Pre Historic Period of Tamil Nadu
The pre-historic age was the longest period of mankind. To study the history of the pre-historic man, sources like literature, inscription and coins were not available. In the absence of such sources, we can trace the history of pre-historic period only with the help of certain common features which existed among them. The archaeological excavation proved that the people who lived in the pre-historic period commonly used various types of stones for their protection and livelihood. Based on the stones they used, the pre-historic period was classified into Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and megalithic ages.
- Palaeolithic age (the old stone age)
Palaeolithic age was the largest age in the history of man-kind. It spread from 5, 00,000 B.C. to know the history of this man, the stone tools like hand axes and cleavers, discovered in certain localities of Tamilnadu were very useful. Bruce Foote discovered a hand axe of this age near Pallavaram in 1863. These types of stones were also found in Chingleput, Tanjore and North Arcot districts. These stone tolls were collectively called ‘Madras Industry’. These tools were very rough and primitive. The Palaeolithic man used these crude stone (quartzite stone) as hand axe to gather his food. Therefore, the Palaeolithic man of Tamilnadu had also been called the quartzite man. The Palaeolithic man had primitive civilization. He never used the crude stone to clear the forest. Hence, he lived in plains. He lived in the rock shelters in south India. Probably, the rock shelters were caves in the hills. Kurnool district contained a number of Palaeolithic rock shelters. So the civilization of this period developed in and around the rock shelters.
The Palaeolithic men led a nomadic life. He ate fruits, nuts, roots and occasionally hunted animals. The use of pottery was unknown to them. The Palaeolithic man never buried the dead. The dead body was exposed to wild animals and birds. The skin of the animal was used as clothing. Leaves and barks were also used to cover nudity.
- Mesolithic or Microlithic Age
At the end of the Palaeolithic age, Tamilnadu witnessed a new kind of civilization. This age lasted from 8000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. Tirunelvely and Tuticorin were the two important centres of this age. People of this age used Microlithic stone tools of small size, made of some precious stones. This age was an improvement over the crude implements of the Palaeolthic period. Their culture was slightly advance. They were afraid of thunder and lightning. They believed in the existence of supernatural powers. People of this age practiced rituals and buried the dead with food and tools. Microlithic man lived in the southern part of Tamilnadu. The implements of the Microlithic Age were discovered at Sayarpuram, Kayanozhi, Aral and Nazarath in Tirunelvely District; Boothalattoor in Tanjore district and Tiruvallur in Chinglepet district. They also lived on the coastal areas and did fishing and hunting.
- Neolithic Age or the New Stone Age
Neolithic age marked a crucial phase in the march of civilization. The date o this age appeared to be from 1500 B.C. in this age, the activities of man widened. Neolithic man cleared the forest and cultivated the land. Required implements were produced for the clearance of forests and cultivation of lands techniques were adopted to make conic-shaped axes. These axes were used for cutting trees and digging earth. Men of this age began to settle permanently in a place. Most fertile lands were used for agriculture. They also continued the previous occupations of hunting, fishing and food gathering. In Tamilnadu, the archaeological survey of India discovered a prominent Neolithic site at Salem. The discovered stone implements such as Celts, Anvils, Corn-Crushers, Cylinders, Discs, Hammer-Stones, Mace-Heads, Mealing Stones, Pestles, Punders, Mullers, Pivot-Stones, Polishing Grooves, Slabs, Wet-Stones, Tally-Stones, Thumb-Stones, Stone-Vessels, and Stone Arrow-Heads proved that the Neolithians were more advanced than the Palaeolithians.
The Neolithic man lived in houses. He constructed houses with mud. Man of this age domesticated dogs and used them for hunting. In course of time, the goat, sheep, cow and buffalo were domesticated. Potteries of different varieties were produced and they showed interest in painting. He knew the art of making fire and its use. The discovery of fire was the greatest achievement of this age. The art of spinning and weaving were also developed in this age. He wore clothes, skins of animals, leaves and barks of tree as dress. Importance was given to ornaments. Various ornaments such as beads, buttons, bangles and rings were discovered at various centres of this civilization. Combs were discovered and they were used for dressing their hair. Much importance was given to personal decorations. The dead were buried in urns (jars). The burial system revealed the social customs and religious notions, ancestor worship prevailed. The worship of mother goddess was also prevalent. Archaeological discoveries proved that Neolithic civilization existed in Arcot District, Mohanoor, Krishnagiri, Shervaroy Hills, Trichy, Puthukkottai, Madurai and Tirunelvely district. Besides tools and weapons, human and animal figures were also found in these centres.
- Metal Age
The Neolithic age was succeeded by the Iron Age. People of this age used iron metals like blades, knives and iron axes. The introduction of iron marked a radical change in the economic and social life of the people. The use of iron implements in agriculture boosted the cultivation of paddy Tinai and other grain. The progress of settled life further developed during the Iron Age. The excavations at Bodinayakkanur, Karadiyur, and Mandambadi etc. threw light on this age.
- Megalithic Age or Big Stone Age
Megalithic age was the most advance age among the pre-historic period. This civilization flourished between 700 – 400 B.C. the most important characteristic of this age was the erection of burial monuments known as Megalithics people used huge stones as tombs. The dead bodies were buried on the slopes of hills or on the elevated grounds. Large urns or jars were used for burials of the dead. The system of burial developed in this age was called megalithic system of burial. The megalithic burials revealed the customs of the age. The archaeological discoveries held at Adichchanallur, Nilgiris and Chingelput revealed the megalithic system of burials. Large urn or jar was used for burial. At Adichchanallur a burial ground with an area of 114 acres was discovered. It was situated two miles south of Srivakundam on the right bank of Tamiraparni in Tirunelvelly district. Here large potteries used for burials were discovered. Some of these jars were large enough to cover the whole body. There was no sign of cremation. The pottery of Adichchanallur was more primitive than the megalithic pottery of other sites. Again, the discovery of metallic Vel indicated the worship of Murugan or Velan. The people of Adichananallur cultivated rice. Again, the excavations at Arikkamedu and Kanchi revealed the manufacture of large conical bottomed wire jars called the ‘Amphorae’. Bricks, tiles, toys, multicolored beads, glass lamps, clay toys were manufactured in this age. Iron implements like lace, dagger, arrow and spar were used. People decorated their bodies with silver and gold ornaments. Gold and copper coins were in circulation. Chank writing and ivory carving were known to them. Industries like ceramic industry developed. Thus the pre-historic man developed in stages and reached the historic age.
Keywords: Civilization, Arikkamedu, Adichananallur , pre-historic man, Megalithics, Megalithic Age or Big Stone Age, Metal Age, Mesolithic or Microlithic Age, Palaeolithic age (the old stone age), Pallavaram Chingleput, Tanjore, North Arcot, quartzite, Celts, Anvils, Corn-Crushers, Cylinders, Discs, Hammer-Stones, Mace-Heads, Mealing Stones, Pestles, Punders, Mullers, Pivot-Stones, Polishing Grooves, Slabs, Wet-Stones, Tally-Stones, Thumb-Stones, Stone-Vessels, Stone Arrow-Heads, Neolithian.