Chalcolithic Period



  • With the end of the Neolithic Age, several cultures started using metal, mostly copper and low grade bronze.
  • The culture based on the use of copper and stone was termed as Chalcolithic meaning stone-copper Phase.
  • The term Chalcolithic means “copper” and “stone” or Copper Age; it is also known as the Eneolithic or Aeneolithic


Chalcolithic Culture in India

  • With the end of the Neolithic Age, several cultures started using metal, mostly copper and low grade bronze
    • In India, it spanned around 2000 BC to 700 BC.
  • This culture was mainly seen in Pre-Harappan phase, but at many places it extended to Post-Harappan phase too
  • The people were mostly rural and lived near hills and rivers.
  • Characteristics of this Culture include:
    • Pottery
      • A main identifying characteristic of the Chalcolithic period is polychrome painted pottery. Ceramic forms found on Chalcolithic sites include “fenestrated pottery”, pots with openings cut into the walls
    • Domestication of Animals
      • Farmers typically raised domestic animals such as sheep-goats, cattle, and pigs, a diet supplemented by hunting and fishing.
      • Milk and milk by-products were important, as were fruit trees (such as fig and olive).
    • Agriculture
      • The major crops cultivated were barley and wheat, lentil, bajra, jowar, ragi millets, green pea, green and black gram.
      • Traces of rice cultivation are also found. This shows that their food included fish and rice. Eastern India produced rice and Western India produced barley
    • Houses and Burial Styles
      • Houses built by Chalcolithic farmers were constructed of stone or mudbrick. One characteristic pattern is a chain building, a row of rectangular houses connected to one another by shared party walls on the short ends.
      • Burials varied widely from group to group, from single interments to jar burials to small box-shaped above-ground ossuary and even rock-cut tombs.
    • Tools and Weapons
      • Metals such as copper and its alloys were used to make knives, axes, fishing hooks, chisels, pins, and rods
    • Art and Craft
      • The people of Chalcolithic Age were expert coppersmiths, ivory carvers, lime makers, and terracotta artisans.
      • Ornaments were made from semiprecious stones and beads such as agate, jasper, chalcedony, and carnelian were used.
      • People had knowledge of spinning and weaving. Flax, cotton, and silk thread is found from sites in Maharashtra


Chalcolithic cultures identified on basis of their geographical location

  1. Ahar Culture
    • The Ahar culture –also known as the Banas culture, the latter term derived from the name of the valley in which most of the sites of this culture are located—is among the earliest Chalcolithic cultures of India.
    • Major excavated sites are Ahar and Balathal in Udaipur district, Gilund in Rajsamanad district, Ojiyana in Bhilwara district Rajasthan.
    • Ahar culture had a rich ceramic tradition consisting of Tan ware, thin Red ware, Black and Red ware and Grey ware. Shapes include dishes, dish on stands and globular
    • Available radio-carbon dates (calibrated) suggest a time bracket of 2025 BC— 1270 BC for the Chalcolithic Phase.

  1. Kayatha Culture
    • This Chalcolithic culture was named after the type site Kayatha, in Ujjain district,
    • Madhya Pradesh.
    • Radiocarbon dates suggest a period of 2000 to 1800 BC.
    • The characteristic forms of ceramics include: the chocolate slipped ware also
    • known as Kayatha ware.
      • The types are bowls, high and short-necked storage jars with globular profile and basins.
      • Similarities are evident with the sturdy painted pottery found at some pre-Harappan sites
    • In this culture, people lived in small huts with well-rammed floors and wattle and daub walls supporting a thatched roof.
      • A mixed economy was practiced as seen from evidence on subsistence farming, stock raising and hunting-fishing.
      • Barley and wheat were grown.
      • Domesticated animals included cattle and sheep/goat.
      • Interestingly, horse remains have been found from the Chalcolithic level at Kayatha.
    • The sudden end of this culture is ascribed to an earthquake.

