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Ancient Bengal in Ancient India

India, geologically made of the northern Himalaya, the northern river plains in the middle, and the souther Deccan plateau, was formed more than 20 million years ago. On this scale, humans are relative newcomers: the earliest hominids evolved less than 5 million years ago, and the genus Homo itself is probably no more than a couple of million years old. Fully modern humans probably did not appear outside Africa more than 100 thousand years back, slightly before the 90 Ka BP backed blade technology found in west Asia; and fully modern behaviour may actually not have appeared much before 60,000 years back.

Lithic assemblages showing movement of cultural traditions along the Africa–mid East–Iran–India corridor. ‘No remains’ indicates absence of fossilized human remains that are needed to identify the hominid who was responsible for the artifacts; Ceramic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic do not mention human remains and are presumably due to Homo Sapiens Sapiens. This table is only for India after the neolithic; and is vastly incomplete for regions outside India even before that. All dates are BP unless indicated as BC.
Industry Sites and Dates
pre-lithic A. Afarensis at Hadar 3.2 Ma.
Oldowan H. Habilis at Omo 2.5 Ma; No remains at Riwat at Soan basin 2 Ma; H. Habilis at Olduvai 1.9 Ma; H. Erectus at Daminisi 1.7 Ma; no remains at Chesowanja (use of fire) 1.4 Ma.
Flaked Pebbles No remains at Pabbi Hills at Soan 1.6 Ma.
Acheulian H. Erectus at Olduval 1.0 Ma; No remains at Riwat and Soan 0.7 Ma; at Pahlgam undated; at Didwana 0.35 Ma; at Nevasa 0.35 Ma; at Hunsgi 0.35 Ma; H. Erectus (evolved) at Hathnora 0.13 Ma; no remains at Attirampakkan undated.
Flaked blade No remains at Didwana 150 Ka; at Riwat and Soan 60 Ka; at Rohri undated; at Bhimbetka 18.5 Ka; at Nevasa undated.
Levallois H. Sapiens Neanderthelensis at Amud 50 Ka; at Shanidar 50 Ka; at Teshik Tash undated; at Darra-i-Kur 50 Ka; No remains at Sanghao cave undated; at Mula Dam 31 Ka; at Bardia 16.5 Ka.
Backed blades H. Sapiens Sapiens at Omo is not associated with this; H. Sapiens Sapiens at Qafzeh 90 Ka; No remains at Shanidar 35 Ka; at Kara Kamar 30 Ka; at Budha Pushkar undated; at Baghor 25 Ka; at Patne 24 Ka (with microliths); at Belan valley 18 Ka; at Bardia 16.5 Ka; in Tripura 11 Ka (with fossil wood); at Shorapur undated; at Renigunta undated.
Microlith No remains at Fa Hien's cave 34 Ka (with H. Sapiens Sapiens remains at 31 Ka); No remains at Bundala 28.5 Ka; H. Sapiens Sapiens at Betadomba Lena 28 Ka; No remails and along with backed blades at Patne 24 Ka; at Sarai Nahar Rai 10 Ka; with no microliths at Mahadaha undated; No remains at Adamgarh 8 Ka; H. Sapiens Sapiens at Bhimbetka 6700. Preceramic Bagor 5365–2650 BC is probably a more advanced culture.
Microlithic with Ceramic Chapani Mando in Belan Valley 3380–3135 BC; Lekhania in Belan Valley 3035–2780 BC; Bagor (with Chalcolithic) 2650–2315 BC; Langhnaj 2550–2180 BC.
Preceramic Neolithic Ag Kupruk 10–7.5 Ka BC; Mehrgarh 7–5 Ka BC; Bujrahom and Gufkral 2800–2500 BC; Mahadaha 2675–2125 BC.
Neolithic with Ceramic Ag Kupruk 6–5 Ka BC; Mehrgarh 5–4 Ka BC; Kili Gul Muhammad 4500–3800 BC; Sarai Khola 3360–2525 BC; Kodekal 3150–2965 BC; Galighai 3000–1900 BC; Utnur 2920–2185 BC; Buzrahom and Gufkral 2500–2000 BC (late neolithic till 1500 BC); Kunjhun in Belan Valley 2530–1265 BC; Chirand 2100–1400 BC; Mahagara in Belan Valley 1770–1375 BC; Koldiwha in Belan valley, Pandu Rajar Dhibi, Sarutaru, and Daojali Hading, undated.
Early Chalcolithic Sheri Khan Tarakai (early) 4700–4300 BC; Mundigak (early) 3800–3600 BC; Mehrgarh 4300–3800 BC; Togau and Jalilpur undated; Baghor (with microliths) 2650–2315 BC.

