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Beginning of agriculture (neolithic and chalcolithic): Part III

Beginning of agriculture (neolithic and chalcolithic): Part III

(4) Neolithic Cultures of Mid Ganga Valley

  • Covering the areas of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the mid-Gangetic basin encapsulates the Ganges, carrying along with it, the drainage of its tributaries like the Saryu and the Ghaghra.
    • Predictably then, most of the neolithic sites dotting the area are found on banks of rivers and streams –
      • Narhan, on the banks of River Saryu;
      • Imlidih, on Kuwana stream;
      • Sohagaura, on the banks of River Rapti;
      • Chirand, on the banks of River Ghaghra;
      • Teradih
      • Senuwar, on the banks of the Kudra river
      • Maner on the banks of an old course of the Ganga near Patna.
  • The Gangetic valley with all its flora and faunal resources was occupied by sedentary village settlements much later (2000-1600 B.C.).
  • Chirand, considered to be the representative site of the area.
  • Early agricultural settlements also spread into the central Ganga plain.
    • This is indicated by recent excavations at Lahuradeva in Sant Kabir Nagar district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
      • Cord-impressed red ware and a black-and-red ware. The pots were handmade.
      • wattle-and-daub houses.
      • The plant remains included rice and a few wild grasses.
        • Husk marks of domesticated rice were found embedded in the core of several potsherds.
  • Sohagaura:
    • neolithic site in Gorakhpur district, at the confluence of the Rapti and Ami rivers.
    • Small pieces of ill-fired, handmade pottery, either rusticated or cord impressed.
  • There are several neolithic and neolithic-chalcolithic sites in the alluvial plains of north Bihar: Chirand, Senuar, Chechar-Kutubpur, Maner, and Taradih (3rd/2nd millennium BCE).
    • Located on the banks of streams and show the presence of full-fledged agricultural villages in the Gangetic plains of Bihar.
  • Chirand:
    • In Saran district.
    • at the confluence of the Sarayu and Ganga rivers.
    • Tools and artefacts:
      • Chirand is the only other site in the country, besides Burzahom in Kashmir that has given a substantial range of bone and antler objects such as needles, scrapers, borers and arrowheads. Bone ornaments like pendants, bangles and earrings have also been discovered.
      • Bangles made of tortoise bone and ivory.
      • Stone tools consist of microliths, neolithic axes and other implements, such as stone pestles and querns.
      • Evidence of beads made of agate, carnelian, jasper, steatite, faience etc. and also the rich terracotta, bone and antler assemblage mentioned above suggest a movement towards craft production and possibly, exchange of commodities.
      • No copper objects were found.
      • Terracotta objects including figurines of humped bull, birds, snakes and bangles, beads, sling balls etc.
    • Pottery:
      • Red, grey, and black wares.
      • Most of the pottery was handmade.
      • Some pots had painted (usually red ochre) and scratched designs on their surface.
      • The exterior of many grey pots was burnished.
    • Habitation:
      • Circular wattle-and-daub huts with post-holes and hearths.
      • A semi-circular hut had several oblong ovens, perhaps for community cooking.
      • Mud boundary walls of houses.
    • Agriculture and animal:
      • For subsistence, they relied on plant cultivation and animal domestication.
      • Among the crops are rice, wheat, barley, moong and lentil – which may indicate the raising of two crops a year, winter and autumn.
      • Animal remains include a wide range from domesticated cattle to elephants, rhinoceros and deer.
      • Lots of bones of animals, birds, and fish were identified, indicating the prevalence of hunting and fishing. Clusters of fish scales and remains of river shells and snails give information on the food habits of the people.
    • Chirand had a later, chalcolithic occupation level as well.
  • Senuwar:
    • Neolithic site on the banks of the Kudra river at the foot of the Kaimur range, in Rohtas district of Bihar.
    • The neolithic farmers cultivated rice, barley, field pea, lentil and some millets.
      • The later Neolithic-Chalcolithic people at Senuwar also started cultivating gram and moong in addition to the crops raised by the earlier people.
    • Both Chirand and Senuwar are known for their remarkable bone tools.
    • wattle-and-daub houses.
    • Three kinds of pottery: a red ware, burnished red ware, and burnished grey ware. Most of the pottery was wheel-made.
    • The domesticated animals included cattle, buffalo, sheep, goat, pig, cat, and dog.
    • Remains of molluscs and shells indicates people ate shell food.
    • In neolithic–chalcolithic period:
      • copper objects including a fishhook, wire, rings, a needle. Metal was probably obtained from the neighbouring Rakha mines.
      • Painted decoration was much more frequent, and pots were often also decorated with finger impressions, rope.
      • Shell ornaments included triangular pendants. There were lots of finished and unfinished beads of semi-precious stones. Terracotta artefacts included beads, pottery discs, a bull figurine.
    • There are some cultural similarities between neolithic Chirand and Senuar.
  • Taradih:
    • In Bodh Gaya.
    • hand-made red wares; handmade burnished grey ware with post-firing ochre-coloured painting.
    • neolithic celts, microliths, and bone tools.
    • wattle-and-daub houses with hearths.
    • Bones of cattle, goat, buffalo, pig, sheep, deer, bird, fish, and snail.
    • Plant remains included grains of rice, wheat, and barley.

(5) Neolithic culture of Eastern India

  • Eastern India comprises the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa and the Neolithic here caps a rich prehistoric past.
  • Important sites include
    • Kuchai and Golbai Sasan in Orissa;
    • Pandu Rajar Dhibi, Bharatpur and Mahisdal in West Bengal; and
    • Barudih in Jharkhand.
  • Since no rigorous excavations have been undertaken, only a tentative picture of the Neolithic way of life can be hinted at and dating too remains a problem.
  • Kuchai:
    • The existence of a neolithic level at Kuchai near Mayurbhanj in Orissa was established on the basis of polished stone tools like celts and axes.
    • Tools:
      • faceted hoes, chisels, pounders, mace heads, and grinding stones.
      • Neolithic material such as celts, bar chisels, rounded butt axes, wedges, and hammer stones
    • Pottery:
      • a reddish brown pottery some with incised decoration.
  • Golbai Sasan:
    • On the left bank of River Mandakini.
    • Period I at the site is neolithic and shows a range of dull red and grey handmade pottery with cord or tortoise shell impressions in association with a few worked pieces of bone and traces of floors and post-holes.
  • Pandu Rajar Dhibi:
    • In the Ajay Valley
    • first site to clearly demonstrate the Neolithic base of later developments like the chalcolithic.
    • Period I is Neolithic phase.
      • handmade grey ware with rice husk impressions,
      • painted red pottery,
      • some sherds of black-and-red ware,
      • ground stone tools, microliths and bone tools.
    • The coexistence of microliths and ground stone tools and bone tools reveals the emergence of the Neolithic from an underlying Mesolithic matrix.
  • Barudih:
    • The first archaeologically identifiable village level in the Chhotanagpur plateau is represented at Barudih in Singhbhum district, Jharkhand.
    • microliths, neolithic celts, iron slag and implements and a range of wheelmade pottery among which black-and-red ware seems to be prominent.
    • The earliest calibrated time range for the site is 1401-837 BC.

(6) Neolithic culture in North-East India

  • The north-eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Manipur have not yet been properly explored for prehistoric sites.
    • Large numbers of polished stone tools have been found in the Khasi, Garo, Naga, and Cachar hills, but their cultural context and dates are uncertain.
  • Northeastern region has yielded a rich haul of polished neolithic tools.
    • The spread of the neolithic is considered by some to be an import from South East Asia on account of the use of shouldered axes and also cord-impressed pottery, which has close affinity with the pottery from China and South East Asia.
    • Yet the affinity of Assam Neolithic traits with china or South East Asia has not been finally settled as there is a wide chronological gap. The Assam Neolithic culture phase has been dated around 2000 B.C.
  • The important sites of the region are:
    • Daojali Hading, Sarutaru and Marakdola in Assam,
    • Napchik in Manipur and
    • Pynthorlangtein in Meghalaya.
  • The Neolithic culture of this region is characterised by:
    • shouldered celts,
    • small ground axes of rounded form and
    • cord-impressed pottery, heavily tempered with quartz particles.
  • Daojali Hading:
    • In the North Kachhar hills of Assam.
    • The site has yielded neolithic stone and fossil wood axes, adzes, hoes, chisels, grinding slabs, querns, mullers, hand made grey to dull red cord marked pottery as well as dull red stamped pottery and plain red pottery.
    • No domesticated cereals have been recovered but the presence of mullers and querns in the artifactual repertoire establishes the practice of agricultural activity.

(7) Early Farmers (Neolithic culture) of South India

  • The South Indian neolithic culture, spread over the states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, has given us the largest number of neolithic settlements, because of the easy availability of stone.
  • Neolithic culture of South India has been placed between 2600 and 1000 B.C.
  • The geographical terrain of this culture is that part of the Deccan plateau bound by River Bhima in the north and River Kavery in the south, with a major concentration of sites being in
    • Raichur doab (between the Krishna and the Tungabhadra) and
    • Shorapur Doabs (between the Bhima and the Krishna).
  • Besides the profusion of sites, what makes the South Indian neolithic remarkable is the issue of ashmounds and the location of settlements on the flat-topped or castellated granite hills or plateaux of the region.
  • Ash mounds:
    • They are vast mounds of burnt cattle dung ash accumulated as a result of periodical burnings.
      • Some researcher suggested a West Asian origin for these.
      • However today, their growth and development is viewed in the context of earlier indigenous stone age traditions.
      • The periodic burning may have been connected with seasonal festivals marking the beginning or end of annual migrations to the forest grazing grounds.
    • Ash mounds have been excavated at Utnur, Kupgal, Kodekal, and Pallavoy.
    • They mark neolithic cattle pens which were surrounded by heavy enclosures made of tree trunks.
    • Some of the neolithic pens were attached to permanent settlements, while others may have been temporary camps.
    • Ash mound sites tend to occur in hilly tracts, close to sources of water, with good pasture land but soils too poor for agriculture.
    • Garbage accumulated from the penning of cattle and other animals was dumped along with household refuse at spots close to the settlement and was periodically burnt.
    • The reasons for dung accumulation and burning:
      • to keep the settlement clean,
      • to protect people and animals from health hazards posed by vermin-infected dung heaps,
      • to scare away wild animals.
      • part of rituals aimed at promoting the fertility of cattle.
      • Some of the ash mounds are so large that the sites could have served as regional or local centres where people came from afar to attend periodic cattle fairs.
    • Some of the ashmounds in remote areas may suggest seasonal migrations to the forest grazing grounds by the people.
      • Some historians argue that ash mound sites such as those at Utnur represent seasonal cattle camps.
  • Some of the important neolithic sites of the region are:
    • Karnataka:
      • Sangankallu,
      • Hallur,
      • Tekkalakota,
      • Brahmagiri,
      • Maski,
      • T. Narsipur,
      • Piklihal,
      • Kodekal
      • Budihal
      • Kupgal
    • Andhra Pradesh:
      • Utnur,
      • Palavoy,
      • Nagarjunakonda
    • Tamil Nadu:
      • Paiyampalli.
  • The location of neolithic settlements near hills or plateaux seems to have been motivated by
    • access to perennial water in the form of streams or rivers,
    • plentiful game, pasture for grazing animals and
    • raw materials like stone and wood.
  • Both campsites and habitation sites have been discovered where people lived in circular wattle-and-daub huts.
    • Hearths and storage areas have been found in practically all the huts.
  • South Indian Neolithic culture has been classified into three phases:
    • Phase I:
      • The earliest phases is represented at Sangankallu and Nagarjunakonda.
      • The faint traces of dwellings, crude handmade pale reddish brown pottery, blade tools of chert and ground stone tools found at Nagarjunakonda, demonstrate that the people had only rudimentary knowledge of cultivation.
      • Probably they did not domesticate animals.
      • This phase can be dated to 2500 B.C. or earlier.
    • Phase II:
      • pottery is mainly of red ware fabric.
      • Lapidary art and domestication of animals are the few features.
      • Now the microliths were made of quartz crystals.
    • Phase III:
      • In Phase III (datable to 1500 B.C.) grey ware pottery, is predominant.
      • Neolithic tools of various types are also found in this phase. These indicate greater practice of agriculture with food gathering and hunting now assuming a subsidiary role.
  • The latter two phases are characterised by dwelling pits at Nagarjunakonda with roofs supported by wooden poles. Wattle-and- daub houses are reported from other sites.
  • Subsistence base of the southern neolithic sites:
    • View I:
      • neolithic people were sedentary farmers who cleared forests to carry out agriculture.
    • View II:
      • while these people may have practised some amount of agriculture, they were basically nomadic pastoralists.
    • View III:
      • they were sedentary pastoralists who did not practise any agriculture whatsoever.
    • View IV:
      • a transition from cattle pastoralism (represented at the early ash mound sites) towards agriculture (in the later sites).
      • However, Watgal shows that the ash mound sites were not necessarily the earliest.
    • Subsistence was primarily on a mixed economy – rudimentary farming and animal husbandry.
    • Evidence of animal domestication:
      •  Importance of cattle rearing can be testified by:
        • The faunal remains,
        • ash mounds,
        • terracotta figurines of humped cattle, and
        • rock bruisings of cattle on rocks around some of the settlements.
      • Cattle dominate the faunal assemblage, both in the ash mound and non-ash mound sites.
      • Sheep and goat bones occur in much smaller quantities.
      • Few bones of water buffalo and pig (both wild and domesticated) occur.
      • Bones of wild and domesticated fowl.
      • ass, swine and horse are also reported from some sites.
      • The animals were used for draught-work or putting heavy material, and ploughing the fields. It is clear from the excavations at Nagarjunakonda that domestication of plants preceded the domestication of animals.
    • Evidence of agriculture:
      • Earlier research:
        • not much evidence of agriculture at South Indian neolithic sites.
        • occasional discoveries of charred grain and the indirect evidence of grinding stones, but cattle rearing seemed to dominate.
        • argument that the terrain, soil, and dry climate of the area made it unsuitable for agriculture.
      • Recent research:
        • range of plant remains found at southern neolithic sites.
        • Millets (Ragi) as staple crop, but grains of pulses and seeds of ber found.
          • It was generally believed that the domesticated Ragi came from Africa but recent research shows its indigenous.
        • Other crops cultivated by the Neolithic farmers of south India were wheat, horsegram, moong (green gram), Date palm.
        • Terracing seems to have been an important feature of the method of cultivation during this period.
    • Fishing and hunting:
      • Fish bones and charred and split animal bones show that fishing and hunting contributed substantially to dietary requirements.
  • Evidence of craft:
    • not much evidence of craft or trade activities.
    • copper and bronze objects occur at several sites, but no indication of the local smelting or working of copper.
    • Trade:
      • A pair of gold earrings was found at neolithic Tekkalakota and the Kolar fields of Karnataka are the likely source of the gold found in Harappan contexts.
        • This would imply trade between the urban Harappans and the neolithic communities of South India.
      • Marine shell and marine shell artefacts found at Watgal indicate exchange with coastal areas.
  • Sangankallu
    • long occupation, beginning with the palaeolithic phase.
    • Palaeoliths are followed by a microlithic industry of quartz flakes, cores and lunates.
    • The classic neolithic industry of polished stone tools features with a time-gap between the neolithic and the earlier microlithic levels.
    • Coarse grey, red pottery was discovered which was either handmade or produced on a slow wheel.
    • Storage pits have given remains of charred grains and bones of domesticated animals like cattle, sheep and goat.
  • Piklihal
    • in District Raichur in Karnataka.
    • ashmound
    • The neolithic people here were cattle herders who had domesticated animals like cattle, sheep, goat etc.
    • A mobile group, they set up seasonal camps surrounded by cowpens made with wooden posts and stakes in which they gathered dung.
      • When it was time to move, the entire camping ground was set afire and cleared for the next session of camping.
  • Utnur:
    • in Mahbubnagar district, AP.
    • ash mound. Cattle hoof-prints were found in the ash.
    • gave evidence of stone axes, stone blades, and a handmade pottery.
    • material culture similar to that of sites such as Piklihal (dated from c. 2100 BCE) and Kodekal.
  • Budihal:
    • in Gulbarga district, Karnataka
    • 2200–1600 BCE.
    • ash mound as well as habitational deposit.
    • a chert blade-working area. It is possible that chert tools made at this site were sent to other neolithic settlements.
    • child burials (some in pits, others in pots) were found in the habitational area.
    • Artefacts:
      • The artefacts found from the ash mound and residential area:
        • red and grey pottery,
        • ground stone tools,
        • chert blades,
        • bone tools including axe heads, and
        • beads of shell, bone, and semi-precious stones.
    • A few grains of domesticated horse gram were found.
    • Animals:
      • Faunal remains of domesticated and wild animal species.
      • Bones of domesticated cattle were the most numerous. This shows that the neolithic people of Budihal specialized mainly in cattle rearing and to a lesser extent on sheep, goat, buffalo, and fowl.
      • The bones of wild fauna included nilgai, blackbuck, antelope, monitor lizard, tortoises, birds, fish, crabs, and molluscs.
      • a butchering area within the settlement area.
  • Beginning of the chalcolithic phase at sites such as Singanapalli and Ramapuram in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh.
    • Ramapuram:
      • evidence of house floors plastered with lime,
      • wheel-made painted pottery (mostly black-on-red),
      • microliths, and beads of semi-precious stones.

The Life of neolithic people

  • The neolithic stage is associated with relatively self-sufficient village communities.
  • The obtaining and consumption of food is generally a social activity:
    • food items may be part of systems of hospitality, gift giving, trade, and social taboos.
    • Food preferences and ways of preparation are parts of social life.
    • The site of Budihal gives a graphic image of community food preparation and feasting at a neolithic site.
  • Some sites were small communities with a simple social organization, while larger sites were more complex societies.
  • The details of the subsistence patterns of the communities would have varied, depending on the resource potential of the environment and on their methods of adapting to it.
    • Differences in material equipment such as tools, pottery, and houses suggest differences in craft traditions and lifestyles.
    • Burial practices and objects of possible cultic significance reflect divergent belief systems and customs.
  • Life of early farmers cannot be marked by comfort and ease.
    • lack of rain, pests or disease means bad harvest.
    • mould and rodents could destroy precious reserves of stored grain.
  • Sedentary living:
    • Elements of sedentary living can be seen among certain hunting-gathering groups, while some farmers and pastoralists retain a migratory lifestyle.
    • Transition to agriculture lead to increasing levels of sedentariness among most communities.
  • Health:
    • Studies of nutrition and disease based on an analysis of human bones suggest that hunter-gatherers had a high-protein diet, more varied, balanced, and healthy compared to that of early farmers, whose diet tended to be high in carbohydrates, with an emphasis on cereals or root crops.
    • Sedentary people were also more vulnerable to infectious diseases and epidemics than nomadic groups.
    • Hence high incidence of disease reflected in the bones of early farming communities.
  • Demographic changes:
    • A sedentary life and the diet associated with agriculture would have meant less stress on women during pregnancy and more stable conditions for mother and child after childbirth.
    • High-carbohydrate diets are connected with decreased birth intervals.
    • All these factors would have combined to produce higher birth rates.
    • Sedentary living easier on children and old people, and resulted in reduced death rates and increased life expectancy.
    • Hence the advent of food production would have led to an increase in population and changes in the age profiles within communities.
  • New tools and planning:
    • Food production required new tool kits and equipment.
    • It also involved shifts in the contributions of men and women, children, and aged folk.
    • A change in the food ethic:
      • Hunter-gatherers generally collect as much food as they can immediately consume on a short-term basis.
      • Farmers would have had to produce and store quantities of food for future use which required much more long-term planning.
  • Role of women:
    • It has been argued that women may have been in the forefront of experiments related to plant domestication.
    • If, in hunting-gathering societies, men generally hunted and women did the food gathering, then it is indeed likely that the early experiments in agriculture were made by women.
    • Further, since pottery was connected to food storage and cooking, tasks that are generally associated with women, they may have had a significant role to play in technical advances related to pottery making.
    • Women and children may have been involved in activities like
      • collecting and processing clay,
      • collecting fire wood,
      • piling it in the kiln, and
      • decorating the pots.
  • Craft and trade:
    • Although the neolithic stage is generally associated with subsistence-level activities, there is evidence of specialized crafts and long-distance exchange at sites such as Mehrgarh.
    • Kunjhun and Ganeshwar indicate fairly well-developed craft traditions and site specialization.
    • Many sites give evidence of separate areas within the settlement being earmarked for different activities:
      • cattle rearing,
      • craft production,
      • butchering, etc.
    • Some neolithic communities were interacting with proto-urban and urban cultures.
  • Social differentiation:
    • When larger groups of people started living together in settled villages, they would have had to devise new norms of interaction and co-operation, different from those associated with bands of hunter-gatherers.
    • The communities of early farmers and pastoralists must have been internally differentiated on the basis of age and sex.
    • At some sites, differences in the sizes of houses and in the quantity and quality of grave goods suggest the existence of social ranks.
  • Political control:
    • Among larger groups, the regulation of economic activities and social relations would have required some sort of effective political control and organization.

Changes in Cultic and Belief Systems

  • Changes in subsistence practices would have involved shifts in symbolic and belief systems.
  • The cultivation of crops and the domestication of animals must have led to increased concerns with fertility and religious ways of controlling it.
  • Terracotta female figurines found from neolithic levels onwards at certain sites have often been given the label of ‘Mother Goddesses’.
    • It is very likely that farming communities connected women with fertility because of the fact that women give birth.
    • It is also possible that they worshipped images of goddesses associated with fertility.
  • Humped bull figurines found at sites such as Rana Ghundai, Mehrgarh, Mundigak, Bala Kot, Gilund, Balathal, and Chirand may have been cult objects.
  • Burials:
    • Purposeful, standardized burials do not appear for the first time in the neolithic or neolithic– chalcolithic phase, but they do increase in number.
    • Such burials imply significance attached to the bodily remains of the deceased.
    • Patterns in the orientation and form of burials show the existence of funerary customs followed by some members of the community.
    • Multiple burials may indicate:
      • simultaneous death
      • the strength of kinship ties.
    • The practice of covering bodies with red ochre prior to burial at Mehrgarh suggests a fertility ritual.
    • The joint burials of humans and animals at Burzahom reflect a close relationship between people and the animals.
    • Social and political differentiation:
      • Simple versus more elaborate graves can be seen as reflections of differences in funerary customs associated with people of different ranks.
    • Grave goods:
      • suggest a belief in afterlife.
    • Secondary burials suggest multi-stage funerary practices and rituals.

Conclusion

  • While profuse microlithic remains precede the neolithic at some sites, others give a silent testimony and reveal only a full-blown neolithic phase.
  • Variation in the chronology of the early food-producing societies:
    • In c. 7000–3000 BCE, food-producing villages emerged in Baluchistan and the Vindhyas.
    • The number and geographical spread of such settlements increased in c. 3000–2000 BCE.
  • Beginnings of animal and plant domestication did not lead to the extinction of hunting and gathering.
  • There was also the co-existence and interaction among neolithic, neolithic–chalcolithic, rural chalcolithic, urban chalcolithic, and hunter-gatherer communities.
  • All across the country between the fifth and first millennium BC, people were moving towards a ‘neolithic’ way of life – settled hutments, practice of agriculture and animal husbandry, pottery and beginning of craft production.
  • But the story of human cultural evolution didn’t stop here, for this was just the base on which, the next chapter i.e. of large-scale civilizations was to arise.
  • In the long run, the process of food production and its associated cultural developments eventually led to the emergence of proto-urban settlements, and then full-fledged cities

6 thoughts on “Beginning of agriculture (neolithic and chalcolithic): Part III”

  1. Sir could you please mention your sources also.You are doing a great job.I was so relieved when I came across your site.Thank you v much sir

  2. sir onlyfew topics are left in ancient history and world history….will u complete them before 2017 prelims….as i m unable tto go to delhi so totally dependent on your site for history optional especially ancient and world history

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