The following points highlight the four important pre-historic ages in India. The pre-historic ages are: 1. Paleolithic Age 2. Mesolithic Age 3. Neolithic Age 4. The age of Metals.
Pre-Historic Age # 1. Paleolithic Age (Old Stone Age):
During the Paleolithic Age or Old Stone Age man used rude implements for hunting wild animals or for the purpose of cutting and boring. The chief implements used consisted of darts, scrapers, axes and throwing stones.
Tips of stones sharpened were used as heads of spears, lances or daggers. Most of the Paleolithic remains in India were made of a peculiar kind of rock called quartzite. The Paleolithic remains have mainly been found in South India at Tanjore, Madura, Kadur, vamti, Talya; Bellary district, in areas around Madras, and in districts of Guntur, Godavari and Krishna.
In Northern India old stone implements have been found in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. This clearly suggests that some sort of connection must have existed between the Paleolithic peoples of the different parts of the country. However, no such remains have been found in Assam, Burma, Himalayan U.P. regions and Punjab.
The old stone age man in India lived mainly in the drifts of rivers or lakes and caves. They did not live merely on the roots, fruits and nuts offered by the nature, but also took the flesh of the wild beasts. The people of this age in India knew about the use of fire. The fire was produced by the artificial friction of combustible pieces of wood. There are certain traces in the Kurnul caves of the fire having been used in the old stone age.
It cannot be said for certain whether the people in the old stone age had a sense of religion like their counterparts in Europe. However, most of the scholars believe that the people of India in the old stone age had such a sense.
The presence of cinders in the Kurnul caves and the absence of human and animal skull goes to prove that the dwellers were hunters of human scalp and performed some magical religious rites. The human sacrifices formed a part of their religion. Unlike in Europe, no palaeolithin graves have been found in India, which suggests that probably they left the dead to natural decomposition or to be devoured by beasts.
Pre-Historic Age # 2. Mesolithic Age (Intermediate Stone Age):
The Mesolithic Age, a term which is not much in use now, seems to have intervened between the old stone age and the new stone age. The extent and the duration of this age is not known for certain, but as compared to other ages its duration was much shorter.
The tools of this period were extremely small varying from half an inch to an inch in length. The technique for the making of these implements was also different. The relices of this age are found all over India. The people of this age probably knew the art of pottery.
Pre-Historic Age # 3. Neolithic Age (New Stone Age):
In the course of time man made progress and acquired greater knowledge and skill in mastering the forces of nature and evolved a new type of civilization and reached a new age known as the Neolithic Age. It is difficult to say for certain the time taken by man to reach this new stage. Probably it took him thousands of years.
The term Neolithic is derived from the two Greek words meaning New Stone. During this age also men were wholly dependent on stone implements and were ignorant of the use of metals, except gold. Though the implements were made of stone, they were a great improvement on the implements of the old stone age. They were made of black-coloured rock which was tougher and more tenacious than quartzite.
The implements of this age were decently executed and polished. The Neolithic sites in India are found near coasts of lakes and seas, near mining and fishing areas such as Maski and Tinnevelly. In fact the remains of the Neolithic men are found in almost every part of India.
Some of the places where the remains of the Neolithic age have been found are Salem, Malabar, Mysore, Bellary district, Anantapur, Cuddapah, Hyderabad, Kurnul, Raichur Duab, Gujarat, Kathiawar, Sindh, Baluchistan etc.
The implements of the Indian Neolithic age are of large variety. Bruce Foot has classified them into 78 types—41 of the polished variety and 37 of unpolished variety. This variety was mainly due to local tastes. The variety was also due to the fact that the people of different areas chose different materials for the making of the implements with a view to reduce their labour.
The people of the Neolithic age had a fine sense of colour and chose stones of different hues for their tools. Thus they used pesticide with green and pink, tints, chert, agate and feldspar. A large number of remains of pottery of the Neolithic Age have also been discovered.
As regards the forms of the pottery, all the types which are found today viz. lotahs, chatties, bowls, flower pots etc. were made in the Neolithic age. The pottery of Neolithic age was of two types—plain and decorated.
The plain pottery was further of large variety such as rough, smooth, polished or painted. The decorated pottery also had variety such as impressed, moulded or incised. Another feature of the Neolithic pottery is the variety of colours used.
This was achieved by using different kinds of clay, by firing to different degrees and by applying special pigments. The most popular colours are red, yellow, brown or purple-grey. The figures chiefly used on the pottery are natural objects such as leaves and flowers.
The people of the Neolithic age lived in granite rocks, which protected them from rains and sun. No houses of this age have been discovered in busy places like Bellary and Salem districts. Even if there were any dwelling houses these were built of twigs and thatch, which have been destroyed by the time. Probably the timber was also used.
The chief food of the Neolithic people was fruits, vegetables, roots, nuts, wild pulses and cereals. They also took flesh of animals, fish and milk products. The discovery of mealing-stones, mealing troughes, mortar and corn-crushers suggests that the art of cooking was well known to them. The process of making curd from milk by fermentation and producing butter and ghee was also known to the people.
The people used very scanty dresses. At first the people used barks and skins of animals to cover the body, but later on they discovered clothes of cotton and wool. In fact, India was the first country where cotton was first cultivated. Men tied a piece of cloth round the loins and threw a piece over the shoulders. The women probably wore a sort of petticoat coming to the knees.
Chase and fishing were the most important occupations of the people of Neolithic age. A large number of net-sinkers have been discovered on the sea coasts which suggests that fishing was done on large scale, and probably on co-operative basis, as even today.
People also took to tending of flocks of domestic animals. Though initially agriculture was not known to the people of Neolithic age and they mainly depended on wild grains, but in, course of time they started producing grain by their own efforts as well.
For the purpose of agriculture the people needed water arid constructed huge reservoirs. They even discovered the art of constructing wells and rope making out of sheer necessity. The people domesticated animals, the first of them being the dog. The other animals domesticated included cow, ox, goat etc.
The Neolithic people were the first to conceive a real sense of religion. They believed in the cycle of life and were worshippers of ancestral spirits. The chief form of worship was stone worship. Stone monuments were erected in memory of the dead.
The idea that the dead, unless provided with the amenities of the life of this world, would be restless, led to the construction of sepulchers for the dead. At the close of the Neolithic period cremations and preservation of ashes of urns had come into vogue.
The urns were buried with arrow pottery etc. The human sacrifices also seem to have been common as is clear from the human skulls discovered. People had, at least rudimentary knowledge of astronomy and stars. They fixed the time for secular or religious works by noticing the shadows of stocks.
Pre-Historic Age # 4. The Age of Metals —Copper, Bronze and Iron:
A new age was ushered in the development of human civilization with the discovery of metals. The earliest metal discovered by the people was gold, which was used even by the people of the New Stone Age for the purpose of making ornaments.
In India gold was first discovered in South India and Egypt, Mesopotamia and Indus Valley people must have imported it from there. One of the Chaldean inscriptions of Mesopotamia acknowledges that ships from the city often sailed long distances and brought gold from India to be used for decorative purposes.
The next metal to come in use was Copper. It was used as a successor of stones for the manufacture of tools and implements. The place of its origin is quite obscure. Probably it was discovered in a number of countries independently.
The use of the metals in the different parts of India was not uniform. In Northern India, copper replaced stone for making tool and weapons. A number of tools and weapons made of copper have been discovered in different parts of Northern India. It was only after a number of centuries that the people in Northern India learnt of iron and started using it as a substitute for copper.
In Southern India however, the iron age immediately succeeded the Stone age and the Copper Age did not intervene in between.
One of the significant feature of the Copper and Iron ages was that the people gave up hunting as well as pastoral life and took to agriculture, “it is however, important to remember that unlike other countries there are no traces in India, except in Sind, of a Bronze period intervening between the Neolithic and iron Ages.”
Even Dr. R.C. Majumdar admits that though Bronze implements of early date have been found in India along with those of copper, but it does not appear that metal was ever generally used in India to the exclusion of copper. In other words, there was, properly speaking, no Bronze Age in India.
Though our knowledge of pre historic India is based on surface findings on the basis of which we can form only general conclusions, and there is the problem of chronology, but despite these limitations we have to admit that the prehistoric ages in India, like in other parts of the world equipped man with skills and arts and basic set of inventions upon which rests is superstructure of civilization and culture.
With the dawn of the Copper and Iron Ages the pre-historic period comes to an end and the limits of history start. It is now generally believed that the Iron Age had already commenced when the Rig Veda was composed.