Iron Age

Iron Age

The early history of Iron in India can be examined in terms of different regional contexts through the study of the various iron-using areas of the subcontinent. The chronology of iron differs from one area to another but between the period 1000BC and 500 BC its use said to spread to all major areas-

  • The upper Ganges valley and its peripheries
  • Malwa plateau and Tapti valley
  • South and Central Indian megalithic areas
  • Baluchistan plains
  • Middle and Lower Ganges valleys
  • North west mainly Peshawar region

In the Upper Ganges valley and the Indo Gangetic divide iron is first found associated around 800 BC with a culture known as Painted Greyware. Its use was sparse in the beginning but by the middle of the 6th century BC it had become fairly common and was associated with the new Northern Black Polished Ware culture. During this period its horizon expanded to include the central and lower Ganges valley where it marked a significant break from the earlier cultures. In the Malwa region and Tapti valley too it sites such as Nagda, Eran and Prakash, iron brought in an element of change in the earlier Chalcolithic cultures and it is possible that the use of iron was slightly earlier in this region (1000 BC) than in the Ganges Valley. At Hallur in north Karnataka iron appears to overlap the Neolithic implements of 900 BC.

Impact of Iron

Iron brought in a change of economy, the characteristic feature of advanced type of agriculture. In the Ganges Valley and in the Malwa region iron led to the rise of urban areas. Both Brahmanical and Buddhist texts are full with reference to cities during the middle of the first millennium BC and at sites like Ahichhatra, Varanasi, Kausambi, Sravasti and Ujjayini the evidences of Iron age urbanization is available. 

By the middle of the 6th century BC some of these settlements had reached the proportions of urban centres. This suggests that for the first time since the decline of the Harappan civilization a substantial agricultural surplus which could sustain such urban centres had emerged. The use of silver and copper coins in large numbers during this period implies considerable trade and commerce. Some of the urban centres were also seats of political power as suggested by defence arrangements in some of them. Thus a political system with definable territorial units as its bases had developed by this time.

Early Iron Phase

Just as the emergence of settled village life took different forms in different parts of the country so also the introduction of iron occurred at different times in different contexts. On the basis of available radiocarbon dates it was suggested that iron working might have begun in Malwa around 1100 BC. This was based on the argument that there was continuity between Chalcolithic and Iron Age material cultural at sites in Malwa and the dates for the terminal phases of the Chalcolithic period here around were around 1300 BC. Since 1963 when D D Kosambi made the assertion that extensive forest clearance and agrarian settlement would not have been possible in the Ganga plains without the use of iron, archeologists have been exploring the connection between the introduction of iron technology, settlements patterns and political developments in northern India.

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