Prehistoric Period in India - Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic Age




Ancient History Notes for UPSC

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Prelims: History of India

Mains: Indian Culture - Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times

The term Prehistoric Period also refers to as "Stone Age", when stone was generally used to create objects for the various needs of early humans. The tools used by humans and their ancestors in the genus Homo, as well as the earlier hominids Australopithecus and Paranthropus, are considered to be Stone Age artefacts. Although bone tools were also used during this time period in addition to stone tools, they are rarely found in the archaeological record. Based on chronology, typography, and other general characteristics, the Stone Age can be divided into the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods.

There are instances in history where stone was not exclusively used for tools and technology, such as in the Chalcolithic Age, where copper was used along with stones. Further in some parts of history stones were not even used as a tool but rather for burial practices, such as in Megalithic Culture.

What is the Prehistoric Period?

History has been classified as Prehistory, Proto-History and History. Prehistory is the study of the beginnings and development of human societies prior to the invention of writing systems. It is also called the Stone Age due to the extensive use of stone tools during this period. Proto-history is an intermediate stage between Prehistory and History, covering about the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. History is classified in other ways as the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age.

Stages and Timeline of the of Prehistoric Period

PhaseTime Period  
Palaeolithic2.6 million - 10,000 BC  

Lower Paleolithic:  2.6 million - 200,000 BC

Middle Paleolithic:  200,000 - 40,000 BC

Upper Paleolithic: 40,000 - 10,000 BC

Mesolithic10,000 - 4,500 BC
Neolithic4,500 - 2,500 BC

Palaeolithic Age of Prehistoric Period

The term "Palaeolithic" refers to the Old Stone Age of the Prehistoric Period because it derives from the Greek words palaeos, which means old, and lithos, which means stone. This time period belongs to the Pleistocene geological era. The use of stone tools appears first in the Palaeolithic period.

  • In India, no human fossils have been found in association with Stone Age tools. However, geological dating provides some insight into the antiquity of tools.
  • When assessing the evidence for early human settlement in India, it is observed to be later than the African region but contemporaneous with other Asian countries.

Stone tools of paleolithic age


palaeolithic sites in India

  • Depending on typo-technology of tools used, economic activities, and other cultural features, the Palaeolithic age can be divided into,
    • Lower Palaeolithic
    • Middle Palaeolithic
    • Upper Palaeolithic
  • Lower Palaeolithic Age:
    • The earliest use of stone was started in the Lower Palaeolithic Age by Homo habilis and Homo erectus.
    • People in this age were nomadic and dependent only on hunting and food gatherings.
  • Middle Palaeolithic Age:
    • Early Homo sapiens lived in the Middle Paleolithic Age, marked by the evolution of modern language, the systematic burial of the dead with rituals, and the use of more sophisticated tools.
    • This age witnessed a variety of tools made on flakes, produced by specialised techniques. Therefore, it is widely referred to as the flake tool industry.
  • Upper Paleolithic Age:
    • It is the phase when Modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens) first emerged around 50,000 years ago and developed new tool-making technologies in the form of blade and burin.
    • Upper Palaeolithic cultures flourished in the Upper Pleistocene, often referred to as the Late Pleistocene.
    • Along with flake and core tools, the Upper Palaeolithic industries produced side scrapers, ovate scrapers, notched scrapers, discoid scrapers, and unifacial and bifacial flake points.
    • This is the period when humans were involved in cave art.

Lower Palaeolithic Age in India

Tools: These stones were used as chopping tools like hand axes, cleavers, knives, and choppers made from large pebbles or flakes.

Two main traditions:

  • Soanian tradition, which is a part of the East and Southeast Asian chopper-chopping tool tradition, and 
  • The Acheulian Prehistoric Period tradition, which is well-known from the western half of the Old World (Africa, Western Europe, West and South Asia), is represented by the handaxe-cleaver or biface assemblages.

Important Sites:

  • Singi Talav in Rajasthan
  • Bhimbetka and Adamgarh in Madhya Pradesh
  • Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh
  • Paisra, Bihar
  • Chirki-Nevasa, Maharashtra
  • Hunsgi and Yediyapur in Karnataka
  • Attirampakkam, Tamil Nadu

Middle Paleolithic Age in India

Middle Palaeolithic culture in India is called Nevasian (similar to Mousterian), as flake tools were found at Pravara, Nevasa.


