As the youngest period of Stone Age history of man Neolithic has always been understood as a well-defined stage. It is not surprising, therefore, that antiquities were sought merely to fill the grand definitional frame till as late as 1959 in India.
Predefined types usually referred to as celts whenever found, no matter even if from surface, were taken to locate a Neolithic site. The usual techno-morphological analysis of these types formed the ultimate in understanding the culture. This was more or less similar to the methodological basis used for the preceding periods in prehistory.
Characters and Classification of Neolithic:
Around 6000 B.C. numerous sites in West Asia started showing certain features which soon got identified as discriminant characters for Neolithic.
These features can be briefly summarized as follows:
I. Man becomes sedentary in nature and hence develops interpersonal relationships to consolidate a form of cooperative existence. Thus, the social organization has to, by necessity, become more complex than earlier.
II. This change, it is argued, becomes necessary because of a change of economy. This change in economy is taken to be caused by man getting land- tied because of adopting agriculture.
III. Since agriculture involves two entirely new areas of interaction with the natural environment, the media (artifact) through which these interactions are accompliced are counted as Neolithic attributes.
These attributes are:
(a) Large areas of vegetation cover had to be cut and a field for cultivation had to be tilled. It is believed that the Neolithic celt was evolved to meet this new interaction. A hard and compact rock is selected and flaked into an axe or adze. Then the sharp edges of the intersection of flake scars are knocked off in the manner of pecking. Finally, the tool is rubbed on a hard rock with water and sand, so that a metal-like smooth and sharp axe results. This final step is referred to as ‘grinding and polishing’ technique.
(b) If cultivation is to be accepted as a gainful economy, it requires storing of the harvest for regularity and security of supply. Thus, management of land and also its produce suddenly become a very pivotal issue for establishing the new economy. Fire burnt earthen pots are believed to have evolved at this stage in order to fulfill the primary advantage of the economy.
It is not surprising, therefore, that archaeologically speaking, ground celts, pot-sherds or permanent dwelling structures, either individually or together, whenever found are taken to indicate a Neolithic culture. The large number of Neolithic finds, that various archaeological exploration till 1950 have yielded, were given a regional treatment for the first time by V D Krishnaswami in 1959. He divided Indian Neolithic culture into four geographical zones purely on the basis of archaeological features like the techno- morphological characters of the celts, microliths or ceramics.
The zones identified are:
(a) The Northern Zone:
In which Krishnaswami could include the then known only site from Kashmir called Burzahom.
(b) The Eastern Zone:
Till then this zone was identified only on the basis of surface-collected celts from Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Assam.
(c) Central and Western Zone:
The Malwa region and northern Maharashtra had some excavated sites till then and these were included in this zone.
(d) Southern Zone:
Till the time of Krishnaswami’s work both Brahmagiri and Sangankallu were excavated. These, along with Pilkihal and other known sites, were included in this zone.
In brief, this zonal analysis attempted to show that the northern zone was characterized by pit-dwelling and pointed-butt celts; the eastern zone by varieties of shouldered celts; the central and western zone by microliths and pot sherds more often than celts and finally the southern zone by celts which often have broad butt-end.
Sankalia, who was himself involved in archaeological research in the last two zones, had rich first-hand information of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites from northern Maharashtra and Karnataka. On the basis of this knowledge Sankalia in 1962 took the liberty for the first time to claim that in India we have a large majority of sites which do not fit in within either a pure Neolithic or a pure Chalcolithic picture and hence these could be identified as Neo-Chalcolithic sites. Most of the sites Krishnaswami had counted within his c and d zones were now re-classified by Sankalia as Neo-Chalcolithic.
Sankalia classifies the Indian Neolithic as follows:
(A) Pure Neolithic:
1. This included the whole of eastern India comprising Assam, Bihar and Bengal. These are characterized by ground axes with shoulders and very little pottery.
2. This included the Kashmir sites. These are characterized by ground axes, bone tools, pottery and pit dwelling.
1. South India comprising western Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The main characters of these sites include ground stone tools, microlithic blades, handmade pottery and round huts on hilly terraces. Most of these sites also include one or two pieces of metal.
2. Early Baluchi cultures, e.g. Kili Ghul Mohammad which show much developed habitational structures and ceramics- often wheel made. Ring-stones, saddle and quern, and celts are found in plenty.
3. The site of Bagor in Bhilwara is counted as forming a separate Neo-Chalcolithic group. Microliths, copper arrow-head, pottery and huts with wooden posts characterize this site.
It will not be difficult to appreciate that the real problems of Neolithic India have not been adequately understood in most of these attempts. Even if we go by the attribute analysis that is usually done we cannot fail to notice one very significant point. That is, while almost all the Neolithic sites in India known till date go at the most to a date of 2500 B.C., Harappan culture which is not only Chalcolithic but a well-developed urban metropolis starts around the same date.
To any archaeologist tuned to the system of cultural chronography this peculiar situation in India, especially in view of the numerous evidences of 8000 B.C. to 6000 B.C. Neolithic sites from both the western and eastern gateways of the country, would simply mean that we are yet to discover our pre-Chalcolithic phase of Neolithic for majority of the region of the country. We, as anthropologists, also cannot deny the possibility of a future discovery but surely what has been discovered so far needs an adequate explanation.
