Settlement in Early Historic Ganga Plain

by Chirantani Das | 143,447 words

This page relates “Neolithic-Chalcolithic material Culture of the Vindhya-middle Ganga Plains” 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 2 - Neolithic-Chalcolithic material Culture of the Vindhya-middle Gaṅgā Plains

Explorations in the Gaṅgā plains have established that first colonized by the Epi-palaeolithic to Mesolithic cultures of the Vindhyas, and since then had a cultural contact with the Vindhyan region. The Vindhyan region was an archetype centre of Neolithic transformation and the beginning of settled human life. A large number of sites have been explored in this region like Sohgaura, Narhan, Imlidih Khurd, Waina, Lahuradewa, Khairadih, Bhunadih, Jhusi and Hetapatti. These explorations have established a complete cultural sequence, in the zone from Epipalaeolithic, Mesolithic Neolithic to historical and early medieval times. A look in the two archaeological sites of Jhusi and Hetapatti located in the Gaṅgā-Gomatī interfluves furnishes a fair idea the type of agricultural and cultural context of the Gaṅgā-Vindhyan region. East of Allahabad just on the left bank of the Gaṅgā are located these two closely lying sites. Jhusi is some 7 km away from Allahabad and Hetapatti is 20 km to the north east of the same. They are not far from Vārāṇasī either. The site Jhusi is found within a meander shows clear occupational deposit from Neolithic-Chalcolithic times.

The earliest depositional layer was from late Pleistocene to early Holocene levels. The geological set up of the site can be divided into four phases. The lowest stratum is very hard and full of Calcium carbonates, immediately above that there is a blackish and clayey layer and the top two layers bear traces of Epipalaeolithic to Mesolithic deposits. Samudrakup-the main mound of Jhusi exposed deposits right from Mesolithic to early medieval times. Nothing other than microliths was retrieved from the site. It is at par with the topmost layers at both Belan and the upper layer of the Holocene formations at Vindhyas. The Neolithic Jhusi had a marshy land texture with many ponds and lakes. Grasslands and bamboo groves were commonly found there. In this period occupational area is restricted only to the south of the Samudrakup mound. Usual wattle and daub huts with post holes, bamboo and reed marks appeared in this area. Floor, hearth, oven were found in those huts. Potsherds, semi and charred and charred grains and animal bones indicate existence of preliminary agriculture and animal husbandry as important economic activities. Pottery making was another profession and though the potteries are limited in number, yet they exhibited considerable variety in terms of surface ware and usage type. Mostly handmade, ill-fired potteries were found at Neolithic Jhusi. Perhaps the use of potter’s wheel was not yet known. Main wares in this site were cord impressed ware, rusticated ware, burnished red ware, burnished black ware etc. Main utensils were jars of different size and for different usages, basins, bowls, spouted vessels and platters. A large hearth (a burnt floor enclosed by two burnt walls) was probably used to make those potteries or used as community hearth. Among the cooking vessels a large spouted basin with soot marks at the bottom and attached to the floor was probably served as a community hearth in the common kitchen. Another very common discovery was a hoard of micro beads both non-perforated and perforated variety. Disc or grain shaped, steatite beads were locally manufactured.

Other noticeable beads were terracotta beads, small cylindrical beads of banded agate, truncated chalcedony beads and normal stone beads. A prominent lithic industry of weapons made of carnelian, chert, chalcedony and quartz came to notice. The weapons included variety of blades, scrapers, points, drill, lunate, trapeze and triangle and stone chips. Already in the Neolithic age they attained considerable sophistication and were good for their purposes. Presence of this industry meant presence of a professional class of stone carvers and these tools and weapons were used for hunting, defence and domestic use purpose. Cattle, sheep, goat, barasingha, boar were the animals domesticated by the Neolithic man and their flesh doubtlessly prime components of their diet. Aquatic creatures like fish and turtle and even birds satisfied their requirement of animal protein. The archaeo-botanical record found here is the most amazing feature of Jhusi. At different layers of the trench SF 7 and also at other trenches remains of an array of grains and crops were found, included rice, barley, wheat, dwarf wheat, millet, lentil, vetch, sesame, pea, grass pea, black gram, horse gram, grape, ber etc. The range of crops surely gives a picture of matured farming. At Jhusi a number of occupations already evolved. It implies a multifaceted growth of economy and a matured economic state, already achieved in the Neolithic phase.

