Pre Historic India and The Harappan Culture

Pre Historic India and The Harappan Culture | History


  • The development of archaeology helps much to understand the life and culture of the people who lived in this period.
  • In India, the pre – historic period is divided into
  • The Paleolithic (Old Stone Age)
  • Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age)
  • Neolithic (New Stone Age)
  • The Metal Age
  • The technique of radio – carbon dating is commonly used for measuring the loss of carbon in organic materials over a period of time.
  • Another dating method dendro – chronology is referred to the number of tree rings in the wood.
  • By counting the number of tree rings in the wood, the date of the wood is arrived at.

Paleolithic or Old Stone Age

  • Sites are generally located near water sources.
  • Several rock shelters and caves used by the Paleolithic people are scattered across the subcontinent.
  • They also lived rarely in huts made of leaves.

Some of the famous sites

  • The Soan valley and Potwar Plateau on northwest India.
  • The Siwalik hills on North India.
  • Bhimpetka in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Azamgarh hill in Narmada valley.
  • Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh
  • Attirampakkam near Chennai.
  • In the Old Stone Age, food was obtained by hunting animals and gathering edible plants and tubers. These people are called as hunter-gatherers.
  • They used stone tools hand-sized and flaked – off large pebbles for hunting animals.
  • Stone implements are made of a hard rock known as quartzite.
  • Large pebbles are often found in river terraces.
  • The hunting of large animals would have required the combined effort of a group of people with large stone axes.
  • Their way of life became modified with the passage of time since they made attempts to domesticate animals make crude pots and grow some plants.
  • A few Old Stone Age paintings have also been found on rocks at Bhimbetka and other places.
  • The period before 10000 B.C. is assigned to the Old Stone Age.

Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age

  • The next stage of human life is called Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age which falls roughly from 10000 B.C. to 6000 B.C.
  • Mesolithic remains are found in
  • Langhanj in Gujarat
  • Azamgarh in Madhya Pradesh
  • some places of Rajasthan
  • Utter Pradesh
  • Bihar
  • The paintings and engravings found at the rock shelters give an idea about the social life and economic activities of Mesolithic people.
  • Sites of Mesolithic Age a different type of stone tools is found.
  • These are tiny stone artefacts often not more than five centimetres in size and therefore called microliths.
  • The hunting-gathering pattern of life continued during this period.
  • There seems to have been a shift from big animal hunting to small animal hunting and fishing.
  • The use of bow and arrow also began during this period.
  • There began a tendency to settle for longer periods in an area.
  • Domestication of animals, horticulture and primitive cultivation started.
  • Animal bones are found in these sites.
  • these include dog, deer, boar and ostrich.
  • Burials of the dead along with some microliths and shells seem to have been practised.

Neolithic Age

  • It is approximately dated from 6000 B.C to 4000 B.C.
  • Neolithic remains are found in various parts of India.
  • These include the
  • Kashmir valley
  • Chirand in Bihar
  • Belan valley in Uttar Pradesh
  • several places of the Deccan
  • The important Neolithic sites excavated in south India are
  • Maski
  • Brahmagiri
  • Hallur
  • Kodekal in Karnataka
  • Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu
  • Utnur in Andhra Pradesh
  • The chief characteristic features of the Neolithic culture are the practice of agriculture, domestication of animals, polishing of stone tools and the manufacture of pottery.
  • The cultivation of plants and domestication of animals led to the emergence of village communities based on sedentary life.
  • There was a great improvement in the technology of making tools and other equipment used by man.
  • Stone tools were now polished.
  • The polished axes were found to be more effective tools for hunting and cutting trees.
  • Mudbrick houses were built instead of grass huts.
  • Wheels were used to make pottery. Pottery was used for cooking as well as storage of food grains.
  • Large urns were used as coffins for the burial of the dead.
  • Wheat, barley, rice, millet were cultivated in different areas at different points of time.
  • Rice cultivation was extensive in eastern India.
  • Cattle were used for cultivation and for transport.
  • Domestication of sheep, goats and cattle was widely prevalent.
  • The people of the Neolithic Age used clothes made of cotton and wool.