Paleolithic

In India, we find trace of these people during the Pliocene and early Pleistoene (1.64 Ma–800 Ka BP) epoch, or even earlier, in the form of Oldowan items in the Soan region, dating back to possibly 2 Ma BP. These items are typical of Homo Habilis, though they could possibly be associated with ancient Homo Erectus populations. Such Oldowan tools are also found in the Himachal Pradesh region of the Siwalik hills, again possibly dating to 1.8 Ma BP.

The more typical tools of the Indian old stone age industries like the Soan are the flaked pebble tools (or Choppwe Chopping tools) characteristic of the Homo Erectus populations. These date back to about a million years back, and have also been found, but undated, along the river beds of Himachal Pradesh.

The Abevillian and Acheulian (an industry remarkably constant across the world wherever Archaic Homo Sapiens went; these people could probably control fire and erect shelters) elements there appeared only slighty later—the earliest handaxes, along with choppers, in the Soan may date to 700–500 Ka BP. This industry also seems to have reached Pahelgaon in Kashmir; and spread out during the middle Pleistocene (730 Ka to 130 Ka BP) all over India—by 390 Ka BP, we see them at Didwana in Rajasthan, and by 350 Ka BP, they are found in Nebhasa in Maharashtra, Hansgi in Karnataka, Attiramapakkam in Madras. After this, we find evidence from all over the Deccan (the ‘Madrasi’ industry), alongside the chellean industry, clacton flakes and Levalloisian artifacts: the early spread in the Narmada basin of the later Acheulian technology is evident from the 130 Ka BP site of Hatnora. Flaked knives are already found in the Nebhasa assemblage, and the cultural traditions may have spread from here. This technology probably lasted at least a 100,000 years: at Didwana the middle paleolithic can be dated to 150 Ka BP, whereas in Gujrat, it goes back to only 56.8 Ka BP; and in northern Ceylon, one usually considers it to last from 200–40 Ka BP. Only this later (probably no earlier than 100 Ka BP) Abevillian and Acheulian are strongly present in Orissa and Bengal: in the Chotanagpur region, a lower paleolithic industry of chopping tools, handaxes, scrapers, flakes, prepared cores, levallois cores, and cleavers have been found. The industry has also been found in Deolpata.

Mesolithic

The middle stone age, during the late pleistocene, is marked by an increase of the Levalloisian and Mousterian elements, and use of chert for making flake tools, though in the Indian context, the strict ordering of backed flaked knife of upper Paleolithic followed by microliths of the Mesolithic is often violated. This technology is associated with the Neanderthal in Europe; clear Mousterian technology with a clear discontinuity in the Indian context is found in Dara-i-Kur (50 Ka BP) and Kara-kamar (30 Ka BP) in Afganisthan, Sanghao cave in Pakistan, Mulabandh (31 Ka BP) in Maharashtra, and Baradia in Gujarat. On the other hand the backed knives characteristic of old Paleolithic is found as a continuous development, for example, at Renigunti in Andhrapradesh, Buddhapushkar in Rajasthan, Baghor-I (25.5–10.5 Ka BP), and Belan (18–16 Ka BP). Fossilized wooden artifacts and backed blades are found in Tripura and adjoining Bangladesh arounf 11–4.5 Ka BP. It is possible that one can see a difference in the northwestern sites (like the 60–20 Ka BP industry at Rohri in northern Indus basin and Patwar in the Soan region) and the eastern and central sites: with Mousterian technology more predominant in the former and continuity with the earlier industries more a hallmark of tha latter. This has been sometimes taken as evidence for interbreeding between the new comers and the extant species: alternatively, it could be seen as evidence of cultural imitation and assimilation.