Here we need to delve into the theories of social formation. If we concede the fact that agriculture is totally labour intensive economy, one cannot visualize this transformation merely with the adoption of technology. Labour management with adequate consolidation of the relation of production, in that case will become a much more important determinant than technology.
We have claims of domesticated seeds from as early as Upper Palaeolithic from Israel but still we do not have a Neolithic culture developing with these seeds. Similarly axes are known from Maglamoisian and Campignian (both Mesolithic of North Europe). Yet these areas were the last to adopt Neolithic.
Again, ceramics are known to have been developed much earlier in Japan than the emergence of Neolithic there. In other words, we have to concede a stage of varying duration which Julian Steward had visualized as a stage of incipient farming. Incipient farming has to be conceived as a reasonably sedentary group taking to low labour force oriented farming conjoined with husbandry or hunting depending on the ecological potentiality of the regions of adaptation.
Most of the labour management in such a case has to be kinship based. Even then, fluidity as also mobility of the community must have been a regular feature to avoid exhaustion of resources. In this transformation the factor of demography too cannot be neglected.
It is a possibility that whenever demographic pressure increased within a less hospitable ecology the rate of transformation to full blooded Neolithic was accelerated. For most of India, therefore, we have to accept that such a transformation was actually much retarded primarily because of a lack of demographic pressure or ecological pressure or both.
It is important at this point to emphasize that all evidences from Indian Neolithic would tend to indicate that:
It is not technology transforming the super structure but the other way round as far as majority of Neolithic evidences from this sub-continent go.
A study of Indian Neolithic period needs to be preceded by a hurried survey of the two borders which during historical period have acted as the main corridors of human migrations. The western border is formed by the largest district of Pakistan called Baluchistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan.
This area is known for its extreme climate and scanty rain fall, yet a large number of Neolithic sites with pastoral base are known to have developed in this region between 3700-2600 B.C. This period of one thousand years of settlement of small groups is recorded in the form of small mounds all over this borderland. We might look into the significant features of some of the most important of these sites.
Kili Ghul Mohammad is a small mound of less than 500 sq mt near the city of Quetta which was excavated by Fairservis in 1950. Three distinct cultural phases were identified within a dig reaching almost a depth of 11 metres. The lowest 5 metres out of this, identified as phase I is characterized by remains of hut made of pise, wattle and daub, numerous microlithic blades and some bone tools.
Bones of sheep, goat and cattle are known in good number and these have been identified as domesticated. No cereals have been found although evidence of cereal collection should be indicative from the sickle blades identified. A solitary piece of limestone slab found is suspected to be a fragment of a grinding stone.
Bone points and awls are also significant. Absence of both axes and pottery put this culture as purely a seasonal camp of a pastoral community. The subsequent phase clearly demonstrates and internal evolution of this form of non-farming Neolithic into a fairly stable Neolithic culture with wheel-made pottery and metal use albeit in a limited way.
Damb Sadat is another mound lying only 12 km south of Kili Ghul Mohammad. It shows a continuation of form right after where Kili Ghul Mohammad ends. Anjira, Rana Ghundai and many other mounds show this common feature of a Neolithic growing out of a pastoral base.
It is needless to emphasize that the youngest phases of all these finds lie almost on the threshold of Harappan Chalcolithic in chronological sense. No wonder that even in the earliest phase of Kili Ghul Mohammad one is surprised to find a precious stone bead.
In 1977 the French archaeological exploration reported a very significant and widespread site near the Bolan Pass in Baluchistan. This site, called Mehergarh was excavated by Jarringe and Lechevallier since then. It is probably the closest to Indus plain Neolithic sites known till today.
Nearly 11 meter deep occupation debris have been excavated and in all 7 archaeological periods are identified, of these periods I-III are considered as Neolithic. A radio-carbon date of 5100 B.C. has been obtained from 5 concurrent results from the earliest period. Thus, Mehergarh is undoubtedly one of the oldest Neolithic occurrences from this region.
The period I is further sub-divided into la and lb. It is argued that period la represents a semi nomadic settlement having no use of permanent house. The mud brick structures belong to this period and continue into period II. This Period yields rectangular houses with multiple rooms. Big rooms had well planned storage complex.
In addition to these a raised platform described as funerary platform is also described from this excavation. The artefacts recovered from these two periods are stone and bone objects including a large number of microliths on flint. Microlithic blades are the only known tools from the lowest level. These include lunates, trapezes, triangles and unretouched blades.
Some of these microliths have bitumen adhering to them. In period II a set of ten microliths has been found hafted in a saw like manner with bitumen used as mount. This can be taken to indicate that the microliths in period-I, which also have bitumen sticking to them, must have been also used likewise.
Although no proper ceramics occur in this period, remains of baskets with bitumen coating have been found. Only one ground axe has been recovered from a burial but numerous others found from the surface can help us to believe that grinding-polishing as a technique has already been established at this early date.
