-Eastern India
2.7 Finds from the Ganges Valley
2.8 Pre-Harappan Sites from the Subcontinent
2.9 Summary

Suggested Reading Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
Ø define the characteristic features of Neolithic complexes in India;
Ø state the regional variation inherent among them;
Ø discuss why these characteristic cultures arose in the regions it did; and
Ø describe how it is a connecting link to the Chalcolithic and later cultures in
India.

2.1 INTRODUCTION

You have already learnt that over a time of a million or more years during the
Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods there was a steady but slow technological
improvement as evidenced by artifacts and other occupational debris. However
the mode of subsistence continued to be based on hunting, fowling, fishing and
wild food gathering. This continued till around 10,000 years ago in the vast
stretches of mountainous environment in the east coast of the Mediterranean to
the eastern edge of the Baluchistan plateau, an area referred to as the “Fertile
Crescent” and the nuclear area of cultivation of cereals. This new economy based
on food production — the first animals domesticated being dog, cattle, sheep
and goat, and first plants cultivated being wheat and barley — had a lasting
impact on human culture and environment. Meanwhile, sometime around 7,000
BC in Southeast Asia, cultivation arose. The new plants domesticated included
cereals such as rice and millet, and animals such as the pig. It is also believed
that certain plants such as beans, cabbages and root crops were first cultivated
here.

The advent of food production led to an assured food supply, inclusive of plants
and animals, which ultimately led to sedentarianism and settlement of villages.
This had a great impact on the cultural life of man. In the new economy men,
women and children of varied ages contributed to production, which had not
happened in the economies of the earlier cultural phases. The food supply Neolithic Regional Variants , based
on production, at times led to a surplus, thus enabling many to follow other
occupations such as basketry, pot-making, masonry, carpentry etc., thereby leading
to diversification in economic and occupational practices. Sedentarianism also
had its effect on material culture, the biggest contribution being made to the
erection of structures and houses, which were more or less permanent in nature.
Besides this, there was an improvement in stone tool technology with the
development of grinding and polishing technique, and introduction of pottery
making. The technique of grinding and polishing gave rise to the re use of the
tool. As the tool became blunt after use, it could be re sharpened by grinding and
polishing. Earlier a mistake in flaking and breakage at the time of use would
lead to the discarding of the unfinished tool and /or the broken tool, and the
knapper would have to start all over again by manufacturing another tool. The
technique of the Neolithic was free from such limitations. Religious beliefs
increased during this period, with the dead being buried along with weapons,
pottery, food and drink in their graves. Although such burials were found
sporadically in the earlier periods, its importance and use increased in the Neolithic
period.

In India, the beginnings of this “revolution”, as V. Gordon Childe defines it,
were seen in different parts of the country. In this unit we will look into the
different Neolithic cultures observed from different parts of the country on the
basis of archaeological evidences from some specific sites. Additionally, we will
see whether there is any regional variation among them. Towards the end of this
unit we should be in a position to state how this culture developed and played an
important role in the evolution of succeeding cultures in the country.

2.2 NEOLITHIC CULTURAL COMPLEXES IN INDIA

In India, hundreds of Neolithic sites have been discovered, however a single and
uniform Neolithic culture has never been witnessed. This phenomenon led
scholars to try and find out the patterns visible in the Neolithic context. As early
as 1959, V. D. Krishnaswami studied the Neolithic cultures in India and concluded
that four geographical zones corresponding to specific cultural traits could be
seen. These included the northern zone comprising of Kashmir, eastern zone
comprising the states of Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Assam, central and
western zone comprising Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, and southern zone
comprising the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It was
observed that the northern zone was characterised by pit-dwellings and pointedbutt
celts, while the eastern zone was characterised by shouldered celts.

The central and western zone featured microliths and potsherds more in comparison
to celts, while the southern zone showed the evidence of broad butt-end celts.
In 1962, another well-known scholar H. D. Sankalia tried to look into the Neolithic
complexes in India. He opined that in the country two clear-cut complexes could
be seen: Pure Neolithic and Neo-Chalcolithic. Pure Neolithic was seen in states
such as Assam, Bihar and Bengal. Here shouldered ground axes and very little
pottery were found. On the other hand, Neo-Chalcolithic cultures show a
combination of both Neolithic and Chalcolithic traits. It was observed that many
sites in the country did not show a pure Neolithic nor a pure Chalcolithic, but
24
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
rather a combination of the two. This mainly comprised the central, western and
southern zones of Krishnaswami. This is a culture mostly seen in the states of
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where ground stone tools, microlithic
blades, handmade pottery, round huts and one or two pieces of metal were found.
Early Baluchi cultures, for instance that found in Kili Ghul Muhammad, where
hand and wheel made pottery, ring stones, saddle and quern and celts were found,
together with Bagor in Bhilwara where microliths, copper arrowheads, pottery
and huts with wooden posts were found, were also included in the NeoChalcolithic
culture.
At present, due to the discovery of newer sites and systematic work undertaken,
more specific culture-based zonation is witnessed. This zonation is however
broadly based on the earlier works of Krishnaswami and Sankalia. These various
cultural complexes are so called since it reveals some characteristic traits or
features in the region where it is found. Interestingly, these complexes correspond
to various geographical regions in India, viz., north, south, east, north-east and
the Ganges valley. These different cultural complexes will be dealt in the next
section.
Activity 1: Take a map of India and plot out the cultural zones as given by
Krishnaswami and Sankalia. Reason what might have been the mitigating
factors which led to the zone-specific cultures.
2.3 FINDS FROM NORTHERN INDIA
In the north, the most important sites come from the Kashmir valley. Here over
forty Neolithic sites have been discovered, of which the most important ones are
Burzahom and Gufkarl. The word burzahom in Kashmiri refers to “birch”, and
is an indication that a large number of birch trees grew in this region. Two phase
of the Neolithic culture is found here – early Neolithic and late Neolithic. In
early Neolithic, sixteen dwelling pits were recovered, with dimensions such as
circular or oval at the top and square or rectangular at the bottom. Hearths and
storage pits were also recovered inside the pits indicating the use of fire and
possible use of cereals. The largest pit measured 2.7 metres at the top, 4.6 metres
at the bottom and at a depth of 4 metres, with stairs leading into it. These were
no doubt that the Neolithic people lived and pursued their daily work inside the
pits. However, you would be surprised that hearths and storage pits were also
found outside near the covered area, indicating that they also lived outside the
pits. How could this have happened? Does it mean that some people lived inside,
while others lived outside the pits? It can be however conjectured that the same
group of people lived inside the pits in the biting cold of Kashmir, and preferred
to sleep and work outside in the warm summers. Some of the important material
evidences found includes pottery of grey colour, evidently handmade, coarsely
finished and ill-fired. In all probability pottery was made by coil method, husk
and grass having been used as tempering material. Celts were also found which
included axes, wedges, chisels, adzes, hoes, picks, ring stones, querns and
harvesters. Bone tools included harpoons, eyed needles, points and arrowheads.
No evidence of domesticated plants was found.
There occurred a change in residential pattern in late Neolithic, when pits were
abandoned, filled, rammed and sprinkled with red ochre. Presence of post holes
suggests that probably houses were made of mud. A large rectangular
25
Neolithic Regional Variants superstructure with forty-two post holes was also seen, probably used as a
community assembly hall. Same types of pottery continued, while a new variety
called the burnished black ware was introduced. Evidence of human burials in
flexed position is witnessed. Interestingly, evidence of trepanning of skull is
also seen.
In a neighbouring site called Gufkarl, three phases of Neolithic culture could be
seen. Neolithic IA was an aceramic phase comparable to Burzahom. Here
underground pits were found together with a large variety of stone tools such as
points, scrapers, axes, drills, picks, pounders, querns and mace heads. Bone tools
such as needles and points were also found. In Neolithic IB, handmade pottery
with mat impressions makes an entry while all other tools continue. In the final
Neolithic IC, ground stone celts, querns and pounders appear together with
terracotta spindle whorls.
Radiocarbon dates places the Neolithic culture in Kashmir at 2400 to1500 BC.
Activity 2: What do you think was the purpose of trepanning as found in
Kashmir?
2.4 FINDS FROM SOUTHERN INDIA
One of the most critical evidences of the new subsistence economy comes from
peninsular India, from northern Karnataka and western Andhra Pradesh, and a
few sites located in southern Karnataka, coastal Andhra Pradesh and northern
Tamil Nadu. Important sites are many and include Palavoy, Utnur and
Nagarjunakonda from Andhra Pradesh; Halur, Maski, Parval, Tekkalokotta, T.
Narsipur and Sangankallu from Karnataka; and Piyampalli, Dailaimalai and
Mullikadu from Tamil Nadu, among others. Results obtained from all these above
mentioned sites are similar with a few exceptions. In the earlier Neolithic phase,
handmade coarse pale red ware with microliths and ground stone tools were
seen. In the later phase, handmade, dull burnished grey ware, ground stone tools
like axes, adzes, wedges and chisels, bone points and beads and terracotta are
seen. Burials were in extended exhumation with stone grave goods for adults,
and urn burials for infants.
The most important finds from this region are the ash mounds (accumulation of
burnt cow dung) found in Utnur situated at Mahbubnagar in Andhra Pradesh.
What do you think these ash mounds, made up of burnt cow dung, indicate?
Well, it indicates that the Neolithic people reared cattle, and that cattle herding
was an important component, if not the only one, of their economy. Many authors
consider it as a direct evidence of stockade and cattle penning. They are found
closely associated with habitation sites thereby giving credence to the evidence
of the role of cattle herding in the economy. It is likely that dung from cattle pens
was allowed to accumulate and periodically set ablaze in a ceremonial way. This
conjecture can be made by observing the present scenario in many places in
south India, where during annual cattle festivals; accumulation of dried cow
dung is ceremonially set ablaze. The study of the ash in the mounds showed that
it had several distinct layers; in some layers it is soft and loose and in others
heavily vitrified, suggesting that cow dung was burnt at varying temperatures. In
the ash mounds were also found artifactual evidences such as stone and bone
tools, animal bones and pottery. At Budihal at Gulbarga district in Karnataka,
26
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
hoof impressions of cattle have been found beneath the cow dung, which again
shows evidence of cattle penning. Budihal has also produced evidence of a
butchering floor. Evidently and proven conclusively, animal husbandry was the
mainstay of the economy of the Neolithic people in the peninsular region.
However the presence of rubbing stones and querns in the habitational debris
suggests that some form of grain cultivation or collection was also done.
The Neolithic people lived in circular or rectangular wattle-and-daub huts with
floors having stone paving. Interestingly, large stones were supposedly placed
around the huts on the outside. Why do you think it was done so? It has been
suggested that this particular structural feature relates to an attempt at protection
of the huts from winds. Besides the use of stones, and wattle and daub, the
people used thatch for a roof as evidenced by a burnt hut from Sangankallu. The
Neolithic people buried their dead, both children and adults in clay urns beneath
the floors of their houses. The urns contained sometimes double or multiple
burials.
This particular culture in southern India specially those with cattle pastoralism
is dated by radiocarbon dating from 3000 to1000 BC.
2.5 FINDS FROM EASTERN INDIA
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, Eastern India, comprising the states
of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal, has also yielded a number of Neolithic sites.
Most of tools from these sites are surface collections. In fact there is no dearth of
surface occurrence of Neolithic tools, and apparently many manufacturing sites
have also been found but dates and stratigraphy pose a serious problem. The
Neolithic tools include pointed-butt celts (axes), chisels, bar celts, shouldered
celts, hammer stones and perforated discs found in the Chhotanagpur plateau.
Direct evidence on agriculture was rarely found. Mostly indirect evidence is
gathered from potsherds from Singhbum showing evidence of straw in the paste,
except for a site called Barudih, in Singhbhum, which was excavated by Dharani
Sen of Calcutta University and had yielded burnt rice grains in a small pot. All
these suggest that Neolithic people in eastern India subsisted on cultivation of
rice.