  • Flake Production: Flakes that are produced by striking them out of pebbles or cobbles are used to make tools.
  • Tool Types: Small and medium-sized handaxes, cleavers, scrapers, borers, and knives are examples of different types of tools. Raw materials, shapes, and sizes vary depending on the region.
  • Large Borers and Awls: Large borers or awls worked with steep retouch on thick flakes are present.
  • Variety of Scrapers: Scrapers come in several kinds, such as straight, concave, and convex-sided.
  • Anvils and Hammers are also found at some of the manufacturing sites


  • Didwana and Budha Pushkar in Rajasthan
  • Hiran Valley in Gujarat
  • Potwar Plateau between the Indus and Jhelum rivers
  • Sanghao Cave in NWFP of Pakistan
  • Luni river system, denoting tool industries west of the Aravallis
  • Chirki Nevasa in Maharashtra
  • Kalpi in Uttar Pradesh

Upper Paleolithic Age in India


  • The sites in Rallakalava and Gunjuna valleys in the southern Eastern Ghats give the best-known evidence of the blade-and-burin industries in India. 
  • Bone tools, except in Kurnool caves in Andhra Pradesh, were not found in India.
  • The manufacture of specialised hunting tools for both big-game hunting and small-game hunting, as well as fishing, is indicated by the Upper Palaeolithic tools.


  • Rohiri Hills in Sindh
  • Chopani Mando in Belan Valley
  • Baghor in Madhya Pradesh
  • Paisra in Bihar
  • Haora and Khowai valleys in Tripura
  • Kurnool and Muchchatla Chintamanu Gavi in Andhra Pradesh

Mesolithic Age of Prehistoric Period

The Mesolithic Age of the Prehistoric Period is a transitional age between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic that occurred around 10000 BCE and ended with the introduction of agriculture (beginning of the Neolithic Age). 

  • Climate: 
    • The phase is of variable length, depending on climatic factors like rising temperatures, warm and dry climates, and impacts on human life and fauna.
  • Economy:
    • The Mesolithic people continued to survive through hunting and gathering, but there occurred a change in the pattern of hunting from big animals in the Palaeolithic period to smaller animals that could be taken out with the aid of bows and arrows. 
    • Also, hunting and fishing gained relevance. 
    • Long interaction with nature made them hunters and gatherers for specific species. Thus, they favoured a few species of animals and plants over others. 
  • Tools: Microliths were the distinctive features of this Age.
    • Continuing from the Upper Palaeolithic period, microliths were small tools with a limit of 3 cm in length. 
    • The technique to make microliths was punch and pressure on the harder materials like agate, chalcedony, flint carnelian, etc. 
    • Microliths were of both geometric (trapeze, triangle, lunate or crescent) as well as non-geometric shapes. 
    • Their small size indicates that they were used as composite tools and were hafted in wood or bones.
    • Macroliths, the larger tools, were also used. These were in the form of axes and picks and a continuation of the Upper Palaeolithic tools, such as scrapers.
    • Bone and antler tools were also used. 


stone tools of mesolithic age

Mesolithic Age in India

mesolithic sites in India

Due to the favourable climate for agriculture (for the Neolithic Age), the Mesolithic Age in India lasted only for 10,000 years. Barring Northeast, these sites are found throughout India.

  • Sites: Rock shelters in Mirzapur were the first excavated Mesolithic site. Major excavated sites in India are:
    • Tilwara, Bagor, Ganeshwar in Rajasthan
    • Langhnaj, Akhaj, Valasana, Hirpura, Amrapur, Devnimori, Dhekvadlo, and Tarsang in Gujarat
    • Patne, Pachad, Hatkhamba in Maharashtra
    • Morkhana, Lekhahia, Baghai Khor, Sarai Nahar Rai, Mahadaha, Damdama, Chopani Mando, Baidha Putpurihwa in Uttar Pradesh
    • Pachmarhi, Adamgarh, Putli Karar, Bhimbetka, Baghor II, Baghor III, Ghaghariain Madhya Pradesh
    • Paisra in Bihar
    • Kuchai in Odisha
    • Birbhanpur in West Bengal
    • Muchatla Chintamanu Gavi, Gauri Gundam in Andhra Pradesh  
      Sanganakallu in Karnataka
    • Tenmalai in Kerala

Neolithic Age of Prehistoric Period

This new stone age developed in the Holocene epoch, preceded by the Mesolithic age. This Prehistoric period was characterised by the development of agriculture, pottery and permanent settlement and thus the beginning of the first human civilisation often termed the Neolithic Revolution.

  • Neolithic Revolution:
    • During the Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic stages, the mode of subsistence was hunting and gathering.
    • In contrast, in the Neolithic age, humans started using artificial means to produce food for the first time. Agriculture and the domestication of animals were the two novel practices that developed at this time.
    • Some wild animal species, like goats, sheep, and cattle, were domesticated, which were being used for transportation and in agriculture.
    • Similar to this, early crops included wild varieties of paddy (especially in Asia), wheat, barley, etc.
    • Agriculture proved to be such a significant invention that a small portion of society was able to provide the entire community with food.
    • Neolithic pottery was pioneering and made by hand at first, then using wheels. 
    • Weaving and spinning were also invented in this age.
    • The Neolithic Age opened an entirely new way of life and sowed the seeds of civilisation.
  • Features:
    • The first Neolithic culture is said to have started in the Fertile Crescent in the West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region, including Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, Libya, etc.
    • This period witnessed the development of pottery, polished stone tools and permanent settlements.

stone tools of neolithic age

Neolithic Culture in India

Sites: In India, there are three nuclear regions of the Neolithic culture - Kashmir Valley, Vindhya-Ganga Valley and Karnataka.