Similarly hammer-stones, ring stones, querns and grinding stones must have also been used although we have poor evidence of this from period I. Some of the most surprising features of Mehergarh-I besides the habitational structures are two tiny grave goods- one copper bead and some turquoise beads.
This proves at once the choice of items sought and a trade like phenomenon existing much before the time we have accepted them in existence earlier. That these preferences become a regular feature nearly 2000 years later in the Harappan urban centers would therefore be not surprising at all. In period II, this is further added by one perforated pendant of lead and several beads of Lapis- lazuli.
The subsequent phases show the introduction of handmade and wheel made pottery without much change in the Neolithic cultigens associated with it. Finally it is demonstrated that wheat, barley, date and cotton were domesticated. Animal bones found are predominant in sheep, goat, cattle and buffaloes.
All estimations tend to indicate that these were domesticated species. The wild animal remains are identified as those of gazelle, swamp deer, nilgai, black buck, onagar, chital, water buffaloes, wild cattle, wild sheep, wild goat, wild pig and elephant. The evidence of late aceramic period shows the presence of domestic goats, sheep and cattle.
The succeeding phase which has been classified as Period II a overlies the upper level of the aceramic Neolithic occupation. The cultural remains of this period are almost similar to period I. Additional artefacts comprise a few stone vessels, fragments of thick alabaster bowls, course hand-made chaff-tempered red slipped pottery, good number of structural remains, a grooved elephant tusk and some tools of stone and bone similar to those found from the aceramic level.
The period IIb and IIc are characterised by the change in ceramic industry. This phase also records several pottery types which include basket marked pottery, fine wheel thrown pottery with black geometric designs and animal motifs. These compare with Kili Ghul Mohammed II ceramic types. Typical transverse arrow head set in bitumen and borers for bead making with few examples of ground stone tools form the other characteristic finds from this period.
Mehergarh is, therefore, a spectacular discovery of a community with rudimentary evidences of all those attributes and achievements which has been taken as prime mover to urban civilization- but occurring nearly 2000 years earlier within a culture which essentially was merely stone using and pre-ceramic in character.
Not very far from Srinagar on the second terrace of Jhelum are at least two Neolithic sites known till date. These are Burzahom and Martand. The former, which has been excavated now for several years, has yielded at least 3 archaeological periods of occupation. A large number of similar other sites have been recorded from all along the Jhelum from Anantnag to Pampur and also elsewhere in the Kashmir Valley. It is believed that these sites are all similar to Burzahom.
At Burzahom, 16 dwelling pits have been exposed and all of these belong to the earliest period (I). Most of these are circular to oval at top although at the bottom they tend to be square or rectangular. One of the largest of these pits measures 2.7 meter in diameter at the top. At the base it expands to 4.6 meter, and its depth is nearly 4 meters.
A stair has also been cut on the earth to enable one to reach the bottom. The ground on the surface shows a number of post-holes which are believed to have been supported a thatched cover on the pit. Since the Neolithic people used to live in the pit and also had fire burning on their living floor, the roof had often been burnt down.
Around one pit as many as 45 post-holes have been found showing the number of times the thatched roof may have been destroyed and re-erected. The radio-carbon date for the oldest layer is 2375 B.C. The youngest period (III) goes upto 1550 B.C., i.e. the entire occupation has a duration which is parallel to the rise and decline of Harappa.
The cultural features of Burzahom period I appear quite significant. These people buried their dead in a variety of methods. Some are found buried in crouched position, some in extended form and there are yet some which represent secondary internment. The skeletons were often covered with red ocher. In one case the evidence of trepanning of the skull proves their possible knowledge of some kind of primitive surgery.
Finally, in many cases either a full wild dog or selected bones of dogs are found buried with the human skeletons. The pottery from phase I is represented by hand made, coarsely finished, ill fired pot sherds only. The only near complete shape found represents a 26 inches high jar with cylindrical neck and a flaring lip with a round bottom.
It shows marks of woven mats on its surface. The celts recovered show a wide variety of function and forms. These include axes, wedges, chisels, adzes, hoes, pick and perforated picks, besides ring stones, sling stones and querns. The bone tools found are equally rich. Harpoons, eyed needles, points and arrow heads are some of the most commonly occurring types among them.
Microliths are conspicuously absent all through. Rectangular stone knives, with 2 holes driven along one of the long borders, have been termed the harvester. These types are not known from anywhere else in India but are quite common in north Chinese Neoliths. Domesticated plants have so far not been reported from any of these Neolithic layers.
The borderland consideration briefly summarized above clearly shows two distinct varieties of Neolithic emerging at the southern and the northern parts of our western door step. It is needless to emphasize that these have neither chronological nor any typo-technological similarity with each other.
In the eastern gateway, however, the evidences are not so wide spread. In Thailand one of the most spectacular discoveries has come from the excavation of the Spirit cave. Large number of fruit, nut, tuber and creeper crops seem to have been domesticated in this region much before cereals are domesticated. At Ban Kao, Ban-Chiang and Non-Nok-Tha even rice and millet seems to have been domesticated from as early as 8000 B.C., if not earlier.
Chipped and ground axes, chord marked handmade pottery and numerous hunted animal bones are the other important finds from these sites occurring over a limited geographic zone. Habitational structures or microliths or for that matter bone tools are conspicuous by their absence.