In the last decade, a few sites from eastern India were excavated partially. These
include sites such as Kuchai in Mayurbhanj district, Golbai Sasan in Khurda
district, Kuanr in Keonjhar district and Sankarjang in Angul district in Orissa
which have provided more evidence about the Neolithic culture of this region.
Kuchai is a stratified site that yielded evidence of Neolithic culture after a long
sequence of earlier cultures. This site has yielded pointed-butt celts and cord
impressed pottery. Golbai Sasan is also a stratified site even though the excavated
area is very limited in extent. Here, period I appear to be Neolithic and show a
range of dull red and handmade pottery with cord or tortoise shell impressions in
association with a few worked pieces of bone and traces of floors and post holes.
Additionally, stone celts and an extended human burial have also been recovered.
The succeeding period is Chalcolithic since it yields copper objects together
with polished stone and bone tools. Similarly, Kuanr has yielded pointed-butt
celts, evidence of wattle and daub structures and copper bangles. From Sankarjang
too several human burials were excavated in association with bar celts and copper
artefacts. Ground stone tools are also very common as surface finds in Dhenkanal
27
and Keonjhar districts. They also include miniature celts which were probably Neolithic Regional Variants
intended for some ritual function.
Radiocarbon dates from Barudih, Golbai Sasan and Sankarjang suggest duration
of 2200 BC to 700 BC for the Neolithic culture.
2.6 FINDS FROM NORTH-EASTERN INDIA
Reports of Neolithic tools from North eastern part of India came out since the
pre-independence period. Garo Hills in Meghalaya is reported particularly to be
rich in Neolithic sites. As many as eighteen sites have been discovered and studied.
These include, Selbalgre, Misimagre, Tebrongre, Rongram, Chitra Abri, Didami,
Makbil Bisik, Matchakholgre, Ganolgre and others. Besides these, numerous
tools have been reported from the states of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya,
Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura as well. In many of these regions,
Neolithic tools have been found as surface finds. Some of these are reportedly
factory sites for manufacturing of tools. How can one say whether a site is a
manufacturing or quarry site, or not? Evidently, it is possible to infer so, from
the presence of a large number of cores, unfinished and discarded tools and
large quantity of waste materials which came out while manufacturing of tools.
In the Neolithic context, a large number of grinding stones were also found.
The tools found from this region include ground stone celts of shouldered and
splayed varieties collected mostly as surface finds. These along with cord
impressed pottery found in the excavations of Daojali Hading and Sarutaru in
Assam, and Selbalgre in Meghalaya, form important material evidences for
Neolithic culture. The pottery is handmade and made of impure clay. These might
have been made by coil or ring method. Many sherds carry impressions of cord
or string and grooved wooden mallets on their surface suggesting that the vessels
were enlarged and shaped by beating with a wooden mallet wrapped with a cord.
Daojali Hading is a stratified Neolithic site from North Cachar Hills, Assam. A
large number of household appliances like corn grinders, mortar, pestle, querns
and mullers are present at the site. These provide indirect evidence of food
production by Neolithic inhabitants of the area. Large quantities of grinding
stones and by-product flakes have been found here too. Sarutaro, another
excavated site located in south eastern corner of Kamrup district, Assam, showed
ground stone celts, pottery and charcoal. Pottery was handmade, coarse, gritty
and brown, pale brown or grey in colour. The site is quite late in date as is found
by Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. At Parsiparlo, an excavated site from
Kamala valley in Arunachal Pradesh, Neolithic cultures preceding the Iron Age
is found. Mostly pecked and ground stone implements together with a few sherds
were found. The sherds were beaten in such a way that square-grid and honey
comb grids were impressed upon them. Few fire places with deposition of ash
and charcoal were found. However no structural remains (like post holes) were
seen suggesting that Parsiparlo was an open-air site. Selbalgre, the site from
Garo Hills in Meghalaya turned out to be a stratified site, with the Neolithic
phase overlying geometric and non-geometric microliths. The Neolithic phase
yielded handmade pottery, very coarse and grey or dull brown in colour.
No radiocarbon dates are available for the Neolithic culture in north-east India.
However H. D. Sankalia inferred that the Neolithic cultures in the region could
have been within the time frame of 5000 BC to 1000 BC.
28
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures 2.7 FINDS FROM THE GANGES VALLEY
South of the Ganges, ground stone tools have been reported as surface finds
widely from the hilly tracts of the northern Vindhyas, particularly in Rewa and
Sidhi districts of Madhya Pradesh and Banda and Mirzapur districts of Uttar
Pradesh. However important sites that were excavated include the sites of Chirand
in the middle Ganga plains, Koldihawa and Mahagara in the Vindhyas among
others. This is a strategically located area where evidence of the use of rice is seen.
Chirand, situated in district Chhapra in Bihar is a stratified site with Neolithic
preceding Chalcolithic and Iron Age. Tools found include bone and antler tools,
microliths (blades, lunates and points), picks, scrapers, eyed-needles, bodkins,
pierced batons, ground celts, pestles and querns. Pottery used was red, grey,
black and red wares, made on a turntable. Terracotta objects, beads, bangles,
wheels, bulls, birds and serpent figurines were also found. The use of rice is
evidenced from paddy husk impressions on burnt clay. Besides rice, they might
have also grown wheat, six-row barley, lentil and green gram such as masur and
moong dal. Evidently they lived in houses that were circular with a diameter of
2 metres, and made of bamboo and mud plastered walls, and paved floors.
Koldihawa, situated towards the south of Allahabad and on the right bank of
Belan river, showed a three-fold sequence, namely, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and
Iron Age. The people here also lived in circular huts marked by post holes. They
used ground stone tools and handmade cord-impressed ware. A cattle pen with
post holes at the corners and hoof impressions on the floor were found. The
animals domesticated included sheep, goat and cattle as analysed from the faunal
remains and hoof impressions. Evidence of an irregular cattle pen also comes
from Mahagara, a site on the left bank of the Belan River. This irregularly
rectangular cattle pen (12.5 x 7.5 m) was fenced by 20 posts, with wider space
for opening. No pottery and tools were found within. Large number of cattle
hoof marks was found within. Outside the pen, sheep and goat hoof marks were
present. Evidently, Mahagara Neolithic people also lived on stock raising.
Interestingly, rice husks were found in Koldihawa in the paste used in potterymaking.
Palaeo-botanical analysis of this rice showed that it belonged to a
domestic variety. Radiocarbon dates place it at 7000 BC to 5000 BC. This provides
the earliest evidence for rice cultivation in the sub-continent.
Activity 3: List the artifactual evidences from different regions. Make a
comparative chart.
2.8 PRE-HARAPPAN SITES FROM THE
SUBCONTINENT
Whenever we discuss Neolithic culture in India, we very rarely touch upon the
pre-Harappan Neolithic sites. The Neolithic cultures of the Indus valley are
actually of great importance as they are the fore-runners of the Indus valley
civilization. For this reason, these Neolithic cultures are often called pre-Harappan
while the Indus valley civilization is labelled as Harappan. Some of the important
pre-Harappan sites include Amri, Kot Diji, Gumla and Mehrgarh, which will be
dealt with in detail in another lesson. Amri, a site situated in modern day Sind in
29
Pakistan, showed evidence of well-planned houses. Some of the houses were Neolithic Regional Variants
rectangular and of various sizes, while others were small cells probably used for
storage purposes. About 55 per cent of pottery was seen to be wheel-made. In
this site, jar burials were also noticed. On the other hand, Kot Diji showed very
interesting pre-Harappan features with defensive walls, well-aligned streets and
houses, large communal fire-places, wheel-made pottery, terracotta toys etc. In
Gumla, which lies to the northwest of Dera Ismail Khan in Baluchistan, a bullhead
deity or a horned deity made of terracotta was found.
For several decades, agriculture-based Neolithic settlements in the subcontinent,
which used only stone tools, have been known from sites like Kili Ghul
Muhammad and Rana Ghundai in the hilly terrain of Baluchistan. Their beginning
has been dated to around 4000 BC. However, later excavations at Mehrgarh
have pushed back the antiquity of settled village life in the subcontinent to 7000
B.C.
Mehrgarh is known to be the oldest agricultural site in the Indian subcontinent.
This is a site which is located near the Bolan Pass, Baluchistan. At this site about
seven cultural layers were found, of which the earliest three were Neolithic. The
first Neolithic phase (IA) in Mehrgarh showed the evidence of tools such as
polished stone tools, microliths and bone tools. There was no pottery at this
stage but baskets coated with bitumen were used. Hunting, together with stockbreeding
and plant cultivation were the economies of this region. Cattle, sheep,
goat and water buffalo were reared while the cultivated plants comprised several
varieties of wheat and barley. The houses were made of mud and mud-bricks.
Multiple rooms without doors were believed to have been used for storing grain.
The dead were buried under the floors of the houses where people lived. Some
of the skeletons which were buried have been found sprinkled with red ochre.
Necklaces of micro-beads of steatite along with beads of semi-precious stones
such as turquoise, lapis lazuli and sea shell were found in the graves. Stone axes
and microliths have also been found as grave goods. In two cases, bodies of
young goats were also discovered. The next phase (IB) saw the appearance of
pottery. The third Neolithic phase datable to 5000 B.C., is divided into three
sub-periods on the basis of changes in ceramic technology. In IIA – handmade,
basket-impressed coarse ware was used. Quality seemed to have improved in
sub-period IIB. In IIC, wheel-made pottery was introduced. The vessels of buff
to reddish colour were painted in black pigment with simple straight and curved
lines, rows of dots and criss-crosses. One of the interesting finds of this site is
cotton seeds. This find is of great importance since it suggests the possibility of
the use of this fibre for textile manufacture. Neolithic III saw a marked increase
in the size of the settlement and remarkable development in ceramic industry.
Vessels were decorated with paintings of birds and animals as also with geometric
designs. Oats and another variety of wheat were added. There is evidence of
stone bead manufacture and copper smelting at the site too. Architectural remains
include a large granary with multiple rectangular cells, much larger than the
granaries of the preceding periods.
2.9 SUMMARY
As we come to the end of this lesson, it is very clear that there are different
cultural traits as far as Neolithic in India is concerned. Interestingly two different
30
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
features are witnessed. At one level, the differences are many and varied while at
another level, some traits are similar even though they fall in different geographical
zones. It is therefore unlikely that climatic changes and shifting of floral and
faunal boundaries at the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene,
when Neolithic started, are directly related to the origin of agriculture in India. It
was probably the environment and the exploitative technology, combined with
adaptability that was more or less largely responsible for the transition from the
food-gathering to the food-producing economy. Such a transition came at different
periods in different parts of the country, as evidenced from the difference in
dates procured. This brings us to the point that India seemed to have witnessed a
very fluctuating Neolithic in terms of the great difference in time, for instance,
between the pre-Harappan sites vis-a-vis the eastern sites.
In terms of relationships, it would seem that with the exception of the
Chhotanagpur region which may have some connections as yet unidentified with
the south, the early farming communities in each region were distinct from each
other. Of these the Indo-Pakistan community seems to be inspired from west
Asia, the north from northeast, the Ganges valley from south, and northeast from
south-east Asia and vice versa. In fact, northeast India which is very strategically
located in the borderline of Southeast Asia and south Asia has been touted by
many as the nuclear area of early rice cultivation. However, this fact is yet to be
ascertained.
At the same time it is observed that there is an apparent time lag between the
manifestations of the Neolithic economy in the Indian group of regions and their
counterparts in the nuclear areas earlier mentioned. In fact, in India it makes its
appearance after thousands of years have elapsed. One of the main issues herein
is the mechanism of diffusion and its extent which are yet to be ascertained.
Therefore, the appearance of the early farming communities or the transition
from food gathering to food producing in India is shown to have come about
palpably later than in west Asia and southeast Asia which is rather conditioned
by several factors including the level of exploitative technology, environment,
late continuance or survival of the Mesolithic economy etc. It is also partly due
to the fact that we have as yet not investigated the antecedent stages of the foodproducing
economy especially with reference to the domestication of animals
and plants, climate, soil, relief etc., which could, in the light of the present
approach to the problem, push the story of early farming in India backwards.
Suggested Reading
Agrawal, D.P. 1982. The Archaeology of India. New Delhi: Select Books
Syndicate.
Allchin, B and R. Allchin. 1983. The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan.
New Delhi: SBS.
Bhattacharya, D.K. 1989. An Outline of Indian Prehistory. New Delhi: Popular
Prakshan
Chakrabarti, D.K. 1999. India An Archaeological History: Palaeolithic
Beginnings to Early Historic Foundations. New Delhi: OUP.
Sankalia, H.D.1974. The Prehistory and Protohistory of India and Pakistan.
31
Pune: DCPRI. Neolithic Regional Variants
Subba, T. B and S. C. Ghosh. 2003. The Anthropology of North-East India: A
Textbook. New Delhi: Orient Longman.
Sample Questions
1) Discuss the Neolithic Culture of Northern and Eastern India.
2) Why Neolithic is called revolution not evolution? Comment on it with
suitable Indian Neolithic examples.
Write a note on the following
i) Chirand
ii) Daojali Hading.
32
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures UNIT 3 CHALCOLITHIC CULTURES
Contents
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Ahar Culture
3.3 Kayatha Culture
3.4 Malwa Culture
3.5 Jorwe Culture
3.6 Ochre Colored Pottery (OCP) Culture
3.7 Painted Gray Ware (PWG) Culture
3.8 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
Ø understand the regional diversity of Chalcolithic cultures in western and
central India;
Ø understand the significance of the chronology of these cultures;
Ø understand how the Ochre Colored Pottery (OCP) culture and the Painted
Gray ware (PWG) culture are distinctively different; and
Ø grasp the problem of how the entire cultural landscape in north, western
and central India remained devoid of full-fledged urbanism for almost
thousand years following the Harappan decline.
3.1 INTRODUCTION
In post-independent period an interest developed among the scholars for the
systematic study of social organisations and political and economic institutions.
This was apparent in writings of scholars like D.D. Kosambi. A similar interest
influenced the archaeological work during this time when, spearheaded by
scholars like H.D. Sankalia, there appeared an effort to reconstruct the past ways
of life in different regions. Detailed exploration of Chalcolithic sites followed,
particularly in central and western India, with excavations at a few chosen sites.
Multi-disciplinary studies at sites like Inamgaon in Maharashtra threw substantial
light on past subsistence, religious practices and social organisation. The
Chalcolithic culture of a region was defined according to certain salient features
seen in ceramics and other cultural equipments like copper artifacts, beads of
semi-precious stones, stone tools and terracotta figurines. Migration and diffusion
of population groups were often cited as causes for the origin of these cultures,
as seen for example, in the idea of an Aryan ‘people’ being the bearers. Often
linkages of archaeological sites were sought with names of places mentioned in
the Puranas and epics which were believed to have been located in the same
geographical region. Many of these ideas have been critiqued in recent years,
e.g. defining a culture on the basis of pottery types and explaining change by
factors of diffusion and migration (Panja 2002).
&
33
On the other hand the Ochre Coloured Pottery Chalcolithic Cultures , commonly known as OCP, seen
at over one hundred sites in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar
Pradesh, presents a different problem. Opinions are still divided about the
authorship of OCP ‘cultures’. The dates assigned are diverse, ranging from 2800
BC to 900 BC. The PGW phase, marked by the deluxe ware of the same name
has evoked many queries regarding its status. Its association with iron at some
sites has been the subject of much scholarly discussion.
The Chalcolithic cultures such as Ahar, Kayatha, Malwa, Jorwe, Ochre
colored Pottery and Painted Gray are discussed in this unit.
3.2 AHAR CULTURE
The Ahar culture –also known as the Banas culture, the latter term derived from
the name of the valley in which most of the sites of this culture are located—is
among the earliest Chalcolithic cultures of India. This is seen from the calibrated
radio-carbon dates available from many of the sites. The culture has been named
after the type site Ahar, in District Udaipur, Rajasthan which was excavated in
1961-62 by H.D. Sankalia of Deccan College, Pune. South eastern Rajasthan,
where the Ahar culture sites are found, is known as Mewar. Within this region,
the sites are located in the eastern plain and the southeastern plateau, two of the
terrains that mark the physiographic condition of Rajasthan. This region is rich
in mineral deposits, and archaeologists postulate from available evidence that
this region also supplied copper to the Harappan sites.
More than sixty sites of the Ahar culture have been discovered so far, of which
the most extensively excavated sites are Ahar and Balathal. The sites of Gilund,
Bagor and Ojiyana have also been excavated, while section scraping at Marmi
and Tarawat was undertaken to ascertain the culture sequence and chronology.
Excavations at Ahar revealed a two-fold sequence of cultures of which the first
period (Period I) is Chalcolithic and the second (Period II) is early Historic.
Available radio-carbon dates (calibrated) suggest a time bracket of 2025 BC—
1270 BC for the Chalcolithic phase. The ancient mound of Balathal is located on
the eastern fringe of the village Balathal in Udaipur district, on the west bank of
a river locally known as Kataranadi. The excavations were conducted at the site
from 1994-2000 by Deccan College, Pune, in collaboration with Institute of
Rajasthan Studies, Rajasthan University, under V.N. Misra. This site also revealed
habitational deposits belonging to cultural periods like Ahar. A series of radio
carbon dates place the Chalcolithic culture at Balathal between the beginning of
3
rd millennium BC and 1500 BC.
Balathal is perhaps the most-extensively researched site of this culture, the
ceramics having been subjected to detailed studies. Based on the material culture
of Balathal, and a comparative study with that of the other sites (Misra, 2002-
03), has divided the Ahar culture into four phases like Early Ahar/Balathal phase,
Transitional Phase, Mature Ahar phase and Late Ahar phase.
The Early Ahar phase has so far been noticed only at Balathal. It is marked by
mud and mud brick houses with hearths in some. The material culture is
characterised by eight types of wares, the potters having already invented the
inverted firing technique of black and red ware and that of reserved slip ware. In
the inverted technique at the time of firing the pots are places in an inverted
34
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
manner, so that the parts, which did not get any oxygen became black, while the
portion which had access to oxygen became red. A Sturdy Red ware and Red
Slipped ware and painted Buff ware are noticed. Beads of steatite and terracotta
have been obtained in good numbers. A few stone implements are also found.
The faunal and floral remains indicate a mixed economy. This phase is placed at
the end of fourth millennium BC.
The second phase, also identified at Balathal is a transitional one which did not
have a long time span. In the upper layers the Mature Aharian gradually became
prominent. This is evident in the ceramic types.
The Mature phase witnessed a large number of settlements and the emergence of
a few key sites and many satellite sites. A uniform settlement pattern is seen at
all sites with certain additional features at some sites like a fortified enclosure at
Balathal. Houses were now made of stone, mud and mud brick. At Balathal the
fortified enclosure is centrally located and surrounded by the residential complex.
The reasons for such a plan remain unknown till today. Features associated with
the houses are hearths, storage pits, saddle querns and small storage jars. Industrial
activities were marked in mass production of ceramics, metal works, and
development of bead industries. Beads are made in shell, bone, ivory, semiprecious
stones, steatite and terracotta. The diagnostic wares of this period are
the black and red wares, red and grey wares. Refinement of technology is seen at
this stage with the invention of fast wheel. Hallmark of this stage are the
techniques of slipping, polishing or burnishing and embellishing the vessels with
many types of decorations. A large number of new shapes and forms emerged
during this period. Sankalia and his team had discovered several copper ore
quarrying sites within the radius of 32 km of Ahar. For this reason, this region is
considered as the source of copper supply to the Harappans.
The evidence of rice has been noticed at Ahar in the form of impressions on
potsherds. The other crops cultivated during this period were wheat, barley, milletbajra
and jawar. Faunal remains of domesticated species like cattle, buffalo, goat,
sheep, pig, dog and fowl have been recovered from excavations. The wild animals
hunted were sambhar, nilgai, chital, blackbuck and wild boar. The evidence
suggests mixed economy of cultivation and hunting gathering.
As for social organisation one cannot rule out the presence of specialised classes
of craftsmen. But, on the basis of the limited nature of evidence it is not known
whether it was a chiefdom society. The evidence of fortification at Balathal implies
that there may have been internecine conflicts. A large number of bull figurines
appearing in large number from the end of the mature Ahar phase has been ascribed
with ideological meaning, but nothing concrete can be said.
An inhospitable climate experienced during the end of the second millennium
BC led to the termination of the farming culture in southeastern Rajasthan.
Features of decline are evident in the Late Ahar phase.
Regarding the authorship of this culture opinions are sharply divided. Sankalia
had seen a West Asian link which was disputed by later scholars. Recent research
highlights the affinity between the Ahar culture and a chalcolithic culture in
Gujarat.
35
Chalcolithic Cultures 3.3 KAYATHA CULTURE
This Chalcolithic culture was named after the type site Kayatha, in Ujjain dist.,
Madhya Pradesh. The excavation was due to the joint collaboration of Deccan
College, Pune and Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and
Archaeology, Vikram University, Ujjain. Kayatha has been identified with the
ancient Kapitthaka, birth place of the celebrated astronomer-astrologer Varaha.
Excavations revealed a five-fold sequence of cultures:
i) Kayatha culture (Ca. 2450-2000 BC.)
ii) Ahar culture (Ca. 1950-1700 BC)
iii) Malwa culture (Ca. 1700-1400 BC)
iv) Early Historic (Ca. 600 BC-200 BC)
v) Sunga-Kusana-Gupta (Ca. 200 BC-600 BC)
Over forty settlements of the Kayatha culture have been so far discovered in the
Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh, most of them being located on the tributaries
of the Chambal River.
The characteristic forms of ceramics include: the chocolate slipped ware also
known as Kayatha ware. The types are bowls, high and short-necked storage jars
with globular profile and basins. Similarities are evident with the sturdy painted
pottery found at some pre-Harappan sites. A red painted buff ware, a concave
necked pot with a bulging body, with or without carination, a dish or shallow
bowl and a basin, most probably constituted table ware. Some bowls, basins and
globular pots represented combed ware. The bulk of the total yield, about 60%,
including forms like handis, basins and storage jars were coarse handmade red/
grey ware. Use of both copper and stone tools was found. A cache of copper has
been found, as well as two exquisitely made copper axes, cast in moulds. A
specialised blade industry existed as seen from evidence of mass production of
chalcedony blades in the crested guiding ridge technique. Ornaments like two
bead necklaces have been found. Beads were manufactured from semi-precious
stones. Most of these artifacts were found inside a house, which could not be
fully excavated.
People lived in small huts with well-rammed floors and wattle and daub walls
supporting a thatched roof. A mixed economy was practiced as seen from evidence
on subsistence farming, stock raising and hunting-fishing. Barley and wheat were
grown. Domesticated animals included cattle and sheep/goat. Interestingly, horse
remains have been found from the Chalcolithic level at Kayatha.
As no antecedent stages of this culture are found in the Malwa region, Dhavalikar
(1997) is of the opinion that the Kayatha culture—the earliest chalcolithic culture
in the Malwa region— had developed elsewhere. Following which people
migrated with the culture to this region. The sudden end of this culture is ascribed
to an earthquake. The presence of a sterile layer between the levels of the Kayatha
and the succeeding Ahar culture points to a hiatus between the two.
