May 31, 2023
Neolithic Period

Neolithic Period

The Neolithic period marks a significant shift in human culture as communities transitioned from relying solely on nature's resources to producing their own food through agriculture and domesticating certain animals for meat, milk, and labor.

The Neolithic period marks a significant shift in human culture as communities transitioned from relying solely on nature’s resources to producing their own food through agriculture and domesticating certain animals for meat, milk, and labor. This era is characterized by the development of new stone tools known as Neolithic tools or tools of the New Stone Age. Sir John Lubbock coined the term “Neolithic” to describe this period, which saw a rise in skillfully made, polished stone implements. V. Gordon Childe defined the Neolithic-Chalcolithic culture as a self-sufficient food producing economy, while Miles Burkitt emphasized four main traits of the Neolithic culture: agriculture, animal domestication, grinding and polishing of stone tools, and pottery making.

Evidence of early farming practices, such as the cultivation of wheat and barley, has been found in upper Paleolithic sites in the Nile Valley, including Wadi Kubbaaiya, Wadi Tuska, Kom Umbo, and other sites near Esna. However, there is no evidence of animal domestication in these sites, suggesting that cereal cultivation preceded animal domestication in this region. The domestication of plants and animals did not necessarily occur simultaneously or in the same regions, and food production may have preceded the Neolithic culture associated with ground stone tools.

In Western Asia, farming began in Palestine, Syria, and Turkey in the ninth-eighth millennium B.C., with evidence of settled communities emerging and farming becoming the essential basis of their lives. Jericho in Palestine, surrounded by a two-meter-wide stone wall with rounded towers, became a large village where agriculture was evident, but there was no evidence of animal domestication. Catal Huyuk in Southern Turkey was a large village where wheat, barley, and peas were grown, and cattle, sheep, and goats were domesticated. In Iraq, Jarmo had evidence of permanently established farming villages with mud houses and various farming tools, while in Iran, farming began in the region of Khuzistan during the eighth millennium B.C. and evidence of wheat and barley cultivation was found in a winter camp at Ali Kosh.

The Earliest Evidence of Agriculture and Domestication in the North-Western Region

The North-Western Region, which encompasses present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, is rich in history and has played an important role in the evolution of human civilization. This region is considered to be the birthplace of wheat and barley cultivation, as evidenced by archaeological findings from as early as 7000 B.C. The domestication of sheep and goats also took place in this region, further contributing to the development of early farming economies.

One area in particular, the Kachi plains in Baluchistan, stood out as a favorable location for early farming. Nestled between barren ranges in inner Baluchistan, the fertile alluvial valleys in this region allowed for easy irrigation on stretches of land with abundant vegetation. It was here that the ancient site of Mehrgarh was discovered, located approximately 150 km from Quetta. Excavations at Mehrgarh have revealed a rich cultural history ranging from the pre-pottery Neolithic to the mature Harappan Period.

The Neolithic levels at Mehrgarh have been classified into two phases, with the early aceramic phase lacking pottery, and the later phase marked by pottery production. The inhabitants of Mehrgarh cultivated two varieties of barley and three varieties of wheat, with clear evidence that the domestication of sheep and goats took place locally. The subsistence pattern during the Neolithic period was characterized by a mixed economy based on early farming and domestication of animals, supplemented by hunting. The rectangular mud-brick houses that the inhabitants lived in had small square compartments used for storage.

Evidence from Mehrgarh suggests that the Kachi plains may have been an independent epi-center for cattle and sheep domestication and for the cultivation of wheat and barley. The Chalcolithic phase at Mehrgarh, which dates back to 5000 B.C., saw the cultivation of cotton and wine, in addition to wheat and barley. It is likely that the Harappans inherited their knowledge of wheat, barley, and cotton cultivation from their early ancestors at Mehrgarh, which challenges the idea that farming and domestication of animals spread from West Asia to the direction of the Indian sub-continent.

Moving northwards, village settlements appeared in the Kashmir valley by approximately 2500 B.C., with Burzahom and Gufkral being significant Neolithic culture sites. The Neolithic stage of this region has been classified into two phases at Burzahom and three at Gufkral, with the earliest phase being aceramic (pre-pottery). The Neolithic culture of the Kashmir valley was characterized by pit-dwellings with well-made floors smeared with red-ochre, as well as dwellings in the open. At Gufkral, the presence of domesticated plants and animals in Phases II and III indicate how an essentially hunting-gathering economy of Phase I gradually developed into a well-settled agricultural economy in Phase II.

The Neolithic culture of Burzahom displays affinities with Sarai Khola and Ghaligai of Swat valley in pottery, bone, and stone objects. Pit dwellings, harvesters, and dog burials are characteristics of the North Chinese Neolithic culture. The pottery found at Burzahom indicates contact with the pre-Harappans. The available C-14 dates from the two sites indicate a time range off 2500-1500 B.C. for the Neolithic culture of the Kashmir Valley.

Belan Valley

The Belan Valley, located in the monsoon belt, is home to the Belan River that flows from east to west along the edge of the Vindhyan plateau outcrop. This region boasts several excavated sites that provide evidence of the transition from food-gathering to food-producing societies. Notably, the Chopani-Mando, Koldihawa, and Mahagara sites offer relevant insights into the early farmers of the Belan Valley.

The Chopani-Mando site features a three-phase sequence from the epi-palaeolithic to late Mesolithic or proto-Neolithic period. Archaeologists have established that Phase III, which represents the advanced Mesolithic period, was characterized by a semi-sedentary community life and specialized hunting-gathering economy. The site boasts beehive type of hutments, common hearths, unportable anvils, geometric microliths, a large number of ring-stones, and hand-made impressed pottery.

The excavations at Koldihwa revealed a three-fold cultural sequence that includes the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Iron Age periods. Mahagara is a single culture Neolithic site. The combined evidence from the two sites indicates a sedentary lifestyle, domestication of rice (oriza sativa), cattle, sheep, and goats.

The Neolithic culture of the Belan Valley showcases a developed and advanced sedentary life with defined family units, standardization of pottery forms, portable size of food-processing units like querns and mullers, specialized tools like chisels, celts, and adzes, cultivation of domesticated rice, and domestication of cattle, sheep, goat, and horse. Scholars have suggested that the Neolithic farmers of the Belan Valley emerged as the earliest rice farming community in India around the 6th millennium B.C. However, this suggestion is not universally accepted.

The transition from a gathering to a farming economy is also clearly documented in this region. Pottery makes its appearance in the late Mesolithic/proto-Neolithic phase at Chopni Mando (circa ninth-eighth millennium B.C.). This is indicative of the primacy of the manufacture of pottery over domestication of plants (rice) and animals cattle, sheep/goat, and horse).

It is worth noting that Chopni-Mando provides the earliest evidence of the use of pottery in the world. Overall, the Belan Valley offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of early farmers and their gradual shift from food-gathering to food-producing societies.

Neolithic Cultures and Settlements in Bihar/Mid Ganga Valley

The mid Ganga valley in Bihar was occupied by sedentary villages much later, around 2000-1600 B.C., after the region had developed its rich flora and faunal resources. The excavation sites at Chirand, Chechar, Senuwar, Taradib, and others provide valuable insights into the life and culture of the Neolithic people who inhabited this area.

The neolithic levels at Chirand, situated on the left bank of the Ganga in Saran district, reveal the structural remains of mud floors, pottery, microliths, ground celts, bone tools, and beads of semi-precious stones, along with terracotta human figurines. Additionally, Chirand and Senuwar are famous for their remarkable bone tools. The later Neolithic-Chalcolithic people at Senuwar also began cultivating gram and moong, adding agriculture to their hunting and gathering practices.

