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Prehistoric Age in India, History and Importance

Prehistoric Age in India: The Prehistoric Period, commonly known as the “Stone Age,” denotes an era when early humans primarily utilized stone to craft various objects to fulfil their diverse needs. Stone tools used by the genus Homo, as well as earlier hominids like Australopithecus and Paranthropus, are recognized as artefacts from the Stone Age.

While bone tools were occasionally employed during this period, they are infrequently discovered in the archaeological record. The prehistoric Era is important for UPSC Prelims and UPSC Mains Exam (GS Paper 1- Indian Art and Culture).

Prehistoric Age in India

India’s prehistoric epochs are typically characterized by the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Supported by an extensive array of archaeological artefacts, the prehistoric era in India is segmented into five distinct periods.

  • The prehistoric Period is considered as the collection of events that occurred before the invention of Writing/Documentation. This is why it is considered as the Prehistoric period in the ancient history.
  • The prehistoric Period is a record of human activities, civilization, use of stone tools, etc. before the development of the art of writing among human civilizations.

Division of Prehistoric Age

  • The prehistoric Period of Ancient History is divided into three Eras. This is why it is also known as “A 3 Age System”.
  • These evolutionary ages under the Prehistoric period give pieces of evidence of human activity in ancient times.
  • The three eras of the Prehistoric Period are listed below-
    a) Stone Age,
    b) Bronze Age, and
    c) Iron Age

Prehistoric Period and Time

  • About: The Stone Age is the first part stage in the evolution of Human beings during the Prehistoric Era.
    i) Various tools of the Stone Age were made up of stones from which it gets its name-Stone Age.
  • Sources of Information: the main source of information for the Prehistoric period (including Stone Age) is the archaeological excavations.
  • Categorization: the Indian Stone Age is classified primarily into three types-
    i) Palaeolithic age (Old Stone Age): Period – 500,000 – 10,000 BCE
    ii) Mesolithic age (late stone age): Period – 10,000 – 6000 BCE
    iii) Neolithic age (New Stone Age): Period – 6000 – 1000 BCE
  • Criteria for above categorization: The above classification of Stone Age was arrived at mainly based on the following criteria-
    i) Geological age,
    ii) The type and technology of stone tools, and
    iii) Subsistence base

Palaeolithic Age Period (Stone Age) – 500,000 – 10,000 BCE

  • Origin: The term ‘Palaeolithic’ is derived from the Greek words ‘palaeo’ and ‘LITHIC’. ‘Palaeo’ means old and ‘lithic’ means stone, hence, it is called as the Old Stone Age.
  • Associated Geographical Age: Palaeolithic culture of India (Old Stone Age) was developed in the Pleistocene period or the Ice Age.
    The Pleistocene period or the Ice Age is a geological period of the age when the earth was covered with ice and the weather was so cold that human or plant life could not survive.
    But in the tropical region, where ice melted, the earliest species of men could exist.
  • Classification: The Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic Age in India is divided into the following three phases-
    Lower Palaeolithic Age: up to 100,000 BC
    Middle Palaeolithic Age: 100,000 BC – 40,000 BC
    Upper Palaeolithic Age: 40,000 BC – 10,000 BC
  • Criteria for Above Classification: The above classification of Old Stone Age was reached according to
    The nature of the stone tools used by the people and
    The nature of the change of climate.

Key Characteristics of the Palaeolithic Age (Old Stone Age)

  • Habitation: The Indian people are believed to have belonged to the ‘Negrito’ race, and lived in the open air, river valleys, caves and rock shelters.
  • Eating Pattern: Indians were food gatherers, ate wild fruits and vegetables, and lived on hunting animals.
    There was no knowledge of houses, pottery, or agriculture. It was only in later stages they discovered fire.
  • Development of Art: In the upper palaeolithic age, there is evidence of art in the form of paintings.
  • Tools Used: Indian People used unpolished, rough stones like hand axes, choppers, blades, burins and scrapers for various purposes including hunting animals.
  • Use of Stone: In India, Palaeolithic men used stone tools made of a hard rock called quartzite. That is why they are also called ‘Quartzite’ men in India.

Mesolithic age (late stone age): Period – 10,000 – 6000 BCE

  • Period: The Paleolithic Age ended around 10,000 BCE, and this period continued until about 6000 BCE.
  • Associated Geographic Regions: Distributed throughout many environments, including as hills, river basins, woods, and coastlines.
  • Classification: Defined by technological advancements, changes in subsistence patterns, socio-cultural developments, and settlement patterns.
  • Criteria for Classification:
    Technological advancements: Microliths and precision tools.
    ii)Subsistence patterns: Diverse strategies include hunting, fishing, gathering, and early agriculture.
    iii) Socio-cultural developments: Burial rituals, rock art, and temporary shelters.
    iv) Settlement patterns: Transition to semi-sedentary or semi-nomadic lifestyles near water sources.
    v) Environmental adaptations: Colonization of new habitats and exploitation of resources.

Neolithic age (New Stone Age): Period – 6000 – 1000 BCE

  • Origin: The Neolithic Age began independently in various regions worldwide, including Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Egypt, and China.
  • Associated Geographical Areas: Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Egypt, and the Yangtze and Yellow River Valleys.
  • Classification: Transition to settled agricultural communities, domestication of animals, invention of pottery, and establishment of permanent settlements.
  • Criteria for Classification: Based on technological advances, social organization, economic activities, and material culture.

In essence, the Neolithic Age marks the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture and settlement, laying the foundation for early civilizations across the globe.

Also Check: UPSC History Notes

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What does the term "Prehistoric Period" refer to in India?

In India, the Prehistoric Period, sometimes referred to as the "Stone Age," denotes a time when early people mostly used stone tools to meet their needs. It includes the era prior to the creation of writing and documentation.

What are the key divisions of the Prehistoric Age in India?

The Prehistoric Age in India is typically divided into three eras: Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age.

How is the Stone Age further categorized in the Indian context?

The Stone Age in India is categorized into three types: Palaeolithic Age (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic Age (Late Stone Age), and Neolithic Age (New Stone Age).

What is the significance of the Palaeolithic Age in India?

The Palaeolithic Age, or Old Stone Age, is characterized by the use of unpolished, rough stones as tools. It is divided into Lower, Middle, and Upper Palaeolithic phases, reflecting changes in tool technology and climate.

What are the key criteria for the categorization of Stone Age periods in India?

The classification of Stone Age periods in India is based on geological age, the type and technology of stone tools, and subsistence base. These criteria help differentiate between Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic Ages.

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