3.4 MALWA CULTURE
The Malwa culture is the most predominant chalcolithic culture of central India,
with a wide distribution of sites almost all over Malwa region. It was first
36
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
identified in the excavations at Maheshwar, on river Narmada. Maheshwar was
identified with the ancient Mahishmati of the Puranas. Navdatoli on the opposite
bank also revealed great potential and was subsequently excavated. Other
excavated sites of this culture are Nagda, Kayatha, Eran etc. On the basis of
calibrated dates the Malwa culture is placed in the bracket of 1900-1400 BC.
Malwa region lying to the east of the Banas valley and Aravalli hills forms
a distinct geographical unit, forming a link between the Indo-Gangetic
plain and the peninsular region. Two great river systems, the Chambal and
the Narmada traverse the region. A very heavy concentration of Malwa
settlements is found in the central Narmada basin, which is considered to
be a very fertile land.
Sites are mostly found on the banks of the tributaries. They were not affected by
flood, unlike those on the main river. A sort of two level settlement pattern existed,
consisting of a large number of small villages and a few large villages. Among
the latter one may include Navdatoli, Nagda and Eran, Navdatoli being perhaps
the largest. There were two parts of occupation at Navdatoli, enclosed by a
fortification wall. Perhaps in historical times the centre shifted to Maheshwar.
At Nagda, a mud rampart has been recorded- a feature also seen at Eran.
At Nagda, the houses seem to have been laid out in rows along the road and bylanes.
The use of mud-bricks and fired bricks at Nagda is significant as they are
absent at other Malwa sites. The houses were multi-roomed with a chulah (Hearth/
oven) bearing four arms. The floors were rammed hard, and there were several
floor levels indicating periodic repair and re-laying. There were pebble platforms
as well. Two rooms enclosing squarish pits have also been found, the function of
which remains unclear. At Navdatoli, a number of structures were laid bare
belonging to four different phases of chalcolithic culture. Both round huts and
rectangular houses were found together in each phase. Pit-dwellings were noticed
in the first phase. Usually round huts were found in clusters of two, three or four.
Dhavalikar (1997) suggests each cluster represented a household, of which one
had a hearth while others served different functions. Rectangular structures were
quite spacious with thick mud walls and wooden posts supporting the thatched
roof. The floor was rammed hard. A circular structure in one of the houses was
possibly meant to be a storage bin. An extensive burnt floor has been found,
possibly used as a threshing floor.
There were a number of postholes which did not follow any sensible plan; possibly
they were stakes where domestic animals were tethered at night. A burnt house
belonging to the latest stage of the Chalcolithic phase has been recorded from
Navdatoli. Storage jars and squarish pots have been found inside this house.
Multi-roomed structures at Navdatoli are particularly evident from a house in
phase II which is marked by rows of postholes of which a double set of postholes
forms the back wall. The total extent of the settlement at Navdatoli was about 7
ha. At Navdatoli a large burnt red floor was found. It had a squarish pit in the
middle. In the four corners of the pit were found charred wooden posts which
probably supported a canopy above. Inside the pit were burnt wooden splinters.
Two high-necked pots were also found there. The function of this structure is
unknown. This pit was part of a one room house as seen from a hearth in the
northern part and a circular pot rest in the west.
37
The Malwa culture spread into Maharashtra by 1700 BC and some of the Malwa Chalcolithic Cultures
sites like Prakash in the Tapi valley, Daimabad in the Godavari valley and
Inamgaon in the Bhima valley were quite extensive. At Daimabad, the excavator
has identified craftsmen’s houses and structures with religious affiliation. The
most important structures of the Malwa period at Daimabad were House nos.
32,33 and 54 which formed one complex, located in an enclosure wall. Large
fire pits were found in house no. 54, identified as sacrificial altars; two-armed
chulahs were also identified. At Inamgaon 20 houses of the Malwa period have
been identified, they were large rectangular structures with a low partition wall
in the middle. Inside the room were low mudwalls with large fire pits and pit
silos meant for storage. Circular pit dwellings also existed at Inamgaon.
The subsistence practices and diet can be reconstructed from remains of
carbonized grains of wheat, barley, jawar, rice, legumes, oilseeds and fruits. These
are found at different sites due to ecological species types varied from site to
site. Animal flesh also formed a part of the Chalcolithic diet.
The material culture constituted chiefly of ceramic types, the Malwa ware forming
the principal type. It was essentially buff or cream slipped with painted patterns
in dark brown. A pottery kiln belonging to the Malwa period has been uncovered
at Inamgaon. Other ceramic wares were white painted black-and-red ware of the
Ahar culture, a cream slipped ware, a coarse red/grey ware and handmade storage
jars. Dhavalikar drew parallels of some forms of Malwa ware from Navdatoli
with forms found in West Asian sites. Other components of the material
assemblage were blade tools, copper artefacts and beads of semi-precious stones.
Stone rubbers, muellers, querns, grinding stones, hammer stones, sling stones
and mace heads have been found pointing to mixed subsistence practices.
Religious beliefs are reconstructed from fragmentary evidence. Terracotta female
figurines of indistinct types have been found while a few examples of more
definite forms exist. Representations of male figures in painted forms are seen in
some wares. Terracotta bull figurines were either mere toys or associated with
religious beliefs. Presence of a specific structure has been interpreted as fire
alter, evidence of fire worship.
The decline of the Malwa culture has been placed in around 1400 BC which
coincided with that of Ahar culture as well. Dhavalikar suggests climatic
deterioration for the end of these cultures.
3.5 JORWE CULTURE
The Jorwe culture is the most important and characteristic chalcolithic culture
of Maharashtra, extending almost all over the present state, excepting the coastal
strip on the west and Vidarbha in the north east. The culture is named after the
type site of Jorwe in Ahmadnagar district, Gujrat. The culture was discovered in
1950. In regions, such as, Prakash in the Tapi valley, Daimabad in the PravaraGodavari
valley and Inamgaon in the Bhima valley large centres of this culture
were found. This is a notable feature of Jorwe culture.
Although over 200 sites of this culture have been documented so far, only a few
sites have been subjected to large scale excavations. Inamgaon and Daimabad
are two excavated sites. In understanding the settlement pattern of the Jorwe
38
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
sites, ecological differences between different regions have been highlighted
(Dhavalikar, 1997). The high concentration of sites in the Tapi valley has been
put down to the occurrence of tracts of highly fertile black cotton soil in the
region. The sparse settlement pattern of the Bhima valley, on the other hand, is
explained by the fact that the whole basin is practically a dry area. Following
regional approaches in archaeology, environment was taken as a prime
determinant, and attempts were made to characterise different kinds of sites in
functional terms. On the basis of the limited data Dhavalikar classifies all the
Jorwe sites as regional centres, namely, villages, hamlets, farmsteads and camps
(Dhavalikar 1997).
The regional centres of Prakash, Daimabad and Inamgaon are extensive in area,
with a very rich material culture. The work in Inamgaon (Dhavalikar et al 1988)
was a breakthrough in Chalcolithic studies. Interdisciplinary in nature it
incorporated many disciplines which resulted in a systematic study of the past.
Several structures were laid bare at the site of which the granary and the diversion
channels may be taken as examples of public architecture. Dhavalikar unearthed
over one hundred and thirty houses belonging to both Early and Late Jorwe
phases. The Early Jorwe houses were rectangular in plan while the Late Jorwe
ones were circular. Dhavalikar ascribes the change in house plan to deteriorating
economic condition of the people in the Late Jorwe period when the climate
became more dry and arid. He also associated the two contrasting house plans to
different ways of life, the Early Jorwe rectangular houses to a sedentary pattern,
and the Late Jorwe circular houses to a semi-nomadic existence. To arrive at this
conclusion he relied on ethnographic observations on dwellings of present-day
communities in and around Inamgaon. This use of ethnographic analogy was
critiqued by later scholars (Panja, 2002). These houses revealed features like a
fire pit or chulah and storage bins.
A large number of Jorwe sites can be classified as villages, most of them being
about 2 ha in extent. A few of these were excavated. They are Songaon, Chandoli,
Apegaon and Walki (Dhavalikar, 1997). A small number of sites, not over a
hectare in extent, possibly consisting of a few households are considered as
hamlets. Sites located within 2-3 km of the major sites, and situated close to the
fields to facilitate the conduct of agricultural operations, have been defined as
farmsteads. Walki in Pune district, lying mid-way between Pune and Inamgaon,
is an important example. Threshing floors were identified at this site. Transitory
camps are not easy to identify but Dhavalikar identified one of these at Pachad,
at the foot of Raigad fort near Mahad on the western coast in Maharasthra.
Based on an analysis of organic remains the subsistence base was reconstructed.
It was based on dry-farming with stock-raising and hunting-fishing as ancillary
activities. A variety of crops were grown, and the Jorwe farmers have also been
credited for practicing crop rotation. The principal crops were barley, wheat,
jowar, rice, ragi, green pea, grass pea, lentil, and green and black gram. Our
knowledge of the early subsistence patterns is mostly formed on the work at
Inamgaon. For the first time site-catchment analysis was carried out to understand
the link between Inamgaon and its immediate surroundings. The Late Jorwe
phase, however, marks the decline of agriculture. A fresh analysis of bones
recovered from the Inamgaon excavations (Pawankar, 1996) revealed that the
number of bones of wild animals increased drastically in the later levels. From
this evidence it was deduced that environmental degradation led to a change in
subsistence strategies from agriculture to hunting in the Late Jorwe period.
39
At Inamgaon the stone blade/flake industry is substantially represented, occurring Chalcolithic Cultures
at all levels. Considerable progress in ceramic technology is seen. The painted
pottery was wheel-made and well-fired. Four pottery kilns have so far come to
light through excavations. The Jorwe black-on-red painted pottery is characterised
by some forms of which the most important are the spouted jar and the carinated
bowl. Other forms include storage jars, basins, cups and an occasional channel
spouted bowl. The other important ceramic types are a coarse red/grey ware, a
handmade ware, and a handmade red ware, the latter occurring in negligible
quantities. Metal technology of the Chalcolithic people was in a rudimentary
stage. Lime making was a flourishing industry. Like in other aspects of material
culture there was a marked decline in ceramics too in the Late Jorwe period.
A noteworthy feature of the Jorwe culture is the mode of disposal of the dead. A
substantial number of burials were exposed in Inamgaon and Daimabad. Many
child burials were found in urns laid in pits. In case of adults, the portion below
the ankles was chopped off. Among the Inamgaon burials the most important
and unique is a four legged urn burial with an adult skeleton inside. Religious
beliefs were reconstructed from the presence of terracotta figurines.
By analysing these different aspects of material culture Davalikar talked of a
chiefdom society which has been critiqued (Panja, 2002).
The antecedents of this culture are seen in the preceding Malwa cultural elements.
A large number of the settlements were deserted at the end of second millennium
BC for climatic deterioration.
3.6 OCHRE COLORED POTTERY (OCP) CULTURE
The OCP or the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture is named after a ceramic type
which is extremely rolled and fragile. It has a wash of red ochre which is easily
washed off and hence its name. It was first recognised by B.B. Lal in 1951 in a
small excavation at Bisauli and Rajpur Parsu, the two sites in Uttar Pradesh
where Copper hoards were found earlier. Lal also found similar pottery in his
excavations at Hastinapura in the levels below those yielding the Painted Grey
ware (PGW). Later exploration and selected excavation brought to light several
OCP sites in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. At a majority
of sites the OCP is found in small bits, but some sites in the upper Ganga-Yamuna
doab, namely, Bahadarabad, Manpur, Bhatpura, Ambkheri and Bargaon have
yielded larger fragments which have enabled one to study the representative
forms. It appears from the better preserved specimens from sites like Ahichchhatra
that the pottery was treated with a thick slip and sometimes was also ornamented
with painted patterns in black. Incised decorations as well. At Atranjikhera there
is a variety of OCP which is decorated with incised patterns, while Lal Qila has
provided evidence of a developed OCP. Jodhpura is the only site where the
habitational deposit of the OCP had been found in the form of well made floors,
mud huts, hearth, terracotta human male figurines and bull figurines. This shows
that the OCP people led a sedentary existence, similar to many early farming
communities of this period. Remains of domesticated animals like cattle, and
evidence of cultivated crops like rice and barley further provide information on
their subsistence practices.
40
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
The association of OCP with Copper Hoards found from different parts of northern
and eastern India is one of the knottiest problems of Indian archaeology. The
Copper Hoards consist of implements of different kinds, such as, celts, rings,
harpoons, anthropomorphs, double axes, antennae etc. On the basis of their
occurrence at different sites the culture is grouped into different zones. Their
origin is shrouded in mystery. The presence of OCP and copper objects together
at many sites like Ganeswar, Saipai, Bisauli, Rajpur, Parsu, Bahadarabad, Nasirpur
and Baharia has been taken as evidence of their association. There are
diametrically opposite views regarding this. Other treat them as two completely
separate entities. Some assign the OCP either to pre-Harappans, Harappans, or
Late Harappans, while others assign this to the Aryans, still others see a tribal
association. The chronological span ranges from 2600 to 900 BC.
Although the picture is still very confusing regarding the origin, development
and authorship of copper hoards and OCP and their relationship with other
cultures, Dhavalikar tries to suggest a framework for the development of the
OCP, on the basis of the available evidence. The beginning of OCP is put down
to 2800 BC, the evidence coming from Ganeshwar-Jodhpura in Rajasthan. The
presence of hundreds of copper objects here has led Dhavalikar to argue that it
was a centre for supplying copper artefacts to the Harappans. A close examination
of the OCP from the upper Ganga basin shows that it has striking similarities
with the pre-Harappan or Early Harappan artifacts from Indus as well as sites in
the Yamuna valley. The second stage in the development of OCP is marked at
Alamgirpur where OCP shapes are represented at the cultural levels and at
Ambkheri and Bargaon where the Harappan influence is distinctly seen in pottery
forms. Dhavalikar explains this as a development of ‘symbiotic relationship.’
The third stage begins from the beginning of the second millennium, marked by
a drastic change in climate with the onset of aridity. The people of this culture
were forced to move to the upper Ganga basin, and later to middle Ganga valley
under the adverse circumstances. Possibly they buried their copper objects at
these sites when they could not survive. In the final stage they reached the middle
Ganga valley where they could not survive for long as well. Incidentally, the
OCP has not so far been reported from Bihar, Bengal, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh
(except at Gungeria) where copper hoards have been found.
3.7 PAINTED GRAY WARE (PGW) CULTURE
Painted Grey Ware (PGW) is a very fine, smooth, and even-coloured grey pottery,
with a thin fabric. It was made out of well-worked, very high quality clay. Designs,
mostly simple geometric patterns were painted on the pots in black. The uniform
colour and texture of the pots indicates very sophisticated firing techniques. PGW
seems to have been a deluxe ware, forming a very small percentage of the total
pottery assemblage at the levels at which these were found. It occurs along with
other pottery types such as plain grey ware, Black and Red Ware (BRW) and
black slipped ware, which were perhaps used in everyday life. The dates of the
PGW culture range from 1100-500/400 BCE and the sites show a wide
geographical distribution, stretching from the Himalayan foothills to the Malwa
plateau in central India, and from the Bahawalpur region of Pakistan to Kaushambi
near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from the plains it has been found in the
hilly regions of Kumaon and Garhwal. Sporadic potsherds were found at a few
places like Vaishali in Bihar, Lakhiyopur in Sind and Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.
41
The main concentration of the sites is however Chalcolithic Cultures , in the Indo-Gangetic divide,
Sutlej basin, and upper Ganga plains. There are regional variations of this culture
both in the pottery as well in associated remains. In the archaeological sequence
of the Ganga valley the PGW phase is followed by the Northern Black Polished
Ware (NBPW). PGW was first identified at Ahichchhatra in the 1940’s but its
full significance was understood only after excavations at Hastinapur in 1954-
55. Since then important evidence of the PGW material culture is available from
excavated sites like Alamgirpur, Mathura, Bhagwanpura, Kaushambi, Sravasti
and others. It occurs in four kinds of stratigraphic contexts. At some sites it is
preceded by a late Harappan level, with an intervening break in occupation. At
other sites there is an overlap between the PGW and the Late Harappan phase.
At some sites it is preceded by the OCP culture, with a break in between. And at
other sites the PGW phase is preceded by a BRW phase, with a break in between.
At the upper end PGW overlaps with the NBP culture. Recent excavations at
Abhaipur, Pilibhit district, Uttar Pradesh, have thrown interesting light on this
culture (Mishra 2010). It is a multi-cultural site with OCP forming the earliest
deposit, followed by the Black-and-Red Ware (BRW) phase, which is succeeded
by the PGW phase, the final phase of occupation at the site being that of NBPW.
At Abhaipur, human burials have been found, the first such occurrence at any
PGW site. However, human skeletons were also discovered in the Late HarappaPGW
interlocking stage at Bhagwanpura.
Structural remains at PGW levels consist mainly of wattle-and-daub and mud
huts. Unbaked bricks and one baked brick were found at Hastinapura. Jakhera
represents a fairly-evolved proto-urban stage of this culture.
The PGW sites indicate a subsistence base that included cultivation of rice, wheat
and barley. Double cropping was possibly practiced. There is no actual evidence
of irrigation facilities, but a few deep circular pits outside the habitation area at
Atranjikhera are indicative of kachcha wells. Animal husbandry was also
practiced.
The association of iron with PGW has drawn the attention of archaeologists for
long. There have been a series of debates on the impact of iron technology at the
beginnings of urbanism in the Ganga valley known as second urbanization.
Regarding PGW phase, it is seen that iron is not associated with this cultural
level at all the sites. It is not present at the sites in Ghaggar-Hakra area or in the
Bikaner region. At sites like Jakhera and Kaushami iron has been found at prePGW
BRW levels. But in the Ganga-Yamuna doab the earliest iron objects are
usually associated with PGW. Most of the iron artefacts seem to be connected
with war or hunting, like arrowheads, spearhead, blades, daggers etc. However,
clamps, sockets, rods, rings etc. which could have been connected with carpentry
have also been found. The mature PGW phase at Jakhera has also given important
evidence of iron implements used in agriculture like a sickle, ploughshare and
hoe.
Detailed studies of settlement patterns associated with PGW phase have been
carried out. Here one could mention Makkhan Lal’s study of the Kanpur district
and Erdosy’s study of the PGW settlements in Allahabad district.
42
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures 3.8 SUMMARY
To sum up, the scenario in north, west and central India in the period spanning
from beginning of the 3rd millennium – 800 BCE speaks of a great deal of
diversity. At many times it is difficult to put the material assemblage in neatly
defined categories. A lot of overlapping of cultural traditions is noticed which
speaks of considerable vibrancy and mobility in the cultural landscape. The
regional diversity is all the more highlighted when one surveys chalcolithic
cultures in northern and eastern India, which however, fall outside the purview
of this unit.
Suggested Reading
Dhavalikar, M.K. 1997. Indian Protohistory. New Delhi: Books and Books.
Dhavalikar, M.K., H.D. Sankalia and Z,D. Ansari. 1988. Excavations at Inamgaon
Vol. I, part i & ii. Pune: Deccan College.
Mishra, A. 2010. Archaeological Investigations in Deoha River Valley with
Special Reference to Excavations at Abhaipur, District Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh
in Archaeology of the Ganga Basin Paradigm Shift. Volume I (V.Tripathi ed.),
pp. 237-257. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House.
Misra, V.D. 2002. A Review of Copper Hoards and the OCP Culture in Indian
Archaeology in Retrospect. Volume I, Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia
(S.Settar and R.Korisettar eds.), pp. 277-286. New Delhi: Indian Council of
Historical research and Manohar.
Panja, S. Research on the Deccan Chalcolithic in Indian Archaeology in
Retrospect: Volume I, Prehistory: Archaeology of South Asia (S.Settar and
R.Korisettar eds.), pp. 263-276. New Delhi: Indian Council of Historical research
and Manohar.
Pawankar, S., 1995. Man and Animal Relationship in Early farming Communities
of Western India with Special Reference to Inamgaon. Ph.D. Dissertation. Pune.
University of Poona.
Singh, U. 2008. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone
Age to the 12th Century. Delhi: Pearson Longman.
Sample Questions
1) Discuss the different types of Protohistoric regional variants.
2) What do you understand by Chalcolithic culture? Describe one very important
Chalcolithic culture.
Write a notes on the following
i) Jorwe Culture, ii) Malwa Culture, iii) Kayatha culture, iv) OCP and
PGW Cultures
43
Chalcolithic Cultures UNIT 4 MEGALITHIC CULTURES
Contents
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Types of Megaliths
4.3 Megalithic Culture of India
4.3.1 Burial Rituals and Social Organisation
4.3.2 Ethnic Affinity and Origin
4.3.3 Chronology
4.4 Erection of Megaliths by Some Indian Tribes
4.5 Iron Age Culture in India
4.5.1 Gangetic Valley
4.5.2 Painted Grey Ware Culture
4.5.3 Northern Black Polished Ware Culture and the Second Urbanization
4.5.4 Southern Zone
4.6 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able:
Ø to study the Megalithic Culture of India;
Ø to study the Megalithic types;
Ø to understand the development of Megalithic culture keeping in view the
regional variations;
Ø to briefly outline the main problems of the Megalithic Culture in India;
Ø to study the Megalithic practices among Indian Tribes; and
Ø to study the Iron Age Culture of India.
4.1 INTRODUCTION
A megalith is a stone which is larger in size and has been used to construct a
monument or a structure. The monument or the structure has been constructed
either alone or together with other stones. Megalithic has been used to describe
buildings built by people living in many different periods from many parts of the
world. The construction of this type of structures took place mainly in the Neolithic
and continued into the Chalcolithic Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age.
4.2 TYPES OF MEGALITHS
There are large numbers of megaliths found all over world but we may group the
similar types together. The types of megalithic structures can be divided into two
categories, the “Polylithic type” and the “Monolithic type”. In polylithic type
&
44
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
more than one stone is used to make the megalithic structure. In monolithic type
the structure consists of a single stone. Following are the different megalithic
structures.
Polylithic types
Dolmen: This is a type of megalith which is made in single chamber tomb,
usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal
capstone. Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a
barrow. But in many cases that covering has weathered away, leaving only the
stone “skeleton” of the burial mound intact.
Cairn: A Cairn is a human-made pile of stones, often in conical form. They are
usually found in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, or near waterways. In
modern times Cairns are often erected as landmarks. In ancient times they were
erected as sepulchral monuments or used for practical and astronomical purposes.
These vary from loose, small piles of stones to elaborate feats of engineering.
Cromlekh: Cromlekh is a British word used to describe prehistoric megalithic
structures, where crom means “bent” and llech means “flagstone”. The term is
now virtually obsolete in archaeology, but remains in use as a colloquial term for
two different types of megalithic monument.
Cist: A cist or kist was used as encasements for dead bodies. It might have
associations with other monuments. It would not be uncommon to find several
cists close with each other in the cairn or barrow. The presence of ornaments
within an excavated cist, indicate the wealth or prominence of the interred
individual.
Fig.4.1: Cist excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler at Brahmagiri
Monolithic type
Menhir: A Menhir is a stone Monolithic standing vertically. It could also exist
as part of a group of similar stones. They have different sizes with uneven and
square shapes, often tapering towards the top. Menhirs are widely distributed
across different continents viz., Europe, Africa, and Asia, but are most commonly
found in Western Europe; in particular in Ireland, Great Britain and Brittany.
Their origin dates back to pre-history. They are members of a larger Megalithic
culture that flourished in Europe and beyond.
