The Palaeolithic Period: Hunters and Food Gatherers
THE EARTH is over 4000 million years old. The evolution of its crust shows four stages. The fourth stage is called the Quaternary, which is divided info Pleistocene (most recent) and Holocene (present) the former lasted between 2,000,000 and 10,000 years before the present and the latter began about 10,000 years ago. Mari is said to have appeared on the earth in the early Pleistocene, when true ox, true elephant and true horse also originated. But now this event seems to have occurred in Africa about three million years back.
The fossils of the early men have not been found in India. A hint of the earliest human presence is indicated by stone tools obtained from the deposits ascribable to the Second Glaciation, which could be dated around 250,000 B.C. However, recently reported artefacts from Bori in Maharashtra may take the appearance of man as early as 1.4 million years ago, but the matter needs further research. At present it appears that India was settled later than Africa, although the lithic technology of the subcontinent broadly evolved in the same manner as it did in Africa. The early man in India used tools of stone roughly dressed by crude chipping, which have been discovered throughout the country except the alluvial plains of Indus, Ganga and Yamuna rivers. The chipped stone tools and chopped pebbles were used for hunting, cutting and other purposes. In this period man barely managed to gather his food and lived on hunting. He had no knowledge of cultivation and house building. This phase generally continued till 9000 B C.
Palaeolithic tools, which could be as old as 100,000 B.C., have been found in the Chotanagpur plateau. Such tools belonging to 20,000 B.C.10,000 B.C. have been found in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh about 55 km from Kurnool. In association with them bone implements and animal remains have also been discovered. Animal remains found in the Belan Valley in Mirzapur district in Uttar Pradesh show that goats, sheep and cattle were exploited. However, in the earliest Palaeolithic phase man lived on hunting and food gathering.
The Puranas speak of people who lived on roots and fruits; some of these people have been living in the old way in the hills and caves till modern times.
Palaeolithic culture of India developed in the Pleistocene period of the lee Age. Although human remains associated with stone tools found in Africa are considered 3 million years old, in India the first human occupations, as clearly suggested by stone tools, is not earlier than the Middle Pleistocene or around 500,000 B.C. In the Pleistocene period ice sheets covered a great portion of the earth’s surface, particularly in the higher altitudes and their peripheries. But the tropical regions, excepting the mountains, were free from ice. On the other hand, they underwent a. period of great rainfall.
Phases in the Palaeolithic Age
The Palaeolithic Age in India is divided into three phases according to the nature of the stone tools used by the people and also according to the nature of change in the climate. The first phase is called Early or Lower Palaeolithic, the second Middle Palaeolithic and the third Upper Palaeolithic. Unless adequate information is available about Bori artefacts, the first phase may be placed broadly, between 500,000 B.C. and 50,000 B.C the second between 50,000 B.C. and 40,000 B.C. and the third between 40,000 B.C. and 10,000 B.C. But-between 40,000
B.C. and 1500 B.C tools belonging to both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic Ages are found in the Deccan Plateau.
The Lower Palaeolithic or the Early Old Stone Age covers the greater part of the Ice Age. Its characteristic feature is the use of hand-axes, cleavers and choppers. The axes found in India are more or less similar to those of western Asia, Europe and Africa. Stone tools were used mainly for chopping, digging and skinning. The Early Old Stone Age sites are found in the valley of river Soan or Sohan in Punjab, now in Pakistan. Several sites have been found in Kashmir and the Thar Desert. The Lower Palaeolithic tools have also been found in the Belan valley in Mirzapur District in Uttar Pradesh. Those found in the desert area of Didwana in Rajasthan in the valleys of the Belan and the Narmada and in the caves and rock shelters of Bhimbetka near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh roughly belong to 100,000 B.C. The rockshelters may have served as seasonal camps for human beings. Hand-axes have been found in a deposit of the time of the second Himalayan interglaciation. In this period climate became less humid.
The Middle Palaeolithic industries are mainly based upon flakes. These flakes are found in different parts of India and show regional variations. The principal tools are varieties of blades, points, borers and scrapers made of flakes. We also find a large number of borers and blade-like tools. The geographical horizon of the Middle Palaeolithic sites coincides roughly with that of the Lower Palaeolithic sites. Here we notice a crude pebble Indus tty in strata contemporary with the third Himalayan glaciation. The artefacts of this age are also found at several places on the river Narmada and also at several places, south of the Tungabhadra river.
The Upper Palaeolithic phase was less humid. It coincided with the last phase of the Ice Age when climate became comparatively warm. In the world context it marks the appearance of new flint industries and of men of the modern type (Homo sapiens): In India, we notice the use of blades and burins, which have been found in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, central Madhya Pradesh, southern Uttar Pradesh, south Bihar plateau and the adjoining areas. Caves and rockshelters for use by human beings in the Upper Palaeolithic phase have been discovered at Bhimbetka, 45 km south of Bhopal. An Upper Palaeolithic assemblage, characterised by comparatively large flakes, blades, burins and scrapers has also been found in the upper levels of the Gujarat dunes!
It would thus appear that palaeolithic sites are found in many hilly slopes and river valleys of the country; they are absent in the alluvial plains of the Indus and the Ganga.
The Mesolithic Age: Hunters and herders
The Upper Palaeolithic Age came to an end with the end of the Ice Age around 9000 B.C. and the climate became warm and dry. Climatic changes brought about changes in fauna and flora and made it possible for human beings to move to new areas. Since then there have not been any major changes in climatic conditions. In 9000 B.C. began an intermediate stage in stone age culture, which is called the Mesolithic Age. It intervened as a transitional phase between the Palaeolithic Age and the Neolithic or New Stone Age. The mesolithic people lived on hunting, fishing and food gathering: at a later stage they also domesticated animals. The first three occupations continued the palaeolithic practice, while the last Was interrelated with the neolithic culture.
The characteristic tools of the Mesolithic Age are microliths. The mesolithic sites are found in good numbers in Rajasthan, southern Uttar Pradesh, central and eastern India and also south of the river Krishna. Of them Bagor in Rajasthan is very well excavated. It had a distinctive microlithic industry and its inhabitants subsisted on hunting and pastoralism. The site remained occupied for 5000 years from the fifth millennium B.C. onwards. Adamgarh in Madhya Pradesh and Bagor in Rajasthan provide the earliest evidence for the domestication of animals; this could be around 5000 B.C. The cultivation of plants around 7000-6000 B.C. is suggested in Rajasthan from a study of the deposits of the former Salt Lake, Sambhar.
So far only a few finds of the Mesolithic Age have been dated scientifically. The mesolithic culture continued to be important roughly from 9000 B.C to 4000 B.C. There is no doubt that it paved the Way for the rise of the Neolithic culture.
The people of palaeolithic and mesolithic ages practised painting. Prehistoric art appears at several places, but Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh is a striking site. Situated in the Vindhyan range, 45 km south of Bhppal it has more than 500 painted rock shelters, distributed in an area of 10 sq km. The rock paintings extend from the palaeolithic to the mesolithic period and in some series even up to recent times. But a good many rock shelters are associated with the mesolithic occupation. Many birds, animals and human beings are painted. Obviously most of the birds and animals that appear in paintings were hunted for the sake of subsistence. Perching birds, which live upon grain, are absent in the earliest group of paintings, which evidently belongs to the hunting gathering economy j.
It is interesting to note that on the northern spurs of the Vindhyas in the Belan valley all the three phases of the Palaeolithic followed by the Mesolithic and then by the Neolithic have been found in sequence and so is the case with the middle part of the Narmada valley. But in several areas the neolithic culture succeeded the mesolithic tradition, which continued right to the beginning of the Iron Age, i.e. 1000 B.C.
The Neolithic Age: Food Producers
In the world context the New Stone Age began in 9000 B.C. The only neolithic settlement in the Indian subcontinent attributed to 7000 B.C. lies in Mehrgarh, which is situated in Baluchistan, a province of Pakistan. In the initial stage, before 5000 B.C., the people of this place did not Use any pottery. Some Neolithic sites found on the northern spurs of the Vindhyas are considered as old as 5000 B.C. but generally Neolithic settlements found in south India are not older than 2500 B.C., in some parts of southern and eastern India they are as late as 1000 B C.
The people of this age used tools and implements of polished stone. They particularly used stone axes, which have been found in large numbers in a good part of the hilly tracts of the country. This cutting tool was put to various uses by the people and in ancient legends Parashurama became an important axe-wielding hero.
Based on the types of axes used by neolithic settlers, we notice three important areas of neolithic settlements north-western, north-eastern and southern. The north western group of neolithic tools represents rectangular axes with curved cutting edge. The north-eastern group shows polished stone axes with rectangular butt and has occasional shouldered hoes. The southern group is distinguished by axes with oval sides and pointed butt.
In the north-west, the Kashmiri neolithic culture was distinguished by its dwelling pits, the range of ceramics, the variety of stone and bone tools and the complete absence of the microliths. An important site is that of Burzahom, which means the place of birch and is situated 16 km northwest of Srinagar. The neolithic people lived there on a lake-side in pits and probably had hunting and fishing economy. They seem to have been acquainted, with agriculture. The people of Gufkral (literally the cave of the potter), a neolithic site 41 km south-west of Srinagar, practised both agriculture and domestication of animals. The neolithic people in Kashmir used not only polished tool§ of stone, but what is more interesting, they used numerous tools and weapons made up of bone. The only other place which has yielded considerable bone implements in India is Chirand, which is 40 km west, of Patna on the northern side of the Gangs. Made of antlers (horns of deer), these implements have been found in a late neolithic setup in an area with about 100 cm rainfall. The settlement became possible because of the open land available on account of the joining together of the four rivers Ganga, Sone, Gandak and Ghaghra at this place. It is marked by the paucity of stone tools.