During this middle stone age, the Chotonagpur area shows two new industries in succession: the older as a collection of side-scrapers, end-scrapers, knives, tranchets, backed blades, flakes, blade cores, prepared cores, levallois cores, mousterian cores, and some irregular cores, and the newer as a microlithic industry of side-scrapers, retouched blades, lunates, burins, knives, end-scrapers, and many fluted cores discussed next. The people in these early palaeolithic period lived close to the river, especially on ridges overlooking rivers where stones were plentiful as well.

The microliths of middle stone age is again rare in Assam, Kerala and Bengal, though present at Chotonagpur area above, but starting with this Industry, we find presence of fossil humans (after 45–50 Ka BP) in west and central India (for example, the Neanderthal like skull at Dara-i-kur); and also in Ceylon (Fahien's cave: the microliths indicating middle stone age there dates to 34 Ka BP, the skeletons from 31 Ka BP; Batadomba Lena: 28.5 Ka BP skeleton with microliths). Microliths are also found along with upper Paleolithic tools at Chhalisgaon in Maharashtra. In Beli Lena in ceylon, the middle stone age lasted from roughly 12–9 Ka BP; and shows evidence of grain collection and use. From around 10 Ka BP, we have the sites of Sarai Nahar Rai and Mahadaha in UP. It is in this age, also, that we find beginnings of rock art, religion at Baghora-I, burial with bones of hunted animals at Mahadaha, portable art at Belan, decorated Ostrich skin at Rojad in Madhya Pradesh, clear evidence of ornamentation (lockets and necklace for men only), bone and flint tools, and bows and arrows at Sarai Nahar Rai. Their food included zebu, water buffalo, sheep, goats, male deer, pigs, rhinoceros, tortoise, doves and other birds; all roasted on open flame; we also find millstones indicating use of grains. The 8Ka BP site of Adamgarh in the Narmada valley showed exploitation not only on zebu, cattle, water buffalo, sheep, and pigs, but also of deer, porcupine, lizards; and the use of slightly more sophisticated tools. Clothing is still from animal hide and probably little, rope from hair is present, but no weaving, nor pottery. At Mahadaha, the dead were all between 19 and 28 years of age, and life expectancy was probably in the early 20s. In the northwest, at least, there seems to be some evidence of trade in stone tools between the hill dwellers and the forest people. And the later Bhimbhetka in Madhya Pradesh may contain the earliest cave eart, showing stick figure people with possibly bare upper bodies, men wearing loin cloth hunting with bows and arrows, and a woman carrying load (but no agriculture or herding) and a small portion of it may date back to this 8Ka BP period.

The culture, however, does seem to be somewhat regionalized—the simple geometric aspects of the microliths being far more pronounced in the west than in the east, the southern and eastern sites showing evidence of use of quartz, and the burial practices seem to differ at different sites, though all burials seemed to prefer the east-west axis.

Neolithic

The neolithic revolution entailing the rise of new means of production and the concomitant division of labour, social origanization, and long distance trade came to India possibly separately in the West, North, East, and the South.