  • Vindhya-Ganga Valley: Chopani mando, Belan, Koldihwa, Pachoh, Mahgarha and Indri.
  • Kashmir Valley: Burzoham, Badatal, Begagund, Gufkral, Hariparigom and Pampur, etc.
  • Deccan: Brahamgiri, Hallur, Kopagal, Maski, Piklihal, Tekkalkotta and Snagankallu in Karnataka; Uttanur, Rampuan, Palvaya, and Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh; and Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu.
  • Fourth region (Peripheral Sites): Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal, and Assam included the Late Neolithic Age. They were the earliest farming communities in these regions.
    • They were mainly of the Neolithic-Chalcolithic phase.
    • Chirand (Saran, Bihar) is the most important site.


  • Tools: All Indian sites possessed polished or ground stone axes. They also included earlier tools such as microliths and blades.
  • Pottery: Early neolithic culture of a few sites, such as in Kashmir, Balochistan, and South India, was without any pottery. Later, earthen pots were the distinctive features.
  • House: In the form of simple huts (across India), Pit dwellings (in Kashmir and Deccan). The huts were of various shapes - circular, rectangular, etc.
  • Arts and crafts: Beads made of semi-precious stones and clay figures of animals and mother goddesses are notable items.

neolithic sites in India


Prehistoric Rock Paintings

Almost all the rock shelters in India, occupied by the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic people as well as many others, contain rock paintings depicting a variety of subjects, primarily animals and scenes involving both people and animals.

  • Distribution:
    • These rock paintings have a wide distribution across India.
    • Central India, particularly Satpura, Kaimur, and Vindhyan hills, has the largest number of prehistoric art sites.
    • This is perhaps due to the fact that Stone Age people in India flourished more around the Central Narmada river valley.
  • Sites:
    • The most important sites are Bhimbetka and Lakha Juar in the Vindhya Range and Pachmarhi and Adamgarh in the Satpura of Madhya Pradesh.
    • Others are Daraki Chattan, Jogimara (Chhattisgarh); Hazaribagh, Kodarmada, Giridih and Chatra (Jharkhand), Mirzapur and Banda (Uttar Pradesh) and Bellary and Kupagallu (Karnataka), etc.

Bhimbetka - The Natural Art Gallery


Located in the Vindhyan Hills, it is the most important site of rock painting in India, spanning across the history of India from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Medieval history. It is in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh.


  • Found on the walls as well as the ceiling.
  • Several layers, each from a different period, from upper palaeolithic to medieval history.
  • Most of the time, paintings are superimposed, with different themes and styles, which tell about the chronology of humans.
  • Made mostly in white and red, less in yellow, green and black. These colours were derived from minerals. For example, red from hematite, white from limestone and green from chalcedony.


  • Prehistoric (mostly) including agricultural life, as well as historic
  • Prehistoric: scenes of hunting, fishing and trapping. Few are about singing, dancing, musical instruments, celebrating birth and death.
  • Historic: Caparisoned horses and elephants and scenes of fighting with bows and arrows, swords, shields and spears, etc. Picture of Brahmanical gods like Nataraja, Ganesh, etc.

More Topics from GS 1:

Princely StatesHome Rule Movement
British Education System In IndiaCaste Movement in India
Peasant MovementJainism
Cripps MissionKhilafat Movement
Tribal MovementFreedom Fighters of India
MahajanapadasSalient Features of Indian Society

PYQs on the Prehistoric Period in India

Question 1: Mesolithic rock-cut architecture of India not only reflects the cultural life of the times but also a fine aesthetic sense comparable to modern painting. Critically evaluate this comment. (UPSC Mains 2015)

FAQs on the Prehistoric Period

What is the C-14 dating method?

Carbon-14 (C-14) dating is a radiometric dating method used to determine the age of organic materials that were once alive. It relies on measuring the decay of radioactive carbon-14 isotope in the material to estimate its age.

What are the three ages of the Prehistoric Period?

The Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), and Neolithic (New Stone Age) are the three distinct phases that make up the Stone Age. The level of sophistication used by humans to create and employ stone tools determines the time period.

Why is the Prehistoric Period called as Stone Age?

The beginning of the use of stone, such as flint, for tools and weapons by early humans, also referred to as cavemen, is what gives this period its name. Additionally, they lit fires with stones. The earliest tools made by humans are these stone ones.

When did the Prehistoric Period start?

The earliest evidence of humans using stone tools was discovered about 2.6 million years ago, and the Stone Age lasted until the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 3,300 B.C.