Prehistoric Cultures in India | UPSC Civil Services Exam | Career Launcher

The history of human settlements in India dates back to prehistoric times that are marked by the stone age, bronze age, and iron age. There are no written or decipherable records available for this period of history, hence it is known prehistoric period.  The available knowledge is based on some archaeological evidence like pottery, artifacts, stone tools, and metal implements used by prehistoric people that are found from many places. 

Based on these archaeological pieces of evidence, a prehistorical period of India can be divided into the following parts-

Chronological sequence

Name of Prehistorical period

Time period


Paleolithic (Old Stone Age)

2.5 Million BC to 8,000 BC*


Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age)

9,000 BC to 4000 BC*


Neolithic (New Stone Age)

7000 BC to 1000 BC*



2100 BC to 700 BC*

Questions pertaining to prehistoric cultures in India are asked in Prelims as MCQs or Mains for answer-writing. Although it is not extremely important and holds less weightage in comparison to medieval and modern history, there is no harm in glancing through the timeline and important events.

We will now, study each stage in detail:

I. Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age)


2.5 Million BC to 8,000 BC*


  • Part of the Ice Age (1,00,000 to 8,000 BC)

  • Use of fire was started during this time.

  • Use of land bridges was found during this period.


  • Used tools such as axe, cleavers and scrappers made out of bones and stones. 

Habitation & occupation

  • Hunters & gatherers

  • Nomadic people - no settled life

  • No knowledge of agriculture

  • Found shelter in caves

  • Cave paintings are found from these times, there are about eight hundred rock shelters in Bhimbetka (Madhya Pradesh), five hundred of which bear paintings.

Important sites

Indian sites

  • Belan valley (Uttar Pradesh) 

  • Sohan valley (Present day Pakistan)

  • Punjab

  • Kashmir

  • Rajasthan (Thar desert)

  • Narmada Valley

World sites

  • Africa

  • Western Europe

II. Mesolithic Period (Middle Stone Age)


9,000 BC to 4000 BC*


  • The climate became warm and dry in this age.

  • Climate change also resulted in changes in flora & fauna.

  • This made it possible for human beings to move to new areas.

  • It was a transitional period (intermediate period) between the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. Thus, it is also sometimes referred as the Late Stone age.


  • Size of the tools became small. The characteristic tools of this period are Microliths that were small stone tools probably stuck to stones to be used as saws and sickles.

  • Tools used include blades, daggers, spearheads, crescents, arrowheads, triangles, sickles, trapezes, etc.

Important sites

Indian sites

  • Bagaur (Rajasthan): Had a microlithic industry

  • Adamgarh (Madhya Pradesh): Earliest evidence of domestication of animals)

  • Langhnaj (Gujarat): Earliest evidence of burial of dead are found. 

III. Neolithic Period (New Stone Age)


7000 BC– 2500 BC*


  • Polished stone tools were used.

  • Burins, saws and chisels were found

  • Black burnished ware, grey ware and mat-impressed ware used in pottery.

Habitation & occupation

  • Systematic agriculture was started that was made possible due to change in the climate.

  • Use of fertilizers, sickle and pottery in agriculture

  • Slash and burn system was used.

  • Horse Gram and Ragi were cultivated

  • Wheel was discovered in this age.

  • Domestication of cattle, sheep & goats

  • Evidence of dogs, pigs and chickens are also found

  • Fire baked earthen pots are found at many places

Important sites

Indian sites

  • Burzahom (2700 BC, Kashmir)

  • Gufkral (2000 BC, Kashmir)

  • Chirand (2000 BC, near Patna) 

  • South of Godavari river

  • Hills of Assam, Garo hills (Meghalaya)

  • Norther spurs of Vindhyas in Mirzapur and Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh)

  • Hallur, Maski, Brahmagiri, Takkalkota (Karnataka)

  • Paiyampalli (2000 to 1000 BC, Tamil Nadu)

  • Piklihal (Andhra Pradesh)

  • Untur (2000 to 1000 BC, Andhra Pradesh)

  • Mehargarh (7000 BC, Pakistan) – Oldest neolithic settlement

IV. The Chalcolithic Age


2100 BC to 700 BC*


  • More of a transitional period between the Neolithic & the Bronze age. 

  • Use of Copper & stone tools was found. 


  • Main tools of this period were made of both stones and copper. 

  • Unique feature of this period was painted black pottery as well as Red Ware

Habitation & occupation

  • Mainly involved in farming activities. 

  • Unique feature of this era was their burial practice.

Important sites

Some important Indian sites of this era include 

  • Gilund (Rajasthan), 

  • Balathal (Rajasthan), 

  • Ahar (Rajasthan), 

  • Dhulia (Svalda culture, Maharashtra), 

  • Narmada valley (Gujarat) and 

  • Chambal valley

This is the brief overview of Prehistoric Cultures for UPSC Civil Services Examination. This topic is extensively discussed in our General Studies-I course for UPSC Mains exam. Further, since it is a part of History, it is also a part of our mini course on History! 

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