Pre Historic Period in India – Prehistoric Cultures in India | Stone Age UPSC Notes

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: November 14th, 2023

Pre Historic Period is the period when there was no writing or development. Since no writings by ordinary people were created during this particular time, it is believed to be the primordial era of ancient history or the prehistoric cultures in India. The Prehistoric Period roughly spans from 2.5 million years ago to 1,200 B.C., or the period when there was human life when records recorded human activity. The term “Prehistoric Period” denotes a period preceding writing and development.

Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, & also Iron Age are its five distinct periods. The period is known to produce miniature sculptures (for instance, clay statuettes of animals, carved rock figures of women, and other bone and ivory carvings), incised designs, reliefs on cave walls, and paintings. Here we have provided all the information about pre historic period and its different eras.

Pre Historic Period

The Pre historic Period in India is the period before writing and development. Approximate dates for when Homo sapiens first resided on the Indian subcontinent range from 200000 to 40000 BC.

The Stone Age, or prehistoric era, in India, can be split into three main categories: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The other major periods in prehistoric India were:

  • Chalcolithic or the Copper Age
  • The Iron Age

Prehistoric Cultures in India

The Pre historic Period attests to a period in which no signs of human activity or writing. Prehistory refers to that period’s hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Civilization and activities began thousands of years ago, called prehistory. A three Age System was called because prehistory is typically divided into three ages – Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages are the three eras.

Pre Historic Period UPSC Notes

These three ages provide fragments of evidence for ancient human activities. These are evolutionary eras in humanity’s history. Prehistoric culture refers to human development and evolution that did take place before the introduction of writing.

  • This historical period also is referred to simply as the Stone Age for convenience.
  • By the age of our time, ancient sciences of geology, Palaeontology, anthropology, and archaeology had produced a large, complex body of knowledge about the history of the human mind.
  • Recent discoveries and speculations can aid in understanding human nature and shed light on current problems if they are fully evaluated.

Stone Age

The stone age in India was the first era in which shifts in human civilization were apparent. Stone was used, in addition to stone-made tools. The stone age is further split into the following three periods:

  • Palaeolithic age (old stone age): Period – 500,000 – 10,000 BCE;
  • Mesolithic age (late stone age): Period – 10,000 – 6000 BCE;
  • Neolithic age (new stone age): Period – 6000 – 1000 BCE.

Palaeolithic Age (Old Stone Age)

The Paleolithic Age in India is also referred to as the Old Stone Age. Humans seemed not to know farming or cooking techniques. Back ago, gathering and searching for food was the principal occupation.

At this time, all the things utilized by man, including his home and hunting gear, were fashioned of stone. The timescale for this was 5,000 BC to 10,000 BC. It describes the salient features of the palaeolithic cultures of India.

The Palaeolithic age’s primary characteristics are:

  • The Indians were believed to be part of the “Negrito” race and were believed to have lived outside, in river valleys, caves, and rock shelters.
  • They fished and subsisted on food gathering; they devoured wild fruits and vegetables.
  • Agriculture, pottery, and houses were unknown. Only later did they know there was a fire.
  • Paintings from the upper Palaeolithic era are evidence of art’s existence.
  • Humans employed hand axes, choppers, blades, burins, and scrapers constructed of unpolished, rough stones.

The old stone age can be divided into three parts:

Lower Palaeolithic age

The Lower Paleolithic period, often known as the Ice Age, was dominated by hunters and gatherers. People used crudely cut-out stones for hunting. The Palaeolithic epoch saw the development of extremely primitive tools, and at the conclusion of this time, humans began to create and use fire. The main Paleolithic Age archaeological sites include:

  • Soan Valley (Pakistan)
  • Bori (Maharashtra)
  • Kashmir
  • Saurashtra
  • Gujarat
  • Chotanagar plateau
  • Belan Valley
  • Central India

Middle Palaeolithic age

The development of pointed and sharp tools including pointers, flakes, and blades by humans began during the Middle Paleolithic Age, a period of the Old Stone Age. For both slaying small animals and removing the flesh from deceased, hunting animals, they employed specialized instruments. The principal locations where middle Palaeolithic period artifacts were found include:

  • Belan Valley (UP)
  • Bhimbetka
  • Luni Valley (Rajasthan)
  • Son and Narmada rivers
  • Songhai Cave
  • Postwar Plateau

Upper Palaeolithic age

In this instance, the climate warmed up toward the end of the Ice Age. At this point, Homo sapiens began to emerge. Numerous other bone tools, including needles, fishing gear, and boring tools, were also created. Bhimbetka is one of the main Upper Paleolithic sites where blades, hand axes, and scrapers have been discovered (South of Bhopal). Major sites were:

  • Belan
  • Chota Nagpur Plateau
  • Son
  • Orissa
  • Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh
  • Maharashtra

These three periods, which make up part of the old stone age, saw variations in equipment as well as belonging to various sides in India.

Pre Historic Period: Mesolithic Age (Middle Stone Age)

For animal hunts, humans first used arrows and bows. Then, sharp weapons, also called microliths-pointed, were used to begin the hunt for small animals like fish. The timescale of the Mesolithic Pre Historic Period was between 10,000 and 6,000 BC.

Mesolithic Sites of Importance

  • One of India’s biggest and best-preserved Mesolithic sites is Bagor in Rajasthan.
  • Microliths and animal bones, including shells, have been found in Bogor on the Kothari River.
  • The oldest evidence of animal domestication can be found in Azamgarh in Madhya Pradesh.
  • A rich concentration of Mesolithic rock art sites may be discovered in Central India, such as the Bhimbetka caves (Madhya Pradesh), Kharwar, Jaora, and Kathotia (M.P.), Sundargarh and Sambalpur (Odisha), and Ezhuthu Guha (Kerala).
  • Microliths have also been found in many basins of the river Tapi, Sabarmati, Narmada, and Mahi.
  • The Mesolithic sites of Langhnaj in Gujarat and Biharanpur in West Bengal are also significant.
  • From Langhnaj, bones of wild animals, notably rhinoceroses and blackbucks, have been found.
  • In addition, these sites have yielded numerous human skeletons and many microliths.
  • Even though most Mesolithic sites lack pottery, it has been found in Langhnaj (Gujarat) and the Kaimur region of Mirzapur (U.P.).

Pre Historic Period: Neolithic Age (New Stone Age)

This era marks a significant shift in civilization. Human civilization began with the taming of plants and animals began. Then, the tools and equipment evolved. The time frame of the Neolithic Pre Historic Period ranged from 6,000 BC to 1,000 BC.

Important Neolithic Sites

  • Koldihwa and Mahagara, located in the south of Allahabad, are two locations where round huts and rudimentary hand-made pottery can be seen. Furthermore, there is proof of rice, which is the oldest rice known evidence anywhere in the world and not only in India.
  • The earliest Neolithic site was Mehrgarh (Balochistan, Pakistan), where people lived in houses made of sun-dried bricks and cultivated crops like cotton and wheat.
  • Burzahom (Kashmir) – People lived in pits and used implements made of polished stones in addition to bones; domestic dogs were buried with their masters in their graves.
  • The neolithic site of Gufkral in Kashmir is known for its pit dwellings, stone tools, and indoor cemeteries.
  • Neolithic men in Chirand (Bihar) employed bone-based tools and weapons.
  • The people of Piklihal, Brahmagiri, Maski, Takkalakota, and Hallur (all in Karnataka) were cow ranchers.
  • Sheep and goats were kept as pets. As a result, there are ash mounds that can be found.
  • In the Belan Valley, located amid the Narmada Valley and between the northern spurs of the Vindhya Mountains, Ages from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods can all be discovered in order.

Difference Between Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Age

There is a thin line difference between Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic Age as the three of them are interconnected to one another. The Paleolithic was the earliest stone age, followed by the Mesolithic and then by the Neolithic age. To sustain a livelihood, the activities undertaken by every age varied greatly.

Paleolithic Mesolithic Neolithic
Most ancient stone age period dated 2.6 million years ago back Second period of the stone age was between the Paleolithic and Neolithic Third period of stone age, commonly known as the New stone age
Used elementary stone tools for hunting and gathering Used tools like mode V chipped stone instruments or microliths The age experienced domestication, crop farming and cultivation; and only homo-sapiens were seen
It is divided into Lower Paleolithic, Middle Paleolithic and upper Paleolithic age The beginning and ending differ by geographical location It ended with the commencement of the “Bronze Age”

Pre Historic Period: Metal Age

The stone era had come to an end with the introduction of metal. The three ages that comprise the wide category of the metal age under the Pre Historic Period are as follows.

Bronze Period

The physicochemical characteristics of bronze, which were stronger and more resilient than other metals at the time, gave bronze-age civilizations a technological advantage. The first Egyptian witness was of this age. Copper and bronze were among the most prevalent metals during this time.

Iron Age

The “3 Age System” concludes at this age. The bronze era came to an end during this era. Iron was also used to build weapons throughout this time. Between 1500 and 600 BCE, there was the Iron Age.

Aryans and the Vedic era, along with Buddhism and Jainism, arrived during the Iron Age. Indus and Ganges Valley civilization, which was divided among the 16 major powers known as Mahajanapadas.

  • The main Iron Age sites can be located in modern-day Northern India.
  • In India, these were the Stone Ages.
  • The Stone Age, Copper Age, and Iron Age were all eras of prehistory in India.
  • The Ice Age and the development of Homo sapiens were both seen in prehistoric India.

Chalcolithic Age (The Copper Age)

Due to the widespread usage of bronze and copper at this time, the Chalcolithic period is also known as the Copper Age. This period spanned 1800 BC to 2500 BC. The Chalcolithic Age also called the Pre-Harappan period, marked the beginning of cow raising and rural settlement. In addition to this, there was an increase in art and craft, which included stonemasons and coppersmiths.

According to data discovered by archaeologists in Maharashtra, the Copper Age was characterized by high rates of infant mortality in burial sites. There were also discovered clay goddesses and copper or bone jewelry. The Chalcolithic Age’s principal locations were:

  • Gilland (Rajasthan)
  • Ahar (Rajasthan)
  • Malwa (MP)
  • Nevada
  • Songhai
  • Kayatha

India’s Prehistoric Past

History is past research; the word biography is derived from the Greek word historian, which means “inquiry,” or insights acquired by research. The term “history” correlates to ancient events and the discovery, gathering, organization, presentation, and understanding of data related to these events. There are three divisions of India’s Prehistoric Past, namely, Prehistory, Protohistory, and History:

  • Prehistory – Before writing was created, historical occurrences were preserved verbally. The three stone ages represent prehistory.
  • Proto-history – The time between prehistory and history, whenever a culture or organization didn’t yet exist but was mentioned inside the written accounts of an advanced culture. For instance, the writings of the Harappan civilization are still incomprehensible, but because the Mesopotamian language records their existence, they belong to the category of proto-history. The Vedic civilization, which existed between 1500 and 600 BCE, is also considered primitive. Archaeologists also consider the Neolithic and Chalcolithic civilizations as related to proto-history.
  • History – The introspection of the past after writing was created and examining literate civilizations using primary sources and archaeological evidence.

Sources of Pre Historic Period

The primary source of information for the Pre Historic Period is archaeology (anthropology branch), but few intellectuals are starting to make better use of evidence from the biological and social sciences. The following sources are useful in rewriting history:

  • Non-literary source;
  • Literature sources, including both secular and religious works/

Non-Literary Sources

Coins: The money used in the Indus Valley civilization was coins instead of paper. The oldest coins discovered in India were punch-marked pieces of silver and copper with only a few symbols; later, coins included names of kings, dates, gods, etc. The locations where they were discovered reveal the area in which they circulate.

  • It made it possible to put together the chronology of several dynasties in power, especially the Indo-Greek rulers who migrated to India from Northern Afghanistan between the second and the first centuries BCE.
  • Coins provide information on various criteria, such as the time’s art, script, religion, and the economics of various empires.
  • It also aids in comprehending the advances achieved in science, technology, and metallurgy.

Archaeology/Material Remains: Archaeology is the discipline of science concerned with the systematic, layer-by-layer excavation of ancient mounds to understand their material culture better.

  • Different examinations are performed on the recovered physical remains due to excavation and investigation.
  • Their ages have indeed been established using radiocarbon dating. For instance, archaeological sites from the Harappan era provide data about the people’s way of life during that time.
  • Similarly, the Megaliths (graves in south India) shed light on life before 300 BCE for people who lived in the Deccan and South India.
  • Studying plant remains, particularly in the form of pollen, reveals data about previous climatic and vegetal changes.

Prasastis/Inscriptions: (The analysis and interpretation of ancient inscriptions are called epigraphy). Studying the different faiths and government practices of the time can be accomplished by studying writings carved on hard materials like rock and metals like copper.

  • These writings usually chronicle certain achievements, royal orders, ideas, and judgments.
  • For instance, inscriptions document property grants made by Satavahana Kings of the Deccan, and inscriptions reflect state policy given by Emperor Ashoka.

Foreign accounts: Foreign accounting entries may be used to supplement indigenous writings. The Greek, Chinese, and Roman travelers to India—whether they were visitors or religious converts—left a rich chronicle of our past. Amongst them, a few of significance were:

  • In his book “Indica,” Greek Ambassador Megasthenes shared significant facts about the Mauryan government and society.
  • The Greek-language works “The Author of the Erythrean Sea” and “Ptolemy’s Geography,” which describe the ports and commodities transported between India and the Roman Empire, including helpful information.
  • Buddhist traveler Fa-Hein Faxien, who flourished from 337 to 422 CE, left behind a detailed description of the Gupta era.

