Ancient Indian History - The Neolithic Age


  • The Pleistocene Age came to an ended about 10,000 years ago.

  • By the time, the climatic conditions in western and southern Asia were settled more or less similar to that of today.

Beginning of Settled Life

  • About 6,000 years ago the first urban societies came into being in both the western and southern Asia regions.

  • The peculiar advancement in the human life was the domestication of a large number of animals and plants.

  • Around 7,000 B.C., humans in west Asia started domesticated crops like wheat and barley.

  • Rice might have been domesticated at the same time in India as it is shown by the evidence from Koldihwa in the Belan valley.

  • The domestication of various animals and successful exploitation of various species of wild plants ushered a shift towards permanent settlements, which gradually lead the economic and cultural developments.

Neolithic-Agriculture Regions

Neolithic Sites
  • The Neolithic-agriculture based regions (in Indian), can be categorized into four groups −

    • Indus system and its western borderland;

    • Ganga valley;

    • Western India and the northern Deccan; and

    • Southern Deccan.

  • Agriculture and animal domestication were the main economic activity of early Neolithic cultures.

  • The evidence of the agricultural based economy of Neolithic culture comes from the Quetta valley and in the Valleys of Loralai and Zob rivers in the north-western part of the Indo-Pakistan region.

  • The site of Mehrgarh has been extensively examined and the result shows that the habitation here began in (around) 7,000 B.C. There is also an evidence of the use of ceramic during this period.

  • Around 6,000 B.C., earthen pots and pans were used; initially handmade and later wheel-made.

  • Initially, in the pre-ceramic period, the houses were in irregular scatter of square or rectangular shape and were made up of mud bricks.

  • The first village was formed by separating the house by waste dumps and passage ways between them.

  • The houses were generally divided into four or more internal compartments to be used some as storage.

  • The subsistence of early inhabitants was primarily depended on hunting and food gathering and additionally supplemented by some agriculture and animal husbandry.

  • The domestic cereals included wheat and barley and the domesticated animals were sheep, goat, pig, and cattle.

  • Beginning of the 6th millennium B.C. marked as the use of pottery by the human beings; first handmade and then wheel-made.

  • The people of this period, used to wear beads made up of lapis lazuli, carnelian, banded agate, and white marine shell. Beads were found with burial remains.

  • The people were largely engaged in long-distance trade as suggested by the occurrence of shell bangles and pendants made up of a mother of pearl.

  • During 7,000, the Neolithic settlement at Mehrgarh marked the early food-producing subsistence economy and beginning of trade and crafts in the Indus valley.

  • The communities in the Indus valley during the next 2,500 years developed new technologies to produce pottery and figurines of terracotta; elaborate ornaments of stone and metal; tools and utensils; and architectural style.

  • Large numbers of Neolithic sites have been found in the Ganga valley, Assam, and the north-east region.

  • Apart from the Indus valley, some important Neolithic sites are −

    • Gufkral and Burzahom in Kashmir,

    • Mahgara, Chopani Mando, and Koldihwa in Belan valley in Uttar Pradesh, and

    • Chirand in Bihar.

  • The site of Koldihwa (of 6,500 B.C.) provided the earliest evidence for the domestication of rice. It is the oldest evidence of rice cultivation in any part of the world.

  • The agriculture in the Belan valley began around 6,500 B.C. Besides rice, cultivation of barley was also attested at Mahgara.

  • The radiocarbon dates of the bone remains, (from Koldihwa and Mahgara) show that cattle, sheep, and goat were domesticated in the region.

  • The early Neolithic settlers in Burzahom lived in pit dwellings, rather than building houses on the ground.

  • The settlement at Chirand in Bihar is of the later period (relatively) to Indus valley.

  • Small polished Neolithic stone axes have been found from Cachar Hills, Garo Hills, and Naga Hills in north-east regions of India.

  • The excavations at Sarutaru near Guwahati revealed shouldered Celts and round-butted axes associated with the crude cord or the basket-marked pottery.

  • The new patterns of subsistence found in south India that was almost contemporary with the Harappan culture.

  • Following were the important sites in southern India −

    • Kodekal, Utnur, Nagatjunikonda, and Palavoy in Andhra Pradesh;

    • Tekkalkolta, Maski, Narsipur, Sangankallu, Hallur, and Brahmagiri in Karnataka

    • Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu.

  • The Neolithic Age of southern India is dated between 2,600 and 800 B.C. It is divided into three phases as −

    • Phase-I − No metal tool (at all);

    • Phase-II − It is marked with tools of copper and bronze, but in limited quantity. People have domesticated cattle, including cow, bull, sheep, and goat and also practiced some agriculture and cultivated gram, millet, and ragi. Pottery of both handmade as well as wheel-made variety was used; and

    • Phase-III − It is marked with the use of iron.

  • The evidence (discussed above) leads us to draw certain broad conclusions.

    • The earliest Neolithic settlements, in the Indian subcontinent, was first developed in the west of the Indus River. At Mehrgarh, the Neolithic culture began about 8,000 B.C. and soon it became a widespread phenomenon.

    • People lived in mud houses; wheat and barley were cultivated; and sheep and goat were domesticated.

    • Long-distance trade for precious goods was practiced.

    • By 3,000 B.C., the Neolithic culture was a widespread phenomenon and covered a large part of the Indian subcontinent.