Metal Age

  • The Neolithic period is followed by Chalcolithic (copper – stone) period when copper and bronze came to be used.
  • The new technology of smelting metal ore and crafting metal artefacts is an important development in human civilization.
  • The Chalcolithic cultures were found in many parts of India and had grown in river valleys.
  • The Harappan culture is considered as a part of Chalcolithic culture.
  • In South India the river valleys of the Godavari, Krishna, Tungabhadra, Pennar and Kaveri were settled by farming communities during this period.
  • They were not using metals at the beginning of the Metal Age there is evidence of copper and bronze artefacts by the end of second millennium B.C.The Chalcolithic age is followed by the Iron Age.
  • Several bronze and copper objects, beads, terracotta figurines and pottery were found at Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu.
  • Iron is frequently referred to in the Vedas.
  • The Iron Age of the southern peninsula is often related to Megalithic Burials.
  • Megalith means Large Stone.
  • The burial pits were covered with these stones.
  • Such graves are extensively found in South India.
  • Some of the important megalithic sites are
  • Hallur and Maski in Karnataka
  • Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh
  • Adichchanallur in Tamil Nadu.
  • Black and red pottery iron artefacts such as hoes and sickles and small weapons were found in the burial pits.

The Harappan Civilization

  • The earliest excavations in the Indus valley were done at Harappa in the West Punjab and Mohenjodaro in Sind. Both places are now in Pakistan.
  • The findings in these two cities brought to light a civilization.
  • It was first called the ‘The Indus Valley Civilization’.
  • This civilization was later named as the ‘Indus Civilization’ due to the discovery of more and more sites far away from the Indus valley.
  • It has come to be called the ‘Harappan Civilization’ after the name of its first discovered site.

Important Sites

  • Among the many other sites excavated. The most important are
  • Kot Diji in Sind
  • Kalibangan in Rajasthan
  • Rupar in Punjab
  • Banawali in Haryana
  • Lothal, Surkotada, Dholavira all the three in Gujarat.

Origin and Evolution

  • There are four important stages or phases of evolution and they are named as
  • Pre – Harappan
  • Early – Harappan
  • Mature – Harappan
  • Late Harappan
  • The pre – Harappan stage is located in eastern Baluchistan.
  • The excavations at Mehrgarh 150 miles to the northwest of Mohenjodaro reveal the existence of pre – Harappan culture.
  • The nomadic people began to lead a settled agricultural life.
  • In the early – Harappan stage the people lived in large villages in the plains. There was a gradual growth of towns in the Indus valley. Also, the transition from rural to urban life took place during this period.
  • The sites of Amri and Kot Diji remain the evidence for early – Harappan stage.
  • In the mature – Harappan stage great cities emerged.
  • The excavations at Kalibangan with its elaborate town planning and urban features prove this phase of evolution.
  • In the late – Harappan stage the decline of the Indus culture started.
  • The excavations at Lothal reveal this stage of evolution.
  • Lothal with its port was founded much later.
  • It was surrounded by a massive brick wall as flood protection.
  • Lothal remained an emporium of trade between the Harappan civilization and the remaining part of India as well as Mesopotamia.

Date of the Harappan Culture

  • In 1931 Sir John Marshall estimated the duration of the occupation of Mohenjodaro between 3250 and 2750 B.C.
  • The advent of the radiocarbon method paves way for fixing almost accurate dates.
  • By 1956 Fairservis brought down the dating of the Harappan culture to between 2000 and 1500 B.C. on the basis of radiocarbon dates of his findings.
  • In 1964 D.P. Agarwal came to the conclusion that the total span of this culture should be between 2300 and 1750 B.C.

Salient Features of the Harappan Culture

Town Planning

  • The Harappan culture was distinguished by its system of town planning on the lines of the grid system – that is streets and lanes cutting across one another almost at right angles thus dividing the city into several rectangular blocks.
  • Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Kalibangan each had its own citadel built on a high podium of mud brick.
  • The large – scale use of burnt bricks in almost all kinds of constructions and the absence of stone buildings are the important characteristics of the Harappan culture.
  • Another remarkable feature was the underground drainage system connecting all houses to the street drains which were covered by stone slabs or bricks.
  • The most important public place of Mohenjodaro is the Great Bath measuring 39 feet length, 23 feet breadth and 8 feet depth.
  • Flights of steps at either end lead to the surface.
  • There are side rooms for changing clothes.
  • The floor of the Bath was made of burnt bricks.
  • Water was drawn from a large well in an adjacent room and an outlet from one corner of the Bath led to a drain.
  • It must have served as a ritual bathing site.
  • The largest building in Mohenjodaro is a granary measuring 150 feet length and 50 feet breadth.

Social Life

  • The dress of both men and women consisted of two pieces of cloth, one upper garment and the other lower garment. Beads were worn by men and women.
  • Jewellery such as bangles, bracelets, fillets, girdles, anklets, earrings and finger rings were worn by women.
  • These ornaments were made of gold, silver, copper, bronze and semi-precious stones.
  • The use of cosmetics was common.
  • Various household articles made of pottery, stone, shells, ivory and metal have been found at Mohenjodaro.
  • Spindles, needles, combs, fishhooks, knives are made of copper.
  • Children’s toys include little clay carts.
  • Marbles, balls and dice were used for games.
  • Fishing was a regular occupation while hunting and bullfighting were other pastimes.
  • There were numerous specimens of weapons of war such as axes, spearheads, daggers, bows, arrows made of copper and bronze.


  • The Harappan sculpture revealed a high degree of workmanship.
  • Figures of men and women, animals and birds made of terracotta and the carvings on the seals show the degree of proficiency attained by the sculptor.
  • The figure of a dancing girl from Mohenjodaro made of bronze is remarkable for its workmanship.
  • Its right-hand rests on the hip, while the left arm, covered with bangles, hangs loosely in a relaxed posture.
  • Two stone statues from Harappa, one representing the back view of a man and the other of a dancer are also specimens of their sculpture.
  • The pottery from Harappa is another specimen of the fine arts of the Indus people.
  • The pots and jars were painted with various designs and colours. Painted pottery is of better quality.
  • The pictorial motifs consisted of geometrical patterns like horizontal lines, circles, leaves, plants and trees. On some pottery pieces, we find figures of fish or peacock.


  • The Harappan script has still to be fully deciphered.
  • The number of signs is between 400 and 600 of which 40 or 60 are basic and the rest are their variants.
  • The script was mostly written from right to left. In a few long seals the boustrophedon method – writing in the reverse direction in alternative lines – was adopted.
  • Parpola and his Scandinavian colleagues came to the conclusion that the language of the Harappans was Dravidian.
  • A group of Soviet scholars accepts this view.
  • Other scholars provide different view connecting the Harappan script with that of Brahmi.
  • The mystery of the Harappan script still exists and there is no doubt that the decipherment of Harappan script will throw much light on this culture.


  • From the seals, terracotta figurines and copper tablets we get an idea on the religious life of the Harappans.
  • The chief male deity was Pasupati, (proto-Siva) represented in seals as sitting in a yogic posture with three faces and two horns.
  • He is surrounded by four animals (elephant, tiger, rhino, and buffalo each facing a different direction). Two deer appear on his feet.
  • The chief female deity was the Mother Goddess represented in terracotta figurines.
  • In later times Linga worship was prevalent.
  • Trees and animals were also worshipped by the Harappans.
  • They believed in ghosts and evil forces and used amulets as protection against them.

Burial Methods

  • The cemeteries discovered around the cities like Mohenjodaro, Harappa, Kalibangan, Lothal and Rupar throw light on the burial practices of the Harappans.
  • The practice of pot burials is found at Lothal sometimes with pairs of skeletons.

The Decline of the Harappan Culture

  • Natural calamities like recurring floods, drying up of rivers, decreasing the fertility of the soil due to excessive exploitation and occasional earthquakes might have caused the decline of the Harappan cities.
  • According to some scholars, the final blow was delivered by the invasion of Aryans.
  • The destruction of forts is mentioned in the Rig Veda.
  • The discovery of human skeletons huddled together at Mohenjodaro indicates that the city was invaded by foreigners. The Aryans had superior weapons as well as swift horses which might have enabled them to become masters of this region.

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