Within the above back drop if one sets out to study Neolithic in India one is really surprised by the total contrast that the rest of India offers. We will briefly look into some of the important excavated sites to illustrate this point. In the eastern sector we have just about four excavated sites of which only 2 yield a series of radio-carbon dates. We might hasten to add that Neolithic celts from surface are by no means scanty. Large number of these tools has been recorded from almost all the 4 states that comprise this zone (Bihar, W. Bengal, Orissa and Assam and adjoining states).
This is a site situated around 40 km south-east of Srinagar and it was excavated by Sharma in 1981.
It shows 3 distinct periods of occupations and these are described as follows:
Early and late Neolithic.
Period and IC:
These are followed by a last group described as Megalithic.
In period IA the cultural remains are comparable to those of Burzahom. The population lived in under-ground pits. The stone tools described constitute of points, scrapers, axes, drills, picks, pounders, querns and mace heads. Bone needles and points are also identified. Bones of diverse wild species like ibex, bear, goat, sheep, cattle, wolf and Kashmiri stag are described along with some goat and sheep which are claimed as domesticated.
Period IB yielded handmade pottery-most of them having mat impression at the base similar to what has been observed at Burzahom. In addition the animal bones and stone tools continue without any significant change.
Period IC produced remains of mature Neolithic phase with ground stone celts, querns, pounders and balls. Bone tools continue without any change. Some terra cotta spindle whorls are also described.
The oldest C-14 date for period IB of Gufkral is estimated as 3930 ± 120 B.P. It is argued that the aceramic Neolithic level should be about 400 to 500 years older than this.
In the Gangetic plain Neolithic sites are known from Allahabad and north Bihar alone. Chirand is an early historic mound in district Saran (Chhapra). There are three phases identified by the excavators. Phase I out of these is metal-free and hence attributed to the Neolithic period. The oldest Carbon-14 date recorded so far is 1755 B.C. and these dates being not from Phase I, it is generally believed that Neolithic occupation at the site must have taken place well within 3rd millennium B.C. i.e. (around 2000 B.C.)
The main feature of this site is an overwhelming amount of bone and antler tools. In fact actual celts from both Phase I and II combined are only 4 in number. In addition to these a developed microlithic industry of blades, lunates, points and borers is also present. The houses unearthed are circular with 2 meter diameter with bamboo and mud plastered walls and paved floors.
It is suggestive that initially pit-dwellings with thatched roofs were used but later on they took to over ground dwelling structures. In one of these huts a cluster of ovens with a longitudinal passage was unearthed. The pottery is extremely well made and may have been prepared on turn table.
Red, Gray, Black and Black-and-Red ware occurs in all the three phases though phase I is dominated by a burnished red-ware which is given some criss-cross designs as well. Different types of bowls, footed cups, and channel sputed as also narrow spouted vessels constitute the types.
Several terracotta objects form another important feature of this site. These include besides beads, bangles and wheels, several bulls, birds and serpents figurines. The bone tools, which are perhaps the richest of any prehistoric find, include a variety of picks, scrapers, eyed needles, bodkins, and pierced batons.
Harpoons, or for that matter, fishing hooks are not known so far. Evidence of domesticated wheat, rice, masoor and moong seems to be a very significant feature about this early Neolithic settlement. Elephant, rhino, buffalo, ox, stag and deer remains are also found in plenty but whether these or any specific group from these were domesticated is not known.
South of Allahabad in the neighbourhood of the Mahagara- Dam Dama cluster occurs this Chalcolithic mound which had yielded a Neolithic layer dated to almost 5440 B.C. This site drew a great deal of attention primarily because domesticated rice in pure Neolithic group has so far not been recorded from such an early date.
It seems that several strata of circular huts marked by post- holes have been identified underlying a Chalcolithic deposit. Microlithic blades and ground stone axes form the main tool kit besides some bone tools. Along with these several crude, hand-made and ill fired pot-sherds also occur.
These potsherds carry chord impressions or basket marks besides having rice husk sticking within the clay in some instances. Palaeobotanical analysis of the rice husks used in the paste of the pottery showed that the rice belongs to the domesticated variety. This, on the basis of the C-14 dates, would establish this site as recording the earliest evidence of domestication of rice in this sub-continent.
A distinctive feature of this site is the claim of a cattle pen with post-holes at the corners and hoof impressions on the floor. The animal bones identified are sheep, goat and cattle besides some hunted wild forms. There is a possibility that this early date is not finally confirmed. In such a case Koldihawa would, at best, be taken as contemporary to Chirand.
This site is situated on the left bank of Belan and is about 70 km. south-east of Allahabad town. The excavation shows three different phases of cultures. These are identified as Epi-Palaeolithic, Early Mesolithic to Advanced Mesolithic or Pro to-Neolithic. Thus, here we shall record only the characteristic cultural details of Period III.
The tools recorded are a variety of ground stone tools, hammer stones, anvils, querns, mullers and ring stones. Few pot sherds of thick fabric and hand-made variety accompany these. Besides this hut foundation with fire hearths are also described. It is worthwhile to note that the Mesolithic phase at Chopani Mando has been ascribed to circa 9th-8th millennium B.C.