The Western Development

The oldest amongst these is the developments at Mehrgarh's first phase around 7000–5000 BC possibly under the influences from across the Bolan pass, ultimately a diffusion from the middle east Natufian neolithic cultures of 10–9 Ka BC. The earliest dates for the neolithic at Ghar-i-Asp and Aq Kupruk are somewhat doubtful, but pre-neolithic animal husbandry in this region may be as old as 14 Ka BC. The houses in this phase of Mehrgarh had rooms with fireplaces, the crops were mainly huskfree six-stranded barley with small amounts of other forms: husked and two-stranded; and wheat like eincorn, emmer and hard. In addition to goats, the zebu and sheep were domesticated; but wild animals like water buffaloes are still important. This precermaic age had reed baskets, animal hair clothing, faience and talc beads, bangles, and definite burial practices. This social organization marks the end of the egalitarian age, but that becomes clear only in the graves of the next ceramic phase, 5000–4000 BC, when farming equipment seems to have increased along with rudimentary irrigation. Cotton becomes an important crop, and dependence on domesticated animals seems to have increased. The graves had tools and animals, but also precious stones like Sapphire and Carnelian which resulted from trade. Little artifacts and terracotta beads also make their appearance. The potter's wheel makes its appearance in around 4000 BC. The chalolithic period, 4300–3800 BC, however seems to have brought in outside people, and the dental records are no longer clearly Southeast asian like the previous period; they now start showing Iranian affinities. This period shows more division of labour; spread of culture in the form of Togu culture; more trade including Lapis Lazuli, Carnelian, Garnet, Turquoise, Topaz, shells, and bitumen; and advent of furnaces enough to melt metal and to create startite from stones. And, folk art made its appearance as paintings on pottery; and seals marked the beginnings of trade marks. In the next period 3800–3200 BC, Togu pottery falls slowly and Kochi Beg pottery replaces it. Sheri Khan Tarakai has a hoard of terracota, including bangles, bone and shell implements and figurines representing the exaggerated female form. Parallely, the Hakra artifacts appear towards the interior, on the west bank of the river, and could indicate a pastoral culture there. Gujrat region was still in the microlithic phase as in Langhanaj 2550–2185 BC. Even at Baghor, which was microlithic 5365–2315 BC, pottery arrived only around 2650 BC; and these regions may not have farmed. Sheep and goats, and some zebu and pigs, however, seem domesticated.

The northern culture

The center of the northern culture was at Burjahom and Guphakral, where the preceramic neolithic age is present 2800–2500 BC. The ceramic age 2500–2000 BC pottery was of the corded type described under the Eastern development below. Stone and bone implements are also found. They managed to domesticate sheep, goats, water buffalo, pigs, and dogs; and were cultivators of wheat, barley, lentis, and peas; and rice in the later phase 2000–1500 BC, probably as diffusion from the east. The dead were exposed and the bones were interred, often painted, and with dogs. There was also rock painting and a skull seems to have undergone trepanning. The culture extended west up to Sarai Khola 3360–2525 BC. Pre-rice Ghalighai 3000–1900 may have forged links between the western and northern cultures; and the similarities with the Yang Sao culture in China are also noticeable.

The indigenous south

The southern development was probably the result of totally indigenous diffusion and arises quite late: one notices in Koekal and Utnur a culture from 3100–2100 BC with agricultural implements—though we do not know what was being farmed, animal husbandry exploiting cattle, sheep, and goats, and pottery which shows early form of wheel use.

Bengal in the east

Discarding the early 6719–5010 BC dates of rice from Koldihwa, and the recently discovered microliths at Haatpara village which might also yield older dates, the eastern development can be seen at Chopni Mando 3385–3135 BC. This was a microlithic culture which lived in huts. The men are still tall in stature (162 cm), though the women are shorter, as evidenced at Lekhahya 3035–2780 BC; and life expectency was still less than 25 years. Wild rice is found, but no clear cultivation or animal husbandry. Pottery is hand made with thread decorations (corded). The Vindhya neolithic near Kunjahan river, 3530–1265 BC, is related to this and important because of rice cultivation, which probably diffused from the Hemundu culture of China and Hao-chin-hiyan culture of Thailand and Vietnam, both around 5000 BC; through the undated sites of Dehjali Heading and Saruturu. In fact, rice cultivation may have reached India by 4000 BC and may have originated somewhere in south east Asia as early as 7000 BC; if it came from outside India, the corded pottery seems to carry this influence just as the black and red ware points to the western influence in India. It was also found in the first phase of Pandu Rajar Dhibi, 2100–1400 BC. The second stage there, however, shows potters' wheel and looks related to the culture at Chirand further west. They cultivated rice, wheat, barley, and lentils like moong and masur; and lived in straw huts, had precious stones like Chalcedony and agate, and had glazed pottery made on wheels. Chirand shows elephants, rhinocerous, boars and deer, and also oxen and buffalo, though they may not be domesticated.

