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The metal ages

Emergence of cities, states and civilizations:

Humans have lived in a simple egalitarian societies for more than 99% of our history. Egalitarian means our society whose members are almost equal in Prestige and access to the resources. Increasingly Complex political structures were existence as a result in the population increase of Agricultural society. These Complex political structure you are required to co-ordinate activities of these larger number of people. The first society which contains some sort of Hierarchy where some groups has more power than others, appeared in near east about 5500 years ago.

The city:

It can be defined as a Central Place where various economic and political functions are conducted for a surrounding area. They were probably first developed around the political bureaucracy which had become the seat of political power in a particular area. when these seat of powers surrounded by bureaucracy started to attract people who would like to perform special services for the rulers and the people who would like to become the part of these bureaucracies the cities were probably formed.

Urbanization is the process by which cities are formed. According to Jane Jacobs the first cities were well formed as trading centres, when the Basic technique agriculture arose, due to experimentation by the city dwellers with wild plants and animals brought in by traders in return for obsidian or other valuable items. The techniques were further diffused to nearby farming villages, bees farming villages exchanged food for the goods of the city. But the Jacob's theory is considerably weakened as the traces of Agricultural activities are dated back to 10000 to 9000 years before presents that is well before the earliest cities.

The state:

It is an independent political unit that includes many communities in its territory. It has a centralized government which has power to collect taxes, draft citizens for work and for war it enact and enforce laws. States are socially stratified, which means some group of people are having more access to either wealth or status or both then other groups. They are economically diversified as well that means only a part of the population produces food other members maybe indulged and other activities like artisans, traders, priests etc.


It is the most complex concert among the concept hitherto defined. According to E.R. Service " civilization can be accurately used to mean that the societies was characterized by the presence of cities or large towns and that the inhabitants were citizen of some kind of legal Commonwealth."

V. Gordon Childe has given a list of criteria for civilization.

  1. Urban centres of between 7000 to 20000 people
  2. A class of full-time specialist working in the City
  3. Ruling class of religious, civil and military leaders
  4. A surplus of the food produced by the peasents for used by the government.
  5. Monumental public buildings, symbolizing the concentration of the surplus
  6. Use of numbers and writing.
  7. Arithmetic, geometry and astronomy
  8. Sophisticated art
  9. Long distance trade
  10. An institutionalized form of political organisation based on force is called the state.

Though the excavation showroom evidences against the above list. Rarely have all these traits appeared together in the earliest cultures that we think of as a civilization. For example in Inca culture did displays most of the above this characteristics but there was no system of writing.

From Band to States:

Several stages has been identified by Archaeologists through which human societies passed before the states were finally appeared. But let us first understand the bands, the tribes and the chiefdom.

The Bands:

The basic unit of human Social Organisation before 12000 years from present was a small egalitarian society called a band. Family was the only unit of Band or a group of related family held Together by kinship and marriage bonds, there was informal leadership which was probably not resting for a long time with a single person. The leaders power was probably theme from personality rather than from loss. Among hunting and gathering people band were the usual form of society. these hunting gathering bands did not have a strong sense of territoriality.

The Tribes:

Are more complicated form of social organisation called the tribes can be inferred from archaeological records in near east about 9000 years before present. These were larger than a band and were made up of groups of families related by common descent. In tribes the power of leaders was weak where as individual family heads has been more important than any other leader. In Different cultures primitive kinship groups seems to be bound with different reasons for example primitive farmers the kin group held common land together. There was little or no stratification and the division of labor was still largely by age and sex.

The chiefdom:

It was the third stage of pre state organisation it first appeared in near east around 7500 years ago before present. They were probably theocracy with the ruler or a member of his family serving as a high religious official. In chiefdoms the power came from position and not from his personality.

Now no longer all family groups or lineages enjoyed the equal status; there are evidences that some kin groups may have better farmland or other mark of status. chiefdoms were characterized by large villages. Among these villages some villages were craft specialised, for example some villages in near east work only on pottery some other villages produced large amounts of copper goods. But within these villages there were no groups of people who worked only on these goods, all villagers seems to have work part time at crafts as well as at farming.

The emergence of States:

There is a question that why some bands developed into tribes and others did not or why some tribes became chiefdoms and other did not?

And we must ask ourselves that what are the features that allow us to distinguish chiefdoms from a state. We can answer to this question if we find out the changes that occurred as the states emerged.

  1. Complex chiefdoms break up and collapse.
  2. Regulatory organisation change, and a formal centralize legal Apparatus for government emerges.
  3. Specialized economic activities become the function of particular group.
  4. Territorial expansion follows the emergence of the state.

The above list provides us that what happens in the state formation. But this list does not tell us why these processes occur in the first place. Some expert proposed Universal causes of state formation. These are called the prime mover theories which focuses on a single cause. While some scholars suggest that's such a complex evolution cannot be explained in terms of a single cause and they look upon to combination of factors.


he appearance of metal objects was a significant landmark in the history of development of human civilization. The use of metals along with stone tools continued for quite a long time. This is a transitional period from stone to metal and known as Chalcolithic (copper-stone) Age which is marked by an increase in the number and size of settlements; improvement in architecture; introduction of copper-bronze tools and wheel made pottery; diversification of wares; profuse decoration of vessels by painted, incised and appliqué designs; appearance of beads made on different materials; and terracotta animals and human figurines.

This culture has been identified in Northern, Central and Western India. It has a distinct character in different geographical regions. Hence different names are given according to their characters such as OCP culture, Ahar-Banas culture, Kayatha Culture, Malwa culture, Savalda culture, Jorwe culture and the Narhan culture and variants in Northern Vindhyas.

Ochre Colour Pottery Culture (OCP)

In many excavated sites in U.P. Copper hoards are found associated with OCP. Some sites do not yield the OCP in direct association with the hoards. Over hundred sites have yielded OCP in the Ganga –Yamuna doab, hence the name OCP culture is given. In some sites copper hoards and OCP ceramic are present in stratified position.

The material culture is mostly dominated by a pottery made of medium grained clay, under-fired and washed with ochre colour which weathers off. The ceramic forms include jars, storage jars, bowls, ring-footed bowls, flasks, handled pots, miniature pots basins, spouts etc. On the basis of ceramic similarities, OCP is considered by some scholars as the degenerated form of late Harappan. Other associated finds include terracotta animal figurines, cart wheels with central knob, beads, stone querns and pestles and bone points. At Saipai site, one copper harpoon is found from OCP stratum.

Ethnographic evidence shows that metal objects are worshipped by the Gonds of Central India. The Anthromophorphic figure of copper hoard is thought to be a cult object by many scholars. Use studies shows that these were not of utilitarian objects but perhaps ritual objects. Most of the OCP sites are located on or near river banks; the sites are small in size with low mounds indicating a short duration of settlements and no regular habitation. Distance between two settlements is generally 5kms-8kms.

Bhardawaj established that copper hoards associated with OCP belonged to 1100-800 B.C. K.N. Dikshit however suggested to a date from 2650 to 1180 B.C. based on TL dates from different sites. Thus on the basis of all the available dates or evidences we can ascribe copper hoards and OCP to 2000+ 1500 B.C. Robert Von Heine Geldon proposed that these hoards makers were Indo-Aryans. Lal characterized them as indigenous people. Some scholars regard OCP culture as the only final and impoverished culture unrelated of the Harappan culture. Thus Mishra designates this phase as “Degenerate Harappans”, while others consider it as an indigenous culture unrelated to Harappan. But opines that the shouldered axes show their origin from South-East Asia via North-East India and Middle Ganges Plain.

Ahar-Banas culture

It is name after the type site Ahar in Udaipur on the Banas river in Rajasthan and distinguished by BRW with white paintings. This culture is distributed in the Banas-Berach basin of Mewar region, where more than 100 sites have been located. Four sites have been excavated in this area. They are Ahar, Balathal, Gilund and Ojiyana.

The settlements at Ahar and Gilund were quite extensive. Excavations revealed the evidence of single, double and multi-roomed rectangular and circular houses made of stone, mud-brick and mud. Houses varied in size from site to site. At Balathal and Gilund a number of deep silos of various size tied with grass and plastered with lime have been found, which are meant for storage. Besides hearth and stone saddle, querns and rubbers have also been found. There were several kinds of fine and course ware pottery in Ahar indicating a rich ceramic tradition. Fine wares included BRW, cream slipped ware with black painted decoration, thin red slipped ware, coarse ware included thick redware and grey ware. It was predominated by copper objects which included flat axes, choppers knives, razors, chisels and tanged arrowheads. It is marked by a richly complete absence of stone tools at Ahar, but at other sites like Gilund stone tools including microblades and microliths have been found. Beads of semi-precious, steatite and terracotta; rings of copper; and petalled ornaments of copper and bone have also been recovered. Besides short bicone terracotta beads bearing punctured patterns, which have parallel in West Asia are important finds. Rare terracotta figurines included hump cattle, similar to Harrapan terracottas.

Economy was based on a combination of cultivation, animal husbandry and hunting. Around 35 C14 dates place this culture from 3600 B.C. to 1500 B.C. which makes it the oldest Contemporary Chalcolithic culture outside the Harappan realm. It continued during and after the Harappan Civilization. It was earlier thought that metal technology spread to Peninsular India through Harappan, however, evidence from Balathal shows that these developments had already taken place by early 3rd millenium B.C. It therefore appears to be a local development.

Kayatha culture

It is named after the type site Kayatha on Chhoti Kalisindh. It was discovered and excavated by Wakankar in 1965-66 and again in 1968 by Dhabalikar, Ansari and Wakankar. It is about 285km south east of Ahar on the Malwa plateau. In the northern part of Malwa, more than 40 sites have been located. Important excavated sites are Kayatha and Dangwada. The Kayatha’s site revealed a three-fold culture sequence such as Kayatha Period I, Period II and Period III.

Three distinctive ceramics mark this cultural phase. The principal ware is a sturdy ware thrown on a fast wheel from extremely fine, pinkish well levigated clay. Shapes include bowls and basins, globular vases with a concave neck and storage jars. Most vessels have a ring base though some have a disc base also. The typical ceramic of the Kayatha culture is the chocolate-slipped, sturdy and well- baked Kayatha ware. The shapes in this ware are convex-sided jars and carinated dishes.

Unlike Ahar settlements, the Kayatha people lived in small huts having well-rammed floors. They cultivated wheat and other crops. They domesticated cattle, sheep and goat. Hence their economy is based on agriculture and animal husbandry.

The Kayatha people used both copper and stone tools. Copper tools are represented by elongated axes. And stone tools comprise microliths and blades. Kayatha has also provided copper bangle, beads of semi-precious stones and microblades of steatite. Noteworthy are stylized terracotta bulls often with a prominent hump, and twisted horns. C14 dates suggests a period of 2450 to 1700 B.C. for this culture.

Malwa culture

More than 100 sites have been discovered in the valleys of Narbada, and Chambal in Malwa region. They are collectively known as Malwa culture. Important excavated sites are Nagda, Navdatoli and Eran.

The main ceramics is Malwa ware. It is a very distinctive, wheel made, black or brown slipped ware shading into orange or buff decorated with designs in black or dark brown.

Unique shapes are high neck flaring mouth globular jars like the typical Indian Lota and a concave sided bowl in various sizes. Noteworthy are channel spouted bowls and pedestalled goblets from Navdatoli which have parallels at Iranian sites. Decorated motifs are mostly linear, geometric and naturalistic.

There is some evidence of fortification walls around the settlements from Eran and Nagda with stone rubble bastions and ditch around habitation. At Navdatoli a square pit has been identified as a sacrificial pit. The people lived in wattle-and-daub houses with low mud wall and thatched roof as indicated by posts and clay plaster with bamboo and reed impressions. The huts were either round or rectangular in shape. Regarding the economy of the people, they were agriculturist and herders. The technology consists of copper and stone tools. Copper tools included flat axes and spearheads or sword with a mid-rib. Finely made stone blades, and microliths abound at many sites. Ornaments such as beads of semi-precious stones; and copper bangles and rings are also found. Terracotta figurines include a painted male figure, bull figurines and female figurines. C14 dates from Navdatoli suggests a period of C. 2020 B.C to 1600 B.C.

Savalda culture

The Chalcolithic sequence of the Northern Deccan is represented by the Savalda culture; the Harappan culture; the Malwa culture; and the Jorwe culture. In this module, we will discuss the Savalda culture only to represent the metal age culture of Northern Deccan. It is named after the type site of Savalda, Dhulia district in Maharashtra. Large scale excavation at Kaothe brought to light a clear picture of this culture. The people lived mostly in single roomed rectangular houses as well as pits. Most houses were flimsy dwellings with makeshift kitchens of a semi-nomadic people staying for a short span, though some two/three roomed houses were also found. Large number of pits of different sizes were classified as swelling pits, storage pits, and pits for keeping poultry. The largest dwelling pit was oval measuring 5.60 x 6.65m x 80cm deep with 16 post holes whereas the smallest pit was measuring 1.20m in diameter with a depth of 1.10m.The Savalda ware is made of coarse clay with a variety of painted naturalistic motifs. The characteristic shapes include rimless bowls and high-necked storage jars.

It is marked by a complete absence of stone and metal tools, but is noted by a large number of bone tools including points, punches, awls and knives. Remains of bajra or pearl millet and jowar indicate subsistence agriculture. A high number of animal bones suggest semi-nomadic pastoralism. The dead were buried in pits in North-South direction facing the head towards the south. Excavations of Daimabad revealed habitations underlying Harappan levels making the chronological position of Savalda culture clear. At Kaothe, this habitation is dated to 2300-2000B.C.

Jorwe culture

It succeeds the Malwa culture at Inamgaon, Prakash, Daimabad and other sites in Northern Deccan. It is named after the typesite of Jorwe in Ahmadnagar district of Maharashtra. It is widely distributed in Maharashtra (more than 200 sites).

Jorwe settlements have been classified into villages, hamlets, farm steads and camps. Over 130 houses have been excavated at Inamgaon providing us with a good picture of settlement pattern. Early Jorwe houses were large rectangular structure (7x5m) with low mud walls and gabled roof, made of wattle and daub. Floors were well rammed with mud or with mixed sand and gravel. The houses had a small oval fire hearth and a large pit site plastered with lime for storing grains. Artisan’s houses were smaller and located on the western periphery of the principal habitation area indicating social stratification. Some evidence of fortification was also found.

Late Jorwe houses were quite impoverished with small round huts with a low mud wall in clusters of three or four, with four-legged storage jars supported on flat stones replacing the Early Jorwe pit silos.

Characteristic Jorwe Ware was wheel made, well fired, painted black-on-red with simple geometric motifs, and matted surface. Important shapes are shallow carinated bowls, long spouted jars with flaring months, and high necked globular vases.

Copper objects included axes, chisels, fish hooks, and an antanae-hilted dagger with mid-rid (from Chandoli). Stone blades and microliths were also found. Beads of gold and ivory, spiral ear rings of gold and anklets of copper have been recovered from Inamgaon. Presence of silk, cotton and linseed (from Nevasa, Chandoli and Inamgaon).

Terracotta objects both human and animal figurines have also been found. The headed and headless crudely modeled human terracotta figurines are interpreted as deities.

They buried the dead in an extended position in north-south direction with feet chopped. For children, they practised double urn burial in grey ware but within the house or courtyard. A large number of grave good were found including pottery, food and drinks.

On the basis of ceramics, structures and material remains and C14 dates of different sites, the Jorwe culture has been divided into two: 1. Early Jorwe (1500-1100B.C.) and 2. Late Jorwe (1100-800B.Bc.).

Narhan culture

A large number of Chalcolitihic sites succeeding the Neolithic culture have been excavated in the northern Vindhyas and the Middle Ganga valley in U.P. Bihar and West Bengal. Narhan is one of the important sites of this region.

The people of Narhan lived in rectangular houses of wattle and daub. Evidences of hearth, querns and mullers have also been found. Ceramic consists of wheel made red, black and red ware and black-slipped wares. Important shapes are pedestalled and channel spouted bowls, flat plates, dishes, basins, perforated vessels, jaws and vases with geometric motifs (paintings in white). Technology consists of weapons of copper, stone, bone and antler. Copper objects include knives, spear heads and arrow heads and barbed –arrow heads. Microliths and blade tools are also found. A large number of ornaments are also found.

Subsistence was based on a combination of agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting and gathering. They cultivated Wheat, Barley, Rice, Jowar, Moong, Gram, Kodo, Lentil, Linseed and pea. They also domesticated buffaloes, sheep, goat, pig and dog. Besides many bones of wild animals are also found. Large number of C14 place Narhan culture ranges from 1500 B.C. to 700 B.C.

Most of the Chalcolithic cultures were found in the semi-arid, but fertile region of black cotton soil adapting to an economy based on a combination of subsistence agriculture, stock-raising and hunting-gathering. Inamgaon has yielded interesting and important evidence for crop rotation, harvesting of summer and winter crops, and artificial irrigation.