It is a single cultural site situated on the right bank of the river Belan. A 2.6 meter thick occupational debris has been excavated and six structural phases identified. A series of successive floors, post holes and pits occur within this deposit. Neolithic celts, microlithic blades, pottery, querns, mullers, sling balls, arrow heads, terra cotta beads and numerous animal bones constitute the inventory. Ceramics are cord-impressed, rusticated, burnished red and burnished black. These are all hand made. Animal bones consist of wild cattle, domesticated cattle, sheep, goat and horse. Rice was identified in this site as well.
Two TL dates are available for this layer and they are 2265 B.C. and 1616 B.C. The radio carbon date is 1440 ± 150 B.C.
It is situated in north eastern U.P. in district Gorakhpur. At the earliest level a kind of cord-impressed pottery were found in the limited digging done and it was attributed to Neolithic status. It seems to fit with the Neolithic from Bihar and West Bengal rather than the middle Ganga cluster.
Neoliths from Santal Parganas:
Rev. Bodding of the Norwegian Mission first-started the collection of prehistoric artifaces from Santal Parganas. Bodding’s collections of nearly 2600 antiquities which are kept in Oslo museum were studied by F.A. Allchin. The artifacts include more than 2000 axes, adzes, rubbers and hammer stones and some microliths. Bodding thinks that these were collected from Dumka region and also show few shouldered specimens-indicating connection with south East Asia.
This is situated on the right bank of the river Ganga in Bhagalpur district. Four periods are identified in the excavation. Period I is designated as a black- and-red ware horizon and includes black slipped red ware as well. In association with this occurs terra cotta female figurines, bangles of tortoise shells, microlithic tools and some fishing hooks of copper.
Bone as well as beads of agate and carnelian is also found from this period. The other layers identified are- Period II- N.B.P., Period III- Sunga- Kushan and Gupta and finally Period IV-Muslim period. Evidently this has to be counted as a late variety of Neolithic with copper intrusion.
Another site located at district Gaya which compare with Oriup. Black-and-Red ware ceramics is accompanied with copper. Hut evidences seem to indicate wattle and daub structure.
This is also situated along the Ganga basin and is in Vaishali district. Here Period I yields Neolithic objects overlying the natural soil. This period is further sub-divided into three phases A, B and C. Phase A is comparable to the Neolithic of Chirand. Huts structural remains of wattle and daub are found along with profusion of bone and antler tools. A double forked pick on antler is a unique type recorded.
Period IB is distinguished by the traditions of ceramics and some house structural remains. Finally Period Ic marks the appearance of black-and-ware ceramics. Stone and bone tool types in these above two phases do not show any significant change from those known from IA.
It is a Neolithic site on the bank of the river Sanjay in Singhbhum district. Sen (1969) studied this occurrence. According to Sen the cultural complex of the site is discernable in two distinct phases. The earlier deposit shows an assemblage of polished axes, adzes and other stone artifacts along with charcoal and hand-made pottery.
The later phase shows carbonized rice grains, charcoal, wheel made pottery including black burnished ware, iron objects, polished axes and other stones tools. A large number of stone celts were collected from the surface. Only 15 celts were recovered from the excavation while as many as 160 celts are collected from the surface.
The trapezoidal form of celt occurs in largest number and this is followed by triangular, sub-triangular and oval forms. Other stone tools described are ponders, hammerstones, fabricators, ring stones and saddle-querns. An iron sickle like object and some grains of carbonized rice identified as Oryza sativa forms the other interesting features of Barudi. The radio carbon date puts it to the end of second millennium B.C.
It is located about 3km. east of Barudih and is on the south bank of river Sanjay. The site was excavated by Sen (1962, 1969). This revealed a large number of Neolithic celts and pot sherds. The types identified are adzes or hoes, chisels, scrapers on flake, hammer stones, pounders, ring stones and saddle querns.
The celts are described as:
(i) Triangular pointed butt ones with straight or bevelled cutting edge;
(ii) Oval, round butt, slightly convex cutting edge, chipped and ground in equal proportion.
A third variety is described as having parallel sides and highly convex and bevelled cutting edge with more ground than chipped surface.
The site is on the left bank of Mandakani in Puri district of Orissa. Archaeological Survey of India excavated the site in 1991-92.
Seven trenches were dug and a cultural succession was constructed as follows:
Period I — Neolithic
Period IIA — Chalcolithic
Period IIB — Iron Age.
Ground and polished stone tools found in Period I consist of axes, adzes, chisels and querns. One of the celts is described as shouldered. Tools are also made on semi mineralized bones and antlers. Types identified are points, burins, chisels, adzes, needles, arrow heads and harpoons. Hand-made pottery fragments have also been recorded from this phase. The animals identified from the bones are sheep, goat, humped cattle and stag. A tentative chronology for phase I is put in the bracket of C 1600 B.C.
Recently Behera (1992) discovered this Neolithic site near the Brahmani Valley in the Bonaigarh sub-division of Orissa. The site is in the form of four large mounds of occupational debris. There are hundreds of broken as well as complete specimens of celts described. Many of these celts are finished as adzes or chisels.
