Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Minerals located near the Varanasi region” as it appears in the case study regarding the settlements in the Early Historic Ganga Plain made by Chirantani Das. The study examines this process in relation to Rajagriha and Varanasi (important nodal centres of the respective Mahajanapadas named Magadha and Kashi).

Part 5 - Minerals located near the Vārāṇasī region

With its rich resource base the Gaṅgā plain was the catchment area of early human settlement. Palaeolithic tools were reported from Alwar, Gwalior, Datia, Lalitpur, Tikamgarh, Jhansi, Hamirpur, Banda, Panna, Satna, Allahabad, Rewa, Sidhi, Sonbhadra, Mirzapur, Chandauli, Palamau, Hazaribagh, Nalanda, Munghyr, Santhal Parganas, Birbhum, Bankura, Purulia and Medinipur districts. All these are located to the peripheries of the Middle Gaṅgā plains, but none of them were located in the Middle Gaṅgā plain. Soon sites started appearing in this region in the Mesolithic period.

The exact time of human occupation of the region is not known. The first settlers of the valley might have been the lat Palaeolithic to early Chalcolithic groups of the Vindhya-Kaimur region. Important Mesolithic sites of the Middle Gaṅgā Plains were Allahabad, Pratapgarh, Sultanpur, Jaunpur and Vārāṇasī. Jhusi, located on the Gaṅgā meet showed seven cultural periods. From Mesolithic to Chalcolithic period a transition took place from temporary camp sites to permanent wattle and daub houses. Chalcolithic and early Iron Age sites were Agiabir, Narhan, Dhuriapur, Rajghat, Khairadih, Manjhi and Campā, all located in the vicinity of Vārāṇasī. Their requirements were limited to stones for making tools and beads primarily. In the succeeding periods, particularly in the NBPW period when urbanisation started in the area demand for minerals increased manifold. From this period variety of stones, copper, lead, zinc, tin, gold, iron etc. were reported from many sites. These minerals had a direct bearing on the process of urbanisation in this region.

Inhabitants of the Vindhyas started migrating seasonally to the Gaṅgā plains and brought with them stones for diverse use. The resource base of these stones was the Vindhya-Kaimur range. Minerals of the quartz family were agate, jasper, chert, flint, chalcedony, carnelian, amethyst, onyx, rock crystal etc. Besides many other semi precious to precious stones were available in this area. In fact, this was the principal resource area supplying stones to the whole of the Gaṅgā plain. From a number of sites of the Middle Gaṅgā plain objects made of stones of this area were found.

Copper was scarce in the early cultural phases at the Middle Gaṅgā plains. Its limited availability could not make any impact on the economy. Though enhanced copper usage marked a new age in this area known as the Chalcolithic age still copper items are so scarce at some sites that it becomes difficult to identify these sites as Neolithic or Chalcolithic. For example Chalcolithic Agiabir yielded nothing but a solitary fishing hook. Some other sites revealed little copper objects, while some other had absolutely nothing. On the whole the Middle Gaṅgā plain remains a copper deficient area. Iron made its advent in some sites like Raja Nal Ka Tila or Malhar as early as 1800 BCE or even earlier. Iron objects mainly consisted of weapons, agricultural tools and utensils. Therefore there is no definite order in which copper or iron appeared in these sites. Stone tools continued to be used simultaneously. Stone tools and beads were found in large quantity from the Vindhya-Kaimur region. Bead making became a specialized craft in the Middle Gaṅgā plain well before the early historical period. Discovery of a number of unfinished beads from Neolithic Senuwar, Taradih and Chirand suggest that they were locally made.

Between Neolithic and NBPW periods 21 beads of agate, chert, flint, chalcedony or jasper were found at Senuwar. The find at Agiabir is most important in this regard. Eight unfinished beads have been exposed here from period I (1300-900 BCE). Twenty four stone beads and waste stone chips were also found in this area implying that it a bead making workshop. We have literary parallel to this. In one of the Jātaka tales Bodhisatva appeared as a stone cutter in a settlement near Vārāṇasī.[1] Such craftsmen’s settlements with a specialized skill were located near or at the peripheries of Vārāṇasī. Their manufactures and business was regulated by Vārāṇasī and the latter was profited by their produce. Narhan period I also revealed twenty eight unfinished silica beads. A topaz bead was located at Rajghat period I (early NBPW period). Topaz was generally procured from Rajmahal hills or Santhal parganas. Finding of some beads even imply long distance trade.

