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Chapter 06. Chalcolithic Farming cultures (Old NCERT History Ancient India)

6. Chalcolithic Farming cultures

Chalcolithic Settlements

The end of the neolithic period saw theme of metals. The metal to be used first was copper and several cultures were based on the use of stone and copper implements. Such a culture is called chalcolithic which means the stone-copper phase. Technologically, chalcolithic stage applied to the pre Harappans. But in Various parts of the country the chalcolithic cultures appear after the end of the bronze Harappa culture. Here we consider mainly such cultures which appear in the later part of the mature Harappa culture or after its end; The chalcolithic people mostly used stone and copper objects, but they also occasionally used low-grade bronze. They were primarily rural communities spread over a wide area in those parts of the country where hilly; land and rivers were available. On, the other hand, the Harappans used bronze and had attained urbanisation on the basis of the produce from the flood plains in the Indus valley. In India, settlements belonging to the chalcolithic phase are found in south-eastern Rajasthan, western part of Madhya Pradesh, western Maharashtra and in southern and eastern India. In southeastern Rajasthan, two sites, one at Ahar and the other at Gilund, have been excavated. They lie in the dry zones of the Banas valley. In western Madhya Pradesh, Malwa, Kayatha and Bran have been exposed. The Malwa Ware typical of the Malwa chalcolithic culture of central and western India is considered the richest among the chalcolithic ceramics. Some of its pottery and other cultural elements are also, found in Maharashtra.
But the most extensive excavations have taken place in western Maharashtra. Several chalcolithic sites, such as Jorwe, Nevasa, Dalmabad in Ahmadanagar District, Chandoli, Songaon and Inamgaon in Pune district, Prakash and Nasik have been excavated. They all belong to the Jorwe culture named after Jorwe, type-site situated on the left bank of the Pravara river, a tributary of the Godavari, in Ahmadnagar district. The Jorwe culture owed much to the Malwa culture but it also contained elements of the south neolithic culture.
The Jorwe culture B.C. 1400 to 700 B.C. covered modern Maharashtra except parts of Vidarbha and the coastal region of Konkam Although the Jorwe culture was rural, some of its settlements such as Daimabad and Inamgaon had almost reached the urban stage. All these Maharashtra sites were located in semi-arid areas mostly on brown-black soil which had ber and babul vegetation but fell in the riverine tracts. In addition to these, we have Navdatoli situated on the Narmada. Most chalcolithic ingredients intruded into the neolithic sites in south India.
Several chalcolithic sites have been found in the Vindhyan region of Allahabad district. In eastern India, besides Chirand on the Ganga, men tion may be made of Pandu Rajar Dhibi in Burdwan district and Mahishdal in Birbhum district in West Bengal. Some more sites have been excavated. Notable among these are Senuar, Sonpur and Taradih in Bihar and Khairadih and Narhan in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The people belonging to this culture used tiny tools and weapons made of stone in which, the stone blades and bladelets occupied an important position. In many places, particularly in south India, the stone-blade industry flourished and stone axes continued to be used. It is obvious that such areas were not situated far from the hills. In certain settlements copper objects are found in good numbers. This seems to be the case with Ahar and Gilund, which lay more or less in the dry zones of the Banas river valley in Rajasthan. Unlike the other contemporary chalcolithic farming cultures, Ahar practically did not use microlithic tools; stone axes or blades are almost absent here. Its objects include several flat axes, bangles, several sheets, all made-of copper, although a bronze sheet also occurs. Copper was locally available. The people of Ahar practised smelting and metallurgy from the very beginning. The old namesof Ahar is Tambavati or a place possessing copper. The Ahar culture is placed between B.C. 2100 and 1500 B.C. and Gilund is considered a regional centre of the Ahar culture. In Gilund only fragments of copper appear. Here, we find a stone-blade industry. Flat, rectangular copper axes are found in Jorwe and Chandoli in Maharashtra and copper chisels appear at Chandoli.
The people of the chalcolithic1 phase used different types of pottery, one of which is called black-and-red and seems to have been widely prevalent from nearly 2000 B.C. onwards. It was thrown on wheel and occasionally painted with white linear designs. This is true not only of settlements in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra but also of habitations found in Bihar and West Bengal. People living in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar produced channel spotted pots, dishes-on-stand and bowls-on-stand. It would be wrong to think that all the people who used black-and-red pottery possessed the same culture. Black-and-Red-ware pottery from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan was painted, but such painted pots were very few in eastern India.