Within the highly consolidated lateritic Mayurbhanj plateau and not far from the river Burhabalang Thapar excavated a Neolithic site at Kuchai. Neolithic axes, faceted hoes, chisels, mace-heads and grinding stones are the Neolithic types discovered. Some pot-sherds of red colour constitute the ceramic form. The tools, including the mace-heads, are much smaller in size than the Neoliths known from further south in Andhra or Karnataka. No radio-carbon date of the site is available.
Further east and in the north Cachar hills another type of Neolithic adaptation is recorded from Daojali Hading. Unfortunately, this small scale excavation conducted by T.C. Sharma could not yield any evidence of habitation structure, although a large collection of ground and polished celts besides grinding stones and pot-sherds have been described. No microliths or bone tolls are known from this site.
The celts were mostly shouldered at the butt end and had the border ground sharp. Sharp angular shouldering in the celts from these hilly Neoliths led many to doubt their antiquity. It was argued that such sharp cutting of stones can only be done by metal and hence these must be belonging to a much younger date. This controversy could be partially settled by the excavation of Daojali Hading, which obviously does not show any metal age features.
Further, some experts could physically demonstrate how a sliver of bamboo can be expertly used to cut the local soft stones (jadeite). Some slabs of stones with grooves on them were also found in the excavation and this was explained as stones on which grinding of the stone axes was done. The ceramics recovered are extremely fragmented and hence could not be used for shape reconstruction.
The fabric is coarse and shows evidence of having been hand-made and ill fired. Almost all sherds carry cord impressions. The absence of microliths, bone tools and artificially constructed habitation in addition to the occurrence of the distinctive variety of celts led many specialists to believe that Daojali Hading may be representing a break-away group from Yunnan who developed a specialized area around Daohali Hading two more sites have been excavated.
The cultural material retrieved from these sites (Sarutaru and Marakdola) is also not different from the Daojali Hading material culture. There are some radio-carbon dates available from these later sites but these show almost a B.C. /A.D. border date for these Neolithic occupations.
Lest one is led to believe that the north eastern regions of India is poor in terms of Neolithic evidences we might as well record some of the numerous other sites from where Neoliths have been collected from surface. For instance Dani, Sharma and others have reported 17 tools from Mishmi hills, Abor hills and Ningru on the bank of the Noa Dihing River. In 1970 some more Neoliths wee reported from Kalmang, Lati and Telly area of Lohit district.
These also include a shouldered celt. Dani studied Neoliths collected from 24 sites in different parts of Nagaland. Some of the sites are Rokimi, Karami, Lazami, Tichipani, Shiromi, Natami and Rochagah etc. These sites yield in total 236 Neolithic tools besides other antiquities. Recently another Neolithic site was discovered in the vicinity of Bash village in Phek district of Nagaland bordering Myanmar.
Neolithic collection of Garo hills of Meghalaya which is kept in the Pitt-River Museum at Oxford has been studied by Dani. Earlier Sharma had reported 12 more sites from the same area which includes celts, chisels, axes and hammer stones. M.C. Goswami records Neolithic evidences from Salbalgiri, Rongigiri, and Thusekgiri regions in a separate exploration in the Garo hills.
Besides the sites of Daojali-Hading and Sarutaru which have yielded stratified Neolithic deposits the state of Assam has no other stratified sites. A large number of Neolithic occurrences have been recorded from several districts of the Brahmaputra valley. From Dibrugarh, Neolithics have been recorded from Lahowal, Naharkatiya and Burkhamatigaon. These include flat celts, tanged celts, hog-back type of celts, axes, chisels etc., In Darrang district which lies in the central part of Brahmaputra valley 156 Neolithic were found while digging a ditch at Biswanath.
A few specimens from this collection show similarity with those found in north China. From the southern fringe of the Shillong plateau of Kamrup district Goswami and Bhagwati report several Neolithic sites. Of these Sarutaru has been excavated and it yielded a cultural deposit of 20 cm thickness. The excavation yielded several ill fired blotchy grey potteries along with ground celts. Finally some Neoliths have also been described from Kangpat area of Ukhnul.
Most of the Neolithic evidences from the rest of India are known from the region lying south of Narmada. Although Krishnaswami identified two separate zones within this area- the central and western zone and the southern zone, we might treat the area as a single zone because there are stronger similarities in the whole area than differences within.
Prehistoric sites spread over the entire area show a Chalcolithic culture which lies immediately above a Mesolithic layer. In most cases there is a layer or two of pre- metal industries found sandwiched between the Mesolithic and the Chalcolithic. Many specialists do not find it very logical to isolate these few layers to develop a picture of Neolithic for the area. Instead they would like to designate the total culture as Neo-Chalcolithic or Deccan Chalcolithic or even Deccan Neolithic.
The latter name is preferred by some because the metal component of these occurrences is rather insignificant. The radio-carbon dates of these finds range from 2400 B.C. to 900 B.C. So far nearly two dozen major sites have been excavated from this whole region. But several more of these sites are recorded. Of the plant remains evidence of millet, horse gram, legumes, date palm; and bajra are the common varieties known from these sites.
