Neolithic-era celt found in Tamil Nadu

Context: In Poothinatham village, Tamil Nadu, the Department of Archaeology made a noteworthy discovery from the Neolithic period. This find is an ancient celt, crafted from Doloraid stone, which had a dual purpose as both a plough and an axe. This discovery holds great significance in shedding light on the practices and tools used during that time.

Neolithic-era celt found in Tamil Nadu

What is a Neolithic celt?

  • A celt, composed of stone, is an age-old instrument utilized for cutting and shaping. This adaptable tool served as an axe, chisel, or adze, 
  • Application: Widespread uses throughout the Neolithic era in different fields such as woodworking, agriculture, and building.
  • A specific variation of the celt, referred to as a shoe-last celt, was a polished stone tool extensively employed during the early European Neolithic period. Its primary purpose revolved around the felling of trees and engaging in woodworking tasks.
neolithic cultures

Early Neolithic Cultures and the Beginning of Agriculture

  • The advent of agriculture and animal domestication during the Neolithic period marked a significant phase in Indian history. 
  • The crucial era witnessed the emergence of Neolithic culture in various regions such as the Fertile Crescent in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Indus region, the Ganges Valley in India, and China.
  • Surplus food production: 
    • Between 10,000 BCE and 5000 BCE, agriculture sprouted in these areas, leading to numerous cultural advancements.
    • The domestication of animals and plants introduced a plentiful supply of grains and animal food.
    • The fertile soil deposited by rivers contributed to agricultural growth, resulting in surplus grain production.
    • The surplus food production played a pivotal role in the rise of early civilizations, as large villages were established, pottery developed, and permanent residences were constructed.
    • Consequently, the cultural advancements of this era are commonly referred to as the Neolithic revolution. 

The Neolithic Culture of North-Western India 

  • The earliest evidence of plant and animal domestication in India can be traced back to the Neolithic culture in northwestern India.
  • Important Sites: Mehrgarh and Sarai Kala, which are presently located in Pakistan. 
  • Mehrgarh:
    • It has provided evidence of early Neolithic practices dating back to around 7000 BCE. 
    • During this time, the cultivation of wheat and barley was practiced, and sheep, goats, and cattle were domesticated. Mehrgar culture predates the Indus Civilization.
    • Phase I: The first cultural period of the Neolithic age at Mehrgarh spans from approximately 7000 to 5500 BCE. The people of this period did not employ pottery, but they cultivated six-row barley, wheat, and dates. These were semi-nomadic pastoral groups who constructed houses using mud and practiced the burial of the deceased.
    • Phase II and III: The second period at Mehrgarh covers the time from about 5500 to 4800 BCE followed by the third period from 4800 to 3500 BCE. Pottery evidence is present during these periods, and terracotta figurines and glazed faience beads have been discovered. Long-distance trade was practiced, as indicated by the presence of Lapis Lazuli, a stone that is exclusively found in Badakshan. The abandonment of the town occurred after the rise of the mature phase of the Indus Civilization.
Excavation at Mehrgarh
Excavation at Mehrgarh

Significance of Mehrgarh

  • Mehrgarh stands out as an important site due to its provision of the earliest and most extensive evidence of cattle, sheep, goat, wheat, and barley domestication, a comprehensive combination of evidence unmatched elsewhere in the world.
  • Dentistry:
    • In addition to agricultural and domestication practices, the inhabitants of Mehrgarh demonstrated knowledge of medicinal herbs and their use for health maintenance, an essential survival skill since prehistoric times.
    • During the Neolithic period, people began consuming ground grain and cooked food, which gave rise to dental and other health issues.
    • Notably, the earliest evidence of drilling a human tooth (belonging to a living person) has been discovered at Mehrgarh, offering a glimpse into early dental practices, which can be considered a precursor to dentistry.

Neolithic Culture of South India 

  • The Neolithic cultures of South India primarily existed in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, as well as the north-western part of Tamil Nadu. These sites exhibit a distinct feature of having ash mounds at their centers, surrounded by settlements.
  • Locations: Often situated near granite hills with access to water sources. They can be found in the river valleys of Godavari, Krishna, Pennaru, Tungabhadra, and Kaveri. 
  • Some of the prominent Neolithic sites in South India include Brahmagiri, Maski, Piklihal, and Hallur in Karnataka; Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh and Paiyyampalli in Tamil Nadu. 
  • Certain early Neolithic sites also exhibit the presence of ash mounds, such as Utnur and Palvoy in Andhra Pradesh. These sites showcase layers of soft ash and decomposed cow dung. 

Social Organisation 

  • Due to limited evidence, understanding the social organization of Neolithic people poses challenges. However, they transitioned to living in settled or semi-sedentary communities.
  • It is possible that they organized themselves into tribes or similar social units.
  • The presence of small houses suggests the presence of nuclear families within these settlements.
  • The development of ceramics and beads indicates advancements in material cultural production.
  • Burials within houses were practiced, and in some cases, animal burials have also been discovered, suggesting the adoption of rituals and reverence for the deceased.
  • It is possible that they worshipped natural forces.
  • The evidence for art objects is limited, but the existence of terracotta images depicting cattle implies the presence of a fertility cult or similar beliefs.
Neolithic artifact from North-east India
Neolithic artifact from North-east India

Pottery of the Neolithic period

  • The early phases of the Neolithic era are referred to as A-ceramic or Pre-Pottery Neolithic due to the absence of pottery vessels.
  • Containers were crafted using unfired clay, leather, wood, stone, straw, and other materials. Traces of these unfired vases are challenging to find.
  • The earliest instances of hand-made pottery, which are considered visually appealing, can be traced back to the Early Neolithic period. These pottery pieces were typically burnished or monochromatic, featuring painted, incised, or impressed decorations.
  • The most elaborate examples of painted ornamentation are observed in the Middle Neolithic period.
  • Archaeologists speculate that the emergence of agriculture also gave rise to the need for durable and sturdy objects for water transport in irrigation systems, although the development of farming and pottery did not always occur simultaneously.
  • Moreover, the accumulation of grain surpluses such as sorghum, rice, and wheat would have been essential for the sustenance of larger civilizations, with pottery playing a crucial role in storing these surplus crops.

Practice MCQ

Q. Consider the following, with reference to the ‘Neolithic age’ in the Indian subcontinent:

1. The Neolithic sites of the northwestern region have shown distinct features of having ash mounds.

2. Early Neolithic period has shown evidence of the most elaborate type of pottery.

3. The Neolithic people believed in natural forces as well as had faith in fertility cults.

How many of the statements given above are correct?

(a) Only one

(b) Only two

(c) All three

(d) None

Answer: (a)

Mains Practice question

Q. Discuss the origin of the Harappans, emphasizing the role of an urban revolution in their rise from a Neolithic pastoral stage. (150 words; 10 marks)

Source: The Hindu

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