Prehistoric period

Print edition : September 30, 2016

IN the march of human history, prehistory is divided into Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic/Microlithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic/Bronze and Megalithic (Iron) Ages. In the Paleolithic period man lived in caves, caverns and other rock shelters. The Paleolithic period can be divided into upper, lower and middle Paleolithic periods.

According to K. Rajan, Professor of History, Pondicherry University, the Paleolithic period is the age from which only tools fashioned out of stone were available. No metal tools of this period have been found. The Paleolithic Age lasted from about 1.72 million years ago to 30,000 years before the present. “It was a long period,” he said. Man made a variety of stone tools to hunt down animals or gather food. These tools included hand-axes, scrapers, cleavers, discoids, and so on.

The Paleolithic period was followed by the Mesolithic/Microlithic period. While the term “Mesolithic” represents the cultural phase, the term “Microlithic” refers to the tiny stone tools that man made during this period when he lived along the banks of rivers, streams and lakes. The Mesolithic period lasted from about 30000 BCE to 10000 BCE.

Man was a hunter-gatherer during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. From around 10000 BCE, he switched over to agriculture from hunting and gathering, that is, he took to food production.

The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, began around 10000 BCE. In contrast to the crude stone hand-axes of the Paleolithic period, for hunting-gathering, in this period man started manufacturing polished hand-axes and also made adzes, a variety of stone tool. During the Neolithic period, man started settling in the plains.

Rajan said: “The cultural transformation from food-gathering to food production is considered a revolution in human history that happened during the Neolithic period. These Neolithic tools represent the beginning of agricultural production in south India, which happened about 5,000 years before the present.” The polished stone tools belonged to two varieties: axes and adzes. While axes were used for cutting trees and plants, the adzes were used for ploughing. The adzes were tied to a wooden staff and used for tilling the land. After the advent of the Iron Age, iron ploughs were made.

The Neolithic period lasted from around 10000 BCE to 5000 BCE. (According to Patnaik, it lasted up to 3000 BCE in the context of Odisha.) From around 5000 BCE to 1800 BCE was the Chalcolithic or Copper/Bronze Age. There was no Copper Age in south India. Iron Age began around 1800 BCE and lasted until 600 BCE. After that came the Early Historical period and the Historical period. Written documentation began from the Early Historical period.

T.S. Subramanian

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