Ancient History of Indian subcontinent: the timeline

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: September 13th, 2023

To know about this period, the information revealing sources include Literary sources and Archaeological sources. For this era, the major contributor to the information of Ancient India is the Archaeological sources.

Literary Sources:

a. Indigenous sources- Brahman texts (Vedas and Upanishads), Buddhist texts, Jain texts, Biographical texts, Court poets and their compositions etc

b. Foreign Sources- Accounts maintained by foreign travellers such as Scylax(6th Century BC), Megasthenes, Fa-Hein, Hiuen Tsang, Ibn Hawkal and Ibn Batuta etc.

2. Archaeological sources:

Inscriptions (foreign and indigenous), coins (indigenous, Indo-Bactrian, foreign coins) and monuments present till date.

Based on difference in stone-implements, the Paleolithic period is divided into three ages:

Lower/ Early Paleolithic Age (30,00,000BC-1,00,000BC)


Chopper and Chopping, Hand-axe and cleaver

Middle Palaeolithic Age (1,00,000BC-40,000BC)

Implements made of flakes

Upper/Later Palaeolithic Age(40,000BC-10,000BC)

Implements made of flake and blade

  • Lower Paleolithic people used quartzite (a type of stone) and other stones to make implements (tools and weapons).
  • Sites are found in Sohan River Valley, Liddar River valley in Pahalgam, Chambal River valley, Sabarmati river valley, Narmada river valley, Belan River valley, Buhar-Valang valley, Malprabha-Ghatprabha River Valley etc.
  • Middle palaeolithic implements made from scrapper, burin, borer etc. Precious stones such as chert, zasper, flint were also used in plenty to make implements.
  • Sites found in Sanghvo Cave, Sohan River Valley etc
  • Upper Palaeolithic implements made from Flake- Blade, and hence the age is also regarded as the ‘Flake-Blade Culture’. These implements were mainly from long bones and horns of animals. Evidence is traced from Muchchhatala and Chintamanugavi cave shelter of Andhra Pradesh.
  • Sites include Sanghvo Cave, Belan-River Valley, Sinhbhum, Renigunta etc.

Mesolithic Age (9000BC-4000BC)

Becoming an intermediate stage between the Palaeolithic Age and Neolithic Age, this is called the Mesolithic Age. This was the age of transition because they neither abandoned the characteristics of Palaeolithic Age or adopted the features of the Neolithic Age.

  • These people were aware of the burial process of dead bodies. It is confirmed by the graves that have found in Sarainahar Rai and Mahdaha of Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh.
  • The implements of the Mesolithic period are very tiny, and hence this period is also regarded as Microlith or Pigmy implements.
  • Sites include: Baghore, Tilwana, Langhnaj, Loteswar, Adamgarh, Jambudwip, SarainaharRai, Choponimando, Chakiya, Rajgir, Palamu, Khandivalli, Nagarjunkonda, Sangankallu, Tirunelvelli.

 Neolithic Age (7000BC-1000BC)

Main features of this age include:

  • Crop cultivation
  • Animal Husbandry
  • Fixed abode

Stone implements of this age petcked, ground and polished. Also, the limited use of metals has been seen.

Sites of the Neolithic period are scattered all across the Indian subcontinent, but the prominent site includes Mehargarh, Bolan district, Baluchistan province and Pakistan. It is also called the earliest known village of the Indian subcontinent.

Note: the Bolan River Valley of Uttar Pradesh and Narmada River Valley of Madhya Pradesh are considered to have all three stages of the lithic era- Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic.


Chalcolithic Age (3500BC-1000BC)

Copper usage is the mark of this period. Implements, including copper, were extensively used. Also, copper was mixed with other metals such as tin or zinc and lead to make a new metal or alloy called Bronze.

Chalcolithic age is further divided into three stages:

  • Pre-Harappan: 3500BC-2500BC
  • Harappan Age: 2500BC-1750 BC
  • Post Harappan Age: 2000BC-1000BC

Regional Extent of Harappan Civilization





Mehargarh, Kili ghul, Rana Ghundai, Dabarkot, Blakot, Sutkagendor

Baluchistan (Pakistan)

Harappa, Derawar, Ghaneriwal, Saraikhola


Mohanjodaro, Chanhudaro, Alhadino, Kotdizi, Alimurad, Jhangar

Sindh (Pakistan)


Jammu and Kashmir

Rakhigarhi, Banawali


Kalibanga, Bara, Shishawal, Hanumangarh


Alamgirpur, Manpur, Bargaon, Hulas, Sanauli

Uttar Pradesh

Dholavira, Lothal, Surkotda, Rangpur





Post-Harrapan Age different region of the Indian subcontinent the various regional cultures came into existence. These were regarded as Chalco-Lithic Cultures.

Some of them are as:

  1. Ahar Culture

Region: South-Eastern Rajasthan

Site: Banas River Valley, Gilund, Balaghat etc

2.Kayatha Culture

Region: Western Madhya Pradesh

Sites: Tripuri, Ujjain and some areas on the bank of Kali Sindh, a tributary of Chambal river, Ujjain District etc

3.Sawalda Culture

Western Maharashtra

Sites situated in Sawalda in the Tapti and Prawara valley in Dhuliya district.

4.Prabhash Culture

Region: South-Western Gujarat

Sites situated in Junagarh district. The nomenclature is based on prabhaspattan.

5.Malwa Culture

Region: Western Madhya Pradesh

Sites in the areas near Narmada river’s bank in the Malwa region of Khargaon district.

6. Chirand Culture:

Region: Western Bihar

Sites are in Chirand in Saran district.

7.Jorwe Culture

Region: Western Maharashtra

Sites situated on the bank of Prawara river in Ahmednagar district such as Daimabad, Newasa, Nasik, Chandoli etc

8.Rangpur Culture

Region: Mid Gujarat

Sites located on the bank of Bhadar river of Surendranagar district.


Iron Age (1000BC- 500 BC)

The use of iron metal brought not only technical but also cultural change. It has played a crucial role to change Pre-Historic into Historic period slowly.

The cultures associated with the Iron Age are  :

  • Painted Grey Ware (PGW) Culture
  • Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) Culture
  • Megalith Culture (South India)

Note: Burial practices are a prominent part of the Megalith culture, and both Partial and complete burial practices are seen.

Black-Red potteries tradition are found in Megalith culture. The peculiar feature of the pottery was all interior parts and neck parts are painted in black colour whereas the rest outer part of the potteries is painted in red colour.

Harappan/Indus Civilization(2500BC-1750BC)

Prominent features involve:

  • Systematic town-planning on the lines of ‘grid-system.’
  • Use of burnt bricks in construction
  • Underground drainage system
  • Fortified citadel

This civilisation was spread extensively in the North-Western part of Indian Subcontinent. Important sites include Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Chanhudaro, Lothal, Kalibanga, Banawali, Dholavira etc.

Note: Mohenjodaro- the most significant site of Indus civilisation

Rakhigarhi-the largest Indian site of Indus civilisation

Surkotada- the only Indus site where the remains of a horse have been found.

Note: The oldest script in the Indian subcontinent is the Harappan script, but the earliest deciphered script is Brahmi script known from about 5th century BC. Most later Indian script developed from Brahmi.

Vedic Culture (1500BC – 600BC)

  1. Early Vedic Period (1500BC-1000BC)

Bhogazkai inscription, which mentions four Vedic gods- Indra, Varun, Mitra and Nasatyas prove Central Asian Theory as the home of Aryans.

The group that came to India settled in the present frontier province, and Punjab then called Sapta Sindhu. They lived here for many centuries and gradually pushed into the interior to settle in the valleys of the Ganges and the Yamuna.

2.Later Vedic period(1000BC-600BC)

During the later Vedic Period, the Aryan settlements covered virtually the whole of Northern India. The centre of culture now shifted from Saraswati to Ganges (Madhya Desha).


Mahajanapada Period (600BC-325BC)

The word ‘janapada’ means the land where Jana set its foot. About 2500 years ago, some janapadas became more important than others and were known as mahajanapadas.

Let us enlist 16 major mahajanapadas: 



1.    Anga (Bihar)


2.    Magadha (Bihar)


3.    Vajji (Bihar)

Videha, Maithili, Vaishali

4.    Malla (U.P.)

Kushinara and Pawa

5.    Kashi (U.P.)


6.    Kosala (U.P.)


7.    Vatsa (U.P.)


8.    Chedi (Bundelkhand area)


9.    Kuru (Haryana and Delhi)


10. Panchala (western U.P.)

Ahichatra and Kampilya

11. Shurasena (Brajmandal)


12. Matsya (Rajasthan)


13. Avanti (Malwa)

Ujjayini and Mahishmati

14. Ashmaka (between Narmada and Godavari)


15. Gandhara (western part of Pakistan and Afghanistan)


16. Kamboja (Pakistan)



Foreign invasions (518BC onwards)

Taking advantage of political disunity on the North-West frontier of India, the Achaemenian ruler Darius I penetrated North-West India in 518BC and annexed Punjab, West of the Indus and Sindh.

