Prehistoric Period

Prehistoric Period

The "Prehistoric Period," a time predating written history and development, divided into the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Iron Age.

Before the emergence of written language 5000 years ago, human communication relied on symbols and images. While some cultures resisted adopting writing until the nineteenth century, and a few still refrain from it today, this blog invites you to unravel the diverse trajectories of our ancient past, from the use of symbols to the birth of written language, and to explore the captivating tales embedded in the sands of time.

About the Prehistoric Period

  • The term "prehistory" encompasses a vast span since the inception of the Universe or Earth, but commonly, it denotes the period since life first emerged, specifically focusing on the advent of human-like beings. 
  • History, derived from the Greek word "historia," signifying inquiry or knowledge acquired through investigation, constitutes the comprehensive study of the past. 
  • It encompasses the scrutiny, gathering, organization, presentation, and interpretation of information regarding past events, delineated into three segments:


  • Encompasses events preceding the invention of writing, with the three Stone Ages representing distinctive phases.
    • Palaeolithic Period (Old Stone Age): Extending from 500,000 BCE to 10,000 BCE.
    • Mesolithic Period (Late Stone Age): Spanning from 10,000 BCE to 6000 BCE.
    • Neolithic Period (New Stone Age): Encompassing the era from 6000 BCE to 1000 BCE.
    • Chalcolithic Period (Stone Copper Age): Ranging from 3000 BCE to 500 BCE.
    • Iron Age: A period extending from 1500 BCE to 200 BCE.


  • Represents the transitional phase between prehistory and history.
  • Cultures or organizations existing before written records but acknowledged in the writings of contemporary literate civilizations.
  • Example is the undeciphered scripts of the Harappan civilization are considered proto-history due to references in Mesopotamian writings.


  • Marks the study of the past post the invention of writing.
  • Encompasses the examination of literate societies based on written records and archaeological discoveries.


Palaeolithic Period

The Palaeolithic Period, often referred to as the Old Stone Age, marks the earliest phase of human development, extending back to around 8000 BC. Within the Indian subcontinent, this epoch is intricately divided into three distinctive phases, delineated by shifts in stone tool technology and climatic conditions.

Lower Palaeolithic Age (Up to 100,000 BC)
    • Represents the initial phase of the Old Stone Age.
    • Characterized by primitive stone tools and the coexistence of early human species like Neanderthals and Homo erectus.
    • Archaeological evidence, including nearly 100,000-year-old tools discovered in the Chhota Nagpur Plateau, Kurnool, and Andhra Pradesh, offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of ancient inhabitants.

Middle Palaeolithic Age (100,000 BC – 40,000 BC)
    • Witnesses advancements in stone tool technology.
    • Reflects the continued presence of Homo erectus and the emergence of early Homo sapiens.
    • Cultural shifts during this phase are discerned through archaeological findings and evolving tool complexities.

Upper Palaeolithic Age (40,000 BC – 10,000 BC)
    • Represents a period of refined stone tools and cultural sophistication.
    • Witnessed the dominance of Homo sapiens.
    • Archaeological sites from this era, coupled with the discovery of distinctive tools, provide insights into the changing dynamics of human societies.

Mesolithic Era

  • Geological commencement around 9,600 BCE, marking the end of the Younger Dryas stadial and the conclusion of the Ice Age.
  • Transition concludes with the onset of agriculture, representing a shift from hunter-gatherer societies.
  • Diverse End Dates: Agricultural development varying across regions leads to different end dates for the Mesolithic era globally.
  • Defining Tools Microliths: Microliths emerge as the distinctive tools characterizing the Mesolithic period.

Mesolithic Sites in India

Discoveries in:-

  • Rajasthan
  • South of the Krishna River
  • Central and Eastern India
  • Southern Uttar Pradesh

Prominent Mesolithic Sites:-

  • Bagor in Rajasthan
  • Adamgarh in Madhya Pradesh

Neolithic Age

  • Commences around 6,000 B.C., marking the third and final phase of the Stone Age.
  • Preceded by the Palaeolithic Age (500,000 to 10,000 B.C.) and the Mesolithic Age (9,000 to 4,000 B.C.).
  • Characterized by settled agriculture, polished stone tools, and weapons.
  • Notable for the domestication of cattle, sheep, and goats.
  • Main crops include ragi, horse gram, cotton, rice, wheat, and barley.
  • Settlements near lakes, relying on hunting and fishing for sustenance.
  • Utilization of microlithic blades, polished stone, and bone tools, including axes, adzes, chisels, and celts.

Chalcolithic Period 

  • Emerges after the Neolithic Age, primarily using copper and low-grade bronze.
  • Lasts from around 2000 B.C. to 700 B.C., prevalent during the Pre-Harappan and Post-Harappan periods.
  • Rural settlements near mountains and rivers, sustaining through hunting, fishing, and farming.
  • Domestication of sheep, buffalo, goat, cattle, and pigs for food.
  • Cultivation of barley, wheat, lentil, bajra, jowar, ragi millets, green pea, and green and black grame.
  • Introduction of metals like copper and alloys for crafting knives, axes, fishing hooks, chisels, pins, and rods.

