- The transition from the Palaeolithic period to Mesolithic period is marked by transition from Pleistocene period to Holocene and favourable changes in the climate.
- The climate became warmer and humid and there was expansion of flora and fauna contributed by increased rainfall. This led to availability of new resources to humans and thus the human beings moved to new areas. This period is marked with increased population, though core economy of this period continued to be based on hunting and gathering.
- The early period of Mesolithic age marks the hunting, fishing and food gathering which turn to hunting, fishing, food gathering as well as domesticating the animals.
- Animal bones have been reported from almost all the excavated sites of the Mesolithic settlements, and an analysis of these bones indicated that the bones of the domesticated varieties of animals like cattle, sheep and goat constitute nearly fifty percent.
- The earliest evidence of domestication of animals has been provided by Adamagarh in Madhya Pradesh and Bagor in Rajasthan.
The Mesolithic culture paved the way for the Neolithic, where pastoralism and agriculture supplemented hunting-gathering as the prevalent mode of subsistence.
- One more important fact about the Mesolithic era in India is that the first human colonization of the Ganga plains took place during this period. There are more than two hundred Mesolithic sites found in Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Varanasi districts of Uttar Pradesh.
- This era also marks the dramatically increased settlement in deltaic region of Bengal, the areas around Mumbai and other places of western coast of India.
- The Pachpadra basin and Sojat Area of Rajasthan is a rich Mesolithic sites and lot of microliths have been discovered.
- Bagor in Rajasthan is the almost largest Mesolithic site in India. Another major Mesolithic site in Rajasthan is Tilwara.
- In Guajarat some places on the banks of river Sabarmati are Mesolithic sites which include the Akhaj, Valsana, Hirpur, Langhanj etc.
- Sarai Nahar Rai in Allahabad-Pratapgarh of Uttar Pradesh is a Mesolithic site. Other sites in Uttar Pradesh are Morhana Pahar and lekkahia.
- In Madhya Pradesh Bhimbetka along with Adamgarh are major Mesolithic sites.
- In Jharkhand Chhota nagpur plateau is a major Mesolithic site in India.
- In Orissa Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundergarh are a major Mesolithic site in India.
- In south India Godavari basin is rich in microliths.
Mesolithic people preferred the following environment:
- In Gujarat and Marwar hundreds of dunes of varying sizes are found on the alluvial plain. Some of them enclose a shallow lake or pond, which were the great sources of getting aquatic creatures.
- Again, the dunes themselves were covered with thorny scrub bushes; many animals used to live there. Naturally the Mesolithic inhabitants in sandy dune faced no difficulty in collection their food.
- The Vindya, Satpura and Kaimur hills of Central India are very rich in caves and rock-shelters. The place was therefore favorite to the Mesolithic people.
- Not only that, as Central India received ample rainfall, the hills had grown a thick deciduous forest, which provided a variety of plants and animals. Some of the rock-shelters have been found to be occupied as early as the Acheulean times.
(c) Alluvial plain:
- From early Palaeolithic period man has preferred to live in riverbanks because of the availability of water and games. Numerous Mesolithic sites therefore have been recovered from the alluvial plains. The Birbhanpur site, for example, is located at Damodar’s alluvial plain in West Bengal.
(d) Rocky plain:
- On Deccan Plateau, many microlithic sites are found. Some are on the hilltops and others are on flat rocky soil. Such occupations must be the seasonal or of short duration, except where there is no river nearby.
- A few Mesolithic settlements are centered round the shore of the lakes as found in the Gangetic Valley of District Allahabad and Pratapgarh. The settlers perhaps used to get the food supply from the respective lake and the dense primeval forest of the fertile alluvial land.
(f) Coastal environment:
- A large number of microlithic sites have been recovered from coasts, for example, from the Salsetle Island and from the teri dune in District Tirunevelli. The inhabitants used to feed upon the marine resources.
- Since Mesolithic produced the micro-blades by pressure technique, beautifully fluted cylindrical or conical cores as well as thin parallel-sided blades are common in the sites.
Tools of Mesolithic Era:
- The tools are Mesolithic Era are smaller in size and better in finishing (more geometric) than the Palaeolithic age and are called Microliths. These microliths are tiny tools of one to five centimetres length, made by blunting one or more sides with steep retouch. A microlith is usually made of flint or chert. (Microlithism is totally absent in north India)
- The main tool types are backed blades, obliquely truncated blades, points, crescents, triangles and trapezes.
- Some of the microliths were used as components of spearheads, arrowheads, knives, sickles, harpoons and daggers.
- They were fitted into grooves in bone, wood and reed shafts and joined together by natural adhesives like gum and resin.
- One characteristic feature is that the sudden disappearance pebble tools which were conspicuous in the preceding cultures;
- Hunting-gathering way of life was slowly replaced by food production from about 6000 B.C. Thus we see that the use of the bow and arrow for hunting had become common in this period, which is evident from many rock paintings.
- Bored stones, which had already appeared during the upper Palaeolithic, became common during this, and the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. These are believed to have been used as weights in digging sticks and as net sinkers. Similarly, shallow querns and grinding stones also occur at several sites.
- These new technological elements led to enhanced efficiency in hunting, collection and processing of wild plant foods.
Changes in Life- Mesolithic Era:
(a) From Nomadism to Sedentary settlements
- There were some more interesting changes in lifestyle of the Mesolithic era humans. The favourable climate, better rainfalls, warm atmosphere and increased food security led to reduction in nomadism to seasonally sedentary settlement.
(b) First Disposal of dead and making of Graves:
- The sedentary settlements lead to beginning of the tradition of various ways of intentional disposal of the dead.
- Mesolithic human burials have been found at Bagor in Rajasthan, Langhnaj in Gujarat, Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh etc.
- The dead were occasionally provided with grave offerings which include meat, microliths, animal bone and antler ornaments, and pieces of haematite.
- The evidence from different sites indicates that four types of burials were prevalent.
- Extended burial
- Flexed (folded) burial
- Fractional (secondary) burial
- Double Burials (two individuals were buried in a single grave): Probably the double burials indicate the development of family units, consisting of male and female.
(c) Emergence of arts:
- The Mesolithic man was a lover of art, evident from the paintings in several thousand rock shelters in the Vindhyan sandstone hills in central India. The paintings have been found in both inhabited and uninhabited shelters.The rock painting of Mesolithic period is found in Adamgarh, Bhimbetka of Madhya Pradesh and Pratapgarh, Mirzapur of Rajasthan.
- The paintings are made mostly in red and white pigments, made form the nodules found in rocks and earth. (Red made by minerals of iron oxide and white by limestone)
- We can have an idea about the social life and economic activities of the Mesolithic people from the art and paintings. It also tells us about division of labor on the basis of sex.
- The subject matter of the paintings are mostly wild animals and hunting scenes, though there are some related to human social and religious life such as sexual activity, child birth, rearing of children, burial ceremony, gathering plant resources, trapping animals, eating together, dancing and playing instruments.
- Animals are the most frequent subjects. Other subjects include animal headed human figures; squares and oblongs partly filled in with hatched designs which may represent huts or enclosures and what appears to be pictures of unusual events, such as the chariots waylaid by men armed with spears and bows and arrows at Morhana Pahar group of rock shelters near Mirzapur.
- Clothing and ornaments: The human figures in the rock shelter paintings are shown wearing a loin cloth. Some of the figures are elaborately decorated with ornaments, headgear, feathers and waistbands, shell, ivory and bone beads also are evident from sites.
- Recreation: Mesolithic man in rejoicing moods is to be seen in the paintings at Bhimbetka. Some of the dances may be of ritual significance. The musical instruments depicted are the blowpipes and horns.
- Hunting Methods: The use of composite tools revolutionized hunting, fishing and food gathering. The Mesolithic paintings at Bhimbetka throw interesting light on the contemporary hunting practices and the kinds of weapons used in hunting. The bow and arrow, barbed spears and sticks were used in hunting. Ring stones were used as stone clubs. Masks in the form of animal heads such as of rhinoceros, bull, deer and monkey were used as disguises to deceive the game. In one of the scenes animals are shown falling down a cliff. Probably animals were driven down a cliff and done to death. The paintings show men carrying dead animals suspended on a wooden bar.
- A fantastic animal,called Bhimbetka Boar has the body of a boar, but a snout like a rhinoceros, the underlip of an elephant and horn of buffalo.
- No painting or engraving of snake is found in any Mesolithic site.
- A very interesting and abstract painting has been found in a rock shelter at Jaora (MP) perhaps meaning that world consisting of air, earth ad fire.
- Interesting feature of the rock art of Orissa is the co-existence of painting and engraving in the same shelter.
- To know more about individual sites like Bhimbetka in detail, visit HISTORY THROUGH MAP
(d) Food Production:
- The hunting-gathering way of life was slowly replaced by food production from about 6000 B.C. A study has suggested cultivation of plants around 7000-6000 years back near Sambhar lake in Ajmer, Rajasthan.
- Agriculture had not fully developed.
- The core economic activities were now included hunting, fowling, fishing and wild plant food gathering. The first animals to be domesticated were dog, cattle, sheep and goat and the first plants to be cultivated were wheat and barley. The cultivation of yams and taro also took place in this region.
- This new subsistence economy based on food production had a lasting impact on the evolution of human society and the environment.
- In the humid lands, extending from the middle Ganga valley to China and Southeast Asia, rice cultivation and domestication of pig was accomplished probably around the same time because rice and pig existed in wild form in this region. Domesticated animals proved to be useful not only for meat but also for milk, hide, agricultural operations, and transport.
- Pottery has been reported from a number of excavated sites like Langhnaj, Bagor, Nagarjunakonda, Chopani Mando, etc. Pottery came to be associated with the Mesolithic culture after the introduction of geometric tools. At most of the sites the sherds were very small and it was very difficult to make out shapes. Shallow and deep bowls with featureless rim are the most popular types.
- Pottery was wholly hand-made and usually coarse grained with incised and impressed designs rarely.
(f) Structural Activity:
- Evidence of structural activity in the form of hutments, paved floor or wind screens come from a number of Mesolithic sites.
- The houses were roughly circular or oval on plan with postholes around them. Some hutments had stone paved floors. Paved floors and wattle have been noticed at Bagor. The Mesolithic folk at Bhimbetka too made floors with flat stone slabs.