  • As a consequence of the invasion, the establishment of Indo-Bacterian and Indo-Parthian states took place which at a later stage considerably influenced Indian architecture, astronomy and coinage etc.
  • The Indo-Iranian contact lasted for about 200 years.

Religious Movements (600BC-400BC)

The post-Vedic period is often regarded as the Period of the Second Urbanisation or the Age of Buddha. Various religious movements, i.e. Buddhism, Jainism etc. were born and grew up in this period.

Impact of religious movements:

  • Vedic philosophy had lost its original purity due to its complexity, superstitions, dogmas and rituals.
  • Introduction of a new agricultural economy in eastern India and so on…


Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in 563BC. This was the time of rapid changes in the lives of people. The Buddha belonged to the small gana known as the Sakya gana and was a kshatriya.  He left his home in search of knowledge at a very young age and wanders for several years holding meetings, discussions with other thinkers. He realized his path after meditating for several years under a peepal tree at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, where he attained enlightenment.

Events associated with Buddha’s life:



1.    Janma (Birth)


Lotus and Bull

2.    Mahabhinishkramana (Renunciation)


3.    Nirvana (Enlightenment)

Bodhi tree

4.    Dharmachakra pravartana (first sermon)


5.    Mahaparinirvana (Death)


  • Construction of stupas and viharas are the prominent part of the Buddhist tradition.


Vardhaman Mahavira, the most famous thinker of the Jainas, spread his message around 2500BC. Triratna- three gems of Jainism.

  1. Right Faith
  2. Right knowledge
  3. Right action

Five vows of Jainism:

  1. Ahimsa
  2. Satya
  3. Asteya
  4. Aparigraha
  5. Brahmacharya

Types of knowledge

  1. Mati jnana- Perception through the activity of sense organs, including the mind
  2. Shruti jnana- Knowledge revealed by scriptures
  3. Avadhi jnana- Clairvoyant perception
  4. Manahparyaya jnana- Telepathic knowledge
  5. Keval jnana- temporal experience or omniscience


Maurya Period(322BC-185BC)

As mentioned earlier, the sixth century BC marks the beginning of new religious and social movements in the Gangetic Valley in the form of Buddhism and Jainism, which were part of the shraman tradition.

  • Rock edicts, Pillar edicts and Cave inscriptions located at several places in the Indian sub-continent reveal about the Mauryas.
  • The Mauryas belong to the ‘Moriya’ tribe.
  • Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador sent to the court of Chandragupta Mauryaby Seleucus Nikator.
  • Under Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire reached its climax.

 Later Mauryas( 232BC-185BC)

The Maurya dynasty lasted about 137 years.

Causes of decline:

  • Highly centralised administration
  • Pacific policy of Ashoka
  • Brahmanical reaction
  • Partition of Mauryan empire
  • Pressure on Mauryan economy
  • Neglect of North-West frontier

Post-Maurya/Pre-Gupta (185BC-319AD)

After the death of Ashoka, the empire could not remain intact. Provinces started declaring their independence and various provinces emerged after that.

Sunga dynasty, Satvahana dynasty, Kanva dynasty, Chedi dynasty were some of the prominent ones.

Foreign invaders such as the Sakas, Parthians, Kushans also expanded to the lower Indus basin and the upper middle-Ganga basin.

Gupta Period(319AD-540AD)

Guptas arose in Magadha and established a large kingdom over the greater part of Northern India. Their rule lasted for about two centuries. This period is regarded as the ‘Classical Age’ or ‘Golden Age’ of ancient India and was perhaps the most prosperous era in Indian History. The period is noted for its achievements in the arts, architecture, sciences, religion, and philosophy.

Post Gupta Period(550AD-647AD)

With the glorious rule of over two centuries, the Gupta empire suffered invasion by the Huna People, also known as Huns and caused significant damage to the empire. The empire suffered disintegration into many regional kingdoms and ended its regime in 550AD. Many regional rulers emerged who could not keep the territory intact and faced invasions from the east, west, and north.

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