Tushar’s train journey
Tushar was going from Delhi to Chennai for his cousin’s wedding. They were travelling by train and he had managed to squeeze into the window seat, his nose glued to the glass pane. As he watched trees and houses fly past, his uncle tapped his shoulder and said: “Do you know that trains were first used about 150 years ago, and that people began using buses a few decades later?” Tushar wondered, when people couldn’t travel quickly from one place to another, did they spend their entire lives wherever they were born? Not quite.
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The earliest people: why were they on the move?
- People who lived in the subcontinent as early as two million years ago we describe them as hunter-gatherers.
- The name comes from the way in which they got their food.
- They hunted wild animals, caught fish and birds, gathered fruits, roots, nuts, seeds, leaves, stalks and eggs.
- The immense variety of plants in a tropical land like ours meant that gathering plant produce was an extremely
important means of obtaining food.
- There are several animals that run faster than us, many that are stronger.
- To hunt animals or catch fish and birds, people need to be alert, quick, and have lots of presence of mind.
- To collect plant produce, you need to find out which plants or parts of plants are edible, that is, can be eaten,
as many can be poisonous.
Reasons why hunter gatherers moved from place to place
- First, if they had stayed at one place for a long time, they would have eaten up all the available plant and animal resources.
- Therefore, they would have had to go elsewhere in search of food.
- Second, animals move from place to place either in search of smaller prey, or, in the case of deer and wild cattle, in search of grass and leaves.
- That is why those who hunted them had to follow their movements.
- Third, plants and trees bear fruit in different seasons.
- People may have moved from season to season in search of different kinds of plants.
- Fourth, people, plants and animals need water to survive.
- Water is found in lakes, streams and rivers.
- Rivers and lakes are perennial(with water throughout the year) others are seasonal.
- People living on their banks would have had to go in search of water during the dry seasons (winter and summer).
- People have travelled to meet their friends and relatives.
- Moreover they travelled on foot.
How do we know about these people?
- People made and used tools of stone, wood and bone, of which stone tools have survived best.
- Some of these stone tools were used to cut meat and bone, scrape bark (from trees) and hides (animal skins), chop fruit and roots.
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- They have been attached to handles of bone or wood, to make spears and arrows for hunting.
- Other tools were used to chop wood, which was used as firewood. Wood was also used to make huts and
Choosing a place to live in
- Many sites were located near sources of water, such as rivers and lakes.
- As stone tools were important, people tried to find places where good quality stone was easily available.
- Places where stone was found and where people made tools are known as factory sites.
How do we know where these factories were?
- Ee find blocks of stone, tools that were made and perhaps discarded because they were not perfect, and chips of waste stone left behind at these sites.
- Sometimes, people lived here for longer spells of time.
- These sites are called habitation-cum-factory sites.
Making stone tools
Stone tools were probably made using two different techniques:
- The first is called stone on stone. The pebble from which the tool was to be made (also called the core) was held in one hand.
- Another stone, which was used as a hammer was held in the other hand.
- The second stone was used to strike off flakes from the first, till the required shape was obtained.
- Pressure flaking: Here the core was placed on a firm surface.
- The hammer stone was used on a piece of bone or stone that was placed on the core, to remove flakes that could be shaped into tools.
Finding out about fire
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- Traces of ash have been found here.
- This suggests that people were familiar with the use of fire.
- Fire could have been used for many things: as a source of light, to cook meat, and to scare away animals.
A changing environment
- Around 12,000 years ago, there were major changes in the climate of the world, with a shift to relatively warm conditions.
- This in turn led to an increase in the number of deer, antelope, goat, sheep and cattle, i.e. animals that survived on grass.
- Those who hunted these animals now followed them, learning about their food habits and their breeding seasons.
- It is likely that this helped people to start thinking about herding and rearing these animals themselves.
- Fishing also became important.
- This was also a time when several grain bearing grasses, including wheat, barley and rice grew naturally in different parts of the subcontinent.
- Men, women and children probably collected these grains as food, and learnt where they grew, and when they ripened.
- This may have led them to think about growing plants on their own.
Names and dates
- Archaeologists have given lengthy names for the time that we are studying.
- They call the earliest period the Palaeolithic.
- This comes from two Greek words, ‘palaeo’, meaning old, and ‘lithos’, meaning stone.
- The name points to the importance of finds of stone tools.
- The Palaeolithic period extends from 2 million years ago to about 12,000 years ago.
- This long stretch of time is divided into the Lower, Middle and Upper Palaeolithic.
- This long span of time covers 99% of human history.
- The period when we find environmental changes, beginning about 12,000 years ago till about 10,000 years ago is called the Mesolithic (middle stone).
- Stone tools found during this period are generally tiny, and are called microliths. Microliths were probably stuck on to handles of bone or wood to make tools such as saws and sickles.
- At the same time, older varieties of tools continued to be in use.
- The next stage, from about 10,000 years ago, is known as the Neolithic.