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Indian History

Excavations of Iron in Tamil Nadu

  • 14 May 2022
  • 5 min read

For Prelims: Iron Age, Palaeolithic age, Mesolithic Age, Neolithic Age, Megalithic culture, carbon dating

For Mains: Ancient Indian Civilizations

Why in News?

Recent carbon dating of excavated finds in Tamil Nadu pushes evidence of iron being used in India back to 4,200 years ago.

  • Before this, the earliest evidence of iron use was from 1900-2000 BCE for the country, and from 1500 BCE for Tamil Nadu.
  • The latest evidence dates the findings from Tamil Nadu to 2172 BCE.

What are the Findings?

  • The excavations are from Mayiladumparai near Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu.
  • Mayiladumparai is an important site with cultural material dating back between the Microlithic (30,000 BCE) and Early Historic (600 BCE) ages.
  • Among the other important findings is evidence that the late Neolithic phase in Tamil Nadu has been identified to have begun before 2200 BCE, based on a cultural deposit of 25 cm below the dated level.
    • Archaeologists also found that black and red ware pottery was introduced in the late Neolithic phase itself, rather than the widely held belief that this occurred in the Iron Age.

What is the Historical Significance?

  • Production of Agricultural Tools:
    • Invention of iron technology led to the production of agricultural tools and weapons, leading to production required for a civilisation ahead of economic and cultural progress.
      • There is no known record of iron being used in the Indus Valley, where copper was first utilized by Indians (1500 BCE).
  • Useful in Deforestation:
    • Deforestation occurred only after humans began using iron tools to clear dense forests and bring land into agriculture, because copper tools would have been difficult to use to clear dense forests and bring land into agriculture.
  • Socio-economic Changes:
    • With the latest evidence tracing our Iron Age to 2000 BCE from 1500 BC, it can be assumed that the cultural seeds were laid in 2000 BCE.
    • Around 600 BCE, iron technology led to massive production triggered by socio-economic changes - the Tamil Brahmi script.
      • The Tamil Brahmi scripts were once believed to have originated around 300 BCE, until a landmark finding in 2019 pushed the date back to 600 BCE.
      • This dating narrowed the gap between the Indus Valley civilisation and Tamilagam/South India’s Sangam Age.

Stone Ages

  • Palaeolithic (Old Stone) Age:
    • Basically a hunting and food gathering culture.
    • Palaeolithic tools include sharpened stone, chopper, hand axe, scraper, spear, bow and arrow, etc. and were generally made up of hard rock quartzite.
    • Rock paintings and carvings found at Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh reflect upon hunting as the main subsistence activity.
    • Palaeolithic age in India is divided into three phases: Early or Lower Palaeolithic (50,0000 – 100,000 BC), Middle Palaeolithic(100,000 – 40,000 BC) and Upper Palaeolithic (40,000 – 10,000 BC).
    • Homo sapiens mark their presence in upper palaeolithic age.
  • Mesolithic (Middle Stone) Age:
    • The age is marked by transition from Pleistocene period to Holocene period and favorable changes in the climate.
    • The early period of Mesolithic age marks the hunting, fishing and food gathering.
    • Domestication of the animals began in this age.
    • The tools called Microliths were smaller and had improved geometry than the Palaeolithic age.
  • Neolithic (New Stone) Age:
    • Referred to as the concluding phase of the Stone Age, the age heralded the beginning of food production.
    • Sedentism (living in one place for a long time) use of pottery, and invention of crafts are characteristics feature of neolithic age.
    • The neolithic tools composed of heavy ground tools like pestles, grinders, pounders and also axes and sickles.
  • Megalithic culture:
    • Megaliths refer to large stone structures that were constructed either as burial sites or as commemorative sites.
    • In India, archaeologists trace the majority of the megaliths to the Iron Age (1500 BC to 500 BC), though some sites precede the Iron Age, extending up to 2000 BC.
    • Megaliths are spread across the Indian subcontinent. Majority of them are found in peninsular India, concentrated in the states of Maharashtra (mainly in Vidarbha), Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

Source: IE

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