The Pre-historic Indian

One look at the average “Delhiwallah” negotiating traffic is sufficient to give an idea about how pre-historic man lived in India! He followed the law of the jungle where only the fittest survived! But seriously, have you ever wondered who were our ancestors and how did they live in times which are now shrouded in the haze of history?

The first question which comes to our mind is since when has man been living in India? The answer is not simple because early man did not write about his life and the only way to know about him is to find out the surviving remains of any thing that he may have used. Fortunately we now have archaeologists to search for and study such objects. Naturally, these objects have to be very durable to be able to survive for long time for the archaeologists to find them. And what can be more durable than stones? Yes, some pebble tools used by early man have indeed been found in Punjab and in the South. The age of these tools has been estimated by scientific methods  to be about 100,000 years ! Wow, one lakh years- that is a long time indeed! So man lived in India about one lakh years ago. But what about the time when he did not use stone tools? Sadly, since no remains have been found we can only speculate, that, even before he learnt to use stone tools, he must have been living in India for thousands of years. But he may not have even looked like us then. This period is known as the prehistoric period simply because there is no historical record of that time- i.e. in the sense in which history is understood today.

 A thousand questions spring to our mind if we close our eyes and try to imagine what it would have been like to live in those days. We know that like us he would have required food, clothing and shelter to survive. So what did he eat, wear and where did he live? The pebble tools that have been discovered could have been used to hunt animals and dig up roots. So he must have been a hunter and food gatherer. He would have lived in jungles and forests as he was more likely to find food there. But he could not have lived in one place as he had to  follow animals in search of food. He would have lived in small groups too as it would have given him more mobility.  And he would have used bark, animal skins and leaves to protect himself from the weather. By and by, he would have also learnt to kindle fire to keep himself warm and to protect himself from animals.

He lived in India for thousands of years like this. But he was always learning new things. He was constantly improving upon his little stone tools and his control over natural forces. The process must have been very slow as he had to learn by trial and error.  It took him several thousand years but then a great change occurred. He learnt to grow food crops. He also learnt to domesticate animals. Can you think of the change it would have brought in his life style if he was to grow crops? Yes, to be able to do so, he would have to settle down and not be nomadic as he was earlier. That would have given him some free time too because growing of crops required certain things to be done at certain times only and he would have been free at other times. He learnt to make pots and weave clothes in this time. The quality of his stone tools also improved considerably and he was now making finely polished implements. Slowly but surely, small agricultural villages came to be set up as his groups became larger. Archaeologists have found remains of such villages in Baluchistan and Sind, which are now in Pakistan. These people lived relatively comfortably in mud houses. They made various kinds of painted pottery and even copper implements. They were religious too. They worshipped some kind of a Mother Goddess whose figurines have been found. Bulls were also venerated for their figurines have also been found. Some of these people also traded with people in the Middle East as some of their artifacts have been found there also. All this happened about 12000-6000 years back.

Thus, we see that man has been present in India for more than one lakh years. He was then, naturally, quite primitive and different from us. But he was improving slowly and eventually came to be in greater control of the elements about 6000 years ago when his life was not very different from the lives of some of our tribal communities in the 19th century. You would have seen by now that our knowledge of early man in India is quite sketchy and conjectural too. This is only to be expected as interest in knowing about him started only about 250 years ago. Before that the only sources of history were scriptural, in which facts and fiction were often blurred. However, when the British gained control over India, they started delving in our history, perhaps to understand us  to control us better; with the unintended but fortunate result that many discoveries of far reaching archaeological significance were made.

So the next time you are in Delhi, you know whom to thank for introducing you to the pre-historic Indian!

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