A Buddhist pilgrim called Hsuan-Tsang traveled to India and praised the splendor of the Nalanda University and India during the reign of King Harshavardhana.

Literary Sources

Religious Literature: The religious writings offer information on the Indus Valley civilization‘s social, economic, and cultural circumstances.

There are four Vedas: The Vedas might be dated between 1500 and 500 BCE. The Samaveda, Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda are later Vedic books that include rites, magic, myths, and prayers, whereas the Rigveda primarily consists of petitions.

Upanishads: The Vedanta texts, such as the Upanishads (Atma and Paramatma), offer philosophical discussions on such ideas.

Epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana: The Mahabharata is the older of the two epics and may reflect events from the 10th century BCE to the 4th century C.E. The Ramayana is indeed the younger of the two epics. It is supposed to contain 8800 verses (called Jaya Samhita).

  • The Mahabharata also called the Satasahasri Samhita, contained 100,000 verses in its final form.
  • It includes didactic, descriptive, and narrative elements.
  • The 12000 verses that make up the original version of the Ramayana were later increased to 24000.
  • The pedagogical aspects that were eventually added to this epic are also there.

Sutras: Shrautasutras (which cover sacrifices and royal coronations) and Grihya Sutras were two examples of formal poetry found in sutras (which include domestic rituals like birth, naming, marriage, funeral, etc.)

Buddhist holy books: The earliest Buddhist texts, known as the Tripitaka (three baskets), were composed inside the Pali language and consisted of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, and Sutta Pitaka. These works offer a priceless understanding of that time’s social and financial climate. They also refer to political events during the Buddha’s lifetime. Try reading up on Buddhism.

Jaina’s religious texts: The religious works of the Jainas, known as “angels,” were composed in the Prakrit language and contained their philosophies. They have many texts that can be used to recreate the history of Mahavira’s time in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. Trade and traders are mentioned frequently in Jaina scriptures. Try reading up on Jainism.

Secular Literature in the Pre Historic Period

There is also a sizable amount of secular literature, such as the Dharmashastras/Law books that define the obligations of the several varnas and those of the ruler and their officials.

They lay the guidelines for how property must be owned, sold, and inherited. They also specify punishments for individuals who commit murder theft, etc. The division of Secular Literature in the Pre Historic Period is illustrated below.

  • The Arthashastra: Authored by Kautilya, depicts both the economic and social climate of the Mauryan era. Kalidasa’s literary works include plays and kavya, with Abhijnanasakuntalam being the most significant of the latter. In addition to being artistic creations, they provide a window into central and northern India’s social and cultural life during the Gupta era.
  • Rajatarangini: The well-known book Rajatarangini: authored by Kalhana, depicts Kashmir’s social and political environment in the 12th century C.E.
  • Biographies: It is also known as charities and were penned by court poets in adoration of their kings and queens. Banabhatta composed the Charita and Harshacharita in honor of King Harshavardhana.
  • Sangam literature: It is the earliest south Indian literature and contains important details on the economic, social, and political life of the individuals who resided in deltaic Tamil Nadu. It was created by writers who came together under the name Sangam. Such literary gems as “Silappadikaram” and “Manimekalai” can be discovered in Tamil literature. The article in the link has further data on Sangam Literature.

Pre Historic Period UPSC

Pre Historic Period is the era when there was no writing or evolution, which spans from 2.5 million years ago to 1,200 B.C. It is divided into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic,  Neolithic, and Chalcolithic ages. Students preparing for the UPSC exam must find its relevance in the Ancient Indian History section of the UPSC Syllabus.

You can also refer to History Books for UPSC which will provide you with complete information about the topic and other important sub-topics. Learn about the history, sources, and literature of the Pre Historic Period after downloading its PDF from the article.

Pre Historic Period MCQs

Question: Which metal was primarily used in the Chalcolithic Period? (1) Copper, (2) Aluminium, (3) Iron, (4) Brass
Answer: Copper

Question: From which of the following regions, the remains of Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures have been found in a sequence? (A) Belan Valley, (B) Godavari valley, (C) Krishna valley, (D) Kashmir valley
Answer: Belan Valley

Question: Robert Bruce Foote, who discovered first Palaeolithic tool in India, was originally a: (A) Archaeologist, (B) Geologist, (C) Palaeobotanist, (D) Historian
Answer: Geologist

Question: Which one of the following sites is famous for prehistoric paintings? (A) Amrawati, (B) Bhimbetka, (C) Bagh, (D) Ajanta
Answer: Bhimbetka

Question: The dockyard was found in which of the following sites of Indus valley civilization? (A) Banawali, (B) Kalibangan, (C) Chanhudaro, (D) Lothal
Answer: Lothal

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