  1. Malwa Culture
    • The Malwa culture is the most predominant chalcolithic culture of central India, with a wide distribution of sites almost all over Malwa region.
    • It was first identified in the excavations at Maheshwar, on river Narmada.
    • Other excavated sites of this culture are Nagda, Kayatha, Eran etc.
    • On the basis of calibrated dates the Malwa culture is placed in the bracket of 1900-1400 BC.
    • These Sites are mostly found on the banks of the tributaries
    • The subsistence practices and diet can be reconstructed from remains of carbonized grains of wheat, barley, jawar, rice, legumes, oilseeds and fruits.
    • The material culture constituted chiefly of ceramic types, the Malwa ware forming the principal type.
      • It was essentially buff or cream slipped with painted patterns in dark brown.
    • Other ceramic wares were white painted black-and-red ware of the Ahar culture, a cream slipped ware, a coarse red/grey ware and handmade storage jars
    • Religious beliefs are reconstructed from fragmentary evidence.
      • Terracotta female figurines of indistinct types have been found while a few examples of more definite forms exist.
      • Terracotta bull figurines were either mere toys or associated with religious beliefs.
    • The decline of the Malwa culture has been placed in around 1400 BC which coincided with that of Ahar culture as well.

  1. Jorwe Culture
    • The Jorwe culture is the most important and characteristic chalcolithic culture of Maharashtra, extending almost all over the present state, excepting the coastal strip on the west and Vidarbha in the north east.
    • The culture is named after the type site of Jorwe in Ahmadnagar district, Gujarat.
    • The culture was discovered in 1950
    • In regions, such as, Prakash in the Tapi valley, Daimabad in the PravaraGodavari valley and Inamgaon in the Bhima valley large centres of this culture were found
    • The Early Jorwe houses were rectangular in plan while the Late Jorwe ones were circular.
    • A large number of Jorwe sites can be classified as villages, most of them being about 2 ha in extent.
    • Based on an analysis of organic remains the subsistence base has been reconstructed.
      • It was based on dry-farming with stock-raising and hunting-fishing as ancillary activities.
      • A variety of crops were grown, and the Jorwe farmers have also been credited for practicing crop rotation.
      • he principal crops were barley, wheat, jowar, rice, ragi, green pea, grass pea, lentil, and green and black gram.
    • A noteworthy feature of the Jorwe culture is the mode of disposal of the dead.
      • Many child burials were found in urns laid in pits. In case of adults, the portion below the ankles was chopped off.
    • A large number of the settlements were deserted at the end of second millennium BC for climatic deterioration.

  1. Ochre Coloured Pottery culture
    • The OCP or the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture is named after a ceramic type which is extremely rolled and fragile.
    • It has a wash of red ochre which is easily washed off and hence its name.
    • OCP people led a sedentary existence, similar to many early farming communities of this period
      • Remains of domesticated animals like cattle, and evidence of cultivated crops like rice and barley further provide information on their subsistence practices.
    • OCP sites have been found in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
    • Some assign the OCP either to pre-Harappans, Harappans, or Late Harappans, while others assign this to the Aryans, still others see a tribal association.
      • The chronological span ranges from 2600 to 900 BC.
  1. Painted Grey Ware (PGW)
    • Painted Grey Ware (PGW) is a very fine, smooth, and even-coloured grey pottery, with a thin fabric. It was made out of well-worked, very high quality clay.
    • PGW seems to have been a deluxe ware, forming a very small percentage of the total pottery assemblage at the levels at which these were found.
    • The dates of the PGW culture range from 1100-500/400 BCE, and the sites show a wide geographical distribution, stretching from the Himalayan foothills to the Malwa plateau in central India, and from the Bahawalpur region of Pakistan to Kaushambi near Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh.
      • Apart from the plains it has been found in the hilly regions of Kumaon and Garhwal. Sporadic potsherds were found at a few places like Vaishali in Bihar, Lakhiyopur in Sind and Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh.
    • Structural remains at PGW levels consist mainly of wattle-and-daub and mud huts.
        • Unbaked bricks and one baked brick were found at Hastinapura
        • Jakhera represents a fairly-evolved proto-urban stage of this culture.
    • The PGW sites indicate a subsistence base that included cultivation of rice, wheat and barley.
      • There is no actual evidence of irrigation facilities, but a few deep circular pits outside the habitation area at Atranjikhera are indicative of kachcha wells.
      • Animal husbandry was also practiced.

Thus, in the Chalcolithic period, copper predominated in metalworking technology.

  • Hence it was the period before it was discovered that by adding tin to copper one could create bronze, a metal alloy harder and stronger than either component.
  • In relevance to India, to sum up, the scenario in north, west and central India in the period spanning from beginning of the 3rd millennium – 800 BCE speaks of a great deal of diversity.
  • Overall, the survey of Chalcolithic sites in India, also highlights the regional diversity