In this article we will discuss about the development of India post-iron age.
An often asked question in Archaeology pertains to the rise of culture areas in the sub-continent. If the western border of India shows a consolidation of one kind of culture during the Palaeolithic, in the subsequent period another area starts becoming an epicentre of another variety of culture.
In the same way, if regions A and B are homogenous during the Mesolithic, in a younger phase these regions can and might develop a set of quite diverse traits. The tangle can be carefully loosened by taking into consideration the various anthropological imperatives operative within a given culture. These imperatives are shaped on the basis of resource management potentiality of that particular culture and its ability to maintain sustained stability without conflict.
In other words, so long as the Domestic Mode of Production underlines a given community and its cultural propagation, it will remain more or less illogical to seek a larger area of homogeneity. Historians might, at once point out that the largest area of cultural homogeneity ever observed in human history is to be found in the Palaeolithic period.
Handaxes, found in France, or for that matter, in as far off as in East Africa, have been found identically reproduced in India. This might apparently defy our anthropological premise.
It is important, therefore, to remind ourselves of the two basic compromises we are persuaded to make in our methodology in Archaeology:
(1) We have no precise method of measuring time accurately for a large chunk of the prehistoric period. That is, considering an individual life span to be of only 20 years, for this period, we are mostly handling materials of 50 to 100 generations of the prehistoric hunters as a singly cultural episode.
Thus, if man had to be constantly mobile for this variety of economy, it may not be difficult to imagine the entire Old World Lower Palaeolithic to be the product of a single culture. Constant readaptation, which is an intrinsic ability of a culture to the vagaries of climate, raw material, fauna and flora, might have brought shades of local characteristics.
So then, Vail technique or for that matter that overwhelming preference for flake- cleavers in the tropical belt could perhaps be looked at in the light of normalcy. Yet the same technique might have acted as the initiator of the Levalloise exercise and hence the specialization of the Mousterians in France.
At a conservative level this would seem illogical because it presupposes the Lower Palaeolithic in one country being broadly fitted into the same time slot of the Middle Palaeolithic in another, yet, in all probability; this might have been a fact.
(2) Another assumption in prehistoric methodology attempts to reduce human culture to a tangible object or type. This has become such a convenient approach that many a prehistorian totally forget that types were basically enunciated for classification only and are not to be employed in understanding the concept of ethnicity.
All the known human races of the world have an amazing 90% of their behavioral pattern as a blue print identical and yet the difference of the 10% separates the Eskimo from the Hottentot. Under these circumstances all inter-regional comparisons would seem totally futile for much of prehistory.
We would then instead attempt to see how India got progressively populated during the span of its pre- agricultural milieu. Archaeological date leave no doubt about the fact that upto 150,000 B.P., most part of India was uninhabited. Around this time northern Rajasthan and North West Punjab may have maintained some very small and isolated bands. By 100,000 B.P. these populations may have got consolidated and spread to Saurashtra to the south of Rajasthan and to the Kangra-Shimla region in the north of Potwar.
Around this time fresh populations from further west must have kept invading in repeated waves. Thus, from Rajasthan in all probability a southward migration started taking place between 100,000 to 60,000 years ago. Central zone, eastern zone, Chirki, Hunsgi and Krishna-Godavari sites can all be taken as forming a central cluster of the Acheulians.
Due to the climatic shift in the subsequent period, India seems to develop fresh areas of colonization. But it shows the onset of this change much later. Is it so because the climatic shift took place much later in India, is a question that must however be left to conjecture. But it is interesting to observe many areas of earlier attraction giving way slowly, to others.
Instead of the Rajasthan-Gujarat river valleys, the presently dry areas like Pushkar and Hokra maintained small holdings of these late Palaeolithic colonies. In the south, these people really consolidated in a heavy number all along the Krishna and the Godavari as also their numerous tributaries.
The Vindhyan extension of the Ganga valley might have also been another area chosen for consolidation. The Chhotanagpur region of Bihar and northern Orissa is replete with Acheulian tools found in association with flakes and blades formed out of a variety of different raw materials. Seeing this light, one can perhaps point out the rise of ‘cultural regions’ in India for the first time.
