The history of human settlements in India goes back to prehistoric times. No written records are available for the pre-historic period. However, plenty of archaeological remains are found in different parts of India to reconstruct the history of this period. They include the stone tools, pottery, artifacts and metal implements used by pre-historic people. The development of archaeology helps much to understand the life and culture of the people who lived in this period.
In India, the prehistoric period is divided into the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age), Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), Neolithic (New Stone Age) and the Metal Age. However, these periods were not uniform throughout the Indian subcontinent. The dating of the pre-historic period is done scientifically. The technique of radio-carbon dating is commonly used for this purpose. It is based on measuring the loss of carbon in organic materials over a period of time. Another dating method is known as dendro-chronology. It refers to the number of tree rings in wood. By counting the number of tree rings in the wood, the date of the wood is arrived at.
The Neolithic period is followed by Chalcolithic (copper-stone) period when copper and bronze came to be used. The new technology of smelting metal ore and crafting metal artifacts is an important development in human civilization. But the use of stone tools was not given up. Some of the micro-lithic tools continued to be essential items. People began to travel for a long distance to obtain metal ores. This led to a network of Chalcolithic cultures and the Chalcolithic cultures were found in many parts of India.
Generally, Chalcolithic cultures had grown in river valleys. Most importantly, the Harappan culture is considered as a part of Chalcolithic culture. In South India the river valleys of the Godavari, Krishna, Tungabhadra, Pennar and Kaveri were settled by farming communities during this period. Although they were not using metals in the beginning of the Metal Age, there is evidence of copper and bronze artifacts by the end of second millennium B.C. Several bronze and copper objects, beads, terracotta figurines and pottery were found at Paiyampalli in Tamil Nadu.
The Chalcolithic age is followed by Iron Age. Iron is frequently
referred to in the Vedas. The Iron Age of the southern peninsula is often
related to Megalithic Burials. Megalith means Large Stone. The burial pits were
covered with these stones. Such graves are extensively found in South India.
Some of the important megalithic sites are Hallur and Maski in Karnataka,
Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh and Adichchanallur in Tamil Nadu. Black and
red pottery, iron artifacts such as hoes and sickles and small weapons were
found in the burial pits.