Most of these Chalcolithic cultures of western and central India witnessed a decline during the late 2nd millennium to early 1st mill BC. These settlements in northern Deccan were re-occupied by settled farmers only fourth-fifth centuries BC. However, in Ganga valley and eastern India there is a continuity of settlements from the Chalcolithic to the Iron Age and historic period. Even in South India it is succeeded by megalithic Iron Age without a gap.

Iron makes its appearance in the PGW culture, and in the ensuing phase, known as the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBP) culture, its use becomes more widespread.


Iron heralded a new era in human history, as this technical knowhow brought about changes in almost every sphere of life. Besides, it was an age of innovations in pyrotechnology when we see the emergence of highly evolved ceramics, glass, metal technology, etc. It is surmised that iron technology must have played an important role in the clearance of forests and spread of agricultural settlements or second phase of urbanization in the sub-humid Ganga Valley. While copper, being scarce must have been available only to a few, most sections still depended on stone, as evidenced from the presence of stone blades even in urban phase of the Indus Civilization. Further, copper being brittle could not have been used for forest clearance in sub-humid regions; therefore occupation was confined to the arid and semiarid regions of the west in the Chalcolithic period.

On the contrary, iron was widespread, particularly in Chota Nagpur region and central India and therefore easily available. Iron smelting technology marked the end of Stone Age. It is also thought that iron technology helped in forest clearance and effective colonization of the Ganga plains. Iron technology spurred the second urbanization in the Indian landmass. In peninsular India, iron was instrumental in digging wells and irrigation tanks in hard rock terrain and also in quarrying rock for building megalithic monuments. Others have argued that urbanization was more a result of the establishment of strong socio-political institutions, than iron technology.

Studies on Iron Age in India were pioneered by N.R. Bannerjee (1965), though earlier British workers had highlighted the excellent quality of indigenous iron produced by the natives in their reports. Studies on aspects of introduction of iron in India and metallurgy of iron smelting have since been undertaken by Tripathi, Chakrabarti, Hedge, Prakash, Bhardwaj, Srinivasan and others.

Iron technology seems to have made its first appearance almost simultaneously in different parts of the subcontinent between 1000 to 800 B.C., in Gandhara region, with Painted Grey Ware in the upper Ganga plain, with Black-and-Red Ware in the middle and lower Ganga plains and with Megalithic cultures in Vidarbha and peninsular India. Tripathi (2002) considers these Iron Age cultures in different zones of the northwest, Ganga valley, peninsular India as independent and divergent cultural traditions.



Iron objects have also been unearthed from the Megalithic contexts of Gufkral in Kashmir, which is also reported to have an early date of second millennium BC. These remains are found above those of Neolithic period. Iron Metallurgy A well-developed tradition of pyrotechnology including copper smelting existed in India from the Harappan times which may have led to accidental discovery of iron from iron-rich copper ore. Further, easy availability of iron ore in almost all parts of the country may have spurred its use.

It may be pointed out that iron has been recovered from a few Bronze Age sites in South Asia, including at Mundigak in Period IV, iron nodules at Said Qala Tepe (100 kms SE of Mundigak) and 12 kms west at Deh Morasi Ghundai. Besides two iron arrowheads from Ahar can be dated to 1275±110 B.C., even though chances of mixing have been pointed by Sankalia and others. Further use of chalcopyrite as copper ore at Ahar could have led to accidental production of iron from pyrite.

Besides a single iron artifact from Chanhudaro in a questionable context, presence of lollingite (an iron and arsenic bearing mineral) at Mohenjodaro, a metal which is 66.10% iron and 9.30% copper from Lothal, a single piece from Period V in Katelai, Swat Valley along with mostly copper objects dated to 1500-800 B.C. are noteworthy. Chattopadhyay has also referred to iron artifacts from the late Chalcolithic levels at Pandurajar Dhibi and Mangalkot in West Bengal, and has proposed the term "Ferro Chalcolithic" for this period. These sites suggest an awareness of iron ores, of their hardness, and the possibility of encountering iron during copper smelting (Possehl 1999).

Ironworking tradition varied from region to region. Metallurgical analysis showed that iron objects made were often of a very high quality. An axe at Mahurjhari contained 99.1% Fe and 0.9% C, with a trace of chromium and was qualified as steel, similarly a spear from Khapa was also graded as steel. Metallurgical and metallographic analysis of iron artifacts from Tadakanhalli also showed quenching, forging of carburized wrought iron. Besides there is evidence of lamination technique at various sites- alternating layers of carburized and uncarburized iron. This shows the skill of blacksmiths who could exploit the different properties of iron. Though we can infer about technology from iron artifacts, very little direct evidence of production has been uncovered. A circular furnace from Naikund, some distance from the habitation site discovered through resistivity survey, made up of interlocking clay bricks and paved with bricks, had a taphole for slags. Two vitrified tuyeres, 40 kgs of slag, few pieces of iron and manganese ores recovered showed exploitation of local manganeferrous belt.

At Atranjikhera also a furnace and a fire pit with a pair of tongs were revealed from upper phase of Period II associated with PGW. From Lohsanwa mound in Chandauli district also a circular clay furnace, with iron slag, tuyeres was found. Reconstruction of iron smelting furnace. Damaged circular clay furnace.


In the beginning, the origins of ironworking in India were dated to c. 700-600 BC. Later C14 dating at a number of sites pushed back its antiquity to around 1000 BC. C14 dating of the iron bearing deposits at Ataranjikhera in Uttar Pradesh and Hallur in Karnataka, and stratigraphic position of iron in the lower levels mainly at Kausambi near Allahabad, Jakhera in district Etah in the Ganga Valley, and Nagda and Eran in central India have produced early dates of 1300 BC at these sites. On this basis it can be said that iron made a definite appearance between 1000 and 800 ac in most zones of Iron Age in India.