Thus while Chhotanagpur acts as a separate region; the Gangetic Vindhyas maintain their typical Central Indian features. Likewise, while the Godavari and her tributaries develop specialized features of their own, the Krishna valley seems to get colonized relatively later in time and hence incorporate more of the Upper Palaeolithic traits.
Holocene brought fresh areas under occupation, but the older areas of occupation also seem to maintain marginal and conservative groups. In the latter instance, their areas of activities might have been shifted to the mountain’s Mesolithic population in India had to probably bear the maximum stress of its social environment and repeated pressures from all directions. At some places they confronted the Neolithic or even the Chalcolithic colonizers with altogether different imperatives mercilessly spreading their tentacles into their domain.
The ‘arrowed’ individual of Sarai Nahar Rai is but a solitary example known today of this conflict. There might have been a higher incidence of such violence where conflict occurred rather than at places where a symbiotic relationship might have taken birth out of a possible avoidance of the same, where no square confrontation took place-resulting into a higher culture.
The entire Chhotanagpur area appears to have developed this variety of culture contact. Archaeologically, therefore, we have pure microlithis leading to microlithis along with black-and-red ware pottery and copper slag and finally microlithis along with contemporary hunter-gatherers.
A proper peasant society with probable chiefdoms of a variety of forms evolved but in entirely different areas and with different levels of environmental exploitation. Thus, while in the Kashmir valley or in north Bihar hunting perhaps formed as important a component of economy as a sturdy single crop or even a crop once in a while, at Mehergarh or for that matter scattered along the Baluchistan mountain springs, there seems to develop another variety of peasantry with more emphasis on animal husbandry-sheep and goat keeping/tending as a subsidiary economy.
Surprisingly Rajasthan, Haryana or western U.P. during this period attracted no Neolithic occupation. Instead the areas in the central Zone started developing a series of late Neolithic village. One of the biggest enigmas in Indian Prehistory is this lag of time in the emergence of chiefdom and village economy.
We take this as a classic example of the lack of adequate social organization necessary for an earlier emergence of a functioning chiefdom. Either the population density in most of these regions in India could never reach that form of a critical limit which sets off economic intensification or the environmental biomass did not suffer any such degree of decline so as to necessitate the change.
Further, when economic contact are established between higher cultures and the hunter-gatherers, the latter are seldom seen to develop into a chiefdom as a natural process of growth. It is no wonder that proper ruralization of India occurred only after the desertion of Harappan centers. The faint and distant similarity of some ceramic forms in these late Neolithic centers with the Harappan ceramics can only further demonstrate this point.
Development of regional characters in India starts around the post-Harappan period. Gujarat separated as a single area while north Rajasthan spread into Haryana and formed a separate region. South Rajasthan spread along the Banas and formed a ‘thoroughfare region’ for Central India.
Northern Maharashtra developed as another insular zone, offering yet another corridor to the regions further south, in Krishna-Tungabhadra basin. A group in the southern peninsula among these took to an over-emphasis on pastoral economy. There is virtually no change in the quality of culture in all these regions for the entire Copper Age.
The metal axes could provide fire-wood much more efficiently and in less time to these fast consolidating chiefdoms. The surviving populations of late Mesolithic, which could establish their economic symbiosis with the higher cultures primarily on the basis of their assured supply of wood and other forest products started getting isolated.
These isolated groups from the majority of the contemporary tribes of India. Those who have a larger population could take to some forms of crude agriculture while others who were numerically weaker, kept on hunting and gathering like the Birhors of today. The Todas of the Nilgiris likewise, can be taken as the survivors of the Ash Mound Neoliths of South India.
Around the first millennium B.C. strong political centres developed in different regions of Gangetic plains. But in the south a peculiar group, with an overspecialization in horse- rearing, consolidated and spread over the entire Krishna basin and further south.
We have called this group as peculiar because they had iron, copper and precious stones and yet maintained almost a ‘tribal’ culture. It would appear that these were the earliest ranchers of India. With the spread of warring kingdoms, these ranchers were the first to get absorbed and converted into the kings’ retinue, but the hunting-gathering tribes continued to survive without change.
The only area which did not participate in this metamorphosis towards regions’ – formation is the entire eastern sector-east of the Ganga. The hills around Brahmaputra valley have been populated by repeated transhumance from both China as well as South-east Asia for the entire period of the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic.