Learning Objectives

Students will acquire knowledge about

1. The Pre-historic period.

2. Origin and evolution of the Harappan Civilization.

3. Socio-economic condition of the Harappan people.

4. Cultural life of the Harappans.

5. The Decline of the Harappan Civilization.

The history of human settlements in India goes back to prehistoric times. No written records are available for the prehistoric period. However, plenty of archaeological remains are found in different parts of India to reconstruct the history of this period. They include the stone tools, pottery, artifacts and metal implements used by pre-historic people. The development of archaeology helps much to understand the life and culture of the people who lived in this period.

In India, the prehistoric period is divided into the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), Neolithic (New Stone Age) and the Metal Age. However, these periods were not uniform throughout the Indian subcontinent. The dating of the prehistoric period is done scientifically. The technique of radio-carbon dating is commonly used for this purpose. It is based on measuring the loss of carbon in organic materials over a period of time. Another dating method is known as dendro-chronology. It refers to the number of tree rings in wood. By counting the number of tree rings in the wood, the date of the wood is arrived at.

Paleolithic or Old Stone Age

The Old Stone Age sites are widely found in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. These 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 of Old Stone Age in India are:

a. The Soan valley and Potwar Plateau on the northwest India.

b. The Siwalik hills on the north India.

c. Bhimpetka in Madhya Pradesh.

d. Adamgarh hill in Narmada valley.

e. Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh and

f. Attirampakkam near Chennai.

In the Old Stone Age, food was obtained by hunting animals and gathering edible plants and tubers. Therefore, 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. We have little knowledge about their language and communication. 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. It was the transitional phase between the Paleolithic Age and Neolithic Age. Mesolithic remains are found in Langhanj in Gujarat, Adamgarh in Madhya Pradesh and also in some places of Rajasthan, Utter Pradesh and Bihar. The paintings and engravings found at the rock shelters give an idea about the social life and economic activities of Mesolithic people. In the sites of Mesolithic Age, a different type of stone tools is found. These are tiny stone artifacts, often not more than five centimeters in size, and therefore called microliths. The hunting-gathering pattern of life continued during this period. However, 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. Also, there began a tendency to settle for longer periods in an area. Therefore, domestication of animals, horticulture and primitive cultivation started. Animal bones are found in these sites and these include dog, deer, boar and ostrich. Occasionally, burials of the dead along with some microliths and shells seem to have been practiced.

Old stone Age Tools

Neolithic Age

New Stone Age Tools

A remarkable progress is noticed in human civilization in the 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 and in several places of the Deccan. The important Neolithic sites excavated in south India are Maski, Brahmagiri, Hallur and Kodekal in Karnataka, Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu and 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. In fact, 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 technology of making tools and other equipments used by man. Stone tools were now polished. The polished axes were found to be more effective tools for hunting and cutting trees. Mud brick 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. There was also improvement in agriculture. Wheat, barely, rice, millet were cultivated in different areas at different points of time. Rice cultivation was extensive in eastern India. Domestication of sheep, goats and cattle was widely prevalent. Cattle were used for cultivation and for transport. The people of 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 artifacts is an important development in human civilization. But the use of stone tools was not given up. Some of the micro-lithic tools continued to be essential items. People began to travel for a long distance to obtain metal ores. This led to a network of Chalcolithic cultures and the Chalcolithic cultures were found in many parts of India.

Generally, Chalcolithic cultures had grown in river valleys. Most importantly, 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. Although they were not using metals in the beginning of the Metal Age, there is evidence of copper and bronze artifacts by the end of second millennium B.C. Several bronze and copper objects, beads, terracotta figurines and pottery were found at Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu.

The Chalcolithic age is followed by Iron Age. 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 and Adichchanallur in Tamil Nadu. Black and red pottery, iron artifacts 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’. But this civilization was later named as the 'Indus Civilization’ due to the discovery of more and more sites far away from the Indus valley. Also, 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 the Punjab, Banawali in Haryana, Lothal, Surkotada and Dholavira, all the three in Gujarat. The larger cities are approximately a hundred hectares in size. Mohenjodara is the largest of all the Indus cities and it is estimated to have spread over an area of 200 hectares.

Origin and Evolution

The archaeological findings excavated for the last eight decades reveal the gradual development of the Harappan culture. There are four important stages or phases of evolution and they are named as pre-Harappan, early-Harappan, mature - Harappan and 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. In this stage, 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. Subsequently, as and when new sites were discovered, the dating of the Harappan culture is modified. 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. Yet, there is further scope of modification of these dates.