At Hetapatti too, the Neolithic horizon is quite well-formed. Alike Jhusi here handmade potteries comprising basins, spouted and decorated basins, various sized jars, shallow and deep bowls, animal bones, blades and flakes of semi precious stones, querns, muller fragments and microliths etc. were discovered. Wattle and daub was the usual habitat, was suggested by reed impressions on burnt clay lumps. Discovery at Jhusi and Hetapatti brought to light Neolithic levels in the western fringes of the middle Gaṅgā plains and implied existence of many such sites in the area. The material culture of these two sites confers a greater picture of the Neolithic level of the whole of Vindhyan-middle Gaṅgā plains. Stone Age cultures of Epipalaeolithic and Mesolithic times were found here but the link to the historical time was missing. Excavation of these two sites for the first time provided the link of Neolithic phase in the western portion of the middle Gaṅgā plains. Neolithic sites in the eastern portion are not scarce. Bhunadih, Waina, Sohgaura, Imlidih Khurd, Lahuradewa, Chechar Kutubpur, Taradih, Senuwar all revealed occupational layers from Neolithic to early historical times. With the discovery of Jhusi and Hetapatti the western portion of the middle Gaṅgā plains was also linked with the Neolithic map of the region. Settlements always grew near some water source, preferably on the confluence of two rivers, near a meander or horse shoe lake, above the flood plain. Circular or oval huts and wattle and daub were the usual structures.

The economy was mainly based on pastoralism and farming. A variety of crops in wild and domesticated variety were grown. New species were added in the list and different sites have furnished a number of crops. Bones of cattle, goat, buffalo pig, sheep, elephant, rhinoceros, stag, deer, aquatic creatures and birds pointed that pastoralism was an important profession of the Neolithic Vindhya-Gaṅgā zone. Hunting and fishing also supplemented this profession and one object for all these was to fulfil dietary purposes. A rich material culture in terms of diverse ceramic wares like ordinary Red Ware, Lustrous Red Ware, Rusticated Ware, Cord impressed Ware was available from Neolithic levels. Bead making and tool making were other industries in which a number of people were engaged. These were done mostly from materials drawn from the Vindhyas. Bone tools and weapons were also reported from this site.

First colonised in the Epipalaeolithic times the Vindhyan region saw the emergence of the pastoralist groups in the Neolithic period. The Vindhyan Mesolithic stage was also far more advanced than the rest of the neighbouring places. It was marked by distinct potteries and hutments. Among the ceramics the Corded Ware was coeval in the Vindhyan and middle Gaṅgā plains. This ware of the Neolithic Gaṅgā plain was technologically close to Vindhyan ceramics. From the comparative study of these potteries it appears that the Vindhyas had had a strong influence on the Neolithic potteries of the middle Gaṅgā plain found at various sites. So, from as early as the Neolithic period cultural contacts were set up between the Vindhyan and the middle Gaṅgā plain. In fact the Neolithic sites at the middle Gaṅgā plain grew out because of the Vindhyan influence. Comparison of the C-14 dates of the Vindhyan sites of Tokwa or Kodilwa and middle Gaṅgā sites of Jhusi or Lahuradewa showed that by 8th millennium BCE, while earliest farming culture started in the middle Gaṅgā zone the Vindhyan sites already entered the Neolithic stage roughly at the same time or even before.