Four coral beads from period I of Rajghat indicate that they were brought here from the Bay of Bengal. Similarly Lapis Lazuli beads found at Śrāvastī, Rajghat, Prahladpur or Campā point to the existence of a long distance trade from early historic period particularly from the NBPW times between Middle Gaṅgā plain and the western coasts.

Coming back once again to the issue of copper it was noted that though copper appeared in the Chalcolithic period, its limited availability could not make its presence felt in the economy. It was not before the NBPW phase no marked change in the material culture because of copper. One major cause of dearth of copper was major copper mines were still unexplored. Two important copper mines namely the Singhbhum and the Khetri are located close to the Middle Gañgā plain. Probably they constituted the major copper deposit for the whole of the Middle Gaṅgā plain but there were small copper mines too. In the nearby hills copper occurs at several places like Rewa, Sidhi, Sonbhadra, Rohtas, Palamau, Gaya, Hazaribagh-Giridih, Munghyr, Bhagalpur, Santhal parganas etc. These mines were at use from ancient times as the old workings of the area suggest. Two of them were really big as to a depth of 120 feet was already explored and extended far in length and breadth. These small deposits must have attracted the attention of the first settlers for their easy accessibility. In fact, the copper and iron objects found at Middla Gaṅgā sites were rather scarce and whatever was available was of inferior quality. They did not match the superior copper of the Singhbhum or Khetri. Moreover there is no evidence of contact between Middle Gaṅgā plain sites and Singhbhum in the early period though it was established later. Rich soil and forest produce provided an easy livelihood to the people without much difficulty. Whatever small amount of metals was required the local Vindhya–Kaimur or Rajmahal hills were tapped. People were also familiar with malachite, azurite, chalcopyrite-all copper compounds found in this area.

From Senuwar period IB one lead rod containing 20% silver has been recovered. Lead is generally found associated with silver. Amjhor pyrite mine of Rohtas district revealed copper, lead and zinc deposit and was the source of lead object found at Senuwar.

NBPW phase marks an increased use of minerals. Greater number of copper objects started coming up mainly in the form of unalloyed copper. In the early phase of bronze metallurgy low tin bronze was found at Chalcolithic Senuwar. Tin was mainly used for making bronze. From the NBPW phase both low and high tin bronze objects were found. The latter variety was found at Kauśāmbī, Agiabir, Rajghat and Sonpur all located in the Middle Gaṅgā plain. In several pockets of U.P., Bihar and West Bengal tin can be found. In Sonbhadra district of U.P. tin was reported from Mahwaria, Harnakachar, Bagarwa and Baghisoti areas. Cassiterite could be found at Chakrabanda area of Gaya district. In the Hazaribagh-Giridih area also tin was found. This area was also known for copper deposit. Since both metals were procured from the same area they might have been mixed on spot for making bronze. Signs of old workings were clear in this area. Tin mining and smelting was carried out in this area till the 19th century. All these mines must have been used by the early people of the Middle Gaṅgā plains.[2]

Against this backdrop of mineral usage in the Middle Gaṅgā Plains the case of Vārāṇasī may be placed. The material deposit of Vārāṇasī showing an unbroken sequence from the pre NBPW to early medieval times revealed copper, iron and objects made of other minerals. Copper was mainly used for toiletry, utensils, ornaments and small objects like blades, borers and fishing hooks. It will be worthwhile to locate the possible resource bases of these minerals. An advanced copper mining and smelting activity were noticed around the well known copper mines of Khetri or Jharkhand. For their physical closeness to the Middle Gaṅgā plain once it was thought to be the main supplier of copper to the Middle Gaṅgā plain. Minor copper mines were found scattered near these two main mine area. Six copper samples of Vārāṇasī, three each from periods IB and IC were examined by H.C. Bharadwaj. He found that impurities of Vārāṇasī variety matches with that of Mosabani copper mine of Singhbhum area. It implies that copper was procured from this area. But on the basis of such limited data no final statement can be made whether Singhbhum was the exclusive supplier of copper to Vārāṇasī. Small copper mines scattered in the U.P., Bihar, M.P. or West Bengal and particularly the copper mines of Sonbhadra, Allahabad, Banda, Jhansi, Hamirpur and Lalitpur of U.P., Surguja of Chhattisgarh and Sidhi and Rewa of M.P. were located much closer to Vārāṇasī and the Middle Gaṅgā plain in general. Moreover these sites are well connected to Vārāṇasī and the Middle Gaṅgā plain through water routes. So there is a strong possibility that these local copper bases were tapped and it formed the main resource area of copper for Vārāṇasī.