The site of Birbhanpur in Bengal is an example of Indian late stone age (mesolithic) and is probably 4–3,000 BC. This period was marked here by microliths (cores, flakes, lunates, trapeze, points, borers, burins, scrapers etc.), and possible houses built on posts whose holes have probably been seen. These people also may have had a belief in afterlife, and may have had a complicated social organization if some of the cave paintings date from this period.

The sequence at pANDurAjAr Dhibi is as follows: (i) c. 1250 BC (a) Black and Red pottery, burials head to east (b) charcoal, microlith, white on grey pottery. (ii) 1000 B.C. microlith, black and red-black pottery, water spout, copper fishhook, straight line huts of saffron mud, east-west burial, matted grass on mud and burnt mud tiles. (iii) single leg mud bowl, patterned pottery, jewelry, microlith, figurine, foreign looking head, hearth, celts, iron needles and arrowheads (intrusive? Iron in Taxashila in 1100/1000, Atranja in W. India 900, Bihar 800/700 so c. 700 here? Source may be chotonagpur sand. Note however that the date of iron is continuously being pushed back: recent evidence for 1200 at raja nal ka tila in UP), burnt sword. (iv) 500–300/250 B.C. triangular burnt pottery bowl, normal mud bowl, red pottery, patterned pottery, water vessel, pottery animal, breasted women, fish and diagonal line pottery. Steatite seal with relief picture.

Microliths of crystalline stone and petrified wood from about 1250–1000 BC are found in may places in Ajay-Kunnur-Kopai river system (pANDurAjAra Dhibi, dhbanakATi near bolpura, bIrbhAnpura, vasantapura, rAjAr DAGgA, gosvAmIkhaNDa, maGgalkoTa, gaGgADAGgA, vIrNAhAra, caNDIdAs-nAnnura, beyuTi, supura, mandirA, shAlkhAna, suratharAjAra Dhibi, yashpura)

Rice cultivation, fishing and hunting can be seen in baD.abeluna near barddhamAna. Paddy rice charcoal is found at mahiSadala, radio carbon dates it to 1380–855 B.C.

Chalcolithic

The Chalcolithic period in Bengal was probably around 1300–1200 B.C., as exemplified by radio carbon dates from mahiSAdala. Where exactly the use of metal working originated is a matter of some debate, but there seems to be evidence of copper hoard sites all across the gangetic basin connected with pottery types found in atraJjikhera and hastinApura, and unrelated to the bronze styles found in other parts of Asia. It is likely that the origin of these is the large and important chalcolithic civilization in West India, the sarasvati-sindhu civilization (also called the Indus civilization or the Mohenjodaro-Harappa civilization, and possibly the Meluhha of Sumerian inscriptions), which started on its final descent around 1750 BC, just a few hundred years before. The neolithic tools in chotonagpur area are often found on the top layer and include polished and unpolished celts, small arrowheads with leaf-shaped or chisel-edged patterns, cores, flakes, stone beads, chisels, adzes, and axeheads. Iron probably did not arrive till about 700 B.C (mahiSAdala carbon date), and marked the beginning of proto-history.

During the chalcolithic period, occupation seems to move away from bIrabhuma and more towards middle and south and moves east. This is associated with the black-red pottery found in medinipura-bÃkuD.A-puruliA. Northern bIrbhuma is deserted in the iron age: southern continues till the historic period that begins 300/200 B.C. (N. Bengal:mahAsthAnagaDh.a occupied from before 350 BC and the later puNDravarddhana, bIrbhuma:koTAlapura, medinipura:tAmralipta=tamluka, 24 pargaNA:candraketugADh.a, murshidAbAda: ciruci; E. Bengal: crushed pottery/brick road and citadel at wari and vaTeshvar). The archaelogy of the eastern parts (not only from this ancient period) is surveyed with more details at the banglapedia site.

See though NOVO's page for some more information.

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