Another very important aspect of the exploration at Jhusi it yielded a distinct Neolithic layer below the Chalcolithic one and thereby provides the missing link of Neolithic layer which was earlier thought to be absent here. Thus a continuous occupation from the Mesolithic times was proved. Comparative studies at Vindhyan sites of Kodilwa and Tokwa with middle Gaṅgā sites of Jhusi and Hetapatti showed a close cultural proximity in ceramic assemblage, tools and weapons, microlithic equipments and crop pattern. The middle Gaṅgā sites are more indebted to the Vindhyan sites for this astonishing growth. As regards agriculture the Neolithic Jhusi had shown considerable variety in crops and indeed was one of the earliest agricultural sites of the world. For this reason Jhusi exemplifies the transformation from the earliest Mesolithic phase of a hunting, foraging, farming and rural life to the coming of an urban phenomenon in the area, typified by Vārāṇasī.[1]

Number of sites increased visibly from the Neolithic times. The beginning of Neolithic cultures in eastern Uttar Pradesh as derived from different sites was 8th millennium BCE. The sites were all located near some water source. The primary considerations for the selection of sites were availability of water, cultivable land, sufficient animals and plant species for hunting, gathering. Though the evidences of Jhusi and Hetapatti adequately demonstrated advancement and variety in agriculture by Neolithic times, but people were engaged in a variety of professions and even some kind of arts and crafts. The whole Neolithic ceramic assemblage showed four distinct types of wares-cord impressed ware, rusticated ware, burnished red ware and burnished black ware.Of them the cord-impressed ware was the most important. The Vindhyan region was one of the most important and earliest manufacturing points of this ware. Koldihwa, Sohgaura, Lahuradeva, Mahagara and Ramnagarghat are some of the earliest Vindhyan sites of this ware.

Some Neolithic sites of middle Gaṅgā plain have shown not only similarity in cording pattern but in pottery types also. This techno-typological similarity and resemblance in lithic hoard have implied a Vindhyan influence on middle Gaṅgā Neolithic phase. This cultural exchange took place mainly through the axis of Vindhyan–Allahabad-Sarayupara axis in two phases. In the first phase of the proto-Neolithic and Neolithic times the main form of cultural exchange was in the domain of cord impressed ware, procurement of raw material from the Vindhyan areas for the manufacture of lithic tools. Later this axis was expanded to a great extent. A similar ceramic tradition may be noticed in both Vindhyan and middle Gaṅgā plain sites. A broad interactive zone stretching from Mirzapur to saran consisting of sites like Vārāṇasī, Ghazipur, Basti and Gorakhpur grew.[2] With a slight difference in the outer treatment rusticated ware had a close similarity with the corded ware. Burnished red ware has an ochrous slip and later polished. The burnished black ware has the same processing with a black colour. The Neolithic phase was a long one because the mean date of Chalcolithic phase taken from various sites comes to 1800- 700 BCE.

The next Chalcolithic phase had a better collection of ceramics in terms of variety of wares, shapes, size and form of potteries. Different wares like Black and Red Ware, Black Slipped Ware, both Slipped and Unslipped plain and painted Red Ware appeared in this phase. But the principal ware of the phase was BRW with a rough surface and a black inside and red outside. Oxidisations of different types were done to achieve this colour and lustrous surface. Potteries included different sized storage jars, large to medium convex bowls, many other types of bowls, pots, basins, cups with flaring sides and saucer. These were mainly used in kitchens. The Neolithic potteries were handmade while the slow wheel turned potteries came by the Chalcolithic phase and husks and chaff were added to make it degraissant. As a whole, the Chalcolithic potteries are advanced, stronger and used for kitchen purposes, suggested by soot marks below some of them. So pottery making doubtlessly was an important profession in which a considerable segment of the population was engaged. It also served the utilitarian purposes of the people.[3]

Footnotes and references:


Dorian Q Fuller, Finding Plant Domestication in Indian Subcontinent, Current Anthropology, vol. 52, supplement 4, October 2011, pp.343, 353-57.


J.N.Pal-the Early Farming Culture of the Middle Ganga Plain With Special Reference to Jhusi and Hetapatti, Paper presented in the International Seminar on the “First Farmers in the Global Perspective, Lucknow, India, 18-20 January, 2006, published in Prāgdhārā, Journal of the U.P. State Archaeology Department, no.18, Lucknow, 2009,pp.263-281.


Nyanjyot Lahiri-The Archaeology of Indian Trade Routes up to c.200 B.C.:Resource Use, Resource access and Lines of Communication, Oxford, 1992, pp.232, 256.

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