The Emergence of Neolithic Cultures in Eastern and Central India

The Emergence of Neolithic Cultures in Central India The central Gangetic valley, with its abundant flora and fauna, witnessed the emergence of sedentary village settlements much later, around 2000-1600 B.C. The excavations at several sites, including Chirand, Chechar, Senuwar, and Taradib, provide crucial insights into the lifestyle and culture of the Neolithic people in this region. The neolithic levels at Chirand, located on the left bank of the Ganga, have revealed structural remains of mud floors, pottery, microliths, ground celts, bone tools, and semi-precious stone beads, besides terracotta human figurines. Both Chirand and Senuwar are known for their remarkable bone tools, while the later Neolithic-Chalcolithic people at Senuwar started cultivating gram and moong.

Early Farmers of Eastern India The northeastern region of India, comprising the hills of Assam, north Cachar, the Garo, and the Naga hills, falls under the monsoon zone with heavy rainfall. The Neolithic culture of this region is characterized by shouldered celts, small ground axes of rounded form, and cord-impressed pottery heavily tempered with quartz particles. Excavations at Deojali Hading in north Cachar hills have yielded all the objects noted above. Although these objects are similar to those found in China and Southeast Asia, there is still debate over the affinity of the Assam Neolithic traits with these areas, as there is a significant chronological gap. The Assam neolithic culture phase has been tentatively dated around 2000 B.C.

Early Agriculture in Southern India

The process of transition from hunting to agriculture in Southern India remains uncertain. Neolithic settlements are mainly located on the dry and hilly Deccan plateau drained by the Bhima, Krishna, Tungabhadra, and Kaveri rivers. Numerous excavated sites from this period include Sangankallu, Nagarjunakonda, Maski, Brahmagiri, Tekkalakota, Piklihal, Kupgal, Hallur, Palavoy, Hemmige, and T. Narsipur.

The South Indian Neolithic culture is classified into three phases. The earliest phase is found at Sangankallu and Nagarjunakonda, where remains of dwellings, primitive handmade reddish-brown pottery with slipped outer surface, chert blade tools, and ground stone tools demonstrate only basic knowledge of cultivation. It is likely that people did not domesticate animals during this time, and this phase can be dated to 2500 B.C. or earlier.

The second phase, called Phase II, features mainly red ware pottery, lapidary art, and animal domestication, with quartz crystal microliths being introduced. Phase III (dated around 1500 B.C.) is characterized by grey ware pottery and continued use of red ware and short blade industry of quartz crystals from Phase II, indicating greater practice of agriculture with hunting and food gathering taking a secondary role.

Phases II and III are marked by dwelling pits with wooden pole-supported roofs and wattle-and-daub houses. The Neolithic farmers of Southern India cultivated millet (Ragi) as their primary crop, which is still grown today and is an important source of food for the poor. It is believed that domesticated Ragi came from East Africa, and other crops cultivated were wheat, horsegram, moong (green gram), and date palm. Terracing was a significant aspect of the cultivation methods during this period.

Evidence from excavations at Nagarjunakonda suggests that plant domestication preceded animal domestication, and an abundance of cattle and food articles indicates a sedentary agricultural economy. Based on C-14 dates, the South Indian Neolithic culture is estimated to have existed between 2600 and 1000 B.C. Many ashmounds composed of ash are found near Neolithic sites like Utnur, Kodekal, and Kupgal.

Upper, Central and Western Deccan

Upper Central and Western Deccan regions have yielded a plethora of ground stone tools made on black trap, along with grey ware and Chalcolithic-type painted pottery. Additionally, a large number of semi-precious stones such as agate, chalcedony, and carnelian were also discovered, including parallel-sided blades and microliths. Although there is no clear-cut Neolithic phase recorded in this area, evidence from sites such as Chandoli on the Bhima, a tributary of the Krishna, and Nevasa and Daimabad on the Pravara, a tributary of the Godavari, suggests that Neolithic farmers in this region had transitioned to the Chalcolithic phase.

Further north in the Tapti and Narmada valleys of north Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat, there is no clear evidence of a Neolithic phase. Ground stone tools are scarcely present in the Chambal, the Banas, and the Kali Sindh Valleys. Sedentary settlements in this region only emerged after the advent of copper-bronze implements.

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