Salient Features of the Harappan Culture

Town Planning

The Harappan culture was distinguished by its system of townplanning 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. Below the citadel in each city lay a lower town containing brick houses, which were inhabited by the common people. 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. But in the citadel of Harappa we find as many as six granaries.

Economic life

There was a great progress in all spheres of economic activity such as agriculture, industry and crafts and trade. Wheat and barley were the main crops grown besides sesame, mustard and cotton. Surplus grain is stored in granaries. Animals like sheep, goats and buffalo were domesticated. The use of horse is not yet firmly established. A number of other animals were hunted for food including deer.

Great Bath at Mohenjodaro


Specialized groups of artisans include goldsmiths, brick makers, stone cutters, weavers, boat-builders and terracotta manufacturers. Bronze and copper vessels are the outstanding examples of the Harappan metal craft. Gold and silver ornaments are found in many places. Pottery remains plain and in some places red and black painted pottery is found. Beads were manufactured from a wide variety of semi-precious stones.

Internal trade was extensive with other parts of India. Foreign trade was mainly conducted with Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and Iran Gold, copper, tin and several semi-precious stones were imported. Main exports were several agricultural products such as wheat, barely, peas, oil seeds and a variety of finished products including cotton goods, pottery, beads, terracotta figures and ivory products. There is much evidence to prove the trade links between the Indus and Sumerian people. Many seals of Indus valley have been found in Mesopotamia. Trade was of the barter type. The seals and the terracotta models of the Indus valley reveal the use of bullock carts and oxen for land transport and boats and ships for river and sea transport.

Social Life

Much evidence is available to understand the social life of the Harappans. 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. Jewelleries such as bangles, bracelets, fillets, girdles, anklets, ear-rings and fingerrings 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 bull fighting 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 latter 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. Complete burial and post-cremation burial were popular at Mohenjodaro. At Lothal the burial pit was lined with burnt bricks indicating the use of coffins. Wooden coffins were also found at Harappa. The practice of pot burials is found at Lothal sometimes with pairs of skeletons. However, there is no clear evidence for the practice of Sati.


There is no unanimous view pertaining to the cause for the decline of the Harappan culture. Various theories have been postulated. Natural calamities like recurring floods, drying up of rivers, decreasing 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. Also, 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.

Learning Outcome

After learning this lesson the students will be to explain

1. The findings of the Paleolithic, Neolithic and Metal Age and the socio-economic life of the people during these periods.

2. The origin and evolution of the Harappan culture and the important sites of excavations.

3. The salient features of the Harappan civilization such as town planning, social life and economic condition of the Harappans.

4. The date of the Harappan culture as well as the religious beliefs and the art of the Harappans.

5. Different views on the decline of the Harappan civilization.


I. Choose the correct answer.

1. The Chalcolithic age was followed by

(a) Old Stone age

(b) New Stone age

(c) Iron age

(d) Mesolithic age

2. The port city of the Harappan culture

(a) Kalibangan

(b) Lothal

(c) Banawali

(d) Rupar

II. Fill in the blanks.

1. The most important Megalithic site in Tamil Nadu is ....

2. The chief female deity of the Harappan culture was ....

III. Match the following.

1. Kot Diji

2. Dholavira

3. Kalibangan

4. Banawali

a) Haryana

b) Rajasthan

c) Sind

d) Gujarat

IV. Find out the correct statement. One statement alone is right.

a) There are three stages in the evolution of Harappan culture.

b) Parpola concluded that the language of Harappan people is Sanskrit.

c) Sir John Marshal used the radio-carbon dating method.

d) The Harappan people believed in ghosts and used amulets as protection against them.

V. State whether the following statements are true or False.

1. The Old Stone Age people practiced agriculture.

2. Microliths were used by the Mesolithic people.

3. Trade links existed between the Indus and Sumerian people.

4. The Harappan people did not know the art of writing.

VI. Write short notes (Any three points).

1. Chalcolithic Age

2. Megaliths.

3. Great Bath.

4. Date of the Harappan Culture.

VII. Answer briefly (100 words).

1. Write a note on the Old Stone Age.

2. Trace the origin and evolution of the Harappan Culture.

3. Name the important sites of the Harappan Culture.

4. Mention the probable causes for the decline of the Harappan culture.

VIII. Answer in detail (200 words).

1. Write a brief essay on the pre-historic period in India.

2. Describe the socio-economic condition of the Harappan civilization.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!