Recently early dates have been obtained for various sites in Ganga valley, Jhusi in Allahabad, has been dated to 1107-844 cal BC; pre-NBPW Period II at Raja Nal-ka- Tila dates to between 1400 and 800 cal BC; Malhar with two 14C dates of 1800 cal. BC; Dadupur has given three 14C dates between eighteenth and sixteenth centuries BC. These early dates suggest an earlier introduction of iron at 1800-1500 cal BC.

At Noh, iron has been found in Pre-PGW, Black-and-Red Ware phase, dated to 1200-1100 BC. Tripathi suggests that sponge iron could have been found during copper smelting in this copper rich area. Further, presence of Chalcolithic iron at few sites like Ahar, mentioned earlier also suggests an earlier beginning of iron smelting and large-scale iron smelting from 1300 BC onwards. Further, analysis of iron objects from materials Komaranhalli dated to c. 1000 BC shows that the ironsmiths had great technical skill implying a much earlier introduction of iron technology.

However, the emergence of iron has not been uniform in various regions of India. It now appears that iron made an earlier beginning at sites like Gufkral in Pulwama district of Kashmir (Megalithic), Noh in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan (pre-PGW phase of BRW), Ahar in Rajasthan and Ganga valley and Vindhyas in Uttar Pradesh at around 1300 BC.

Recent studies suggest an even earlier appearance of iron technology in India. Earliest dates for iron in Indian subcontinent are contemporary with earliest dates in other parts of the world.


There are contrary opinions with regard to the origins of ironworking in India. Some scholars suggest diffusion and migration from the west, of nomadic Indo-Aryans from the steppes of Soviet Central Asia and Iran. This was based on assumption of quite late development of ironworking developed in India.

However, many scholars including Chakrabarti (1976:122) have challenged the theory of diffusion of iron technology from the West and he states: “that India was a separate and possibly independent centre of manufacture of early iron.” Such a challenge is based largely on high antiquity of iron in India, some evidence for Bronze Age iron at few sites and evidence for cultural continuity. Continuity has been noted from Harappan to PGW and indeed overlap between the two and the end of a Dark Age in Indian History and also from Neolithic to Megalithic in South India. Therefore, there is increasing support for indigenous origins of ironworking in India.

Chakrabarti used radiocarbon dates, the tradition of pyrotechnology in the subcontinent, and the varied character of the Iron Age to argue for indigenous development within the subcontinent. However, on the basis of different character of Iron Age in different zones, for example, the PGW, Vidarbha Megalithic and South Indian Megalithic many scholars have opined that perhaps iron arose independently in more than one centre. Further iron seems to have been in use in different parts of the country by 1000 BC, which also suggests an independent development rather than a rapid diffusion.


Krishna Deva and Wheeler were the first to define Painted Grey Ware (PGW) from Ahichchhatra in 1946. But it was Lal’s excavation at Hastinapur which highlighted its importance. Since then a number of sites have been discovered, of which more than 30 have been excavated.

Painted Grey Ware or Grey Ware is the first culture which is associated with iron objects in large scale. Besides, furnaces and slags suggest iron smelting.


PGW sites are distributed over a wide area from Bahawalpur in Pakistan and north Rajasthan to Uttar Pradesh in the east and up to Ujjain in the south. They have also been reported near Islamabad. They are mostly concentrated in the Indo-Gangetic divide, Sutlej basin and upper Ganga-Yamuna doab. Important sites of this period include Hulas in Saharanpur district, Jakhera, Mathura, Atranjikhera in Etah district, Ahichhatra (capital of eastern Panchalas) in Bareilly district, Kampil (ancient Kampilya, capital of western Panchalas) and Kannauj in Farrukhabad district, Hastinapura (capital of Kauravas of Mahabharata) and Alamgirpur in Meerut district, Jajmau in Kanpur district of Uttar Pradesh; Bairat (capital of king Virata of Mahabharata) in Jaipur district, Noh in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan, Panipat and Varnava (ancient Varnavat) in Panipat district, Bhagwanpura in Haryana and Rupar in Ambala district of Punjab, Purana Qila (identified with Indraprastha of Mahabharata) in Delhi.

Occurrences have been noted from Lakhyopir in Sindh, Pakistan; Gondi and Chosla in Bundi district and Gilund in Rajsamand district in Rajasthan; Kausambi in Allahabad district and Sravasti in Bahraich district Uttar Pradesh; Vaisali in Vaisali district, Bihar and Ujjain in Ujjain district of Madhya Pradesh.


Ceramic PGW is a standardized wheel thrown ware made out of well levigated clay on a fast wheel. It has a thin core and a smooth grey to ash-grey surface produced by firing at 600°C under reducing conditions. A thin slip is applied in black or deep chocolate color on both outer and inner surface. Most common shapes are shallow tray and deep bowls with straight sides and dishes with curved sides and sagger (curved) base. It is painted in black with limited range of motifs, geometric motifs like rows of dots, concentric circles, spiral chains, vertical, oblique or crisscross lines, dashes, loops, sigmas and swastikas.

Naturalistic patterns like lotuses, leaves, bunches of flowers and the sun are also found. Other ceramics associated with PGW include Black- and- Red Ware without paintings, Black Slipped Ware, Plain Grey Ware and Coarse Red Ware.

Other Objects

Variety of objects made of copper, iron, glass and bone were found in excavations. These include iron leaf-shaped and barbed arrowheads, in one case with a socketed tang, axes and spearheads, iron sickle and hoe from Jakhera among agricultural implements and iron tongs in late levels of Atranjikhera. Iron objects are found at all sites except Hastinapura. Few copper objects include small leaf-shaped arrowhead with solid tang from Hastinapura, pins and unguent rods. Bone points are also found.