Earliest Rise of Farming in the South:
Prehistorians generally agree that probably village farming began in the peninsular region at a time when Early Indus state was consolidating in the north, i.e., from around 3000 B.C. The site indicating these early settlers are the so called ash-mounds discovered from the Andhra-Karnataka region. The character of these areas of settlement however is entirely different from those observed in the North West.
Such excavated sites as Utnur, Kupgal, Kodakal and Pallavoy show distinct evidence of a strong pastoral base in their economy and society. These sites not only yield celts but also rich microlithic blades and also bone tools. The accompanying ceramics is rather crude and hand made with a grey or buff to brown fabric. Animal bones found indicate that not only cattle were domesticated but goat and sheep were also maintained.
At Tekkalkota (Karnataka) 19 remains of small circular huts with 3 meter to 5 meter diameter were recorded. These ranged from 1780 B.C. to 1540 B.C. in date. Small and big wooden posts were erected in some cases while in others no such post-holes are seen. Natural boulders and rocks scattered on the surface have been taken advantage of to hold the structure.
Burials are found under the floor of the house. Sometimes bodies have been interned within urns. The granitic boulders near the site show some art execution by pecking and brusings, and also at times painting with red ocher. A bull, deer, gazelle or stylized human figures are some of the usual depictions recorded at many of these Andhra and Karnataka sites.
That these art works are of Neolithic period is supported by a gray ware ceramic lid found from Tekkalkota excavation. A bull, a cobra and two antelopes are executed in this lid by puncturing the clay when it was leather-hard. Animal bones recovered indicate domesticated cattle, mainly buffalo, goat, sheep and dog.
Experts have even opined that anchylosis of the hock joints noted in the cattle bones might indicate their use as draft animals. Brahmagiri, Sangankallu, and Hallur in Karnataka, Piklihal in Andhra and Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu are some of the well-known sites from southern Neolithic zone which show similar features.
All these sites show rather scattered habitation with a fairly interesting ceramic content but otherwise with mainly microliths. Neolithic axes or saddle and querns are found but in frequencies as one should expect in a Neolithic settlement. The ceramics are dull gray in colour and are as a rule hand made. The shapes seem fairly exotic and do not match the personality of the culture.
There are a variety of spouted vessels, some of them with hollow stands and low down external carnation. Decoration as a rule is either missing or very insignificant. Some of these sites besides yielding what have been described above show large areas covered by cow dung ash. At one site (Utnur) even the hoof impression from cattle pen ash mound has been identified.
These evidences also led to the usage of the term ‘Neolithic Ash mound sites’ in the literature. Evidently such evidences came quite useful in interpreting a cattle keeping pastoral economy for the Neolithic in south India. At this stage of our knowledge we can simply point out that even if this is true it does not apply to all the sites known from this zone.
Interestingly enough the character of the sites shows no change either in habitation or the total material culture even after the arrival of metals. In one of these sites (Tekkalkota) a gold toe ring appears with these microliths and celts. In fact if there is change it is more towards a decline in the ceramic variability. A true change indicating a more complex social organization is indicative only after the arrival of iron.
In the last two decades a large number of Neolithic evidences have been added in Deccan region. For instance almost 80 new sites are reported by Raju (1985), 30 sites are added by Ameer (1981) and another 25 sites by Krishna Rao (1985). Around western Andhra Pradesh 45 sites are recorded by Rami Reddy (1978). Among the excavated sites the important ones are Nagarjuna Konda, Utnur, Palavoy, Veerapuram, Ramapuram and Madhura wada.
In the recent years Telegu University at Hyderabad excavated a multi-cultural site called Elchuru in the Prakasham district of Andhra Pradesh. It was a very limited excavation and is reported to have yielded Neolithic to Early Historic occupation. The Neolithic occupation is evidenced through a deposit of only 1.5 meters of habitational debris. The evidences include a circular hut structure and burials.
The other antiquities comprise of celts, rubbers, grinders, querns, mullers and sling balls. The ceramics is hand-made and includes fabrics of red ware, black ware, buff ware and black-and-red ware. Peddamudiyam is another site of similar nature known from Cuddapah district. There are two radio carbon dated of its Neolithic stage reported.
(i) 3490 ± 90 B.P. = 1540 B.C.
(ii) 3069 ± 120 B.P. = 1100 B.C.
In Tamil Nadu as well as several sites of broadly this character recorded in the recent years.
Amongst these Paiyampalli of North Arcot district yield some C-14 dates which are:
(i) 3145 – 1760 B.C. for Neolithic phase
(ii) 1750 – 1270 B.C. for Pre-Iron phase
The other sites are Chandra puram from North Arcot, Gollapalli, Togarapalli, Kappalavadi and Bargur from Dharmapuri district.
Since culturally such an unchanging status inspite of the knowledge of a new and better technology is untenable, one has to seek an alternate explanation for them. The size of the habitation and their nature of occurrence can be taken to indicate that these were relatively small hordes of Mesolithic hunters who settled around the rocky plains primarily because the lower levels were relatively more forested. The attempts to settle down by these hunter- gatherers were more of seasonal nature and they did not domesticate any seed crop for long time.