Stone Circle: A Stone Circle is a monument of standing stones arranged in a
circle usually dated to megalithic period. The arrangement of the stones may be
45
Megalithic Cultures in a circle, in the form of an ellipse, or more rarely a setting of four stones laid on
an arc of a circle. The type varies from region to region.
4.3 MEGALITHIC CULTURE OF INDIA
In 1872, Fergusson brought out his excellent work entitled “Rude Stone
Monuments in all Countries: their age and uses. This first attracted the attention
of scholars. Although Babington (1823) had published his book, “Descriptions
of the Pandoo Coolies in Malawar” and Meadows Tylor (1873) was writing
about his observations pertaining to the “Distribution of Cairns, Cromlechs,
Kistveans and other Celtic, Druidical or Scythian monuments in the Dekhan”.
Fergusson’s work on Megaliths may still be regarded as a landmark because of
its wide scope and integrated approach.
In 1873, Breeks tried to correlate Megalithic practices with some of the
customs and rituals practiced by the tribals still living in the region of the
Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. All earlier authors showed a strong bias
towards tracing the ancestry of the Megalithic builders to the Celts, Druids
or Scythians. Breeks, at least, was the first to show that local megalithic
bias had survived in the Nilgiris.
As with the descriptive accounts, the first excavation of Megalithic monuments
also took place more than a century ago. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Dr.
Jagor first excavated in the classic site of Adicanallur in the Tirunevelly district,
Tamil Nadu. The extensive site of Junapani, near Nagpur in Maharastra was also
excavated on a small scale by Rivett-Carnac (1879). Simultaneously, extensive
exploration in the Madras region continued, resulting in the publication of the
list of antiquarian remains in the Presidency of Madras by Sewell in 1882. At the
turn of the century, Foote (1901) brought out an excellent Catalogue of antiquities,
including megaliths.
In the later years of the 19th century, Alexander Rea (1902-03) excavated a number
of megalithic sites in South India. The classic site of Adichanallur was also reexcavated
in 1903-04 by Louis Lapicque. The remarkable variety and distinctive
natures of the Indian Megalithic cultures were then placed before the world by
Rea in 1915, when he published the Catalogue of the Prehistoric antiquities
from Adichanallur and Perumbair. A decade later, Hunt (1924) published the
result of the excavation of Megalithic graves in Andhra Pradesh.
By the end of the first quarter of the 20th century, a number of Megalithic sites
had been excavated. However, the first attempt to place the South Indian Megaliths
in a chronological framework was by Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1948), who
excavated the sites of Brahmagiri and Chandravalli in Karnataka in 1944.
In 1962, it appeared that the megaliths, that is, huge stone monuments, were a
special feature of South India. Preliminary classification had shown regional
types. Wheeler’s excavation at Brahmagiri showed that these were not as old as
once believed. This was confirmed by subsequent excavations at Sanur, Maski
and other places. While studying the Karnataka megalithic monuments A. Sundara
(1975) concluded that “the varied tomb types in different geological zones are
essentially due to the traditional affiliations rather than environmental influence.”
The megalithic builders at Hallur and further south at Paiyampalli, were not
46
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
only adept at quarrying all kinds of stones, but they made a judicious use of these
rocks. They employed a particular stone for a particular part of the tomb. Again,
these people were excellent architects-engineers. The best example is the
constructional plan of the passage chamber. Though we still do not know about
the houses and habitations of these megalithic builders, the recovery of sickles
and plough coulters of iron, rice and ragi grains from the excavations at Kunnattur
and Hallur respectively, shows that these people were probably dependent largely
upon agriculture and partly upon hunting, as proved by the hunting scenes in the
rock-paintings at Hire-Benkal. Animals such as cow/ox, goat/sheep, dogs and
horses were domesticated.
So far no evidence of literacy in the form of writing of any kind has been found
from the megaliths in Karnataka. Finally, on the question of the identity of the
megalithic builders, Sundara (1975) has shown how there was mutual borrowing
between the Neolithic-Chalcolithic inhabitants of Karnataka and the megalithicbuilders
who arrived about 800-700 BC. As Kennedy has said, it is difficult to
say anything about the racial types from the study of the extant skeletal remains.
Hence, the only thing left to a culture-historian is cultural relics. Amongst these,
the only significant thing was the post-holed cist. In this regard Sundara again is
of the opinion that all the megalith-chamber types of tombs of North Karnataka
or South India, are the passage chamber type that has fundamental resemblances
with those of the Mediterranean and Western European megaliths. He further
thinks that the South Indian megaliths were derived from the Mediterranean
region via the coastal route.
Some idea of the megalithic in Coorg can be had from the work of K. K. Subbayya.
Excavation of four sites at Heggadehalli revealed some new types of burials,
which seem to be unique. Instead of the stone sides containing a simple pit or
underground cist of stone slabs, at this place, the sides contained a pit and at the
base of the pit were laid a granitic slab over which the funerary offerings were
deposited. The pit was then filled with soft earth. On this lay the large capstone.
Another megalith contained only a pit without a stone slab at the base, whereas
in the third one was a cairn side, under which was a stone chamber of large
granitic slabs, inordinately large in dimension. It also contained an underground
passage to the east outside the cist.
Except pottery, nothing else was found from the chambers. This is of the usual
kind, black-and-red ware and included bowls, tall three-legged vases and conical
vessels. Up till now, any kind of weapons have not been found at these sites.
However, the differences in the method of making these three megaliths might
indicate a kind of economic and social status their builders enjoyed in their society.
An extension of the South Indian Megaliths to Vidarbha has come to light by the
excavation at Junapani and subsequent full-fledged excavtions at Khapa and
Muhurjhari. The excavations at Khapa and Mahurjhari and another site at Naikund
have supported that the megaliths belonged to a particular section of the
community or people in each region. The evidence from Vidarbha and Tamil
nadu, particularly horse bits and several types of iron weapons suggest that these
sepulchral monuments might only belong to a warrior class.
At Khapa, situated on the left bank of the river Krishna there are a number of
megaliths in the form of stone circles, whereas on the opposite side at Takelghat
there is a habitation site. Both were dug in 1968-69 by Nagpur University. Out
47
of the nine megaliths, Megalith-1 which was the largest of all having a diameter Megalithic Cultures
about 25-26 metres, yielded interesting evidence like pots and pans of blackand-red
ware, micaceous red ware, and coarse red ware, utensils and weapons of
iron and copper, copper bangles and beads of carnelian and bones, possibly of
the horse. Among the other interesting objects must be mentioned the copper
dish and a copper lid each with a bird motifs, the copper bell and a chain of
copper rings. The excavation of the habitation site on the opposite side at Takalghat
gave some idea of the houses these people lived in. The floors are well made
with rammed brown clay, and coated with lime, whereas the walls are made of
mud, with supports of wood/bamboo posts for roof. This, at present on the
evidence of C-14 date from Takalghat, is placed around 556 B.C. Takalghat
megalithic culture is believed to be similar to that of Hallur in Karnataka.
Compared to Khapa, Mahurjhari from Nagpur is considered as a megalithic haven.
With Junapani, it is said to have more than 300 stone circles. Altogether three
localities have been identified at Mahurjhari.
In Locality-I, megaliths yielded iron axes, daggers, copper bowls, bells, bangles,
numerous beads of semi-precious stones, black-and-red pottery and gold leaves.
In Locality-II, the megaliths yielded several copper bangles, iron axes, chisels,
gold spiral, iron nails etc. This locality seems to be more important because a
human skeleton found associated with large number of objects and painted blackand-red
potsherds, which were placed near the various parts of the interred body.
The other antiquities recorded from the site are gold ornaments with punched
decoration, and pottery lids with the goat and bird motifs, in addition to the
usual iron and copper objects.
In Locality-III, megaliths yielded full length human skeletons with iron and copper
objects, including those for the horse. Gold ornaments and painted pottery
belonged to a family or persons who were rich and important- probably warriors
of a high status. The pottery particularly the painted black-and-red ware is said
to be similar to those found at Takalghat and Khapa.
The megalithic monuments found in Pune district might be just memorial
structure. Megalithic monuments had already been reported near Pune in the last
century. They, when re-examined in 1940-41, turned out to be memorials to the
dead, but not funerary in nature and devoid of any pottery and dateable objects.
A new dimension to the megalithic problem in India was revealed with the
discovery of megaliths in the districts of Banda, Allahabad, Mizapur and Varanasi
located in south-eastern Uttar Pradesh. The monuments called as cairns and cists
are comparatively sparsely distributed near the junction of the northeast slope of
the Vindhyas, and in the Ganga plains. The east-west dimension of this region is
about 320 km. There are differences in the materials used for constructing the
structures. This is obviously due to vast extent of territory in which the megaliths
are distributed. It has been found at all excavated sites at Varanasi, Allahabad,
Mirzapur and Banda, that their makers dug fairly deep pits, deposited the funerary
goods and covered them with hemispherical cairns of boulders bounded by stone
circle. The funerary goods, though varying in other essentials, had a black-andred
ware. In case of a cist, a similar pit was dug and a box-like chamber was
prepared with orthostats. The box was packed with small stones, and covered
with massive single stone slab resting directly on the four uprights.
48
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
Interestingly, unlike in the south, the Allahabad megaliths reflect the cultural
change. The basic types- cairns, stone circles and cists-remain the same, but the
grave goods consist, instead of microliths, iron objects like sickle, adze, arrowhead
and dagger. There was a significant variation in the livelihood pattern
between the two zones. Iron had replaced stone and copper and, as the evidence
from Kotia in Allahabad shows, these were made local iron smiths.
On the opposite bank of the River Belan at Koldihwa and Khajuri megaliths
belonging to chalcolithic cultures were found, lying between cultures of Varanasi
and Kotla of Allahabad. In the former iron is absent, and microliths are scarce
while in the latter fragments of iron are associated with microliths. These types
of megalithic cultures have also been observed in Mirzapur and Banda districts.
It is interesting to note that in spite of the local variations, the inhabitants used,
right from the beginning up to the end, a Black-and Red Ware. For nearly 1500
years the technique of making of pottery, its decoration and firing did not change
and the way of life of the people remained the same.
Megaliths have also been discovered at Waztal, about 12 kms from the Matau
Spring, and Brah, about 9 kms from Martand in Kashmir. At both the sites a
number of huge standing stones were found. But these are scattered around
without any regular plan.
Habitation sites are rarely found in association with the megaliths, excepting at
Maski, Tekalghat, Paiyampalli and a few others. Recently, a large habitation site
along with scores of stone circles has been discovered at Naikund near Nagpur
in Maharastra. However, the ratio of habitation sites to burial sites still remains
exceptionally low. This posses problems for the study of settlement patterns,
and it is high time that excavation of the few habitation sites are undertaken on
a priority basis, before the megaliths are blasted by local bodies for road building.
Despite the fact that as early as 1960 an International Commission for the study
of megaliths was instituted by the Second International Congress of ArchaeoCivilisation,
no planned and conscious efforts have been made in India towards
understanding of the settlement patterns of the megalithic people. Further studies
must also be undertaken to define the main regional complexes of the Indian
Megalithic cultures. The above descriptions are of the South Indian, Northern
and Northwestern Megalithic cultures. It is obvious that these complexes are not
exclusive of each other. Some common elements can be traced among the cultures.
Similarities and dissimilarities of ceramic fabrics and typology, presence and
absence of iron, and concentration or otherwise of certain megalithic types in
certain regions are all problems for which widely diverging views are available.
They can be solved only if planned work is carried out, and it is futile and
dangerous to generalise on the basis of sporadic and meagre data.
4.3.1 Burial Rituals and Social Organisation
The above description of the megalithic culture shows that the megalithic
communities were dominated by religious and supernatural beliefs. This is evident
from the elaborate objects associated with the burials. Different burial tradition
could indicate different social and ethnic groups, but so far no fixed regional
conventions regarding orientation of the bodies or the graves have been observed.