Besides beads of terracotta, agate, jasper, carnelian, chalcedony, lapis lazuli, glass and bone; two glass bangles from Hastinapura; copper bangles from Jakhera; and terracotta animal (bull and horse) and human figurines have also been found.

Metallurgy Though iron was also found from the Ahar culture levels at Noh, it was in PGW period that iron technology received its boost and it became dominant. Furnaces and slags have been recovered from Atranjikhera, Hulas and Jakhera suggesting iron smelting at the sites.

Structures It is characterized by mud houses made of wattle and daub, evidenced from patches of burnt earth, mud bricks, pieces of mud plaster with reed and bamboo impressions from Ahichhatra, Hastinapura, Atranjikhera and Jakhera. Only at Bhagwanpura in the late phase, baked brick structure was unearthed along with a 13 room complex, corridor between rooms and courtyard.

Subsistence Economy Hastinapura has yielded remains of rice while Atranjikhera has yielded wheat and barley. Among animal remains, bones of both wild and domesticated varieties have been found including those of horse, cattle, pig, goat and deer from Hastinapura, Allahpura and Atranjikhera. First definite evidence of domesticated horse comes from this culture. This shows a simple and modest economy with evidence of cultivation of rice, wheat and barley with no coinage or script. There is a trend towards increase in size and technology at sites like Jakhera and Atranjikhera as demonstrated from the occurrence of glass and other metal.

Most sites range in size from 1-2 ha, Satwadi in Cholistan being the largest at 13.7 ha. Bhukari in Ambala district of Haryana is also a large settlement with 96,193 sq.m.

Trade and Exchange

Presence of beads of semi-precious stones like agate, jasper, carnelian, chalcedony, lapis lazuli at sites in the doab which is devoid of these raw materials indicate long distance trade. Painted Grey Ware ceramics Painted black‐and‐red ware Chronology It is preceded by the Harappan and Late Harappan in Cholistan and northern India. Joshi’s excavation at Bhagwanpura and Dadheri have shown that it overlaps with Late Harappan and is preceded by it suggesting cultural continuity between the two periods, closing the gap that existed earlier. On the basis of C14 dates it is estimated to fall between 900-500 cal. B.C. However dates from Atranjikhera (1025±110 BC), TL dates from Hulas and Alamgirpur push the antiquity further.


Since many of the PGW sites are mentioned in the Mahabharata, there is a view that PGW culture represents the second wave of Aryan migrations and they were the same as Mahabharata people. It may be pointed that parallels have been drawn between PGW ceramics and those of northwestern India in shapes and sizes, particularly, the grey ware found in association with iron.


Excavations at Atranjikhera in Etah district of Uttar Pradesh revealed a distinct stratigraphic horizon with Black-and-Red Ware along with the first appearance of iron above OCP and below PGW phase lending it the name of a distinct culture known as ‘Black-and-Red Ware Culture’. It may be noted that Black-and-Red Ware has been found in many contexts ranging from Harappan in Gujarat to Megalithic of south India but at these sites it was found in a unique characteristic context.


Similar finds in a similar stratigraphic context were made from Noh and Jodhpura in Bharatpur district of Rajasthan. However, at Ahichhatra, Hastinapur and Alamgirpur BRW is found in association with PGW and not below it. BRW is distributed over eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh with local and regional variations. BRW is also seen with variations in eastern Uttar Pradesh at the important sites of Rajghat, Vaisali, Chirand, Sonepur, Narhan, Khairadih, Senuwar and also in Madhya Pradesh with some variants from Eran, Nagda, Bahal, Ujjain and Kayatha.

At this point it is important to note that Black and Red Ware with some variation from region to region has a wide distribution. It occurs from Rupar in the north to Adichanallur in the south and from Arnra and Lakhabhwal in the west to Pandu-Rajar-Dhibi in the east. It also covers a vast time span: from 2400 B.C. to the early centuries of the Christian era.

Ceramic Characteristics

The characteristic Black-and-Red Ware is usually a wheel thrown ware made of fine clay, it is well baked with a fine fabric and thin walls. It has a characteristic blackish core and rim and a red exterior surface resulting from inverted firing, giving it the name ‘Black-and-Red Ware’).

BRW from Ganga doab is however not painted unlike black-and-red ceramics from Harappan sites and also from other sites in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal. The usual shapes represented are bowls and dishes. It is often found in association with Black-Slipped Ware and Red Ware.

Other Artifacts Other artifacts found at BRW sites include copper beads and ring, comb fragment made of bone, stone chips, blades, waste flakes and cores of quartz, chalcedony and agate along with beads of semi-precious stones like carnelian, terracotta and shell, besides a few burnt bricks and iron.

Chronology Most scholars place this culture to 800-700 BC. But TL dating of ceramics from Atranjikhera places this culture at ca. 1450–1200 B.C. A similar age of 1200/1100 BC has also been argued for the BRW iron bearing strata at Eran which has recently been justified by fresh excavations also suggesting a stratigraphic break between the Chalcolithic and iron bearing strata. At Noh also the Pre- PGW, BRW phase with iron shaft-hole tools can be dated to c. 1100-900 BC.


Most information about Iron Age in south India comes from Megalithic sepulchral burials known as pandukals locally. Megaliths were first discovered in India by Babington (1823) from Bangala Motta Paramba in northern Kerala. Megaliths in India generally belong to the Iron Age, even though an antecedent stage of Pre-Iron Age megalithism is also found. Megalithic burials have been found in large numbers from Vidarbha region in Maharashtra, and the southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Survivals of Megalithic tradition are found even in modern times in pockets of central, southern and northeastern India.

The term 'Megalith' is derived from the Greek words Megas meaning 'huge' and Lithos meaning 'stone'. Earlier, the term 'Megalith' was used to refer to only large stone monuments. However, nowadays, in India, the term is applied to all burial and habitation sites yielding 'Blackand- Red' pottery in southern India, irrespective of their association with 'Megaliths' in Iron Age or Early Historic context.

Distribution According to Moorti (1989, 1994), there are about 2,000 megalithic sites in south India alone. Most excavated sites are burial sites, very few habitation sites have been excavated with the exception of Maski, Takalghat Khapa, Naikund, and Paiyampalli. Early Iron Age and Early Historic megalithic sites have been found from Vidarbha region (in and around Nagpur) of Maharashtra, important being Takalghat and Khapa, Mahurjhari and Naikund; and also from various parts of southern India, important being Brahmagiri and Chandravalli and Jadigenhalli in Karnataka; Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh; Adichanallur, Amirthamangalam and Sanur in Tamil Nadu; and Porkalam in Kerala. Sanganakallu, Maski, Hallur, Paiyampalli, and Tadakanhalli.

Megaliths have also been reported from Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in North India, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa in the east and also from the north-east. But they are more frequent in south, with greatest concentration in Maharashtra and Andhra-Karnataka. Junapani in Vidarbha has more than 300 stone circles while Maski in Karnataka also has a large number of menhirs. In modern times, living Megalithic tradition is found among the Nagas and the Khasis in north-eastern India; the Bondos of central India and among the Kurubas and the Malarayans in south India.

Important Megalithic Sites in Maharashtra and South India Nature It may be pointed that Megaliths in India are not culturally or chronologically homogenous. They vary in their form, nature and function. They are either mostly sepulchral or memorial in character. Most Megalithic graves contain primary and secondary inhumations along with funerary offerings. Further, though most Megalithic sites have large stone structures as markers yet some sites defined as Megalithic do not have any such large stone structures, for example, Adichanallur with urn burials in pits has no large stone structures and yet it is included within the megalithic tradition on the basis of chronology and associated material culture.


In India, Megaliths and associated sites range in age from Early Iron Age to modern times. With regard to the Megalithic phenomenon associated with Iron Age in central and southern India, Krishna and Wheeler on the basis of stratigraphy and comparative typology from the results of excavations at Brahmagiri and Chandravalli placed the Megaliths tentatively between 200 BC to first century AD, between the southern Neolithic and early historic periods.

However, radiometric dates have pushed back the antiquity of megaliths considerably. But most of the dates are from habitation sites and only a few from the burials such as at Naikund and Kodumanal. The earliest date for Iron Age megaliths in the region come from Hallur in Karnataka which is dated by 14C method to c. 1100 BC or Neolithic/Megalithic transition period. This date is supported by TL dates from Komaranahalli and Tadakanahalli also dates to 1200 BC. Therefore now the megaliths can be said to range broadly from late second millennium BC to the early centuries of the Christian era.

The megalithic tradition started earlier in northern Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while in Tamil Nadu and Kerala they date slightly later to the second quarter of the first millennium BC and continued to exist even during the fourth and fifth centuries AD. The Vidarbha megaliths have earliest dates of no earlier than seventh century BC, making them slightly later than southern megaliths.

The Megaliths of the Vindhyan region have been grouped into two categories, viz., Pre-Iron Age Megaliths and proper Iron Age Megaliths. The former are dated from 1500 BC to 1000 BC, while the latter, from 800 BC to third century BC. In northern India, the Megaliths at Gufkral, Kashmir, are dated to the mid-second millennium BC. The two radiocarbon dates available for the Megalithic period at this site are 1888-1674 cal. BC and 1885-1671 cal. BC.

In north-eastern India, no systematic attempt has been made to evaluate the chronology of the Megaliths. Probably, they belong to the period of Eastern Neolithic and continue up to the modern times. Mention in the Tamil Sangam literature and finds of Roman coins from some graves suggests that Megaliths continued into the historical period and the people participated in long distance trade networks. Megaliths are therefore not chronologically confined to the Iron Age, as they continue into the first century AD in the south. Yet, in the archaeological literature Megaliths have become synonymous with Iron Age.

The internal chronology of the southern Megaliths has been a problem. Mclntosh combining the radiocarbon dates and typological analysis of the artifacts (initially carried out by Leshnik) has worked out the internal chronology of the south Indian Megaliths and dated them from 1100 to 100 BC. She has identified four periods that can be divided into two phases on the basis of site distribution, funerary rites and grave morphology. She notes that early Megaliths are contemporary to Neolithic in south India thus indicating continuity rather than intrusion. During the next period, the Megalithic tradition spread into Vidarbha and we also see the appearance of horse remains and horse furniture. The final periods of Megalith building are associated with innovations in the style of the graves and the introduction of funerary containers such as urns and sarcophagi.

Type Various methods have been used for disposing the dead, with Megaliths varying in their internal and external architecture as well as artifact content mainly influenced by local geology and/or cultural choice. They have been classified variously by different scholars resulting in varied typologies. Krishnaswamy (1949) proposed a first systematic classification.

Wheeler classified megaliths into eight types:

  1. Dolmenoid cists
  2. Slabbed cists
  3. Shallow-pit burials
  4. Deep-pit burials
  5. Umbrella-stones and hat-stones
  6. Hood-stones
  7. Multiple hood-stones
  8. Menhirs.