Their main carbohydrate source, in all probability, was from sexually reproducing plants and their roots. Those among them who moved to the lower valleys did so with the power of both their large demographic strength as also their polished stone axes with which they could clear the dense forests. Navdatoli, Diamabad and Inamgaon in Maharashtra might be representing such break away branches who developed stable villages albeit with some copper items intruding in them.
A conservative estimation for this change can be put to 1700 B.C. A third group whose pastoral economy seems to be archaeologically demonstrative by the ash mounds in Andhra may have had connection with the north western late Harappan region from where the economy with cattle emphasis was brought and re-adapted to the southern plains in the form of pastoralism. The route of this connection that is usually alluded to by some is south Gujarat, north Maharashtra, and east Maharashtra to northern Karnataka.
The economy within which these people sought their adaptation was not the least conducive to the development of large scale agricultural settlements. Even today these regions of Karnataka receive less than 25″ rainfall in a year. The tropical monsoon exhausts itself either on the western or eastern coast (depending on the time of the year) and therefore an arid area develops around the region which is equidistant from both the coasts.
These isolated groups must have had relationship with each other based on either marriage or economic exchange. Cultivation of seed crops is recorded only around 1600 B.C. and here too such sturdy lentil crops were selected which require small patches of land only. Ragi and Hulgi are the millets which are found commonly in them.
Apparently this adaptation brought virtually no change in the demographic picture; at least not strong enough to call for intensification of economy, because in that case the tool-kit would certainly have shown evidence of a corresponding change. Plough agriculture, therefore, had not developed among these hill dwellers.
It is a strong likelihood, especially in view of the fact of rather late continuation of these hill habitat and economy that a symbiotic relationship with higher cultures might have come into being. The relationship of the hill dwellers with the agricultural group can take various shades of expression.
A purely economic contact for exchange is what the settled group ideally desires and to keep the process ongoing the peasants would like to see that the hill dwellers do not change their economy. For the hill dweller getting cereals in exchange of forest produce keeps him fed on the products of different ecology and different technology. He enjoys the fruits of an altogether alien system.
Import of the product of higher and different technology prevents the hill dwellers from internalizing the surplus advantage of agriculture. It is, therefore, not surprising that we see virtually no change in the character of these sites for nearly 2000 years. Even after metal appears on the scene the habitation or the cultural repertoire remains unchanged.
This might be argued as caused by the fact that the basic economic pursuits of these people are not affected by these imports. Under such a condition items imported always developed exotic or ornamental value. The isolated occurrence of a gold ring here or beads there in Deccan Neolithic area can more plausibly be explained through the above argument.
An early lake site settlement in the village named lahuradewa near Gorakhpur was excavated by the U.P. State Archaeology Department under the leadership of Rakesh Tewari. The excavation reveals evidences of settled life of Early Farming Tradition characterised by cereal cultivation. In all 5 periods are identified.
These are described as follows:
Period I – Early Farming Phase
Period II – Developed Farming Phase
Period III – Advanced Farming / Early Iron Age
Period IV – N B P W Phase
Period V – Early Historic (Early BC / AD centuries)
The earliest period marks the beginning of sedulity occupation. Two sub periods IA and IB are identified of which sub-period IA yielded an occupational debri of nearly 45-50 cm. It is characterised by a coarse variety of hand-made red ware often displaying cord impression on the exterior surface. Faunal remains included some bones and a tortoise shell.
Plant material discovered is carbonized grains and glume pieces of rice conforming morphologically to those of domesticated form (Oiyza sativa). Radiocarbon dates were obtained from wood charcoal from this deposit. One of the oldest of this series of dates is 6290 ± 160 B.P. or 5298 B.C. This would indicate that in all probability rice cultivation originated in the Terai region from where it spread on to the south of Allahabad region and also to other areas further east.
Sub-period IB has an occupation floor of 45 cm. thickness. Ceramics shows both Black-and-Red ware as also slipped ware. It has a radiocarbon date 2135 B.C. Period II marks the beginning of a rich variety of ceramics. Spouted vessels and dish on stand become quite common ceramic type. In addition terracotta objects and beads, storage bins, baked Terra cotta tiles are some of the other important antiquities known from this period. Period III marks the emergence of Iron.
The most important aspect of Lahuradewa discovery is summarised by the excavators in the following manner:
“In view of the outcome of the first season’s work Lahuradewa and the earlier archaeological evidence available from Koldihwa /Mahagara and Kunjhun etc., in the north Vindiyas and Jhunsi, Damdama, Imlidih Khurd, Khairadih, Chirand and Senuwar etc., in the Ganga Plain, following important observations were underlined in the first preliminary report- Rice based agriculture was prevailing at least in an area extended from the Himalayan terai to north Vindhyas during, circa 6th to 3rd millennium B.C. onwards. A diffusion of rice cultivation from the Ganga Plain to Harappan zone was also suggested during 3rd millennium B.C. where rice is documented on a number of sites in Haryana and Punjab datable to 2850 B.C. to the Early Historic times.”