Prehistoric Cultures in India – Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Iron Age

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The term Prehistoric refers to a time frame before we began to write. Because of this, there is no written proof of its existence. The prehistoric cultures in India is studied through existing artworks, pottery, tools, and other physical things found at archaeological sites.

There are three ages in total namely – Stone Age, Bronze/Copper Age, and Iron Age. The Stone age was 2.6 million ago and lasted till 3300BC. The Bronze and Iron Age eventually followed.

These stages were almost 8000 years long in total. They have their own characteristics and tools making them different from each other.


Period / AgeTimeline
The Stone Age30.000 BCE – 3000 BCE
The Copper Age3000 BCE – 1050 BCE
The Iron Age 1050 BCE – 500 CE

Prehistoric Cultures in India

Prehistoric Cultures in India

Prehistoric cultures in India has five parts – Paleolithic Period, Mesolithic Period, Neolithic Period, Chalcolithic Period, and Iron Age. The first three are part of the stone while Chalcolithic is another name for the Bronze Age.

These periods are the first part of Ancient Indian History. Let’s take a look at the distinctive features of each of this division to understand Indian History better.

Prehistoric Cultures in IndiaTimeline 
Paleolithic Age2 million BC – 10.000 BC
Mesolithic Age10,000 BC – 8000 BC
Neolithic Age8000 BC – 4000 BC
Chalcolithic Age4000 BC – 1500 BC
Iron Age1500 BC – 600 BC 

Paleolithic Period – 2 million BC – 10,000 BC

This was the earliest period of human evolution in India. The man was a hunter at this age. They were dependent on hunting to fill their stomachs. They used sharp tools to hunt and for other activities as well. Agriculture was not a part of this age.

A man was a hunter and a food gatherer in this period. The archaeologists suggest that humans lived in caves, ate roots and fruits, and hunted. It is part of the stone age and is further divided into three parts – the Lower Paleolithic Period, the Middle Paleolithic Period, and the Upper Paleolithic Period.

Lower Paleolithic Period – up to 100,000 BC

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Bori in Maharashtra is the earliest lower paleolithic site in India. Their habitat was mainly caves and rock shelters. Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh is a prominent example of their habitat. It became a world heritage site in 2003.

Another important feature is that they lived near water bodies as the stone was accessible there. Most of their hunting tools like axes made of Limestone and used for skinning, digging, and cutting of animals.

Some of the important Lower Paleolithic Sites in India are – Belan Valley of Mirzapur, Didwana in Rajasthan, Narmada Valley, and Soan Valley.

Middle Paleolithic Period – 100,000 BC – 40,000 BC

Most of the features of this age are similar to the lower paleolithic period. The evidence of using fire was first in this period. The tools for hunting changed from using axes to using flakes. They were more pointed and sharp in appearance.

They were also lighter, thinner, and smaller in size. Some of the important and earliest Middle Paleolithic sites are – Narmada River Valley, Tungabhadra River Valley, and Luni Valley.

Upper Paleolithic Period – 40,000 BC – 10,000 BC

This period saw the emergence of Homeo Sapiens. The culture of this period is called the Osteodontokeratic culture which had tools made up of bones, teeth, and horns. This also included fishing tools rather than just hunting tools.

This period was very short, some say it was 1/10 of the total Paleolithic Period. The paintings in Bhimbetka Rock shelters are from this period. Some of the important and earliest sites of the Upper Paleolithic Period are – Belan. Son, Chota Nagpur plateau, Maharashtra, and Orissa.

Mesolithic Period – 10,000 BC – 8000 BC

This period is also a part of the stone age. Though the hunting and food gathering continued in this period, the domestication of animals was seen for the first time. Major climate took place during this period, the weather became more warm and humid.

The rainfall increased and varieties of flora and fauna grew in this period. Cattles and dogs were kept as pet animals mainly the tools were very small during this time thus called microliths.

Backed blade, core, point, triangle, lunate, and trapeze were some of the microliths of this period. Painting in many of the rock shelters is from this period. Adamgarh, Madhya Pradesh has the earliest evidence of animal domestication.

Langhnaj in Gujarat and Moharana Pahara in Uttar Pradesh have the earliest evidence of burial of the dead. The first human colonization of the Ganga plains is from the Mesolithic period too.

Some of the important and earliest sites of the Mesolithic period are – Brahmagiri, Narmada, Vindhya, Gujarat, and UP.

Neolithic Period – 8000 BC – 4000 BC

This is the last period of the Stone Age. This period was the beginning of Agriculture in India. The lifestyle of humans changed from nomadic to a settled one. These people had common right over the property and made circular houses of mud and reed.

These were the food producers, and ragi, horse gram, cotton, rice, wheat, and barley were some prominent crops of this period.

They were interested in Art and Pottery as well. The tools made of bones and stones were present for farming. This was also the start of using clothes to cover the human body. Intentional disposal of the dead started in this period.

Some of the important and earliest Neolithic Sites in India are – Mehrgarh, Inamgaon, Hullar, Burzahom, Gufkral, Chirand, and Utnur.

Chalcolithic Period – 4000 BC – 1500 BC

It is the first Metal Age of India. It is part of the Bronze and Copper Age. The tools of this period were of low-grade metals. It was mainly famous for farming communities. Hunting was still an occupation in addition to fishing and farming.

Animals including sheep, buffalo, goats, cattle, and pigs served as food to these people. The rice cropping pattern and cotton farming developed in this period. Some of the main crops were barley and wheat, lentil, bajra, jowar, ragi millets, green pea, green and black gram.

The houses were rectangular with mostly one room and were of mud and cow dung. Black and Red pottery were prominent during this time. Humans were buried under the house with their ornaments.

These people were colonizers and settled near hills and rivers mostly. The Harappan culture was part of this period. Some of the important and earliest Chalcolithic Periods are – Brahmagiri Navada Toli, Chirand, Mahishadal, and more in different regions of the country.

Iron Age – 1500 BC to 600 BC

The Painted Grey Ware culture and the Northern Black Polished Ware were the most prominent culture of this period. This period marked the arrival of the Aryans (Vedic Period ). The Janapadas were the realms of this period and gave rise to 16 Mahajanapadas.

These were the 16 kingdoms of ancient India. The smelting of iron to make tools and weapons marks the start of this period. This was the start of civilization and the emergence of states in the country.

Ochre Colour Pottery and worship of statues began in this period. The idea of a white painting called Ahar-Banas is from this period as well. The idea of using ceramic to make pots began here only. The religion division like Jainism and Buddhism comes from the Iron Age as well.

The first civilization on the banks of the river Ganga after the Indus Valley was by Mahajanapadas. This period ended with the rise of the Mauryan Empire. Some of the important Iron Age sites in India are – Malhar, Dadupur, Raja Nala Ka Tila, Lahuradewa, Kosambi and Jhusi, Allahabad.


This article covered everything about the prehistoric ages and cultures in India. As mentioned above – there were five periods mainly which were distinct from one another in many ways. The three basic age divisions are further divided into India into five.

But they all are important to study with an eye for detail. The UPSC Mains always asks subjective questions thus candidates must be familiar with the topic thoroughly.

This article will guide you ages wise with details like – timeline, cultures, lifestyle, and more. The History and Anthropology paper has this topic as part of their syllabus. If you are planning to opt for one of these as your UPSC Optional Subject, then you must give this article a read.

It is completely based on facts and is easy to understand. It should not take a lot of time to read and remember the basics.

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2 Responses

  1. Qazi Tayyaba says:

    Thanx I m preparing for upsssb its helpful for me thanx a lot good knowledge u provided

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