Moorti (1994) on the other hand classified them into only two broad groups:

  1. Sepulchral (pit, chamber, legged and unlegged burials)
  2. Non-sepulchral (commemorative or memorial in nature).

However all classification schemas suffer from problems because of the complexity, diverse forms and distinctiveness of megaliths in each region. The dead were buried either in urns pits, sarcophagus, stone chambers or rock-cut chambers. These burial places were often, though not always marked by large stone structures made by quarrying and dressing large rockslabs and boulders into features like Dolmens, Menhirs, Stone-Circle, Cairn-Heap, Cairn-Circle, Dolmenoid Cists, Port-Hole Cists, Kodakkal, Topikkal or Rock Cut Caves (only found in Kerala). At a few sites they are marked by carved monoliths known as 'anthropomorphic figures'.

In Andhra-Karnataka, the dominant types are stone cists, in Vidarbha they are stone circles; in Kerala, Rock Cut Chambers and Topikal, while in Karnataka passage graves are more frequent. Though mostly they contained large amounts of grave offerings, sometimes they are just symbolic without any artifactual remains.

Material Culture

Funerary offerings also vary from region to region comprising mainly of various types of iron implements, weapons and domestic objects in abundance, besides pottery, bronze vessels, gold ornaments and beads of semi-precious stone. In Vidarbha, we find the unique practice of horse sacrifice evidenced from cut marks on bones and burial along with its master which also includes horse furniture - bronze ornaments, bridle, stirrups, etc. In later periods, Roman coins are also found.


Peninsular Megaliths are associated with a Black-and-Red Ware which has a medium to thick fabric, blackishgrey core and glossy surface, though in Vidarbha it is more micaceous and less glossy. However it is different from the BRW culture. Besides Painted Black-on-Red Ware is also frequent, Black Burnished Ware, Tan Slipped Ware, Matt Red Ware, Coarse Red Ware and Micaceous Red Ware is also found. The characteristic types are shallow tray bowls and deep bowls with a rounded base, conical lids with knobs or loops on the apex, pottery ring stands and large water pots with rounded bases, etc.


Iron objects are associated with most Megalithic sites throughout Deccan. Among iron objects war weapons predominate. Iron objects include flat iron axes, flanged spade, hoe, pick axe, sickles, bill-hooks, wedges, cowbars, spears, knives, chisels or adzes, iron tripods, pot rests, saucers, hook-lamps, daggers, swords (often with ornamental bronze hilts), arrowheads, spearheads, iron tridents etc. Besides, horse furniture comprising snaffle bits, simple bar-bits with looped ends, bar-bit with looped nose-and-mouthpiece, etc. Other metal objects included bells of copper or bronze (horse or cattle bells).

The evidence of a furnace at Naikund with tuyeres and slag flowing out from the hole helped in reconstruction of the metal technology.


Some Megalithic Burial types of South India Subsistence Economy Very few habitation sites have been excavated, making it difficult to understand the socio-economic life. Remains of sheep, goat, cattle and also millets and pulses suggest an economy based on agriculture as well as animal breeding. It has been surmised that these groups were nomadic pastoralists with a greater reliance on sheep/goat herding on the basis of thin occupation debris and few and far between habitation sites.

Human Skeletal Remains

Human skeletal remains show great phenotypic variability and Kennedy opines that it does not even show any sign of catastrophic and sudden population replacements or invasion of people in peninsular India during the Iron Age.

Settlement and Landscape Studies Though in the early days of research on Megaliths, settlement pattern studies were neglected, recently quite a few scholars have attempted to place them in a landscape perspective. Johansen in his studies suggested presence of socially distinct residential groupings, as he found marked differences in elevation and separation of terrace spaces of residential places at Bukkasagara, Rampuram and Kadebakele. He also inferred occupational distinctions like those of iron/steel metallurgy, animal husbandry, and mortuary preparation, based on feature distribution pattern, ceramic and other artifact attributes.

The presence of social differences based on residential and occupational statuses however does not necessarily indicate firmly established, rigidly defined social ranking. The earliest evidence of writing in south India comes from the Sangam literature in Tamil language the beginning of which is dated to the third century B.C. that is in the later part of the Megalithic period.


Earlier, the Megalithic monuments in India were explained through migration and diffusion from southwest Asia and beyond. It has been pointed out that these Megalithic burials are in many ways similar to those of Central Asia, Iran or the Caucasus, and may therefore have been brought by Indo-European speaking immigrants from these areas. Some features such as items like the bowl on stand show similarity with the northwest India and Iran. Horse implements and burials and paintings of horse riders at Maski and Piklihal suggest that since wild horse is not found in India, it might have come from Central Asia. Migration theories were also sometimes explained through linguistic and anthropometric data. Some scholars have even sought cultural affinities as far as Oman and Thailand. Some scholars have also shown that some of these Megaliths were perhaps indigenous development from the local Neolithic-Chalcolithic burial customs of the Deccan as some traits show continuity with those of earlier agropastoral communities.

However analysis of human skeletal data showing phenotypic variability suggests they were not associated with a single cultural group and perhaps complex developed through several streams of influences combining.

We may summarize by concurring with Possehl and Gullapalli (1999) that the iron tools (of the Iron Age) did not clear the forest of the great South Asian river valleys for farming. Nor did they lead to the subjugation of indigenous populations by invading warriors. However, because it was readily available, it became a ‘metal of the masses’ (Possehl and Gullapalli 1999). Indeed it led to major changes in the socio-economic and political spheres with expansion of trade networks, hierarchical polities, segmented societies and higher demographic density with bigger settlements and a slow growth of a political system from kinship to kingship.

Chakrabarti however doubts the existence of a pan- Indian Iron Age, as in many cases such as that of Pirak, Malwa what is thought of as Iron Age material does not how a new cultural pattern, and it exhibits continuity with the past. He asserts that even in Gangetic valley, the culture change comes with NBPW and not with PGW. This brings into question the much debated issue of the definition of Iron Age. It may be pointed out here that opinions vary with many scholars favoring a definition based on socio-cultural change, while others propose technological competence, or dominance of the use of iron implements.

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