Story of the Earliest People

We define the inhabitants in the subcontinent two million years ago as hunter-gatherers. They were named such because they hunted wild animals, caught fish and birds, collected fruit, roots, nuts, seeds, leaves, stalks and eggs for nourishment. Needless to say, the early humans were hunter-gatherers. Since they lived in the open, they had to hunt other animals, gather plants and fruits to sustain life. The animals were very quick and fast in that period. To live among them, the early people had to be as quick, alert, and have great courage. As collectors, they had an excellent knowledge of plants and fruits. In view of these facts and practices, they relocated from one place to another. The causes of their nomadic life were as follows:

  • Resources such as food often got exhausted in a particular location after some time. This caused people to move from place to place in search of a more thriving location. 

  • As the animals moved from one stretch of land to another, so did the early humans. Travelling from one place to another was good for hunting. 

  • The plant life was seasonal, and in order to obtain a continual supply of food and plants that had to migrate. 

  • As rivers and ponds ran dry in the heat of the summer, people had to keep moving in order to have a supply of freshwater

How do we Know about these People?

Archaeological excavations have found some of the items hunter-gatherers have made and used. They designed and used tools of stone, wood and bone, the stone tools of which managed to survive best. 

  • Stone tools were being used to cut meat and bones, chop fruit and roots, scrape bark from trees and hides from animal skins. 

  • Other tools have been used to chop wood.

Choosing a Place to Live in

Hunter-gatherers preferred to live in places with the following availability. 

  • They resided near water bodies, such as rivers and lakes. 

  • People searched for places where the high-quality stone was readily available, as it was essential for hunting.

Finding out about the Fire

The discovery of fire has altered the very fabric of human life. Definitely, human life has changed dramatically after its discovery. People must have figured to use fire after observing the flames of a forest fire. It may also be likely that people have learned to make fire by rubbing two stones together while shaping them. It was used for various purposes, such as cooking, clearing the forest and protection from animals. Traces of soot reveal that the fire was used at that time. It could have been used for the following: 

  • As a light source 

  • Roast meat 

  • To scare off the animals

A Changing Environment

Approximately 12,000 years earlier, the climate of the world underwent radical changes, resulting in the development of grasslands in many areas. It also led to a rise in the number of animals that could survive on the grass. So, people started to think about the herding and rearing of these animals. Fishing also became important to people.

The Beginning of Farming and Herding

As grassland developed, people came to know about growing crops like wheat, barley, and rice in various regions of the subcontinent. That's how they began farming. Humans also lured and tamed animals by leaving food near their dwellings. The first animal to be domesticated was the dog's wild ancestor. Animals such as sheep, pigs, cattle, and goats also lived in herds, and almost all of them ate grass. People often sheltered these animals from threats by other wild animals. This is how they became herders.

A New Way of Life

People often had to continue to stay in the same location for a long period looking after watering, plants, weeding, scaring away animals and birds – till the grains were harvested. Then they began to think about storing grain for food and seed. They started to develop large clay pots, or tie baskets, or dig holes in the earth.

Towards a Settled Life

Archaeological excavations have discovered artefacts from huts or houses in some places that suggest that people had a stable life. 

  • They also discovered cooking hearths in and around the huts, suggesting that, depending on the season, people used to cook indoors or outdoors. 

  • Stone tools have been identified from a number of sites. Many of these are different from the old Paleolithic tools, and that's why they're called Neolithic. These include equipment that has been polished to give a fine blade, and mortars and pestles. Mortars and pestles are still used for grinding. Other than these tools, some of the tools were made of bone.

  • Various kinds of clay pots have also been discovered. They were used for decorative purposes and storage. 

  • People also began to weave cloth, using various kinds of materials.

A Closer Look – Living and Dying in Mehrgarh

Mehrgarh has been one of the locations where humans first learned to grow barley and wheat and to rear sheep and goats in this region. A lot of animal bones have been found in this village. Other discoveries in Mehrgarh include the remnants of square or rectangular houses. When men die, they pay respect to their relatives and friends. The dead person was laid to rest with goats, which were probably supposed to serve as food in the next world. Many other burial sites were identified at Mehrgarh.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Describe the rock paintings in Story of the Earliest People.

Ans: Several cave paintings have been discovered in the Stone Age cave dwellings. The caves in Bhimbetka, for instance. Most of these artworks depict animals and hunting. Experts say that these drawings could be made as part of a ritual. Another probability is that people have had enough time to think about the natural surroundings around them. 

They also show that people used to live in the community as staying together offered protection against predatory animals and that the community could even kill any large animal with their tools. Anthropologists believed that men were hunting and that women were living in caves, caring for children and collecting plants, berries and roots.

2. What are the basic divisions of the Stone Age?

Ans: The early humans were living in the prehistoric period. The main material used to make tools at that time was stone.  Undoubtedly, this period is called the Stone Age because of the use of stones to make tools. The Stone Age is further divided into three periods, namely: Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age, Neolithic or New Stone Age. 

The word ‘Paleolithic’ is made up of two words, ‘Paleo’ and ‘Lithos’. The word 'Paleo' implies 'old' and 'Lithos' implies 'stone.' This period is therefore known as the Old Stone Age. The Old Stone Age ranges from 2 million years ago to 12,000 years ago. During this period, the equipment was made of stone and was blunt and not refined.

These tools were created 10,000 years ago. They are much smaller and have sharper edges. Besides stones, heavier objects such as bones and woods have also been used to make tools and many other purposes. In India, some of these stones are still used for grinding wheat and spices.