The people of Burzahom used coarse grey pottery. It is interesting that the Burzahom domestic dogs were buried with their masters in their graves. The placing of domestic dogs in the graves of the masters do not seem to be the practice with neolithic people in any other part of India. The earliest date for Burzahom is about 2700 B.C., but the bones recovered from Chirand cannot be dated earlier than 2000 B.C. and they possibly belong to the late neolithic phase.
The second group of neolithic people lived in south India, south of the Godavari river. They usually settled on the tops of granite hills or on plateaus near the river banks. They used stone, axes and also some kind Of stone blades. Fire-baked earthen figurines suggest that they kept a large number of cattle. They possessed cattle, sheep and goats. They used rubbing stone querns, which shows that they were acquainted with the art of producing cereals.
The third area from which neolithic tools have been recovered is in the hills of Assam, Neolithic tools are also found in the Garo hills in Meghalaya on the north-eastern frontier of India. In addition to this, we also find a number of neolithic settlements on the northern spurs of the Vindhyas in Mirzapur and Allahabad districts of Uttar Pradesh, Neolithic sites in Allahabad district are noted for the cultivation of rice in the sixth millennium B.C.
Some of the important neolithic sites or those with neolithic layers that have been excavated include Maski, Brahmagiri, Hallur, Kodekal, Sanganakallu T. Narsipur, Piklihal and Takkalakota in Karnataka and Palyampalli in Tamil Nadu. Utnur is an important neolithic site in Andhra Pradesh. The neolithic phase in south India seems to have covered the period from about 2000 B.C. to about 1000 B.C.
The neolithic settlers in Piklihal were cattle-herders. They domesticated cattle, sheep, goats, etc. They set up seasonal camps surrounded by cowpens made with posts and stakes. In these enclosures they accumulated dung. Then the entire camping ground was put to fire and cleared for camping in the next session. Both ash mounds and habitation sites have been found in Piklihal.
The neolithic settlers were the earliest farming communities. They broke the ground with stone hoes and digging sticks at the end of which ring stones weighing one to half a kilogram were fixed. Besides polished tools of stone, they used microlithic blades. They lived in circular or rectangular houses made of mud and reed. It is held that the primitive people living in circular houses owned property in common In any case these neolithic people led a settled life. They produced ragi and horsegram (kulathi). The neolithic people of Mehrgarh were more advanced. They produced wheat, cotton and lived in mud-brick houses.
Since in the neolithic phase several settlements came to be acquainted with the cultivation of cereals and the domestication of animals, they needed pots in which they could store their foodgrains. They further needed pots for cooking, eating and drinking. Hence pottery first appears in this phase. Hand-made pottery is found in the early stage. Later the neolithic people used footwheels to turn up pots. Their pottery included black-burnished ware, grey ware and mat-impressed ware.
Neolithic celts, axes, adzes, chisels, etc., have also been found in the Orissa and Chotanagpur hill areas. But traces of neolithic settlements are generally few in parts of Madhya Pradesh and the tracts of the upper Deccan, because of the lack of the types of stone which lend themselves easily to grinding and polishing.
The period between 9000 B.C. and 3000 B.C. saw a remarkable progress of technology in western Asia, because the people developed the arts of cultivation, weaving, pot-making, house building, domestication of animals, writing, etc. But the whole process started a little late in India. However, the Neolithic Age in the Indian subcontinent began around the sixth millennium B.C. Some of the important crops, including rice, wheat and barley, came to be cultivated in the subcontinent in this period and a few villages appeared in this part of the world. It appears that the people were now on the threshold of civilization.
The people of the stone Age suffered from one great limitation. Since they had to depend almost entirely on tools and weapons made of stone, they could not found settlements far away from the hilly areas. They could settle down only on the slopes of the hills, in rock-shelters and the hilly river valleys. Further, even with great effort they could not; produce more than what they needed for their bare subsistence.
- Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: Palaeolithic, Upper Palaeolithic. Neolithic, Mesolithic, Holocene, Pleistocene, Microliths, Food gathering, Homo sapiens, Pastoralism, Lithic technology.
- What are the phases into which the Palaeolithic Age in India is divided? What is the basis of this division?
- How are the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages in India distinguished from one another? Describe the main characteristic features of each.
- Discuss the significance of invention of potter’s wheel, spinner’s wheel and cart wheel in the development of culture.
- Why is the Neolithic Age considered as marking a revolution in man’s life?
- Visit a museum which has a collection of prehistoric tools. Try to identify the tools about which you have read in the text.
- On an outline map of India locate the following sites: Bhimbetka, Bagor, Adamgarh, Burzahom, Ghirand, Mehrgarh, Maski, Brahmagiri, Utnur, Narsipur. Identify the cultures with which these sites are associated.
- Draw a chart indication the regions where Stone Age cultures have been discovered along with their respective periods and important sites..
- Prepare a chart showing the tools of the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages and mention their uses.