The burials vary from total to only fractional types. In the Vidarbha region horses
were buried with the dead, possibly after sacrifice, and this may have been a
local ethnic tradition.
49
The social organisation of the Megalithic people of India can be worked out only Megalithic Cultures
in a sketchy manner, and data on settlement pattern are virtually absent. However,
it appears that communities may have comprised different professional groups,
such as smiths, warriors, goldsmiths, agriculturists and carpenters. This may be
deduced from the types of grave goods offered. Even burial must have involved
community effort because setting of such huge stones in a Circle or erection of
a gigantic Menhirs, or the placing of massive stone slabs on a Dolmen is not
possible by one or two individuals.
4.3.2 Ethnic Affinity and Origin
The origin of Megalithic culture in India is not clear. No satisfactory answer is
yet found. Some early European scholars put forward a view that the builders
were Celts or Scythians. Rivett-Carnac related them to Central Asian tribes. Other
scholars tried to relate them to the Dravidians. Practice of erection of megaliths
are still found among some tribes in India in the southern, central, eastern and
northeastern parts of the country.
The skeletal remains found especially from Brahmagiri, Yeleswaram and
Adichanallar show that people were of a mixed racial type. According to Sarkar
(!960), the Brahmagiri skeletal remains were probably of Scythians or Iranian
stock. Gupta and Dutta (1962) concluded that similar trend is noticed for
Yeleswaram remains but Adichanallur skull, however, show different affinities.
4.3.3 Chronology
Apart from the ethnic affinities and possible migration, the chronology of
megaliths in India still poses certain problems. Wheeler (1948) assigned a date
for the megalithic culture approximately to the 2nd Century B.C. Gordon and
Haimendorf (as quoted by Srinivasan and Benerjee 1953:114)propsed dates
between c. 700 to 400 B.C. Seshadri (1956) dated them between 6th century B.C.
to 1st century A.D. Sundara (1969-70) proposed a date at c. 1100 B.C. for Terdal
in Karnataka. Sundara and Aiyappan (1945) extended antiquity of the megaliths
as far back as the Indian Neolithic times. The Chalcolithic-megalithic contact
period in Maharashtra goes back to c. 700 B.C. Megaliths of Vidarbha is dated
to the 6th or 7th centuries B.C. While the question of date of the megaliths cannot
be easily settled, well-organised attempt be made to understand the political,
social and economic background of the megalith-builders, be it in Vidarbha,
Andhra, Karnataka or in Tamilnadu. It seems almost certain that no ordinary
family or individual could erect such huge megaliths. Community effort and
activity must have been involved in the erection of such huge structures. Such
community involvement is noticed among the tribes of the present-day who are
still practicing erection of megaliths.
4.4 ERECTION OF MEGALITHS BY SOME INDIAN
TRIBES
The custom of erecting megaliths on a large scale is seen among different
communities from the Neolithic times right up to the Bronze Age and the Early
Historic period. However, the tradition of erecting megaliths is still found among
the tribals living in Northeastern, Eastern, Central and South India. The reasons
behind the erection of megaliths are not very clear. In this situation, we can
50
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
derive some clues on the megaliths’ associations by observing the practices of
the tribes who still include megaliths in their religious beliefs, for example, the
Gadabas, Gonds, Kurumbas, Marias, Mundas, Savaras, Garos, Khasis, Nagas,
Karbis, Tiwas, and Marams. These groups still construct megalithic manuments
for the dead. ‘Megalithism’ may be considered as a living tradition.
The Gonds, Kurumbas, Morias and Savaras plant and worship stone menhirs
and sometimes erect wooden pillars. Some of these wooden pillars are curved
with a rounded projection at the top to represents the human head. These tribes
consider the stone menhirs and the wooden posts to represents their gods, or
occasionally, the spirit of the dead. The beliefs of the various tribes differ with
respect to the stone and wooden menhirs erceted in connection with the death
rites. The Gonds believe that the spirit of the dead resides in a stone.Thus the
wooden pillars and stone menhirs are believed to contain the soul of the dead.
The veneration of the wooden and stone pillars is evident in the practices of the
Morias who apply turmeric and oil on them. They sacrifice a buffalo and offer
rice and worship these stones in the belief that the spirit of the dead resides in
them. The Savaras, before sowing, present the seeds in front of the pillars and
sacrifice animals to promote the fertility of the seeds. Similarly, the Kurumbas
approach the megalithic monuments of their ancestors whom they implore to
help them tide over their difficulties. The Gonds mention three reasons for erecting
pillars and dolmens: “first, the spirit of the dead not to wander after death; second,
they must not worry or harm the descendants; third, they must help by bringing
rain and driving away the harmful spirits”.
The practices of the tribal people mentioned above indicate their belief that the
spirit of the dead resides in the stone or wooden pillars, which they erect. These
pillars are venerated and worshipped with various offerings. If the spirits are
satisfied they can grant boons and on the other hand they can cause harm, if they
are not satisfied (Rao, 2000).
At Mottur in Tamilnadu, a ‘headless’ anthropomorphic statue was noticed in the
middle of a megalithic site. The local people call the megalith Valiyar Vadu
(house of Valiyar) and the anthropomophic statue Valiyar Daivam (god of the
Valiyars). There is a very interesting tradition about the Valiyar current in this
locality. According to the tradition, the Valiyars were pygmies of 10 to 15 cm in
stature. They used to plough the fields with the help of rabbits. On one occasion
they came to know that there would be rain of fire. If they stayed there they
would be perished. To escape the fate of burning to death, they decided to leave
the place, and requested their god to accompany them. When their god refused
to come along, they cut off his head and took it with them. For this reason the
statue stands headless. This tradition suggests that some communities consider
the megalithic, anthropomorphic statue to represent their god.
The Savaras of Orissa construct a miniature hut over the place where the dead
are cremeted or the bones are buried. They keep wooden figures in the huts to
accommodate the soul of the dead till the mortuary rite known as Gaur ceremony
is performed. Interestingly, figures with female features are used, if the ‘soul
house’ is meant for women. During the elaborate Gaur ceremony, which is
conducted by the whole community of a particular village or a group of villages,
menhirs are erected to represent the dead, who are believed to have reached the
51
Megalithic Cultures ‘Under World’. That is why during the Gaur ceremony “the stones are washed
with water-so that the dead can get bath in the Under World-and oil and turmeric
are used so that they can anoint themselves and do their hair. For whatever is
given at the Gaur goes straight down to the Under World” (Elwin 1955:360).
The above mentioned practices and beliefs of the tribal communities indicate
that wooden and stone statues are mainly meant to represent their ancestors. At
Mottur alone, the local people believe that the anthropomorphic statues represent
the god of the ancestors. Further, where statues with feminine features are erected
they would represent a female member who has passed away.
The erection of megaliths, both commemorative and burial, though is prehistoric
in origin, are still practised by many hill tribes of Northeast India and in the
Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia and Thailand. The
custom of erecting menhirs or alignments of stone slabs and dolmen in honour
of the dead is practised by the Khasis and Garos of Meghalaya, the Tiwas and the
Karbis of Assam, the Morams of Manipur and the Nagas of Nagaland. There is
another interesting example of meglithic tradition found among the Garos of
Meghalaya. They erect a forked wooden curved post of ‘Y’ shape in front of
their houses in mamory of the dead member (s) as in Indonesia and Oceania.
People erect the ‘Y’ shaped forked wooden post with the belief that they will be
protected from the dangers of life, the fertility of the family will increase, they
will escape god’s punishment and so on.
Fig. 4.2: Dolmen
The Khasis of Meghalaya, who are matrilineal tribes, erect Megalithic structure
in accordance with their traditional religion. Upright stones (Menhir), large and
small, horizontal table stones (dolmen or cromlech), cist and cairns are seen all
over the Khasi Hills but full and precise information about them have never
been recorded and is hard to obtain. The Khasi megaliths are memorial stones,
called ‘Kynmaw’, literally meaning “to mark with a stone”. In Khasi language it
refers to “remember”. The Khasi megaliths are cenotaphs, the remains of the
dead being carefully preserved in stone sepulchers, which are often at some
distance apart from the memorial stones.
52
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
Fig. 4.3: Menhir of the Khasis of Meghalaya
Though there are some observable similarities between the megaliths of the past
and those of the living tribes, yet it is very difficult to bridge the gap between the
past and the present continuum of the traditions. It is well known that the structures
built by the contemporary tribal folk are generally linked with the commemorative
purpose, whereas those of the past are mostly graves. The porthole opening, a
special feature of many of the megalithic cists, is not found in any of the megalithic
graves made by the contemporary tribes. It is possible that the people have given
up the tradition of making portholes in course of time.
Although all megaliths found all over the world are associated in one way or
another with the cult of dead it does not provide sufficient ground to establish a
common origin for any two megalithic cultures.
The memorial stones of the Ho and Munda of Chhotanagpur would appear to
resemble greatly the Khasi Menhirs. The funeral ceremonies of the Ho and Munda
tribe are similar to those of Khasi. Both first cremate the body, collect ashes and
bones after cremation and put them in to a grave. They also offer food to the
spirit of the deceased. They also have a common linguistic resource in the form
of ‘Mon-Khmer Family’.
There are other tribes in Northeast India, who erect memorial stones. They are,
Karbis and the Tiwas of Assam and certain Naga tribes of Manipur and Nagaland.
The Karbis erect Menhirs and Dolmens in honour of their deceased similar to
the Khasis of Meghalaya. Similar to Khasis, the Karbis dig a small tank for
purification purpose before erecting the memorial stones and give feast after the
memorial stones are erected. Anal Nagas and Morams of Manipur and Angami
Nagas, Lothas and Konyak Nagas of Nagaland erect memorial stones to show
reverence to the memories of deceased ancestors. The Anal Nagas traditionally
believed to occupy a site of an ancient market place known as Nortiang (some
26 km Northeast of Shillong), which is an important megalithic site of Meghalaya.
In the stone monuments of the Anal Nagas and Angami Nagas, the female principle
is represented by a flat stone, lying on the ground, while the male is represented
53
by an upright stone (menhir). These typical clan mortuaries are same like those Megalithic Cultures
still associated with the Khasis and Syntengs of Meghalaya. Haimendorf (1945)
was of the opinion that the ritual associated with megaliths of Northeast India is
to gain prestige for the living and to establish links with the soul of the dead.
This also is at the root of the megalithic cultures of Indonesia. On the basis of
this, he suggested a unity in the megalithic complex in the zone extending from
the Nagaland and Khasi Hills up to Nias in Southern Sumatra. He further
expressed that the Meghalaya complex found in Northeast India and many other
parts of Southeast Asia appeared not as an accidental aggregation of various
cultural elements, but as a well coordinate system of custom and beliefs, a
philosophy of life and nature.
4.5 IRON AGE CULTURE IN INDIA
We study the Iron Age culture here because Megalithic culture is very much a
part of Iron Age. The Iron Age in the Indian subcontinent succeeded the Late
Harappan culture. The main divisions of Iron Age in India are the Painted Grey
Ware (PGW) culture (1100 to 350 BC) and the Northern Black Polished Ware
(NBPW) culture (700 to 200 BC). Iron Age in India brings one to the threshold
of ancient history. This culture had recorded history. Literary accounts of the
contemporary period are recorded in Vedas, Upanishads and other Brahmanic
literatures. A combination of archaeological evidences and such literary accounts
have become a standard method of dealing with Iron Age culture in India. The
origin of iron in our sub-continent still remains a matter of dispute among
specialists. It is important also to remember that some tribes of India, such as,
Agarias of Madhya Pradesh, prepare iron tools from surface ores with indigenous
techniques and trade their finished products among the local villagers. It can be
assumed that these communities must have had their knowledge for a time, may
be for several thousand years.