The people living in the chalcolithic age in south-eastern Rajasthan, western Madhya Pradesh, western Maharashtra and elsewhere domesticated animals and practised agriculture. They kept cows, sheep, goats, pigs and buffaloes and hunted deer. Remains of the camel have also been found. But generally they were not acquainted with the horse. Some animal remains are identified as belonging either to the horse or donkey or wild ass. People certainly ate beef, but they did not take pork on any considerable scale. What is remarkable is that these people produced wheat and rice. In addition to these staple crops, they also cultivated bajra. They produced several pulses such as the lentil (mosur), black gram, green gram and grass pea. Almost all these foodgrains have been found at Navdatoli situated on the bank of the Narmada in Maharashtra. Perhaps at no other place in India so many cereals have been discovered as a result of digging. The people of Navdatoli also produced her and linseed. Cotton was produced in the black cotton soil of the Deccan and ragi, bajra and several millets were cultivated in the lower Deccan. In eastern India, fish hooks have been found in Bihar and West Bengal, where we also find rice. This suggests that the chalcolithic people in the eastern regions lived on fish and rice, which is still a popular diet in that part of the county. Most settlements in the Banas valley in Rajasthan are small but Ahar and Gilund spread over an area of nearly four hectares.
The chalcolithic people were generally rtot acquainted with burnt bricks, which were seldom used, as in Gilund arounid 1500 B.C their houses were made of mud bricks, but mostly these were constructed with wattle and daub and seem to have been thatched houses. However, the people in Ahar lived in stone-built houses. Of the 200 Jorwe sites discovered so far, the largest is Daimabad in the Godavari valley. It is about 20 hectares in extent which could contain around 4000 people. It also seems to have been fortified with a mud wall having stone, rubble bastions. Daimabad is famous for the recovery of a large number of bronze goods some of which were influenced by the Harappan culture.
At Inamgaon, in the earlier chalcolithic phase in western Maharashtra, large mud houses with ovens and circular pit houses have been discovered. In the later phase (1300-1000 B.C. Jorwe have a house with five rooms, four rectangular and one circular. This was located in the centre of the settlements and may have been the house of a chief. The granary lying close to it may have been used for storing tributes in kind. Inamgaon was a large chalcolithic settlement. It shows more than one hundred houses and numerous burials. This settlement was also fortified and surrounded by a moat.
We know a good deal about the chalcolithic arts and crafts. They were clearly expert coppersmiths and also good workers in stone. We get tools, weapons and bangles of copper. They manufactured beads of semi-precious stones such as carnelian, steatite and quartz crystal. People knew the art of spinning and weaving because spindle Whorls have been discovered in Malwa. Gotten, flax and silk threads made of cotton silk of semal/silk (cotton tree) have been found in Maharashtra. This shows that these people were well acquainted with the manufacture of cloth. In addition to the artisans who practised these crafts at various sites we find potters, smiths, ivory carvers, lime makers and terracotta artisans at Inamgaon.
Regional differences in regard to cereals, structure, pottery, etc., appear in the stone-copper phase. Eastern India produced rice; western India cultivated barley and wheat. Chronologically certain settlements in Malwa and central India such as those in Kayatha and Eran, appeared early; those of western Maharashtra and eastern India were of a much later date. We can form some idea about the burial practices and religious cults of these people. In Maharashtra people buried their dead in urns under the floor of their house in the north-south position. They did not use separate cemeteries for this purpose, as was the case with the Harappans. Pots and some copper objects were deposited in the graves obviously for the use of the dead in the next world.
Terracotta figures of women suggest that the chalcolithic people venerated the mother goddess. Some unbaked nude clay figurines were also used for worship. A figure of the mother goddess similar to that found in western Asia has been found in Inamgaon. In Malwa and Rajasthan stylized bull terracottas show that the bull was the symbol of a religious cult.
Both the settlement pattern and burial practices suggest beginnings of social inequalities in the chalcolithic society. A kind of settlement hierarchy appears in several Jorwe settlements found in Maharashtra. Some of them as large as twenty hectares, but others are only five hectares and even lesser size. This would imply two tier habitations. The difference in the size of settlements suggests that larger settlements dominated the smaller ones. However, in both large and small settlements the chief and his kinsmen who lived in rectangular houses dominated others who lived in round huts. In Inamgaon the craftsmen lived on the western fringes and the chief probably in the centre; this suggests social distance between the inhabitants. In the graves at Chandoli and Nevasa in western Maharashtra, some children were buried with copper based necklaces around their necks; other children had grave goods consisting only of pots. At Inamgaon an adult was buried with pottery and some copper. In one house in Kayatha 29 copper bangles and two unique axes were found. At the same place necklaces of semi-precious stones such as steatite and carnelian beads were found in pots. It is evident that those who possessed these objects were affluent..
