Answer: The term ‘Prehistoric Era’ is used to describe the time when the first civilization or humans evolved. It is believed that the Prehistoric Era has originated in between 200000 B.C. to 3500 – 2500 B.C., and the very first humans in India are believed to evolve in between 200000 B.C. and 40000 B.C.
The Prehistoric Era has been divided into six major ages which are Stone Age, Paleolithic Age, Mesolithic Age, Neolithic Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age. All these six major ages are now described in brief below:
Stone Age is the name given to the period when the humans begun to use stones for various purposes. It is believed that this age evolved hand in hand with the evolution of the modern humans or a little prior. The Stone Age is broadly divided into the three different ages which are the Paleolithic Age, Mesolithic Age and the Neolithic Age. This classification is based on the type and form of the stone tools, which were used during that particular time.
Paleolithic Age is sometimes also referred as the early Stone Age and is the oldest division of the Stone Age, believed to exist from unknown till 8000 BC. During this phase of the Prehistoric Era, the major stress of the humans was to gather food. They were mainly dependent on nature for food and other necessities. Apart from fruits the major sources of food for humans in this age were the wild animals around, which they hunted to relieve their starving stomachs. During this phase, humans initially hunted individually and then in groups developing and using various tools and weapons.
These tools and weapons were used both for hunting and stalking of wild animals. Initially, the crudely curved stones were used as weapons for hunting purposes, but with the passage of time humans learnt to make and use special tools for various purposes by shredding sides of stones with pointed ends. The favorably pointed stones were flaked at sides with the help of the heavier stones, so as to set in the desired traits in stones and make them usable for various needs and purposes. The major implementation of these specially made tools was in hunting small animals and tearing flash from their bodies. These specially made tools using pointed stones form the characteristic defining the Paleolithic Age and make this Age different from the other divisions of the Stone Age. This Age is also marked for the invention of fire.
After the Paleolithic Age evolved the Mesolithic Age, which is believed to exist between 8000 B.C. and 4000 B.C. This age is also referred as the middle Stone Age and is marked by the significant changes in the tools used and cloths worn by the humans. As the time passed, humans began to live larger groups, and these larger groups grew larger and larger and finally resulted in the formation of small communities. Once these communities were formed, the agenda was to have surplus food so that everyone in community can eat well. This resulted in the development of agricultural and farming practices and humans began to grow and eat different crops along with wild animals. There was also a great change in the stone tools used as weapons during this Age. The stones were made sharper and attached ahead of strong tree branches with the help of ropes made of animal skin. This gave the stone made weapons shape of a spear and hand axe, which could be used to hunt from a distance. During this Age the development in agriculture not only resulted in the production of food but was also responsible for the establishment of small scale permanent settlement sites, remains of some of which can be still seen in India. Some Mesolithic sites have been excavated in India in the Chotta Nagpur region of central India and in the areas close to south of river Krishna.
The landmarks of the Mesolithic age is not only limited to the development of communities and agricultural techniques. This age is also marked by the learning of arts including drawing and painting. An evidence for this is the various cave painting sites found in India. The Bhinbetka caves which are located in close proximity to Bhopal are famous for their painted caves, and belong to this Age. However, historians are not very sure of the time when these paintings were actually made, but believe them to be painted around 12000 years ago. The men of this age used the natural red and white pigments for drawing and depicting various ritual scenes, wild animals and hunting scenes etc.
This is the last Age of the Stone Age period and is also known as the New Stone Age. It is believed to exist between the time period of 4000 B.C. and 2500 B.C. This age is characterized by the very finely sharpened stones which can be even compared to the modern blades. After the development of agriculture in Mesolithic Age, the concept of animal husbandry and domestication was introduced during this Age. During this era, majorly cattle, horses and farm animals were domesticated for the purpose of various dairy and meat products. Not only this, but this era is also known for its technical contributions. The first and an important invention of engineering (i.e. wheel) was invented during this age only.
Bronze Age: After the Neolithic Age it was the turn of the Bronze Age. As the name suggests, this was the Age when bronze was brought in use for most of the metal work. This era emerged in the Indian sub-continent at about 3000 B.C. with emergence of the Indus Valley Civilization and the Harappa Civilization in the northern parts of India and continued till the Rigvedic and the early Vedic era. However, no direct evidence of the existence of this era has been found in the southern part of the country but links between the north and the south parts of the country has been obtained in archeological findings. For example, back in year 2006 a school teacher from south India found a 3000 years old stone celt with the Indus language in scripted on it.
Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age. This was the era when iron and steel got introduced. The empires which evolved during this age in India were: Maha Janapadas (700 to 300 B.C.), Magadha Empire (684 to 424 B.C.), Nanda Empire (424 to 321 B.C.) and Maurya Empire (pre-Ashoka, 321 to 272 B.C.).