From period I of Vārāṇasī a large number of iron artefacts were recovered. This included sickle, axe, chisels, arrowhead, spearhead, knives, nails, nail hook and slag. They were used for agriculture, household needs or as weapons. The nearby places mentioned for copper deposit were also rich in iron ore and had the same transport facility. This belt is known for expert iron smelters, specially the Asapur and Asur community. They were engaged in iron mining, smelting, smithy for generations. This area has shown evidence for iron working of the 2nd millennium BCE. Important among them were Raja Nal-ka–Tila (Sonbhadra) and Malhar(Chandauli) in U.P. this area was a superior Haematite iron rich superficial mine. Studies show there is no need to sink deep to get access of iron. Iron ores were found on the land surface in the forms of big lumps. So availability of iron was not a problem in this area even for the early settlers. There was no need to look for other iron mines located far from this area. This might have served as the most important iron base for ancient Vārāṇasī.

Vārāṇasī yielded as many as 2472 beads of varied stones like agate, amethyst, carnelian, chalcedony, chert, crystal, jasper and quartz. Minerals of quartz family may easily be brought from nearby Vindhya-Kaimur region of U.P. and M.P. and Rajmahal hills of Jharkhand. Agate, jasper, moss agate and onyx were reported from Banda district of U.P. Haematitic jasper Chalcedonic quartz, agate, chert and chalcedony have been reported from Sonbhadra district. A single garnet bead was also was also found at Vārāṇasī. The nearest area where this metamorphic rock was found was Hazaribagh district. Two topaz specimens could be reported from Rajghat I. One of them, a plano convex bicone bead at Vārāṇasī is a counterpart of Taxila collection. This find attested the literary reference of a tarde connection between ancient Vārāṇasī and Taxila. Topaz could be procured from Rajmahal hills and Santhal parganas.

A lapis lazuli bead found at Vārāṇasīpoints to a trade relation with Afghanistan. Glass beads were found in plenty too. Glass sand was commonly found at Allahabad, Banda, Jhansi districts of U.P. Bead making became an important profession and they constituted a chief item of long distance trade. Hence they occupied an important place in the economy. Ancient Vārāṇasī was a renowned bead making centre. Archaeological studies show that various metals and semi precious to precious stones were manufactured and used at Vārāṇasī for various purposes. But most of them were available either within the territory of the Kāśī mahājanapada or nearby. In this regard the finds at Agiabir was very important. Not far from Vārāṇasī, an entire bead manufacturing workshop complex with raw materials, unfinished beads and kilns has been found at Agiabir.

The hills of Mirzapur-Sonbhadra located on the opposite bank of the Gaṅgā were rich in stone deposit of various kinds. Stones like agate, jasper, quartz, chert, chalcedony were procured from these hills. So this resource zone was tapped and utilised by the plains from as early as the early centuries of the 1st millennium BCE. The whole region was dotted with numerous small to medium settlements, mostly rural. Vārāṇasī, being the main city of the region with its numerous supporting settlements formed the customer base of the yield of the hills. More over these two areas were joined by the easy water transport provided by the two rivers Gaṅgāand Varuṇā.[3] So a patron-client relation grew up between these two regions and they served as complimentary to each other. So the Vārāṇasī region had an easy access to various minerals located in the nearby regions. This was surely endorsed by the water transport that joined the old town to most of the mine areas. So, Vārāṇasī was virtually in a monopoly position over this mineral base. It could be used and exploited as per its requirement. This definitely gave a boost to the economy of the town and placed it in an advantageous position and this may be accounted as one reason for its urbanization and rise to power.

Footnotes and references:


K.N. Prudhvi Raju and Manish Kumar Pandey, op.cit. pp.139-45.


Prabhakar Upadhyay, Ancient Cultures of the Middle Ganga Plain and their Mineral Correlation, in Rakesh Tiwari ed., Prāgdhārā,no.16, Journal of the U.P. State Archaeology Department, Lucknow, 2005-06,pp.133-149.


Prabhakar Upadhyay, Mineral Resources around Kashi Mahajanapada in Vibha Tripathi ed. Bharati, Bulletin of the department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, Varanasi, 2003-04,pp.99-108.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: