Prehistory of Jharkhand
THE NEOLITHIC AGE:
Jharkhand for the first time finds mention in the chronicles of the Mughals and in the Bangla Vaishnav literature in which the description of the journey of the Bhakti saint Shri Chaitanya which he makes through this state to Benares is found.
Spread over an area of 79,714 sq kms, the region is speckled with rivers , water falls, plateaus, valleys and hills with altitudes ranging between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. The state is interspersed with forests having predominance of trees like Sal (Shorea Robusta), Palas (Butea Monspermas taub), Mahua (Bassia Lattifgolia), Simul, (Bombax Malabaricum), Khair (Accacia Calechu), Gamhar (Gimelina Arboria), Banyan (Ficus Benghalensis L), Bat (Ficus Religiosa) etc. Fauna as tigers, leopards, bison, rhinos, elephants once roamed freely in these woods.
That Jharkhand was home to people since hoary antiquity is testified by the numerous archaic rock art produced by Palaeolithic and Mesolithic humankind still adorns the antedivulean rock shelters in the inaccessible and remote areas of the state. Lower, middle and upper Palaeolithic tools like stone axes, adzes, blades, points, bone awls, cleavers etc have been discovered by Ball, Rev Bodding, Capt Beeching, P.R.Sarkar, Rai Bahadur S.C.Roy, D.Sen, D.K.Sen, Van Troy, groups of scholars from B.H.U, Patna and Calcutta Universities. The starting point of the Neolithic age in Jharkhand is a matter of debate among the scholars due to lack of adequate excavation and appropriate study. D.K.Chakravorti states that there is no stratified Neolithic level in the Ranchi area therefore careful investigations are necessary.
Ball is believed to have discovered the first Neolithic tool in Jharkhand in the 19th cent. The first shouldered axe was found by him in 1857 in the Dhalbhum area of the state. Later in 1869 he is supposed to have discovered a few more of these axes in Jharia, Bokaro and even in Bankura and Durgapur in Bengal. Late S.C.Roy the doyen of Indian anthropology had a collection of hundreds of Neoliths as axes, adzes, grinding stones, drills and even quartz crystallised beads; all collected from villages around Ranchi and Khunti as Bichna, Binda, Burupatu, Arra, Chandogatu etc. A bulk of Roy’s collection lies today with Patna museum (His legendary bungalow which the government has regretfully failed to provide protection is now in the clutches of the land promoters and his priceless personal collection or archaeological and anthropological artefacts which neither the University nor the state government has any interest in, has been thankfully gifted to the Ramakrishna Mission Ranchi). Patna Museum’s collection of Neolithic tools had also originated from Singbhum and the Sanjai valley other than Ranchi district.
Neolthic assemblages have also been unearthed from the excavated spot of Kuchibari, a site which B.K.Thapar had dated to 1000 BCE. Rev Bodding’s fabulous collection of Neolithic tools as rectangular celts, small adzes of chert or sandstones with square shoulders and hand axes which he collected from the Santal Pargana region of Jharkhand has found home today in Oslo, Norway .
Gordon mentions that Warman’s conjecture is that the shouldered stone axe came into India from China. Haimendorf was of the belief that the shouldered stone axe was also influenced by Burma other than that of China. However Dani, according to Gordon believed that NE India was the meeting point of various stone axes and adzes. The axe has been dated at 2000 BC in these countries therefore the year of the shouldered axe in India (and Jharkhand) should be around at 1000 BCE according to Haimendorf. In regards to the faceted chisels of Lohardagga and Ranchi districts Gordon considers them to have been to have been imported from China. Dani believes that the tanged adazes which are found till Kosambi and the Godavari delta are copies of original metal tools. Most Munda, Oraon, Khadia, Asur household posses archaic stone tools which are respectfully treasured by their families and many of these have been used as burial gifts in megaliths. Perhaps S.C.Roy had collected many of such Neolithic tools from the tribals.
THE PROBLEM OF THE AUTHORS OF JHARKHAND’S NEOLITHIC
According to one line of thought basing on the Mundaric folklores, recommend the Mundas to be the first entrants in to the densely forested lands of Jharkhand. As because it was they who had cleared the jungles for settlement and farming, they regard themselves to be the ‘Khuntkattidars’ of the region.
Differing on this point of view the iron smelting Asurs on the foundations of their myths affirm that it was they who had preceded the Mundas into Jharkhand and the former had driven them away from the state leaving behind their numerous ‘garhs’ or their so called forts. Such a claim of being the pioneers in the region is of course put forth by almost all the tribals of the state. However there are strong evidences which suggest that prior to the advent of the proto Austroloid Kolarian tribals in the east, the region was infested with unidentified tribes who are extinct today and with Mongoloids of the North East type who may have been pushed to the Himalayan mountainous tracts by the newly arrived tribals.
Roy places the arrival of the tribals into Jharkhand at 6th cent BC. Dr.B.P.Kesari too believes that the Mundas entered Jharkhand around 6th cent BCE. Scholars adduce that Jharkhand’s Neolithic would be around 1000 BCE judging by the tools. The tribals, particularly the Santals, Mundas, Asurs or the Oraons who arrived at Jharkhand from the North West could be responsible for Jharkhand’s Neolithic and it is widely believed that they might have erected the primitive megaliths during this period as many of these are still megalithic.
This author had had a few tools dated from the Palaeolithic Museum of Dresden Germany and from the patina formation the tools have been made before 3000 BC. This suggests that these tools surely would not have creation of the Mundas as they had entered the state much late than this date.
Author’s research on the megaliths of Jharkhand illustrates a hypothesis that a few of these prehistoric monuments must have been made around 1500 BC. If this assumption is correct then this would push back the date of the arrival of the Mundas and the Neolithic culture of Jharkhand to the above mentioned date on contrary to what many scholars believe. The assumption therefore seems most implausible.
If the Mundaric folklores are to be trusted as oral history of which I see no reason to disbelieve, propose that they must have entered the country from the North West between 1000 and 600 BC during the Chalcolithic age crossing the Neolithic era en route. In that case the architect of the Neolithic Jharkhand must have around between 1500 and 1000 BC by a different set of people as that of the Mongoloids and tribes who are now extinct. Many other scholars and historians as Vincent Smith too believed in the presence of Mongoloid people in the east prior to the entrance of other communities in here
Sankalia also disclose uncertainties regarding the real architect of East India’s Neolithic culture. He questions the already held belief of the tribals being the real authors of the Neolithic culture in Jharkhand whether or not can be regarded as authentic. Even he too believes that the Neolithic culture of Jharkhand was partly received from the east.
Sadly there is not adequate information on Neolithic potsherds or agriculture of Jharkhand. Despite the fact the Mundas and the Oraons were excellent farmers they had the slash and burn ‘daho’ burning practice. The ancient Munda plough is regarded to be different from the usual Aryan plough as the former is extracted from a single block of wood.
THE CHALCOLITHIC AGE:
The copper age in Jharkhand was revealed by the excavations of S.C.Roy in Bedwa, Bandua, Kandesa, Belua, Chakdharpur, Digi, Murud etc. Gordon states that there were two industrial areas producing copper articles in the east during the Chalcolithic period, one at the Ganga Yamuna Doab and secondly the regions around Ranchi plateau.
Roy named most his discovered sites as Asura sites of which 20 villages were around Khunti which yielded traces of iron smelting, copper implements and ornaments, gold coins, beads, pottery and ruins of brick buildings which he dubbed as Asur forts or ‘garhs’. Roy showed that such sites were on a raised piece of land adjacent to rivers or tanks. Pandu, Digi, Bhelwadag and Bahia are among the many Asura sites he had discovered.
Saradakel, excavated by Roy had yielded copper hooks, rod and copper coins along with iron arrow heads, chisels, nails and ploughshares which perhaps testify that both the iron and the copper ages existed side by side for many a years in Jharkhand.
Bargunda had quite an ancient tradition of copper production .Singbhum was another major copper site in Jharkhand since the early Chalcolithic period and has shown mining signs since much antiquity. Musabani, Chirudih, Dungri, Chota Jamjora, Dudra etc reveal testimony of ancient mining for copper ore. D.K.Chakravarty although agrees that copper is extensive in Singbhum disagrees to the accepted view that copper mining in Singbhum goes back to 2nd millineum BC.
The presence of broken pieces of chalcopyrite along side with broken bits of hematite and magnetite strewn about many megaliths as that of Rola , Banadag, Birbir and Hesalong etc do confirm production of copper commodities along with iron implements by the megalithic folks.
Black and red, Black on Red, Russet pottery have been found in situ by the author from near the megalithic sites of Rola ,Jabra Road, Silwar valley and Chitapur . Murray has reported finds of hundreds of pieces of pottery from Ruam in Singhbhum which could be Chalcolithic.
THE COPPER HOARD CULTURE:
Jharkhand has a reputed tradition of Copper Hoard culture. Shouldered flat axes have been discovered from Pachamba in Giridih. Copper bars, rings, bangles, and other forms of copper jewellery have been recovered from Bargunda. Copper bar celts, a single copper stool have been yielded from Hami. 21 copper axes were found from Bartola in Ranchi district.
S.C.Roy’s remarkable compilation of copper hoards comprising of copper axes, bangles, and other copper implements collected primarily by the learned scholar himself from village’s like Chechari and Basia etc .now lies with Patna Museum. Yule documenting the copper hoards discovered in Singbhum also speaks on finds of “axes”. Copper bar celt ingots, axe ingots, flat axes have been reported from Namkum, Bero, Dargama etc in Ranchi district. Copper celts and axe heads have also been found in Godda and Palamau respectively. 27 copper axes have been discovered in the area between the sacred Parasnath hill and Pokuria along side the Baraker River have been found from Karharbari, Baragunda and Gola and a copper battle axe has reported from Kathurba.
There are reports of large number of copper implements and weapons having found buried at single places. A large cache of copper weapons have been unearthed in the Ganga Yamuna Doab and even in Jharkhand between 1822 and 1951. D.K.Chakravoarty mentions the find of 6 axes and 17 bar celts lying buried together at the bank of a small river in Palamau district. The famous Gungeria hoard of M.P. was found under earth near a village of the same name in a rectangle space of 3’ x 3’ x 4’ which must have been a wooden box having rotted with time. The space yielded 424 axes and bar celts found neatly packed. (Author had found a similar cluster of about eight near-hemispherical stones buried under earth near a dolmen in Hazaribag. This could suggest that such practice of burying stone implements could have been ceremonial in hoary antiquity and this tradition might have continued till the Chalcolithic era. However more investigations are required before arriving to any conclusion). According to Gordon the copper tools were typical of the copper smiths of Bargunda of Jharkhand .Gungeria or many other major places of the concurrent period must have been well connected with the copper belt of Dhalbhum with trade routes as Bargunda it seems was famous for its copper implement produce, the nation over.
Scholars have shown a resemblance between a narrow copper tool of Chanhudaro and the copper bar celt of the region. B.B.Lal dismisses the ‘similarity’ theory suggesting that the copper bar celt had evolved from a similar stone tool from the Chotanagpur plateau, Bengal and North Orissa. Gordon puts forth his own argument advocating that stone tools were copied from metal artefacts and not the other way round!
D.K.Chakravarty had asserted that the copper hoard culture had originated in the Chotanagpur plateau as the region was rich in copper deposits and forests whose woods were required to smelt the ore.