Chronologically a special note may be taken of a site at Ganeshwar which is located close to the rich copper mines of the Sikar Jhunjhunu area of the Khetri copper belt in Rajasthan. The copper objects excavated from this area include arrowheads, spearheads, fish hooks, colts, bangles, chisels, etc. Some of their shapes are similar to those discovered at Indus sites; a terracotta cake resembling the Indus type has been also found. It also shows many microliths which are typical of the chalcolithic culture. We also find the OCP (Ochre Coloured Pottery) ware which is a red-slipped Ware often painted in black and mainly represented in vase forms. Since the Ganeshwar deposits are ascribed to 2800-2200 B.C they largely predate the mature Harappan culture. Ganeshwar mainly supplied copper objects to Harappa and did not receive much from it: The Ganeshwar people partly lived on agriculture and largely on hunting. Although their principal craft was the manufacture of copper objects they could not develop urban elements of the Harappan economy, which was based on the produce from the wide flood plains. The Ganeshwar assemblage, therefore, cannot be regarded as a proper OCP Copper Hoard culture. With its microliths and other stone tools much of the Ganeshwar culture can he regarded as a pre-Harappan chalcolithic culture, which contributed to the making of the mature Harappan culture.
Chronologically there are several series of chalcolithic settlements in India. Some are pre-Harappan, others are contemporaries of the Harappan culture and still others are post Harappan. Pre-Harappan strata on some sites in the Harappan zone are also called early Harappan in order to distinguish them from the mature urban. Indus civilization. Thus the pre Harappan phase at Kalibangan in Rajasthan and Banawali in Haryana is distinctly chalcolithic. So is the case with Kot Diji in Sindh in Pakistan. Pre Harappan and post-Harappan chalcolithic cultures and those coexisting with the Harappan are found in northern, western and central India. An example is the Kayatha culture C 2000-1880 B.C., which is a junior contemporary of the Harappa culture. It has some pre-Harappan elements in pottery, but it also shows Harappan influence. Several post Harappan chalcolithic cultures in these areas are influenced by the post urban phase of the Harappan culture.
Several other chalcolithic cultures, though younger in age than the mature Harappan culture, are not connected with the Indus civilization. The Malwa culture (1700-1200 B.G.) found in Navdiatoli, Eran and Nagda is considered to be non-Harappan. So is the case with the Jorwe culture (1400-700 B.C.) which covers the whole of Maharashtra except parts of Vidarbha and Konkan. In the southern and eastern parts of the country, chalcolithic settlements existed independently of the Harappan culture. In south India they are found invariably in continuation of the neolithic settlements. The chalcolithic settlement of the Vindhya region, Bihar and West Bengal are also not related to the Harappan culture.
Evidently various types of pre Harappan chalcolithic cultures promoted the spread of farming communities in Sindh, Baluchistan, Rajasthan, etc. and Created conditions for the rise of the urban civilization of Harappa. Mention may be made of Amri and Kot Diji in Sindh, Kalibangan and even Ganeshwar in Rajasthan. It appears that some chalcolithic farming communities moved to the flood plains of the Indus, learnt bronze technology and succeeded in setting up cities.
Chalcolithic cultures in central and western India disappeared by 1200 B.C. or so; only the Jorwe culture continued until 700 B.C. However, in several parts of the country the chalcolithic black-and-red ware continued into historical times till the second century B.C. But by and large a gap of about four to six centuries appears between the chalcolithic cultures and the early historic cultures in central and western India: In western India and western Madhya Pradesh, the eclipse of the chalcolithic habitations is attributed to a decline in rainfall from about 1200 B.C. onwards. But in West Bengal and in the mid-Ganga zone they continued for long. Probably in western India the chalcolithic people could not continue for long with the digging stick in the black clayey soil area which is difficult to break in the dry season. In the red soil areas, especially in eastern India, however, the chalcolithic phase was immediately followed, without any gap, by the iron phase which gradually transformed the people into full fledged agriculturalists. The same thing happened to the chalcolithic cultures of the mid-Ganga plains. Similarly, at several sites in southern India chalcolithic culture was transformed into megalithic culture using iron.

Importance of the Chalcolithic Phase

Except for the alluvial plains and the thickly forested areas; traces of chalcolithic cultures have been discovered almost all over the country. In the alluvial plains of the mid-Ganga region, several chalcolithic Sites occur, particularly near a lake or a river confluence. In this phase people mostly founded rural settlements on river banks not far removed from hills. As stated earlier, they used microliths and other stone tools supplemented by some use of copper tools. It seems that most of them knew the art of copper smelting. Almost all chalcolithic communities used Wheel turned black-and-red pots. Considering their pre-Bronze phase of development, we find that they were the first to use painted pottery. Their pots were meant for cooking, eating, drinking and storing. They used both lota and thali In south India, the neolithic phase imperceptibly faded into the chalcolithic phase and so these cultures are called neolithic-chalcolithic. In other parts, especially in western Maharashtra and Rajasthan, the chalcolithic people seem toUave been colonisers. Their earliest settlements appear in Malwa and central India, such as those in Kayatha and Eran; those in western Maharashtra appeared later; and those in Bihar and West Bengal emerged much later.
The chalcolithic communities founded the first large villages in peninsular India and cultivated far more cereals than is known in the case of the neolithic communities. In particular they cultivated barley, wheat and lentil in western India and rice in southern and eastern India. Their cereal food was supplemented by non-vegetarian food. In western India we have more of animal food, but fish and rice formed important elements in the diet of eastern India. More remains of structures have been found in western Maharashtra, western Madhya Pradesh and south-eastern Rajasthan. The settlements at Kayatha and Eran in Madhya Pradesh and at Inamgaon in western Maharashtra were fortified. On the other hand, the remains of structures in Chirand and Pandi Rajar Dhibi in eastern India were poor, indicating post-holes and round houses. The burial practices were different. In Maharashtra the dead body was placed in the north-south position, but in south India in the east-west position. Almost complete extended burial obtained in western India, but fractional burial prevailed in eastern India.

Limitations of Chalcolithic Cultures

The chalcolithic people domesticated cattle — sheep goats — which were tethered in the courtyard. Probably the domesticated animals were slaughtered for food and not milked for drink and daisy products. The tribal people such as the Gonds of Bastar think that milk is meant only to feed the young animals and, therefore, they do not milk their cattle. Because of this the chalcolithic people could not make full use of the animals. Further, the chalcolithic people living in the black cotton soil area of central and western India did not practise cultivation on any intensive Or extensive scale. Neither plough nor hoe has been found at chalcolithic sites. Only perforated stone discs were tied as weights to the digging sticks which could be used in the slash-burn or jhum cultivation. It was possible to sow in the ashes with the help of such a digging stick. Intensive and extensive cultivation on the black soil required the use of iron implements which had no place in the chalcolithic culture. The chalcolithic people living in the red soil areas of eastern India also faced the same difficulty.
The general weakness of chalcolithic cultures is evident from the burial of a large number of children in western Maharashtra. In spite of a food-producing economy, the rate of infant mortality was very high. It might be attributed to lack of nutrition, absence of medical knowledge or outbreak of epidemics. At any rate the chalcolithic social and economic pattern did not promote longevity.
The stone-copper culture had an essentially rural background. During its phase the supply of copper was limited and, as a metal, copper had its limitations. By itself a tool made of copper was pliant. People did not know the art of mixing tin with copper-and thus forging the much stronger and useful medal called bronze. Bronze tools facilitated the rise of earliest civilizations in Crete, Egypt and Mesopotamia and also in the Indus valley.
The people of the Stone-Copper Age did not know the art of writing; nor did they live in cities as the people of the Bronze Age did. We notice all these elements of civilization for the first time in the Indus region of the Indian subcontinent. Although most chalcolithic cultures existing in the major part of the country were younger than the Indus valley civilization, they did not derive any substantial benefit from the advanced technological knowledge of the Indus people.

The Copper Hoards and the Ochre-coloured Pottery Phase

More than forty copper hoards consisting of rings, celts, hatchets, swords, harpoons, spearheads and human-like figures have: been found in a wide area ranging from West Bengal and Orissa in the east to Gujarat and Haryana in the west and from Andhra Pradesh in the south to Uttar Pradesh in the north. The largest hoard comes from Gungeria in Madhya Pradesh; it contains 424 copper tools and weapons and 102 thin sheets of silver objects. But nearly half of the copper hoards are concentrated in the Ganga-Yamuna doab; in other areas we encounter stray finds of copper harpoons, antennae swords and anthropomorphic figures. These artefacts served several purposes. They were meant not only for fishing, hunting and fighting but also for artisanal and agricultural use. They presuppose good technological skill and knowledge on the part of the coppersmith and cannot be the handiwork of nomadic people or primitive artisans. In excavations at two places in the western Uttar Pradesh some of these objects have been discovered in association with ochre coloured pots and some mud structures. At one place stray baked-brick fragments are also found. Stone tools have also been found in excavations. All this suggests that the people who used the implements of the copper hoards supplemented by some tools led a settled life and were one of the earliest chalcolithic agriculturalists and artisans to settle in a good portion of the doab. Most ochre-coloured pottery sites are found in the upper.
The term OCP is misleading, because it is essentially a red-slipped ware, which shows many handled vases. The OCP culture shows some Harrapan influence portion of the doab, but stray copper hoards are found in the plateau areas of Bihar and the other regions. Many copper celts have been found in the Khetri zone of Rajasthan.
The period covered by the ochre coloured pottery culture may roughly be placed between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C., on the basis of a series of eight scientific datings. When the ochre coloured pottery settlements disappeared, in doab does not show much habitations until about 1000 B.C. We learn of some habitation by people using black-and-red ware, but their habitation deposits are so thin and antiquities so poor that we cannot form a clear and distinct idea of their cultural equipment. In any case, in the upper portion of the doab, settlement begins with the advent of the ochre coloured pottery people. Jodhpura on the border of Haryana and Rajasthan shows the thickest OCP deposits accounting for 1-1 metre. It seems, however, that at no place did these settlements last for more than a century or so; nor were they considerable in size and spread over a very wide territory. Why and how these settlements came to an end is not clear. A suggestion has been made that inundation followed by water-logging in an extensive area may have rendered the area unfit for human settlements. The present soft texture of the ochre coloured pottery is, according to some scholars, the result of its association with water for a considerable period of time.
The OCP people were junior Contemporaries of the Harappans and the ochre coloured pottery area in which they lived was not far removed from that of the Harappans. We may, therefore, expect some give and take between the OCP people and the bronze using Harappans.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: Chalcolithic, Microlith, Jhum cultivation.
2. In what respects do the chalcolithic cultures mark an advance on the Stone Age cultures? Discuss.
3. Identify the main features of chalcolithic phase in India. Mention the main sites of the chalcolithic cultures in India. Show these sites on an outline map of India.
4. Describe the burial practices and religious beliefs of the chalcolithic people.
5. State the period of the chalcolithic cultures in India.
6. Discuss the main limitations of the chalcolithic cultures.

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