Copper Age :- Farming Culture, Settlements, Copper hoards, Ochre Coloured Pottery

Copper Age

Chalcolithic age in India is the first metal age. Metals like copper and its alloy bronze are melted at low temperature. The important sites of this period are the Indus valley sites. The Chalcolithic culture of Central, Eastern and Southern regions of India show altogether different features. The Chalcolithic culture represents the farming communities that existed during 2000-700 BC.   Four cultural trends have been identified: Kayatha, Ahar or Banas, Malwa and Jorwe. The Chalcolithic people of Harappa use bricks extensively. The walls were made of mud wattle. The plan of the houses was either circular or rectangular. They had only one room, but multi roomed houses also existed. The houses were plastered with cow dung and lime.   People of Chalcolithic age subsisted on farming and hunting-fishing. Cattle, sheep, goat buffalo and pig were reared. Thereafter they were killed for food. Crops like barley and wheat were cultivated. Other crops that were cultivated are Bajra, Jowar, Millets, Ragi, Green pea, lentil, green gram, black gram. Fish and animal flesh also formed an important part of the diet of the Chalcolithic people. Hunting was one of the important occupations. Wheel made fine pottery which is considered as the speciality of the Chalcolithic culture. Most of them used to be given fine slip of red, orange colour. Pottery used to be decorated with linear, curvilinear and intricate designs which were mainly in black pigment. Floral, vegetal, anima, bird and fish motifs were also used. The Black and Red ware made its first appearance in the Chalcolithic sites.

Polished stone tools were also used in this period also. Metals like Copper and its alloys were used in making axes, chisels, knives, fishhooks, pins, rods. Personal ornaments made of beads of semiprecious stones like chalcedony, jasper, agate, carnelian were used. During the Chalcolithic period, the dead used to be buried in the place where they resided.

Farming Culture

Prior to the emergence of the ancient cities of Indus Valley character many of the adjoining southern and eastern regions show evidence of village settlements. These are entirely different from those recorded from Baluchistan and Afghanistan for the same period.

In the Rupen river estuary of north Gujarat the evidences uncovered at Prabhas Patan is quite revealing. The first occupation here is dated to C 2900 B.C. and is named as ‘Pre-Prabhas’ period. Unfortunately a very clear picture of the culture is not known. The pottery is mostly gritty and sturdy. These are mostly red or gray ware with incised chevron decorations, although a solitary example of bright red, burnished slip is also present.

Nagwada is another site from near Baroda which shows the culture during this phase. The period I, which is dated to C. 3000 to 2600 B.C., is probably the earliest evidence of human movement from Sindh to Gujarat before the rise of I.V.C. This phase is mostly recognised by ceramics of hard pink to red fabric. The pottery shapes often compare with those known from pre-urban period of Amri in Sindh.

Thus, we see that from Mundigak to Kot Diji there are numerous early farming communities settled at different nooks of valleys which developed their own characteristic features. The entire episode can be roughly taken to have stayed from 3100 to 2100 B.C., i.e. for approximately 1000 years. Almost all of these sites show ceramic similarity with the Iranian sites on the one hand and Harappans on the other.

It will, therefore, be logical to assume that origin of Harappa may have links with these hill cultures. This relation can be visualized as mere confederation of these ‘tribes’ as authors of separate cultures or a mere bringing together of the artisans of these cultures under a different and more powerful social organization.



It is a culture which earned its name mainly from its ceramic specialty. It is found spread all over Maharashtra and may have evolved slightly later than the Malwa in Madhya Pradesh (1300 B.C. -1400 B.C.). Inamgaon in Maharashtra provides us with maximum amount of cultural indicators for this period. It is a culture which had adapted to dried inland regions and heavily depended on irrigation, the evidences of which have been found.

Wheat, barley and rice may have been cultivated in the initial stages but later stages adapted mainly to millets. Initially rectangular huts were used but eventually in the later phases these were all round in structure. At this stage the Jorwe of Maharashtra start showing numerous similarities with the Deccan Chalcolithic features.

The famous Jorwe ware is red or orange surfaced either matt surfaced or barnished with geometric designs executed in black. Carinated vessels with spouts fixed at various angles form one of the characteristic types. Carinated bowls and lotas are the other forms. Beads of agate, carnelian, gold, copper and even ivory have been recorded. Copper objects include axes, fish hooks and bangles.

It is argued that increasing aridity forced many of the early Jorwe settlements to either migrate to the Malwa region or adapt by changing their food habits around 1300 B.C. Thus, many Malwa regions show their final phases heavily influenced by Jorwe ceramics. Some of them might have migrated to the Deccan region.

Southern Chalcolithic Group

Crossing Narmada one enters into the rugged plains of south India. Barring the coastal strips the inland regions are extremely rocky and dry. The main two rivers that drain the region are Godavari and Krishna (as one move from north to south) with their numerous tributaries.

These tributaries originate in the Western Ghats which extend fairly deep across the breadth of the Peninsula (almost two third of the breadth along Pune-Hyderabad axis i.e., 18˚N). Most of the prehistoric occupations during Neolithic to Chalcolithic occur in these mountainous area.

The tributaries of Godavari show Chalcolithic colonization between 2000 B.C. – 1100 B. C. which we have just got introduced to. Let us for our convenience refer to them as the Malwa-Jorwe group. The tributaries of Krishna, however, maintained altogether a different tradition.

If the available radio-carbon dates are to be relied, these were occupied from as early as 2400 B.C. and continued to survive without any significant change till iron arrived. Many authors, as such, like to consider them with the development of Neolithic cultural phase. More than one hundred such sites have been reported so far and these are spread over Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu.