Iron Age

  • Succeeds the Bronze Age, corresponding with India's megalithic cultures.
  • Includes archaeological cultures like Painted Grey Ware (1300-300 B.C.) and Northern Black Polished Ware (700-200 B.C.).
  • Coincides with the transition from Vedic Janapadas to the early historic period's Mahajanapadas.
  • Culminates in the emergence of the Maurya Empire near the period's end.


Sources for Reconstructing History in the Prehistoric Period

Non-Literature Sources

  • Coinage
    • Ancient Indian currency, issued as coins, offers valuable insights into historical narratives.
    • Early coins featured limited symbols, evolving to include names of rulers, gods, and dates.
    • The geographical distribution of discovered coins informs about their circulation areas.
    • Essential for reconstructing the history of ruling dynasties, notably during the Indo-Greek rule.
    • Illuminates economic history, script, art, religion, and advancements in metallurgy and science.
  • Archaeology/Material Remains
    • Archaeology involves systematic excavation, providing a glimpse into the material life of ancient societies.
    • Radiocarbon dating determines the age of excavated material remains.
    • Sites like Harappan excavations reveal aspects of daily life during that era.
    • Megaliths in South India offer insights into pre-300 BCE Deccan and South Indian civilizations.
    • Plant residue analysis, particularly pollen examination, unveils historical climate and vegetation patterns.
  • Inscriptions
    • Engraved writings on stone and metals, detailing achievements, ideas, royal orders, and decisions.
    • Emperor Ashoka's inscriptions elucidate state policies, while Satavahana inscriptions record land grants.
    • Crucial for understanding religious practices and administrative policies of the time.
  • Foreign Accounts
    • Supplementing indigenous literature, accounts from Greek, Chinese, and Roman visitors enrich historical understanding.
    • Greek Ambassador Megasthenes' "Indica" provides key insights into Mauryan society.
    • Works like "The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea" and "Ptolemy's Geography" offer information on trade between India and the Roman Empire.
    • Accounts from travellers like Fa-Hein Faxien and Buddhist pilgrim Hsuan-Tsang depict the Gupta era and the glory of Nalanda University during King Harshavardhana's reign.

Literary Sources

Religious Literature

Religious literature serves as an illuminating window into the social, economic, and cultural milieu of ancient India, encompassing a rich tapestry of beliefs and practices.

  • The Four Vedas: Hindu scriptures are thought to have been composed between 1500 and 500 BCE. The Rigveda primarily features prayers, while later Vedic texts (Samaveda, Yajurveda, Atharvaveda) incorporate rituals, magic, and mythological stories alongside prayers.
  • Upanishads: Philosophical discussions on "Atma" and "Paramatma" found in the Upanishads (Vedanta).
  • Shrautasutras and Grihya Sutras: Examples of ritual literature in sutras, encompassing sacrifices, and royal coronation.
  • Buddhist Religious Texts: Tripitaka (Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, Abhidhamma Pitaka) written in Pali language. Offers insights into social, economic conditions, and references to political events during the Buddha's time.
  • Religious Texts of Jaina: "Angas" written in Prakrit language, containing Jaina philosophical concepts. Essential for reconstructing Mahavira's political history in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with references to trade and traders.

Non-Religious Literature

Non-religious literature complements religious texts, providing a diverse perspective on societal structures, governance, and cultural nuances.

  • Dharmashastras/Law Books: Detail responsibilities of various varnas, kings, and officials. Establish rules for property ownership, inheritance, and prescribe penalties for crimes.
  • Kautilya's Arthashastra: Reflects the societal and economic conditions during the Maurya period.
  • Works of Kalidasa: Includes kavyas and dramas, such as the notable Abhijnanasakuntalam. Offers creative compositions and insights into the social and cultural life of northern and central India during the Gupta era.
  • Rajatarangini: Written by Kalhana, depicts social and political life in 12th-century CE Kashmir.
  • Charitas/Biographies: Banabhatta's Harshacharita praises King Harshavardhana, exemplifying the genre of court poets' biographies.
  • Sangam Literature: Earliest South Indian literature, containing valuable information about social, economic, and political life in deltaic Tamil Nadu. Tamil literary gems like 'Silappadikaram' and 'Manimekalai' provide rich insights.


The exploration of the Prehistoric Period unfolds a fascinating journey through the evolution of human societies, from the use of symbols to the advent of written language. The chronological progression from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, to the Iron Age in the Indian subcontinent mirrors transformative shifts in technology, societal structures, and economic practices. Diverse sources, ranging from coinage and archaeological excavations to religious and non-religious literature, contribute to the intricate tapestry of reconstructing historical narratives. The narrative embraces the challenges of deciphering ancient scripts and the rich insights provided by foreign accounts, offering a multidimensional understanding of our ancient past. Through this comprehensive lens, the Prehistoric Period emerges as a captivating mosaic of human ingenuity and resilience, inviting us to decipher the enigmatic tales embedded in the sands of time.

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