Proto Historic Period

Proto-historic period

Proto-historic period is the age nearest to the historical period. In so far as India is concerned the civilisation of the Vedic period is the proto-historic period. The hymns composed by the Vedic priests had perfected a poetic technique. These hymns were praise of their gods and were sung at sacrifices. These were not reduced to writing but were handed down by words of mouth.

Even when the art of writing was widely known to the Indians, hymns were not committed to writing. The period of the Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads, says Prof. Basham, “is a sort of a transition from prehistory to history”. Naturally it falls in the proto-historic period of Indian history that is nearest to the historical period. But as Prof. Basham points out, If history, as distinct from archaeology, is the study of the human past from written sources, then Indian history begins with the Aryans. The Rig Veda and the great body of oral religious literature which follow it in the first half of the first millennium B.C. belong to the Hindu tradition. The Vedic hymns are still recited at weddings and funerals, and in the daily devotion of the brahman. Thus they are part of historical India, and do not belong to her buried pre-historic past.

But it cannot be denied that the Vedic period is not within the really historic period of India, for it is only the matter of religion about which we are fully informed. About other matters or events we have only indirect and vague references. Thus the Vedic Age of Indian history has to be regarded as the period immediately preceding the historical period; hence it belongs to the proto-historic period of India, a period which marks the transition from pre-historic to historic period of the Indian History.

Early Stone Age- Hunters and Gatherers

Hunter-gatherer societies are – true to their astoundingly descriptive name – cultures in which human beings obtain their food by hunting, fishing, scavenging, and gathering wild plants and other edibles. Although there are still groups of hunter-gatherers in our modern world, we will here focus on the prehistoric societies that relied on the bounty of nature, before the transition to agriculture began around 12,000 years ago.  Prehistoric hunter-gatherers often lived in groups of a few dozens of people, consisting of several family units. They developed tools to help them survive and were dependent on the abundance of food in the area, which if an area was not plentiful enough required them to move to greener forests (pastures were not around yet). It is probable that generally, the men hunted while the women foraged.

Straight off the bat, it is important to realise that the variety between hunter-gatherer societies throughout time was so high that no single, all-compassing set of characteristics  can be attributed to them. The earliest hunter-gatherers showed very different adaptations to their environment than groups at later points in time, closer to the transition to agriculture. The road towards increasing complexity – something we tend to consider to be the hallmark of ‘modernity’ – is a difficult yet interesting one to trace. Tools, for instance, became ever more developed and specialised, resulting in a large set of shapes that allowed hunter-gatherers to become better and better at exploiting their environment.

Our genus of Homo first developed within the massive space that is Africa, and it is there that hunter-gatherers first appeared. There are a few hotspots where the land clearly provided decently lush living opportunities and where the remains of often several different groups of humans living there at various times have been found. In southern Africa sites such as Swartkrans Cave and Sterkfontein show more than one occupation, although they are a lot younger than sites in eastern Africa, where in or near Ethiopia the earliest known stone tools made by humans – dated to c. 2,6 million years ago – have been found. One of the oldest sites is Lake Turkana in Kenya: it was already home to our presumed ancestors the Australopithecines, to which the famous Lucy belongs, and it continued to be a popular spot for a very long time indeed.

From humans’ early start in Africa to spilling out across Eurasia and later the rest of the world, all this exploration across vastly different terrains was done while living off the land by hunting and gathering what it had to offer. The amount of food, looking at both flora and fauna, directly impacted the amount of people an environment could feasibly support. If food was abundant, resident groups of hunter-gatherers were more likely to stay in the same place, find ways to effectively store their food, and protect their territory against competing groups. Alternatively, if there was not enough food in a group’s direct vicinity, it meant they had to move around and lead more nomadic lifestyles in order to sustain themselves. If this sounds like too much of a piece of cake, imagine that the environment with both its terrain and its weather (think of droughts or huge storms) regularly tried to kill these early humans, with the assistance of animals that had bigger teeth and claws than they did. Luckily, prehistoric societies were made up of groups or bands of a few dozens of people, usually representing several families, that helped each other survive mother nature.


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