This ancient site belongs to the district of Pune in Maharashtra. It is situated on the right bank of the river Ghod which is an affluent of Bhima and in turn of Krishna. The site is spread over an area of 5 hectares and is thus probably one of the largest Chalcolithic settlements of Maharashtra. The site was excavated by Deccan College and this brought to light an extensive settlement from 1600 B.C. and continuing till 700 B.C.  The site yielded a sequence of three cultures and these are Malwa, Early Jorwe and Late Jorwe. The first settlers at the site were the people from Malwa region who occupied the site around 1600 B.C. Around 1400 B.C. a new culture termed as Early Jorwe occupied the same area. It is significant to note that elsewhere in Maharashtra Jorwe culture appears only around 1300 B.C.

Copper Hoard

No discussion of Chalcolithic India, especially in the north, can be complete without considering a large number of finds from the Gangetic valley which have come to be nick-named as the copper-hoard (as these were mainly found in caches). These have been found from surface without any other cultural items and are distributed from N W Pakistan in the west to Bengal in the east and Tamilnadu in the south. No possibility of any dating for these has so far been found.  A thick water-logged pottery termed O C P or Ochre Colour Pottery is suspected to be associated with these copper objects on circumstantial ground. Further, since the same O C P type is claimed from more than one site as occurring before Iron, Copper hoard culture is taken to represent a late Harappan and pre-Iron culture. But this is still very tentative and not substantiated by any direct evidence.

In western UP Bisauli, Rajpur Parsu, Mathura, Etawa and Saharapur are some of the areas where Copper hoards have been recorded from more than one spot. These are usually grouped within a single cultural area and referred to as copper hoards of Doab region.  As opposed to these Khunti, Hami Saguna Mahisadal and Sonpur from W. Bengal and Bihar form the eastern group of Copper hoards. Likewise the central Indian region especially near Jabalpur-Nagpur strip yields another outlier of these copper objects. Gungeria in Balaghat district of Madhya Pradesh is one of the richest of such sites.

In the southern section the Copper hoards are generally distributed in the areas of concentration of the Neo-Chalcolithic sites like Brahmagiri, Tekkalkota, Piklihal, Hallur, etc. Typologically these Copper hoards do show some geographical variations but these are more with regards to relative frequencies of the types than otherwise.  Except for the enigmatic anthropomorph most of the types are recorded with same marginal variation from either Harappan or west Asian Chalcolithic centres. This can conveniently lead us to assume some Harappan antecedent for the Copper hoard rather than taking them as the weapons of the destroyer of the Harappans and thus alluding to the all-pervading ‘Aryan bogie’ for our explanation.  At this state of our present knowledge it could also be a strong possibility that the Copper hoard cultures were completely contemporaneous with the late Harappans and were politically governed from the Harappan urban centers.

A radio-carbon date from an excavated site belonging to this culture alone can solve our problem.  Finally, one must admit that in our consideration of Chalcolithic India the Gangetic valley represent perhaps the only region which is still not fully understood. From the middle Ganga region (North Bihar) to lateritic W Bengal we enter into what can be best designated as Black-and-Red ware zone with a very late Neo-Chalcolithic feature.

Ochre Coloured Pottery

The earliest evidence of pottery manufacture comes from the site of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan, dated to 6500 BC. One of the characteristic features of the Chalcolithic period is a well-developed ceramic industry. They produced fine painted and plain and coarse pottery for a variety of purposes. Besides, the people of the Ahar and Narahan cultures also produced Black-and-Red wares. Pottery manufacture was an important craft of the Chalcolithic period and all the three techniques- handmade, slow turned table and fast wheel were in use simultaneously. The fine pottery was made from fine and pure well levigated clay whereas to produce the coarse variety, tempering materials such as fine sand, chopped grass, rice husk, cow or donkey dung, etc. were mixed in the fine clay. Invariably the fine ware was treated with various shades of red colour slip over which were executed painted decorations in black or other dark colours and then fired at 750°C. All the colours were prepared of the naturally occurring haematite rock. Usually the fine wares were fired in closed kilns with long fire chambers at the base, the evidence of which is found at sites like Inamgaon (Dhavalikar et al., 1988), Kaothe (Dhavalikar et al., 1990), Balathal (Shinde, 2000), etc. The Black-and-Red ware was possibly fired in closed kilns, but possibly the pots were kept in up-side-down (called the inverted firing technique) in the kilns for firing, different from the one used for firing other wares. Various geometric and naturalistic patterns were decorated on the upper half of the outer surface of the pottery. In case of wide mouthed pots such as bowls, they were executed on the inner surface too.

The most common shapes include bowls, lotas, carinated wide mouthed spouted pots and small to medium globular pots. Small to medium sized globular pots were used for cooking, whereas large sized ones for storage purposes. A number of sites have produced evidence of pottery manufacture and one of the best examples of a pottery workshop was reported from the site of Inamgaon. It included terracotta and stone dabbers, antler and bone points, pounders, fragments of haematite for preparing colour, pebbles probably for burnishing, and specifically designed circular kilns with long fire chambers. A number of sites including Balathal and Gilund in Mewar, Kaothe in the northern Deccan, Navdatoli in central India, etc. have produced convincing evidence of pottery manufacture. A study of site catchment analysis of selected sites clearly demonstrates that the locally available clay, mainly from riverbeds was used for pottery making (Dasgupta, 2004). Since most of the potters still use technology that is similar to the Chalcolithic, the study of the modern pottery technique including clay preparation, shaping of pots, surface treatment and decorative patterns, firing techniques and post-firing decorations, etc. will enable reconstruction of the Chalcolithic pottery manufacture technology in the subcontinent.

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