The earliest Iron Age sites in South India are Hallur, Karnataka and Adichanallur
of Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu at around 1000 BC. Technical studies on
materials dated c. 1000 BC at Komaranhalli (Karnataka) showed that the smiths
of this site could deal with large artifacts, implying that they had already been
experimenting for centuries (Agrawal et al. 1985: 228-29). Sahi (1979: 366)
drew attention to the presence of iron in Chalcolithic deposits at Ahar, and
suggested that “the date of the beginning of iron smelting in India may well be
placed as early as the sixteenth century BC” and “by about the early decade of
thirteenth century BC iron smelting was definitely known in India on a bigger
scale”.
Historical kingdoms of the Iron Age:
Iron Age India 1200-272 BC
Maha Janapadas 700-300 BC
Magadha Empire 648-424 BC
Nanda Empire 424-321 BC
Maurya Empire (Pre-Ashoka) 321-272 BC
54
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
With the exception of the earliest phase of the Rigveda, most of the Vedic period,
falls within the early part of the Indian Iron Age around 12th to 6th centuries BC.
The development of early Buddhism takes place in the Magadha period around
5
th to 4th centuries BC.
The edicts of Ashoka, 272-232 BC suggest that the North Indian Iron Age can be
taken to end with the rise of the Maurya Dynasty and the appearance of literacy,
indicating gradual onset of historicity. South India simultaneously enters historic
age with the Sangam period, beginning in the 3rd century BC. From the 2nd
century BC, the cultural landscape of Northern India is transformed with lasting
effect with the intrusion of the Indo-Scythians and Indo-Greeks. The kingdoms
succeeding these periods, up to the medieval Muslim conquests are conventionally
grouped as Middle kingdoms of India.
4.5.1 Gangetic Valley
The colonization of Ganga basin by iron users can be taken as one of the best
evidence of second urbanization in India. Urban centres, which mushroomed
around Indus, Ghaggar and its tributaries during 2600 BC to 1500BC were
generally deserted after this time. Understanding of the second colonization in
this region needs a consideration of the changes that can be witnessed further
west. In Baluchistan, the earliest evidence of copper has been noted at Mehargarh.
The occupation at this area was abandoned even before the development of mature
Harappan culture but around the same region one can witness the transition of
the post Harappan phase at Pirak. Initially Harappan influence can be
demonstrated in this occupation centre but very soon and perhaps around 1370-
1340 BC first pieces of iron appeared here. The cultural continuity from pre-iron
phase is so remarkable that an invasion by iron users as a possibility also can’t
be entertained. Here the houses are prepared of mud bricks like the pre- Harappan
stage. The pottery is coarse with appliqué bands and finger tips impressions.
Terracotta figurines become more in frequency of occurrence than the preceding
period and they include horse, camel and human figures. The most important
feature of this phase is barley and rice cultivation in this zone. Evidence of fullfledged
adoption of iron, however, is not seen until another 2 to 3 centuries. Iron
Age in the west of the Indus broadly belongs to the time bracket of 1100-900
BC. In the northwest another culture developed. This culture is known from the
Gandhara sites. There are large complexes of graves and the culture is entirely
known and defined from the accompanying grave goods. Taxila, Charsada and
Timargarha are some of the important sites from this complex. The pottery is a
red burnished type. City structures in this region are not identified till about 500
BC. Similar to Pirak in south west, in Gandhara iron emerged without any change
in the earlier culture in the area. Furthermore these pre-existing cultures are unique
in character and does not bear any resemblance to the widely distributed Harappan
features.
4.5.2 Painted Grey Ware Culture
You have already read about this culture in another Unit in connection with
chalcolithic phase. This cultural phase is interesting because it has the use of
tools made both from stone and metal. Early phases of this culture are associated
with copper and bronze. The phase, which corresponds with Northern Black
Polished ware phase in Genga valley, has yielded iron tools but stone tools also
continued. The Painted Grey Ware culture (PGW) is an Iron Age culture of
55
Gangetic plain, lasting from roughly 1000 BC to 600 BC. It is contemporary to, Megalithic Cultures
and is a successor of the Black and red ware culture. It probably corresponds to
the later Vedic period. It is succeeded by Northern Black Polished Ware from ca.
500 BC.
Although you are already familiar with the PGW culture, a few words may be
added here to establish its relevance in the Iron Age cultures of India. PGW
culture is named after the pottery of the same name. This ware was first found at
Ahicchatra in Bareilli district of Uttar Pradesh during excavations in 1944 but
its importance was fully realised only after its discovery by B.B.Lal in the
excavations at Hastinapura during 1950-51.
The first large-scale and effective use of iron in India is associated with this
culture. The PGW culture is found in the Indo-Gangetic Divide and the upper
Ganga-Yamuna doab, the ancient Aryavarta and Madhyadesa.
The PGW was produced from well-lavigated clay and manufactured on a fast
wheel. A thin slip was applied on both surfaces and the ware was baked at a
temperature of 600 degree celcius under reducing conditions, which produced
the smooth ashy surface and core (Hegde, 1975). The distinctive shapes are dish
with curved sides and bowls with straight sides. The vessels are painted in black
pigment on both surfaces with geomatric patterns like dots, groups of vertical
lines, concentric circles, bands, and strokes of vertical and slanting lines, dashes,
chains, loops, spirals, sigmas and swastikas. Naturalistic patterns like lotuses,
leaves, bunch of flowers and the sun are also occasionally found.The PGW people
cultivated rice and wheat and lived in wattle-and-daub houses. They were the
first people to have definitely used the domesticated horse.
4.5.3 Northern Black Polished Ware Culture and the Second
Urbanization
The Northern Black Polish Ware (NBPW) Culture in India is a definite Iron Age
Culture, succeeding the Painted Grey Ware Culture. Iron technology accelerated
colonization of the middle and lower Ganga valley by farmers around 700 BC
onwards. The characteristic pottery of this period is Northern Black Polished
Ware. The NBP period saw the emergence of cities and first political entities
known as Mahajanapadas in the Ganga plains in the 600 BC.
The NBP region is also the locale of the second major Hindu epic, the Ramayana,
and of the rise of Buddhism and Jainism. This period witnessed the second
urbanization of India. By 600 BC a number of these Mahajanapadas had been
assimilated into the first Indian empire known as the Magadhan Empire with its
capital at Pataliputra being located at the place where modern Patna in Bihar is
situated. The Magadhan Empire was succeeded by the Mauryan Empire in the
400 BC. The best known Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, expanded the empire up to
Karnataka in the south, Bangladesh in the east and Afganistan in the northwest.
He also patronized Buddhism and promoted its spread within the country as
well as outside in Sri Lanka and other countries of Asia. After the long gap
between first and second urbanization, lasting about 1500 years, writing again
appeared during this period. The script is known as Brahmi. Buddhist and Jains
literatures were in Pali language. The pillar and rock edicts of emperor Ashoka
were written in Brahmi script. Coinage in the form of silver punch-marked coins
appeared in this period.
56
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
4.5.4 Southern Zone
This is the area, which developed a fairly consolidated regional character during
1500-1300 BC. Iron Age in this area does not develop any special characteristic
of its own like what has been observed in Western Uttar Pradesh.
The Iron Age in South India till today is known entirely from a large variety of
burials and their accompanying grave goods. Since these graves are mostly
megalithic in nature the cultures are traditionally known as ‘Megalithic Culture’.
Further, the ‘Megaliths of India’ may also refer to the memorial and sepulchral
stones erected by the tribals living in various parts of India in the historic period.
You have already learnt about megalithic types. Following is the brief information
on Iron Age Megalithic types of South India. The Megalithic burials found so far
with iron were from South India particularly from Deccan. They can be grouped
as follows:
• Large urns with bones collected from previously excarnated dead bodies in
them. These urns are kept with grave goods in a pit. The pit after covering
can be marked by a circular demarcation made of stones.
• Cists made out of slabs of stones and may at times be covered with a similar
flat stone on top. These are sometimes with portholes curved out on one of
the chamber wall slabs.
• Legged-urn or sarcophagi used to encase the body before actual burial is
another important pattern of these Megaliths.
• Sometimes chambers have been cut out in the compact lateritic floor and
the body was placed inside the chamber.
Fig.4.4: Urn burial (Museum spcimen in Southern India)
57
Large numbers of variations are seen in the pattern of disposal of the dead in the Megalithic Cultures
region. The Megalithic arrangement on the ground to mark the grave also can
vary from one kind of burial system to the other. In all Iron Age sites of Deccan
India Black-and-Red ware is seen as the common feature of Iron Age and
Megalithic culture. The pottery types include carinated vessels, bowls with
pedestals and spouted dishes. A conical shaped lid is found often provided with
a loop on the top. The iron implements which are common to all megalithic sites
are flat axes with crossed straps, sickles, tripods, tridents, spear heads, lamps,
multiple lamp hangers and arrow heads.
The Megalithic builders appears entirely exotic in the pre-existing cultural canvas
of the region. And this led many scholars to visualize a new population movement
from west. The traditional homeland of Chalcolithic culture, i.e. West Asia, does
not show the practice of Megalithic burials and hence cannot be considered as
the source of dispersal of the iron using megalithic builders. Instead the coastal
regions of South Arabia and the Levant show sarcophagi and cist graves during
Iron Age. They probably came by sea route to enter into Deccan India. Apparently,
these people did not create any urban settlements, the likes of which we have
witnessed in the Harappan period or during the phase of second urbanization in
the Ganga valley. Megalithic builders might have maintained isolated gypsy like
tented colonies where they might have bred and grazed horses to be traded with
the newly rising political centres around the middle Ganga valley. Megalithic
Iron Age in Deccan India remained so much self-centred that it did not take
much effort for the northern centres of power to spread their dominance into this
region within a span of 500 to 600 years.
4.6 SUMMARY
Prehistoric Megaliths or large stone constructions dating before the advent of
written history are found in huge numbers in all parts of India. The monuments
are usually found in granitic areas. We still do not know exactly who the megalithic
people were, whether they represent an immigrant group, or a local development.
Since similar monuments are found in many places around the world, right from
Ireland, Malta, West Asia, Baluchistan to Southeast Asia it is possible they
represent a single group which spread all over the world. Among the possible
groups are the Celts originating from Central Asia, who later became great
seafarers: some group from West Asia like the ancient Elamites of Mesopotamia:
the Central Asian “Scythians”, who roamed all over the world: a group of early
Aryan tribes: and more fanciful, the Atlanteans who washed off far and wide.
The facts are known from archeology: the detailed explanations are yet to come.
Suggested Reading
Deo, S.B. 1973. Problem of South Indian Megaliths, Dharwar: Karnataka,
Kannada Research Institute.
Deo, S.B. 1978.The Megalithic Problem: A Review. in Recent Advances in IndoPacific
Prehistory: Proceedings of the International Symposium held at Poona,
1978, p.447.
Rao, K.P. 2000. Megalithic Authropomorphic Statues: Meaning and Significance.
Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association Bulletin, 19:110-114.
Sankalia, H.D. 1979. Indian Archaeology Today. Delhi: Ajanta Publications
(India).
58
Neolithic and Chalcolithic
Cultures
Sample Questions
1) What is Megalithic Culture? Discuss the Megalithic Culture of India with
special reference to Northeast India.
2) Give an outline of Painted Grey-Ware Culture of India with special reference
to the excavated sites.
3) How would you classify the megalithic types? Describe the different types
of Megalithic monuments found in India.
4) Megalithic is a living tradition among many Indian tribes. Elaborate your
answer with proper examples.
5) Discuss the main features of Indian Iron Age.
6) ‘Megalithic Culture of South India means iron age’. Discuss.
7) Write short notes on the following:
i) Cairns, ii) Monolith, iii) Northern Black Polish Ware, iv) Living
Megaliths, v) Painted Grey Ware, iv) Dolmen.